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1 March 2016 No comments

Finding Zen On The Trails

Correspondence Friends Bicycles Monthly highlights Travel & Adventure Cycling
By Juliet Elliott
Finding Zen On The Trails
Though we’re now past the shortest day of the year, if you get your kicks from hightailing it on two wheels and feeling the rush of wind in your hair, February through March can be a bit of a bummer. The days still seem too brief and it can be hard to juggle work, family, chores and cycling and fit everything in whilst there’s still enough light to see what you’re doing. The other day, I had to get a bunch of work done, take the cats to the vet, go to the gym then drive a couple of hours for a meeting and get my bike serviced, and feeling somewhat harassed, I was trying to figure out at what point in the day I was going to squeeze in a restorative ride. It just didn’t seem possible before nightfall. My thoughts turned to night riding, because of course bike lights extend the hours available for cycling, but I’ve never been able to get that excited about riding down sketchy, narrow country lanes on my road bike, even when I’m lit up like a Christmas tree. Sticking lights on my mountain bike and heading off on some easy trails seemed infinitely more appealing, so armed with an UGOE light and a Knog ‘Blinder,’ I set off for a solo pedal around Ashton Court, thereby going against all advice for undertaking a night-riding a mission by: a> going on my own and b> riding somewhere I’ve never been before, but anyway, with the UGOE strapped to my bars and the Knog adorning my lid, I crossed a dark field and entered the woods. Despite a road running parallel for one stretch of the route, I had the trails all to myself and the still, peaceful quiet of the woods belied Ashton Court’s proximity to the city’s bustling centre. Smooth, flat and neatly weather surfaced, the trails lack much (any) technical difficulty but veiled in darkness, took on a distinctly magical life of their own. I felt oddly privileged to be out there on my lonesome in my own private playground, enjoying a sneaky, special treat most don’t get to taste. By refusing to be bound by the set hours of daylight and forced back to the sofa where so many languish over winter, my ride felt all the more sweet. Designed for riders of any ability, the 5 mile loop was well maintained, smooth and the ideal introduction to night riding. If I’m being brutally honest, I might have been just a tad bored by it during the day, but when you can’t see much and don’t know where you’re going, even the gentlest of berms can be tricky to perfect, and besides, careering down unknown, steep, rooty terrain at night and on your own would be madness, so wasn't complaining! My eyes directed by the beam, the illuminated route was bright and easy to see. I found it somehow soothing to simply focus on the bright strip of track I had to follow, other thoughts fading into the background like the trees dissolving into darkness away from my bike lights. There’s been much made of mindfulness recently and despite having tried it numerous times myself and quizzed a specialist several times, I’ve never, ever found it helpful. Give me a mountain bike, dark woods and a beam of light however…. I’ve written before about cycling and ‘flow’ and how 'serious playfulness makes it possible to be both engaged and carefree at the same time,’ but sometime I find I’m so very accustomed to riding bikes all the time that I can be fully on autopilot for the duration of a ride, and try as I might, I can’t stop my mind from wandering off and contemplating whatever it is that’s niggling. One way of avoiding that is by doing new and difficult things, such as riding Downhill, racing or even Threshold Interval Training, but sometimes I don’t actually feel like terrifying or hurting myself! Night trail riding seems to be the answer to my ‘flow’ seeking prayers! So if you fancy giving night trail riding a bash, here are a few pointers. Obviously, some of these are a bit ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ but hey, I’m not claiming to be a saint...
  • A light on your helmet and one on your bars is ideal.
  • Make sure your lights are fully charged and that they’ll last the duration of your ride.
  • Choose short laps rather than a long loop.
  • Choose a route you know – it’s not the best time to go exploring.
  • Treat every trail like you’ve never ridden it before. You might think you know the trail like the back of your hand, but things seem very different under cover of darkness.
  • If you’re using ultra powerful lights on the trails, switch to something that won’t blind oncoming traffic if you join a road.
  • It’s best to ride with a friend. If you do ride on your own, leave a message saying where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
  • Take a mobile phone with you.
  • Take a well-stocked backpack with tools, tubes, a first aid kit and snacks.
  • Have fun.