I like biking at night. I particular like biking through urban areas, where everything is unnaturally quiet. Streetlights and even shoplights speak to the presence of humans, but for the moment they're ... gone.
Sadly, I've had to be much more cautious about nighttime biking in recent years, since that one night when I twice had thugs try to pull me off my bicycle. I still do it, and I'm not paranoid as I was in the months that followed those incidents, but it's only rarely that I get the visceral joy from it that I once did.
So last night I decided to try an alternative. I've been doing a lot of biking lately to the hills behind our house — mainly to Lake Temescal and to the Shepherd Canyon Trail. As the ride goes through some of the nicest areas of Oakland, including Elmwood, Rockridge, and Montclair, it seemed like a good ride to try at night. So last night, a bit after 9pm, following Kimberly's and my snack (and reading of American Gods) I did.
It was a fun ride, exhilirating and eerie too.
The streets were quiet, but not empty.
On the way up the hill, I thought that Temescal could be a little sketchy, but it was so deserted that I didn't have any concerns.
Up in Montclair, I was as comfortable as I've ever been riding at night. Some of the streets are super well-lit, making me think that lighting might be a factor of property value in Oakland. Then I got up to the Shepherd Canyon Trail.
As I'd expected, the trail was dark, but that didn't prepare me for quite how pitch dark it was. There was a moon, but it was only about half-full, and banks of light fog occasionally obscured it. When you got under the actual trees in the main trail, things got even darker. I'd expected to only be able to see a bit ahead, by the glow of my headlights. I hadn't been prepared for the fact that it'd be pitch dark behind me, that I couldn't see anything but inky blackness in my mirror.
It made my back itch. There's a vulnerability that you can feel when biking up hill, because you're aware that you couldn't go that much faster even if you needed to, because the slope is working again you. I could feel that as I biked up the trail, and for a moment it started to freak me out. Then I took a few calming breaths and enjoyed the rest of the ride up.
I was also surprised with how hard it was to make out the trail. Everything was just gray, trail and ground alike, and so I could really only make out where I was by the location of the trees surrounding me. Every once in a while I'd get a bit more clarity when my wheel lights strobed to their cyan color and everything lit up, but then they'd go back to red or dark blue and my luminosity would drop again. (I should try and figure out how to keep those brighter colors up, as my Monkey Lights theoretically have a lot of settings, but I tried to mess with them on the way back down, and the controls were opaque as ever.)
When I got to the houses at the top of they trail, they were a literal light in the wilderness — burning brightly. I turned around and headed back down. I was a bit worried about being able to see the trail when going at a higher speed, but I now had open sky in front of me (instead of to my back) and that helped me see a bit better. Around the big curve, as the Trail turns over Montclair, I saw a will-o-the-wisp coming toward me — a bright blue light jumping here and there. I slowed down as I passed its wielder, a silent walker heading up the hill, holding some sort of glowy light.
On the way back through Lake Temescal, I took the path near the lake this time, instead of the one that bypasses the whole park. I'd hoped for some lighting around the Lake, but they apparently only do that at the north side of the park. In its own way, the Lake was as spooky as the Trail, because several times I heard small animals go running, but I could just see them barely out of the corner of my eye.
I made it back home with under an hour and a half for the whole trip. My bike computer said 75 minutes actual biking, which was darned good time for heading up the Trail and back. It was an exhilirating experience because I felt filled with energy and the biking was easy. It was eerie because of the total blackness on the Shepherd Canyon Trail and at Lake Temescal. But, I do think it met my criteria of less worrisome nighttime biking. As I said, Temescal (and Broadway just beyond it) were the only places where I wondered at all about safety.