” It’s a long long way. From May to December. But the days grow short, when you reach September.”
These haunting words from Kurt Weill in his famous ballad not only speak to the season change, but also to the seasonal changes in our lives as we age. I have always enjoyed the fall because of the spectacular foliage and cooler weather. Sweaters, fires, Halloween, Thanksgiving are all special to me and so important to take in every year. As the masses head to the gyms because of the time change, my crowd is a bit different in that we embrace the shortened days and time change with our lights on mountain bike rides and trail runs. Back in the day, I first started to ride a mountain bike in the fall. It was a great departure from road riding and the solace of the woods which I have always embraced, is wonderful from the vantage point of a mountain bike. No cars, technical challenges that keep your attention and allow your mind relief from the rigors of the day. But what to do as the days grew short? Lights!! We have been through the evolution of lighting technology to the point where it is not necessary to purchase a light like we did back in the day that costs $300.00. Sure, there are lights that cost that much and even more today but with the technology coming from overseas with LED, the cost of really superb lighting systems can be attained for under $100.00.
As I have aged, I have migrated from the competitive mindset to the “enjoyment of the ride” phase of my life. Used to be that we all did night rides as training for the now basically defunct 24 Hour races. But the joy of night riding is now even more pleasurable for me as I have time to enjoy the rides versus the 4:30 AM pressure rides of the past when my boy was involved in sports. I get some hall passes now as an empty nester and to take in the woods at night in a relaxed manner is a truly different experience. Close your eyes and imagine what we are experiencing today. The musty smell of fallen leaves on the trail. That smell of a distant wood fire. The distinct smell of a passing buck as you eyeball a 6 pointer almost face to face on the trails. Oftentimes I turn my lights out in the middle of a night ride to experience the silence of the woodlands. Early fall, the crickets are my only companions as I gaze up into the clear night and see multitudes of stars peeking through the canopy of the rapidly changing treeline. When I ride with friends, it is really fun to watch the line of lights light up the trails. The friendships. The accountability of the weekly night rides extending what has been an absolutely spectacular riding season here in the East. Taking the time to stop and experience. These are things that I didn’t value early in my riding years because of the constant pressure of maintaining fitness. Sure, I like to stay fit, but the most enjoyable part of riding now is the experience of the trail and the congenial atmosphere of riding with friends or riding solo at my own pace.
Night riding with friends generates some interesting conversations on the trail when we compare lighting systems. It is amazing to compare the bright LED technology to the old days of the yellow beam generated by Night Rider or Night Sun. Both of those companies have stepped up their game but there is so much competition today especially with all of the imported inexpensive lights flooding the market. Battery life, wiring, lumens, LED and other issues are brought forth on the trail and also continued in our local after ride watering hole-The OTB Cafe. My wife and non-riding friends are amazed at the enthusiasm and the conversations that are related to how many lumens a light will actually produce compared to the claims of the manufacturer. The “oneupsmanship” is really amusing as guys compare their lighting systems on the trail only to be totally outdone by a new system utilized by the Dirt Rage Magazine crew. This $1200.00 retail light is ridiculously bright and the mortal man would not spend that kind of dough to stay upright on the trails at night. But it is fun to see how that drowns out all of our lighting systems.
So, if you think that the waning daylight and pending time change relegates you to the local gym, think again my friends. The trails provide enjoyment long into the late fall and winter if you are prepared and game for riding in the dark. I see trail runners with their headlamps, dog walkers with headlamps and lights for their dogs, hikers utilizing LED technology. Lots of folks on the trails after dark. My friend the Shark(Mark Sauers) also has some advice for night rides as the weather deteriorates. He says there is no such thing as bad weather- only bad clothing. How true. If we remember that and prepare, our experiences on the trail at night can continue through most of the winter. Keep riding/running/hiking and for those who don’t have a light…………get on it!! Thanks for reading.