Riding Under the Harvest Moon
The plan was to meet up with our friend Howard on the Springwater Trail after he got off work. We loaded our bikes and rode down to the trail just as the sun was setting. It was just the right time of day when everything was bathed in the sort of gilded light that makes you sigh constantly at how beautiful things look. The evening was unseasonably warm and it was nice to ride on the thinning trail that was usually croweded with people. We got rolling about 7pm and after a few miles down the trail the sky had gone through its various hues and had settled into darkness.
For all our years of touring, we’ve done very little night riding. What struck us immediately was how much further distances felt in the dark. We have ridden that stretch of the Springwater several times and for some reason it never seems as long during the day. But at night, with the small patch of vision provided by our lights, it seemed to go on forever. We stopped momentarily near Powell Butte to eat some snacks when we heard a chorus of coyotes not far from the trail. The howling and the nearly full moon seemed fitting.
It was with some relief to get off the Springwater at night, which was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic and be on actual country roads. We noticed houses and a little cafe that we usually missed when riding through the area during the day. But at night, with their porch lamps shining it we a bit surprising to see how many people lived in this stretch of countryside. We passed one hopping little cafe on Dodge Park road with some people hanging out outside by their truck. Of course, as we roll by someone spots us and shouts out a cheery “Hey, Lance!” I smile and for a second contemplate responding with “Hey, Bubba!” but think the better of it and pedal on.
We take Dodge Park road and turn on Lusted which has a slight incline to camp. Nothing major, but enough to keep your legs honest. When we reach a part of the road where the groomed inhabited meadows fall away and we are faced with tall brooding trees once again, we know we are near to camp. It also means the start of our final descent to river level. Laura has the weakest lights of the three of us, so we plan to descend gingerly so she can see by the pool of our lights.
We begin our descent into the darkness and are only vaguely aware of anything else but the striped line of the road, that we try to keep centered in our patches of light. My headlight is mounted to my left fork and it is a strange and slightly unnerving sensation when the road twists to the right where I have no visibility. I make a mental note to look for a helmet mounted light if we plan to do more night touring. It’s a fairly long descent (atleast it feels long at night) with lots of twist and a few hairpin turns. There are few straight stretches but when there are, I try to look up and see around me. The full moon peeks through the tall black rushing trees. Somewhere below we begin to hear the unmistakeable sound of running water.
The end of the descent is punctuated with a spectacular exit out of the trees. Suddenly you are on a bridge and the forest opens up and on either side of you is a wide and glorious river in different shades of grey and dark blues in the night. I drag the brake to momentarily take it all in.
As luck would have it, we get into camp just in time. It is a little after 9pm. At 9:30, the camphost calls it a night and starts their final rounds of the park before shutting the gate. We have our choice of the campground and pick a spot quickly and get to work setting up camp. Laura puts up the tent and I work on getting the fire started. I’ve brought our camp knife and chop up lots of bits of kindling. I use an Esbit cube as a fire starter and soon we have fire.
Now we could finally relax. We each brought burritos for dinner from a foodcart and try to warm them by the fire. We packed light and brought no cooking gear, except for a kettle and a folding Esbit stove for coffee (we are not completely Spartan). We talk around the fire and take everything in. The tall trees around us hide the moon but its light works it way to the forest bottom and gives everything a bluish glow. Our small fire burns for a surprisingly long time before we call it a night.
The next morning, I get up at 7am and try my hand at some fishing. The water is at late summer levels before any of the winter rains so it is noticeably low. What were rapids a few months ago are just wade-able trickles. With no luck, I go back to camp and have some coffee and breakfast. Laura gathers some twigs and the rest of our wood to make a small morning fire. I decided to tackle the water one more time before heading out and switch tactics. Instead of fishing the riffles, I try out the slower deep water rigging up two weighted nymphs I cast upstream and drift the flies subsurface hopefully near the bottom. It’s tricky to fish this way since the takes are harder to feel. After about a half hour I’m ready to call it a day since we have to take off by 9am. I’m doing a slow retrieve over some rocks and see a flash of silver and the familiar tug of a fish on the line. I can tell by the weight on the line it is no monster, but the little guy has some fight. It’s a beautiful six inch rainbow. The other people fishing across the river momentarily look up and give the nod. I let it go and head back to camp to pack up.
We have to be back in Portland at a certain time, so it is not a leisurely ride going back either. The road that we gingerly descended in the dark, we attack with gusto in the morning. We make short work of the two climbs and before we know it we are back on the Springwater heading into town. We stop at a foodcart just off the trail and inhale some enormous cheeseburgers in record time. The trail in full daylight doesn’t seem as long or as mysterious; it is an altogether different place when the sun is out. The magic of riding under the full moon is gone, but not forgotten. We are a little sad that we won’t be able to camp at Dodge Park for another year, but excited at the possibilities of other places night rides could take us.
Ben October 2, 2012 at 8:53 am
Those Salsa Vayas look very nice! Oh, and night riding is awesome.
IAN October 2, 2012 at 12:09 pm
Awesome!Petzl headlights perfect.Just got LED upgrade bulb for my 1985 one-retina searing.
BY the way,switch Esbit tablet for Kendal mint cake for ultimate prank….
Fall is Here « The KEEN Blog October 3, 2012 at 5:14 pm
[…] Take a Harvest Moon Ride – Path Less Pedaled […]
jolene October 3, 2012 at 9:19 pm
your posts are always well written and awesome! I haven’t done much night riding, but I have to be at work at 6am so I do a lot of dark riding…so sublime. I have experimented with lots of different light options. I do backpack at night (heading in to Basecamp on a Friday after work). It’s amazing how quickly your night vision kicks in. I don’t use my headlamp much, esp. on a full moon. The heat and bugs are down too. I know a local group does a full moon ride here in Eug. every month, but I haven’t joined them. Perhaps I should.
Mark October 5, 2012 at 2:38 pm
I like it! I’ve camped wild a bit while travelling by motorcycle and your post has inspired me to have a go by bicycle too, complete with a bit of night riding of course. Just the thought of being able to seek out little corners of wilderness here in the UK without the sound of an engine to blow my cover … Can’t wait!
Doug W. October 9, 2012 at 11:06 am
Nice video! Love our Salsa Fargos and the Vayas are a nice road-oriented option. Nice builds too.
Not sure how much mtn biking you’ve done, but if this is your first experience with disc brakes, then be warned that you’re likely to never truly get that brake howl to go away, especially once the discs are wet. And especially with Avids, whether it be the BB7s (on our Fargos and my singlespeed) or their Juicy or Stoker versions. My friends and I sound like a gaggle of geese descending trail in the wet, as all of us run Avids.
Question though: what bottle cage are you using to hold that Kleen Kanteen?
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I love riding at night! There is something so peaceful about riding in my own bubble of light. I especially like a night where the sky is clear, full of stars, and there is very little ambient light from the street lights. On my last tour, I had a couple of opportunities for night riding. One was actually a very early morning ride on Vashon Island to the Water Taxi terminal catch a boat to Seattle. Early morning (still dark) is even better because it is so quiet.