While the rest of the world turns in to bed, the night-time pedaller is only just setting out with plans to cycle through the whole night. What drives this unusual behaviour?
In the depths of the night, those hours long after most have turned in to bed and as many more before they again arise, can be found the finest moments of the day. Here can be found the inky darkness where the badger rummages along the roadside, the hedgehog is safe to cross even the busiest of roads, and the deer, rabbits and hares bound carefree along the carriageways and byways rekindling the long-lost tracks and trails followed by their ancestors in less hurried times.
Here also can be found the overnight cyclist. Often wrapped in heavily florescent garments, mounted on a machine with multiple lights both front and rear, feeling their way along lanes and tracks, roads and arteries normally clogged by fast-moving traffic by day. But now, in this still quiet moment of the deepest night-time, the roads are almost his alone.
In the height of summer, when the land bakes beneath the parching sun, and the roads ooze black sticky tears, the nights can be a welcome relief from the heat. The heat can take some time to lift from the land. In the towns warm pulses of air reach the night cyclist. It is here where he may pause on a welcoming seat, or get fifty-winks in a cosy bus-stop. On the hills also the warm air can sometimes linger a little longer if a breeze doesn’t blow it away. But in the valleys near rivers and lakes the cool mists are want to form and chill the cyclist. This is not a place to linger long, and a good stout climb can be a welcome sight for the warming climb that it brings.
The views at night are magnificent. On a fine night after the sun sets and the red glow slowly fades in the west – maybe leaving some purple or blue shades as it hurtles away unseen – and the moon maybe rising from a swollen pink or yellow ball into a brightly lit orb that is never the same two nights in a row. With a little cloud, or even some river mist, the moon can become a mysterious companion comfortably proving enough light to show the outline of the road ahead and the outline of the trees, hills and far-distant horizon.
Along the way come the sounds of night. The almost constant rustlings beneath the hedgerows, the clatter of hooves up the road as deer scramble to make themselves scarce and disappear into the safety of the fields where the sheep will occasionally bleat, the cows snuffle or distant dogs bark with ears alert to the suspicious pedaller scrunching over gravel or clicking a chain into an easier gear as yet another hill looms up out of the greyness.
The occasional cars and trucks are heard approaching from far, far away. Their lights picking out the line of the road ahead or the tops of trees and hedges from behind until they finally pick out your shadow and surge past in a wall of sound. It’s safe to move back out into the centre of the road again and coast along next the road markings and cats’ eyes and away from the potholes that more frequently lurk at the edges of the tarmac.
Occasionally, or with judicious planning, an oasis of light will emerge and may mark the site of an all-night shop, garage or eatery. A welcome opportunity to take on-board some caffeine and perhaps some food. Maybe it was cold out and the chance to get a little warmth into the hands and toes can be most welcome.
Night-time is the time for thinking and reflection. The cares of the busy day are firmly behind or far enough distant not to perturb the night cyclist. As the silent miles tick by the overnight traveller can find himself in a semi-trance like state with so few worries to trouble him. Maybe he may consider when to have the next bite to eat or wonder if a favoured bench is still extant to grab a little breather at the top of a renowned hill.
“Dozzies” – those micro-moments when the brain slips over into the dreamy realms of semi-consciousness can be a hazard if not quickly addressed. Some switch on some music delivered via earbuds, others may grab a quick nap at the side of the road – potentially making use of a handily carried bivvy-bag. Others favour a caffeine hit and carry a can of something suitably laced or factor in a coffee stop if they can find somewhere open in the wee small hours. I’ve heard that some people carry chocolate-coated coffee beans to stave off the brains’ desire to get off and get some rest. If not swiftly addressed the dozy cyclist can find himself making an unexpected turn for the nearest ditch or veer wildly across the road.
Eventually (and in mid-summer it is rather swiftly) comes the growing light of a new day. The moon may still be up in the sky or have slipped away unnoticed as the trance-like cyclist, wrapped-up in their little bubble-world following the beam of headlight and looks up in surprise to see the tinges of colour forming back into the sky. Sometimes the light never truly disappears – particularly around the phosphorous-glowing conurbations that can often be seen when even far away.
Now it is chill. The early morning mists swirl even in summer months and wrap their chilling fingers around the handlebars, and maybe beneath the layers into the marrow. In winter the untreated lanes can glisten like jewels as the coat of frost covers the asphalt. This is a magic time that is seldom seem by most people. The cyclist must press on. Stopping means getting colder. Maybe getting off and stamping the feet and swinging the arms can be good to get the cool blood moving. It isn’t long now. The deer and hares and getting nervously excited now. The first birds have made a broken song in the hedgerow. The sky passes through a full palette of colours depending on the season, the cloud formations and the dampness of the air. Still chilly, but the first rays finally hit the tired eyes and the night cyclists starts to imagine warmth returning to the earth, the feet and the hands.
Soon the roads will start to fill with traffic as the night-sleepers make their weary ways to work, shops and warehouses. The night has passed, and the lights can be switched off, the fluorescent jacket packed away and perhaps even a layer removed as the cyclist sniffs down an open café and perhaps an extra-large breakfast.