Cycling Stories

Night Rider

June 13, 2020


Night Rider

“Life, as always, goes on beautifully, strong, manic, effervescent and ever-changing, mysterious yet familiar. And the night biker witnesses it all.” 

Brendan Murphy

After dark, bike armored with plentiful lights and reflectors, I don my rusty ski jacket, long underwear, and puffy gloves.  

Night biking is a solemn and meditative experience, yet full of impending danger. On this stalwart outing, my front illumination guides the way like the Bat-Signal, as I venture bravely into a night of faded stars, cloaked by winter mist. I whisk down a forgotten road, under bare branches and into the cold, damp air.

I come across a forlorn plot of graves in the middle of a quiet suburb, squeak my brakes, and make a roundabout motion. I shine my headlight on a worn date carved into sandstone. It reads 1812. A solitary man rests quietly, all but forgotten amongst a random assortment of slanted rocks, crumbling reminders of souls that passed ages ago.  

The evening is strangely quiet, and I dart my eyes about, looking for other pedestrians, but there’s only deadened silence. Wasn’t expecting that. 

Still rolling, legs shaking, mouth dry, down the quiet road, past foreign blue lights emitted from a lofty white balcony. A fluffy malamute pokes its head over a wooden gate and stares at me curiously, furry paws curled over the pickets, ready to lunge but remaining docile as I gaze upon it. A friendly beast, not the ravenous creature I anticipated. 

A clandestine deal occurs on a ramshackle front porch, as televisions glimmer with news conferences, presenting the Coronavirus as a harbinger of the apocalypse. 

Nighttime is when spookiness and sadness mix with happiness and foolhardy elation. Humans grow into primal animals, no longer lemmings on a wheel but changelings, thriving with human hunger pangs. Like mad dancers during the looming Black Death of the Dark Ages, people dance and frolic, fret and cry, live and love.  

Life, as always, goes on, beautifully strong, manic, effervescent, and ever-changing, mysterious yet familiar. And the night biker witnesses it all. 

Outdoor Christmas lights, white and multi-colored, hang from quiet windows, flitting against cold window panes in a damp winter wind. A young construction worker drops milk and eggs from his grocery bag as someone hangs a cheap leather coat on a fence post, above a ragged box of spent toiletries, forlorn on a cement curb. A black cat darts across the puddled roadway as drunken fisherman in rusty trucks careen home from nearby bars. Biking at night is a feast for the senses. 

From blocks away, the sounds of harried and happy voices coalesce a distant sound of domestic comfort, carrying across the humid night. Winter air is fresh, wet, and invigorated with the smells and sounds of living. Animals emerge from the swollen brush, coyotes howl into the night, as if echoing unanimous excitement and lament, feelings too often suppressed or ignored by hurried human souls. Nights are for the living and the dead. 

Riding takes me places, physically and mentally, that are otherwise inaccessible.  

A piercingly bright front headlight is key for spotting protruding trees branches or raccoons that often skitter cross my path. The light should be bright enough to alert, but not blind passing motorists. 

Nighttime is when everyone comes alive, the blinders are taken off, and inhibitions disappear. Life continues under the glaring light of the day, but it truly awakens at night. Human senses enliven with longing for melodrama and conviviality.  

An old man drinks whiskey alone at his basement workbench, while a mother’s daughter blows out birthday candles as siblings squeal. Others fall for the deadened comfort of a flickering television, as jet planes blink and planets circle in a quiet, inky sky.  

I ride my bike and view behind warm windows the melange of faces engaging in their true inclinations, forming a theater of the human experience for all the night cyclists to see. 

Brendan Murphy is an avid writer and bicyclist. He enjoys urban and mountain biking, as they both offer a feast for the senses and a stretch of the legs.

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