Katey Martus shares with us her recent adventure while night riding for the first time in years.
For those of you who are familiar with the popular 80s TV show Knightrider, it is still possible that an aging cyclist can have an adventure of her own as well. While I don’t have a cool, muscle car named “KITT” to offer unsolicited advice before I ride, I do have a well-loved 29er hard tail, some antiquated night lights and a ridiculous love to ride regardless of the changing season.
The outdoor mountain bike season is almost over for us here in Boulder. Daylight savings and inevitable snow causes a lot of us to hang up our mountain bikes for the season (unless of course you’re lucky enough to have a fatty and continue to rip it up year round). Against my better judgement, I’ve signed up for a 24 hour race in Arizona this upcoming February. The last time I rode at night was 24 Hours of Moab and that, my friends, was a long time ago …when I was newly pregnant with my first son. My race history has been spotty at best. I was out this past race season for a shoulder injury yet I feel that I’ve healed well enough given the circumstances. And…getting some saddle time in the dark would be beneficial to this upcoming race.
The evening I had scheduled to ride, my sitter arrived a half an hour late. Apologetic, I left her and my kids in my driveway to make it to Marshall Mesa trailhead on time. A group of us were scheduled to roll out at 6pm sharp. I made it just as they were about to leave. Six men were lined up… waiting. I pulled up on my bike, ancient night lights and butterflies. I got the up/down evaluating stare from one guy. I stared him down. I got a sneer and a “Harumph”. It was a little intimidating. I was the token girl in a small sea of baggies and attitude.
The boys started off at a blistering pace up Marshall Mesa; they dodged left, tucked right over the bridge and up the stairs. I rode hard and fast out of the gate, but in the dark and with my weak light, all I could hear was my breathing in an effort to follow some guy cranking at a ridiculous speed ahead of me. “Okay”, I thought, “Settle in. Just hang”. They stopped for a quick breath. Their ‘leader’ was a guy named Dave. “Hey I’ve ridden with you before.” “You have?” “Yep, up at West Mag”. “Sorry, I don’t remember you.” I panted. We were off again at a rabbit’s pace. So much for convos. This time we rode with our night lights off. We were encouraged to ride by the light of the moon. I have to say, it was amazing, beautiful, and very serene. It was slightly cloudy and you couldn’t see more than a few shadows of the trail as we rode along steadily breathing in the night air until we reached the highway crossover to the Community Ditch trail. Mind you – no one holds the gate. You’re on your own in the dark.
I took the lead heading up Community Ditch with my one working light. With my light attached to my handlebars, I couldn’t see around corners until my handlebars caught up with the direction my eyes were facing. In other words, there is no looking ahead into your turns. I was at my handlebar’s mercy. I looked back and saw a string of lights spaced evenly behind me. I was ahead of the pack further than I thought. I was enjoying the quiet and the steady crunch of my tires. When I swiveled my head back around, to my right in the distance, I saw a very large brown feline crossing my path heading west. Two yellow eyes hit my lights and sparked. I caught my breath, “F***, mountain lion.” I squeaked. He was big. He was terrifyingly beautiful. I sucked in my air, applied the brakes and immediately 360ed stuttering and shaking “mountain lion, mountain lion”. The moment lasted only a second but I did not want to be the token girl being mauled by a big cat. I reached the pack, “mountain lion up there” I exhaled wide-eyed. The response was overwhelming: “What?!”, “Seriously?!”, “No f***ing way!” “Cool, where?!, OMG I gotta see this!” And off they went. The cat was gone by the time we reached the spot I had seen it. We caught another pack of night riders. “Did you see the cat?” No one else had seen it. I gathered my wits and continued to ride slightly shaken.
For those of you that know me, I have a tendency to see others have ‘incidents’ or ‘accidents’ when I ride. Multiple abrasions, a shoulder injury, a broken arm, a gouged Achilles – the best was a runner I was passing was bitten by a rattlesnake at the exact moment I was passing her. Flagging down paramedics and calling 911 is in my repertoire these days. Truth be known, I do better riding alone. I didn’t need drama on this ride.
We raced down the ditch over to the Springbrook loop – a quick and dirty trail that’s well loved by locals in South Boulder. The night air was surprisingly still and I kept watch on the headlights in front of me showing where the trail twisted. Clockwise we rode up Springbrook to the top where we stopped and chatted briefly. I didn’t have much to offer in terms of conversation but I was still enjoying this ride immensely. It was cooling off, but still, I wasn’t cold. I ditched my wind vest and we headed down the trail at a blistering pace. I found my mo…I had rainbows shooting out of my head and think truly, for just a moment, I reached self-actualization. Every twist and turn was made for me and well, my “KITT”. When we stopped at the bottom it felt like it had only been seconds. I was beaming. Yet…we were missing one of the troop. We waited. I offered to go back up and look. “You guys go on ahead. I’ll find Hashish, Ganesh…(I didn’t know what his name was but just that is ended in a “shhh” sound).” It was decided that once I offered, all of us would go back up the loop and look for him. I recall a few exposed ravines and as I climbed, thought to myself, if he came in hot around one of these corners, he could have fallen down the ravine. I looked down the edges as I rode. We reached the top and lo and behold “shhh” was riding along looking confused. It seems he had taken a wrong turn and ended up on a deer trail. How this was possible was mind boggling to all of us because there is only ONE WAY DOWN. We sprinted back down the trail. I felt myself hit a rock, hard. I felt the impact vibrate through me but kept my balance. I pedaled through feeling no resistance. Aw crap, I dropped my chain. I stopped. The guy behind me came up with light. Nope, I had broken my chain, clean as a whistle. I had no bike chain tool…so all I could do is coast (fortunately downhill). I pulled the chain out, stuffed it in my Camelback and with my left foot clipped in, propelled myself with my right leg with skateboard strides back down the hill gaining momentum to where the others waited. I’ve learned that true MTBers carry a gamut of tools on hand including chains in various sizes, just in case. It was fixed instantaneously. (Thank you Marcus).
With my chain fixed, we headed down Dowdy Draw, hit the road and climbed our way back to Marshall. I drafted behind Dave recouping my legs and felt strong to sprint to the parking lot with Marcus breathing down my neck. “Jackass!” I barked out laughing. Well Karma works in mysterious ways because I got back and my car keys were AWOL, gone, poof! Whoops, I knew I shouldn’t have called him that. It was dark, it was late and there my car sat. The guys offered to drive me home. I declined the offer and the apres-ride beer at the local brewery. I hopped back on my bike and rode home pensive. I thought about how they say bad things come in threes, so I’m safe now, right? I was safe… and happy that I had had such an adventure. So… thank you Mr. Hasselhoff for making me a ‘night rider’ again too, just in a very different way.
Addendum: My car keys were found by a biker the next morning at the top of Springbrook and I was able to retrieve them. May we all have such good bike Karma.