Riding in the dark by velomobile is quite different than going by bike. On a bike, you’re bent over the handlebars, with your eyes to the ground like a sleuth, searching the far edge of your headlight’s beam for the first clue of an obstacle. Because you know, out there somewhere, lurking in that thick, murky gloom just beyond the light, is a branch or a pothole or a rock or a nut or a rut which will neatly deflect your front wheel sideways while you, and the rest of the bike, continue gracefully forward and over the handlebars for a spectacular moment of glorious flight – and the inevitable crash. You just don’t know where. You just don’t know when. Pretty exciting really! Going by velomobile is nothing like that.
I woke up in the pre-dawn hours today and was on my way by 4:00. I was greeted by a beautiful full moon peeking through a sprinkling of clouds. No-one was out. I had the moonlight and the streets all to myself. OK, OK – there where one or two cars, but that doesn’t sound quite as poetic now does it?! Anyway, there I was, all alone (except for the afore mentioned cars) gliding along through a blue, moonlit world. It was serene and relaxing. With the high-beam and low-beam lights turned on, I could see everything that needed to be seen, and the afore mentioned poetry bombers could see me as well. And with three wheels firmly planted on the ground, there was no anxiety over swerving or somersaulting or in fact, any gymnastic maneuvers what-so-ever. Rather boring really. And beautiful!
I enjoyed the streets for a few miles. But the streets here are narrow, potholed and ragged on the edge, and shared with drivers who really don’t like sharing. So I took to the bike path. It isn’t technically open between dusk and dawn (shows how dedicated we are to bicycle commuting) but I figured my big yellow bubble – with high-beams, low-beams, running lights and turn signals – would just blend into the night like a shadow. The riverside trees closed in like a tunnel with the fog slowly seeping through. So much for the high-beam.
It really is a strange, almost supernatural experience, riding at night. Your whole world consists of things emerging from the darkness in front of you and disappearing into the darkness behind. Nothing else exists. Sure you may suspect that this or that is just up ahead or around that next bend, but until you see it, its existence simply feels more like theory than reality. This plays on your mind for a while until even the things you do see, take on a rather fuzzy reality. I find myself questioning whether the velomobile will really fit between this or that gap, or if I’m reading the undulations of the path correctly, or if I’d come a little too close to that last bollard. These things would never cause me much angst during the day – when everything seems much more solid.
So there I was, busy slipping through the night like a well lit yellow spaceship, when I came upon a police car resting in a dark parking lot. The policeman was inside with his interior light on – finishing up some paperwork or rustling through the box for that last chocolate covered doughnut with sprinkles – when I came gliding silently around the bend and into the dim light to pass close by. I waved in the darkness. The expression on his face wasn’t really fear but close – astonishment! Here was a man whose job it is to patrol the darkness each and every night but who was experiencing exactly the same questioning of reality as I had. I am certain, for a moment there, that he thought he was having a close encounter. Those of you who know me better, may even agree with him.
Well, the fuzziness of reality and the policeman’s astonished gaze kept playing through my mind as my ride continued and dawn crept closer. The path was now, here and there, becoming populated with the occasional jogger or biker. When they would draw near, I’d politely turn down my high-beam and give the bell a ring to relieve any doubt as to what was approaching in the tunnel of darkness.
Now, I don’t know about where you live, but around here there are many macho alpha males (and a surprising number of females) who, when traveling in pairs, believe that it is their God-given right to defend their half of the bike path – which apparently is the middle half. I usually try to make eye contact with these folks and thank them politely for sharing. But here, in the night… darker thoughts crept in.
I’m guessing some subtle, nebulous mind control was at work here – emanating from the dark, frozen North which we refer to, in fearful whispers, as Canada. Yeah Kevin, I’m thinking of you!
At any rate, I came upon one such pair who were determined to keep to the middle of the path even after I’d turned down my high-beam and distance was closing fast. In a brain-belch of glorious genius, I remembered the policeman and switched on my emergency flashers. These super-bright, yellow LEDs are spaced around the circumference of the YelloMobile, turning it into a beautiful, pulsating ring of yellow in the darkness.
Oh yes! They moved aside! And when another pair of path hogs presented themselves, it proved quite effective to simply say “beep, beep, beep” in rhythmic monotone to the flashing of the lights. Silly but effective! Unfortunately I forgot that popular Dalek refrain, “Exterminate! Exterminate!“
Maybe next time.
I must admit, I actually thought about mechanically announcing, “Earthlings approaching! Prepare… the anal… probe!” But perhaps that might be a little over the top…
…even for me.