I rolled down the packed trail, standing in the pedals, watching the 30 or so feet ahead of me illuminated by my headlamp. Hilary was 50 feet ahead, going the same pace in her own bubble of light in the pitch-blackness. A few minutes ago on the other side of Green Mountain, a giant full moon had just popped above the east horizon, glowing orange at the edge of Denver. I had stopped to try to take a photo of it above the city with my iPhone, then laughed at how small it looked on the tiny screen before I pedaled on down the other side of the mountain.
I thought for just a second that I might like to have a GoPro on my helmet for this shot, following another barely-lit mountain bike in the dark at the edge of a city of 3 million people. Then I heard a yelp, like a dog. Then a bunch of yelps from more than one source. Coyotes, I thought, probably a quarter of a mile back where we’d just ridden. Wow, that’s kind of creepy, I said to myself, watching the trail roll by in front of me. Of course, they don’t attack adult humans. Then they howled, all of them at once, as if they were all going a little CRAZY over there on the other side of a small hill separating us. And I thought You know coyotes don’t attack humans I’m pretty sure of it but just in case maybe I’ll pedal a little faster for the next three or four minutes.
After work hours and during lunchtime in the spring, summer, and fall, the trail we rode is popular. The same 7-mile mountain bike ride during the daytime means stepping aside quite a few times for other bikes, hikers, and trail runners. At night, we saw almost no one—even on a night of a full moon, which in a few hours, would illuminate plenty of the trails circling the mountain.
As the days get shorter heading into fall and then winter, we start to see opportunity slipping away a little bit at a time—maybe we’re less likely to sit outside on a patio until 10 p.m., or less likely to get out of bed early to do a trail run or bike ride before work. Then we go to work, run a couple errands afterward, and Wait, it’s dark already?
But maybe, in those still-kind-of-warm fall nights, and those hey-it’s-not-that-cold spring evenings, we should instead be figuring out how to get our fix in the dark. I mean, there’s probably a bajillion companies that make headlamps and bike lights just for that purpose, and you can probably do something pretty rad in the time it would take to watch Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and a couple other shows. And you can probably be home in bed before Jimmy Fallon ends anyway (depending on your time zone, of course).
I love my night bike rides around Denver, when Washington Park is almost empty, and no one’s on the Cherry Creek bike path except me and a few peacefully sleeping homeless folks—no slowing down for pedestrians, no passing or getting passed by other cyclists, no worries about people drifting onto my side of the path—just a moving meditation in the dark, my own rolling quiet space in a noisy city. I’ve climbed the easy route on the First Flatiron more times in the dark than I have in the daytime, which avoids the summertime traffic jams that happen near the summit where all the routes converge, and puts myself and a partner high above the twinkling lights of Boulder.
The night bike rides, climbs, and trail runs that start just before sundown and end with a headlamp-lit jog back to the trailhead always make me feel like I’m sneaking something in, getting away with it, and I end every time thinking Man, I need to do this more often.
A couple minutes after the chorus of coyotes stopped on Green Mountain—we figured they brought down a deer back there somewhere, and were having a nature channel show moment—we crossed the bridge over C-470, riding above the six lanes of car traffic, and one, two, four, six lights popped onto the bridge, coming toward us, another group of mountain bikers, just getting started on a night ride at 9:45.