Terror in the Dark on the Trails

Biking on the Aboite Trails can be fun. It can be a challenge. It can also be hazardous. It all depends on the time of day (or night) that you are on them.

I’ve been using the trails to get to work and back. Because the sun rises later and later each morning, I’m riding more and more in the dark. It seemed to me that being on the trails would offer an advantage over riding on streets and roads in the dark. I prefer not to ride on any thoroughfare containing motorized vehicles. The trails exist because intelligent people thought they would help everyone – car drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians – be safer. I am more than happy to participate in such a program.

The benefits of walking and biking on trails as opposed to streets and roads are well known. The disadvantages, however, especially if you are travelling in the dark, are not readily apparent until you’ve spent some time walking and biking on them.

Although heavy traffic is not usually a problem on the trails during periods of darkness, it only takes a few travelers in close proximity to create potential problems. Even though I have a headlight on my bicycle, I often have trouble seeing pedestrians, especially those wearing dark clothing. I gain ground quickly on walkers, and if they’re not making noise and are dressed like ninja I can be upon them suddenly. If they are wired up with iPods, jamming away and thinking about breakfast, they may not be aware of my approach and our impending collision. If the walker has a dog, the animal might be on the opposite (my) side of the paved area. In that case, I might crush Fido as I roll over him or hit the leash at the midpoint of my tire and roll over it after it’s jerked from the fingertips of the dog’s master. In a nightmare scenario, the leash is looped around the human’s wrist as a precaution and the leash is whipped suddenly away and the hand stays with it.

If the trail is near the street and you happen to be biking toward oncoming traffic, you will be treated to instant blindness if the car’s headlights are on high beam. A glowing wall of disaster rises up in front of you and increases in intensity as the car approaches. You are helpless as your vision is blocked and you cannot see your handlebars, let alone any human, animal, or inanimate object in your path. You hit your brakes hard and hope you don’t run into anything before you stop.

Nocturnal animals are always a hazard. Raccoons, opossums, foxes, coyotes, and feral cats can launch themselves into your path at any moment. Rolling over any of them with your bike will probably not kill them outright but injure them so that they will suffer for hours or perhaps days before finally succumbing to the injury. And don’t forget about your own injuries, especially if you hit a very fat raccoon and your bike tire digs so deeply into its carcass that you’re thrown head over handlebars and land on the asphalt, on your head. Perhaps the most terrifying animal, however, is the skunk. You don’t have to hit one of them to suffer the consequences. While biking to work the other morning, I was treated to the most intense, chokingly obnoxious skunk musk I have ever smelled. I must have passed through a recently sprayed cloud of the stuff and I wondered for a few minutes whether I had received a direct hit. Luckily, the scent subsided and there was no residue left on my person. Now I’m morbidly afraid of encountering one directly in front of me.

Perhaps the most aggravating annoyances on the trails in early morning darkness are the water sprinklers. The most obnoxious ones are those operated by homeowners associations. They cover vast swaths of the trails during early morning hours. You never know when a rotating sprinkler will come around to greet you with a head-high stream. It’s bad enough to be blasted in the legs, body, and head, but your underparts also get a good dose just from rolling over the soaked pavement. I believe bike tires are intentionally designed to suck water off pavement and fling it toward your ass. I’ve considered putting fenders on my bike, but come on. How cool is it to be seen riding a commuter bike? Besides, any bicycle I ever had as a youth had its fenders stripped off shortly after I assumed ownership. Why change the tradition now?

So, as you can plainly see, biking the trails is a mixed bag, especially in the wee  hours of the morning when dogs are being let out to pee, when nocturnals are trying to find their ways back into their lairs, and when drowsy walkers are stumbling about half crazed wondering how on Earth they ever thought early morning walks would be nice. Well, that was before they fully understood the terrors they would encounter on the Aboite Trails.

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