“There’s a whisper on the night-wind, there’s a star agleam to guide us, And the Wild is calling, calling . . . let us go”. – from the poem The Call Of The Wild by Robert W. Service
I remember my first night ride. It was late summer just a few weeks after I started riding. My brother said we should take a ride over to a cousin’s house at the foot of the Blue Mountains near Point Phillips, Pa. At the time you weren’t legally allowed to ride after dark with only a permit, which I mentioned to Dave. Once he got done laughing, we mounted up and headed off.
Night time traffic in Point Phillips was non-existent so we had the roads all to ourselves. I rode alone; Dave rode with his wife Michelle. I remember the soft glow of the headlight and the growl of my ’81 Yamaha Maxim (with missing air box). I knew the roads like the back of my hand since we had grown up riding our bicycles on them; but I was really inexperienced. I knew nothing about counter steering or just how much front brake I should be using, and nothing about the propensity for Pennsylvania whitetail deer to suddenly come flying out the woods without notice. I just rode along, ignorant of all those things, soaking in the feelings of the new, otherworldly experience.
There’s nothing quite like riding at night when there are no other vehicles around. I’m not sure how to describe it exactly. You ride along in a bubble of light, your normal field of vision narrowed to a distance of maybe a hundred feet in front of you, you don’t get to preview the road ahead and have to respond to it as it unfolds just beyond your headlights. I’ve always loved the contrast of bright light and perfect black and riding under the stars you can feel, at once, totally insignificant and like the center of the universe. As Irish writer Edward Plunkett put it “a man is a very small thing, and the night is very large and full of wonders“.
Commuting year round means for a few months of the year I’ll be riding home in the dark. Many times when I’m headed for home after work in the dark and I hit the last ten miles of my ride, I’m reminded of that first night ride with my brother and his wife all those years ago. It’s funny to think back and realize everything I hadn’t yet learned. Still, it’s been something like 13 years and even though I’m now somewhat experienced, riding at night still feels like much the same as it did that very first time.