Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Gifts of Distance and Darkness


Of all the gifts I've received over the years, among my most treasured are a couple of lessons I learned from the many kind people in the randonneuring community, especially my friends in the Seattle International Randonneurs. The first lesson is simply this: Any Distance is Biking Distance. All the rules, paperwork, time limits and shiny medals are mechanisms to bring riders together so they can learn this simple lesson from one another. While the main lesson is a simple one, the details of pacing, equipment, nutrition, lore, history and so on are things learned slowly and repeatedly. The details get tested on the road, in every ride and brevet.

Randonneurs have been described as "riders who enjoy riding so much they don't want to stop" and as the distances get longer, randonneurs outride the daylight. If you do a Google search or ask around you will find plenty of opinions that riding a bicycle at night is incredibly dangerous. In fact, there are thousands of bicycles sold with stickers boldly stating "DO NOT RIDE AT NIGHT." And people will tell you "There are drunks on the road!" and "You can't see where you're going!" and the always persuasive "It's just crazy to ride at night!"

Despite the persistent rumor, randonneurs aren't crazy. (Maybe some are, but you don't HAVE to be crazy to be a randonneur.) Because randonneurs ride at night, they know things about riding at night. They know what lights work and how to see where they are going. They know that unfortunately some people do drink and drive and they can also tell you when the bars close and what the traffic patterns are. They can also tell you what mini-marts are open in Stanwood, Washington at 3:00 AM.

And they'll tell you this: It is beautiful at night. It is a quieter, more tranquil, less-populated world. You will see more animals and fewer people. There are far fewer cars on the road. I honestly believe that with good lights and reflective gear, a rider on a bicycle is at a lower risk riding at night than during the busy hours of the day. My rando pals recently rode a couple of overnight Solstice Rides (one on the weekend and one on the true solstice). People can ride their bikes in the darkness and not only survive, but thrive.

These days I'm mostly working on the weekends when the randos ride and I've got more than enough control cards and rando pins in my collection. The medals are just metal, but the lessons learned on darkened roads and the 4:00 AM conversations with my friends are priceless treasures.

You don't have to be a randonneur to ride at night. I just got back from a short, lovely bicycle ride around my neighborhood. The streets were quiet and mostly empty. The few cars I encountered were going the speed limit and their drivers did not seem stressed or distracted by a cluttered, noisy and busy world. I did not feel endangered or threatened or fearful. I felt relaxed and happy. My rando friends showed me this world, a gift we are given every night of the year.

Happy Holidays, everyone. We're given gifts every day and night and the best gifts are those that remind us of how very much we have.

Keep 'em rolling, day and night.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA
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