I reached the short wall near Rattlesnake Lake just as darkness really took hold of the evening. Five more minutes on the trail and I would have needed to dig out my emergency flashlight just to have enough visibility to strap my main HID headlamp onto my helmet. It's early January at 47 degrees north latitude and the days are short. At the halfway point in what has become a favorite training ride, I down a box of raisins and some black cherrry flavored Cliff-Bloks, slip my gloves back on, and turn the bike around.
What goes up must come down, and usually much faster. Moisture from the ground is carried upwards on the nubs of my tires and sent aloft in my direction. What my fender doesn't catch soaks my jacket and stains it brown. I swerve to avoid a pothole in the trail -- a horse must have poked through the soggy terra not-so-firma. I silently thank the person who flagged the hole, whoever he or she is. I pedal on.
The trail levels out as I roll along under the I-90 overpass and head towards the small town of North Bend. The trail here is drier. It's now very dark outside. I'm in the big ring, grinding away and feeling great. My iPod, encased in a ziploc baggie, is pumping out a peculiar mix of Bad Religion, Tori Amos, Paul Oakenfold, and Ray Charles. Just thinking of these musicians together makes my head hurt. It's all background noise. I'm humming to a different tune -- the sound of my tires crushing the gravel trail. The miles tick by and my fingers grow numb. I take a sip of water from my Camelbak and try to not think about my aching muscles.
Then it happens. It starts with a synthesized drum beat. It's mellow and subdued. Then the lengthy drawn-out notes are played on the keyboard. It's an unmistakable beginning of a song. One of the greatest songs. My iPod breaks from the ridiculousness that is shuffling thousands of songs and kicks out "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins. I turn up the volume, shift into a higher gear, and pick up speed. I sing along, but in my head. I don't want to ruin the moment with my own voice.
The trees and bushes that flank the trail put me in a tunnel. The sterilized bluish light of the HID on my head makes the slight drizzle look like snowfall. I'm alone and I love it. Twenty miles per hour through the darkness. The infamous drum line kicks in and, as I am mortal like you, a chill runs up my spine. It's the song. It's the moment. It's mountain biking alone at night.