Biking at night – nobody ever said it was safe
Mountain biking at night – it’s new, it’s popular, and it’s expensive. I caught my husband Jeffrey just as he clicked on the “Pay Order Now” button on what looked to be a couple of fancy flashlights, but which cost him close to $500! I guess that explains why he laughed so hard when I offered him my headlamp. Now that I’m in my 40s, I know for certain I’ll never be one of those people. I am such a poop at night. Once that sun has dipped below the Tenmile, I am perfectly fine to curl up in bed with my latest topography map and wake with first light. It’s a little pathetic and it drives my friends crazy, but there was a time, 25 years ago, when I actually had some spunk under a starry sky.We called our club the Night Riders, and we had inspirations to make this thing huge. But really it just was five of us, and looking back, we were kind of an odd bunch. Three Jewish guys – Jeff Weiner, a chubby energetic fellow, Chuck Stein, our goodie-goodie who constantly lectured us but still loved to misbehave, and my boyfriend Alan Orlansky, the lead risk taker, handsome, always fun and up for anything. Then there was Joe, a big black dude, who knew more of the city streets than all of us combined. These were the days before headphones, and Joe had speakers and a generator mounted on his recycled bike so he could listen to his hero, Miles Davis.Lastly, there was me, the white blonde WASP, still in high school, but a free spirit and proud that my best friends were these guys eight years older than I. We all loved to road bike, and every day after school I’d meet them in Schenley Park where we’d set off for a couple hours riding all over Pittsburgh, with its hilly and rough streets. Weiner was in the T-Shirt business and I remember how thrilled he was to hand out our first night riding uniform – a 100-percent cotton T-shirt with a bike and rider in the corner, and the words “Night Riders” in italics across the chest. He did pick a good color, bright orange; it wasn’t fluorescent, but I don’t remember any of us being too concerned about cars seeing us or us being able to see each other. We had all taken the reflectors off our wheels and pedals because reflectors weren’t cool and there wasn’t any talk of at least carrying a flashlight. This was truly riding at night. Luckily, many of the city streets had lights and if we ever ventured onto a highway, we relied on the occasional headlights to illuminate the road’s shoulder. I have no idea how I got away with this but I must have been a good liar and my decent grades kept mom and dad happy. Little did they know. We’d all meet at Alan’s apartment around 9 p.m. Usually our night rides stuck to the familiar buffed roads through the parks. There is something about moving through the night that makes you feel fast and sporty, and I can see why that sensation is addicting. Our most memorable journey was the trip downtown. The first part was mostly quiet residential streets, but once in Oakland, the University of Pittsburgh campus, things got a little hairy. We’d ride past the university buildings, continue on through a few blocks of abandoned shops, and then descend the entrance ramp to a busy four-lane highway with a wide shoulder that takes you downtown. Cars flying by at 60 miles per hour was definitely part of the rush. Right before the town center, we rode through the scary poor projects and I remember how those streets were really dark. But once we got to the heart of downtown, the fun began. We never stopped at red lights or stop signs, and we’d whiz around those deserted streets like we owned the place.Of course, I wouldn’t recommend this to anybody. The whole project was unsafe and ill conceived. To do it safely, you need some kind of lighting, maybe not as expensive as what my husband ordered, but you do need something to help see. I’m just glad I got to do it my way, when I was young and foolish enough, to not know just how foolish it was.Longtime Breckenridge resident Ellen Hollinshead writes a biweekly column on the outdoors. She’s headed out on a fall adventure, though, and won’t be back until November. Check back then.
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