Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Home Before Dark



Among the more delicious memories I have of childhood, are those involving rushing to get home by curfew. Like so many others of my generation, I would be let loose for hours on end, free from parental vigilance, to roam the neighbourhood on my own recognisance with just one caveat: that I was to return before dark. Or else.

Of course, our gang of friends would squeeze the most we possibly could out of this notion. The definition of "before dark" was, after all, expandable. If the sky was still kind of pale, it was not actually proper dark just yet, right?

With this reasoning, we would wait till the last possible moment to halt our important activities and part ways. And then we would each run home like hell. Trying to outrun the twilight, and the inking-over of the sky.

As grown adults, it is almost sad how few extrinsic controls we have to slyly chafe against in this manner. Yes, a family might be waiting for us at home. They might grow impatient with us, or worry. But that really isn't the same as the childhood thrill of just making the curfew.

That is why it is all the more exciting to experience a glimmer of that old feeling, thanks to the bicycle and the occasional forgetting of lights. It is childish and it is silly and it is an unnecessary bit of risk-taking. But the question of "How long can I stay out, and still get home safely?" has a flavour of that same delicious thrill.

Early autumn is the trickiest, most dangerous time for this game, at least in Ireland. For the sun does not merely start to set sooner. The duration of the sunset itself becomes shorter, as does the twilight period after. For what seems like most of summer, you are safe in expecting at least an hour from the time it begins to grow dark, to the time it actually is dark. But in the course of a mere couple of weeks in late September and early October, the season of endless evenings ends. The sunsets become rushed, abbreviated, almost as if someone fast forwards through them. And then, with the twilight skipped almost entirely, darkness falls thick and without delay.

In an Autumn that is more like an Indian Summer, it is easy to get caught out. To think you have an hour, then realise with a gasp that you only have 15 minutes and pedal, pedal like mad down the rapidly dimming country roads.

As my husband would say, it puts an edge on things. Which he means as a good thing, pointing out that I get "some of my best times" during these manic rides home. Then again, in his view of life, "a bit of an edge" sweetens any experience. Once when we were hiking up a nearby mountain he convinced me there had been puma sightings there. "We might have to climb a tree, and quickly. Can you climb?..." Never had I been so vigilant on a hike, since or after.

But there isn't an edge on me exactly, as I rush to race the sunset. It is more of a magical feeling. A feeling that, if I try hard enough, I might - just might - pedal fast enough to achieve time travel. Drenched in sweat and panting, full of promises to always carry lights, I arrive at home before dark, only just. And I am stupidly, stupidly happy.



35 comments:

  1. While I don't rush home because I've forgotten my lights—dynamos all around here—I do rush home because being on foreign, forested roads in the dead of night is pretty spooky. I get pretty jumpy and it really isn't fun.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Come home when the streetlights come on" was the norm when I was a kid. Watching TV and playing video games wasn't a thing any of us did. Riding down to the creek, building forts, whatever it was that consumed us day after day was signaled to end when those lights flickered on.

    Wolf.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This was the same for us.
      We also ran home every time Mrs Conlon called for her twins. ;)

      Delete
    2. Yes, In the summer the Street lights were our cue to head home. Though some days we never made it home!
      Dynamo lights are the order of the day now, won't build a bike without them, But I live in a densely populated city so I stay off busy roads regardless. For years I rode with no lights at all, I still kind of miss more or less being invisible, unobtrusive, an observer moving quietly through the night. - Mas

      Delete
  3. Forgive my ignorance of puma habits, but would climbing a tree even help?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ESPECIALLY for those Irish Pumas. Particularly bad, so they are...

      Delete
  4. Hate to worry you but I have been face to face with a puma out in the woods, all be it Scottish woods but I guess that the Irish let a few loose too. I felt so dumb, I only had a view camera which needed to go onto a tripod so missed the chance of a real earner of a picture! After about half a minute it silently bounded back into the scrub and my heart rate returned to normal.

    I used to curse street lights which shone in all directions but now the roads seem so much darker with the fancy new cold LEDs which have been installed. Does not help that so many dog owners decide to loose their civic responsibility the moment the nights draw in! Hate the dark.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am impressed that your main concern at this time was not having a proper camera setup.

      Sometimes in the '70s there was a priest in Magilligan (the village nearest to said mountain) who was kind of a character. One of the things he did was set up a private zoo for the local children. The zoo was tiny, but filled with exotic animals. Where he got them god only knows, but the locals who were kids at the time remember zebras, monkeys, a kangaroo, even a smallish lion and various other wild cats. This went on for a few years, until the priest either retired or died and the parish couldn't afford to keep the zoo going. So one day it was simply gone, dismantled. And no one knows what happened to the animals.

      {Or so the story goes.}

      Delete
  5. Our curfew was sunset as well and dad taught us that there was enough time to get home from most places in and around town if you left when there was two finger widths between the setting sun and the horizon.

    Failure to get home before the sunset meant no dinner.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I love this post. It evokes perfectly the childhood thrill of rushing home before dark. I feel that way when I ride at night even when I have lights. There is something exhilarating about rushing through the dark at breakneck speeds. Hey, at night even my measly 12 mph commute feels like a breakneck speed!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anything that revives the joy of childhood is worth the danger that darkness, or even a Puma can bring.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wha...Pumas in Ireland?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. St. Patrick imported them to help with the snakes.

      Wolf.

      Delete
    2. Seems like A Lynx or Bobcat would have more then tackled the problem and been less of a danger to the locals! Hindsight! As cold as it is there it's hard to imagine they had that much of a problem with snakes anywayz!?- Mas

      Delete
    3. Not natively. But I think the idea was to suggest they had been somehow "released" (see the zoo story above).

      Delete
  9. I certainly remember the rush home, mostly in autumn or early spring, since winter we were closer to home and summer it stays light forever (daylight savings here), running to open the back gate, the air now damp and cool and the smell of mummy's cooking so enticing. Lovely memories.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Growing up in Chicago in the 1960s the streetlights, headlights and illuminated signs did their best to blot out the stars and keep an artificial dusk all night. I remember going to the planetarium and thinking that there couldn't really be that many stars visible. Then at nine years old I went overnight camping in rural Wisconsin and saw more stars in the sky than in the planetarium, including the milky way!

    ReplyDelete
  11. My light system is built in -- I'm using the Magnic Light these days -- so I don't have this problem. But oh, do I love night-time rides. Especially late, in the country, away from traffic. Riding along in the darkness, perched on top of a bike following a line on top of the road, surrounded by dark country. It is a little bit like flying a plane over the wilderness, all alone. One of the nicest things there is about being a long-distance cyclist, in my experience.
    I do see cyclists riding without lights in the city, and I sympathize -- I've been there. Lights are expensive, especially when you paid maybe $0 for your bike, and it's easy to think you don't really need them. But fall darkness arrives early here in Pittsburgh, too, and there you are, riding along in the full dark, without a light, depending on motorists to notice you and be careful. And there's me, seeing you, hoping you are lucky and wishing you took better care of yourself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh wow, Magnic Light. What do you think of it compared to a conventional generator system?

      The cost of lights is a problem especially in rural areas, where cheaper options are insufficient. Around here, free bikes are very easy to come by. But adequate lighting, not so much, which is why so few commute. It's interesting though to contrast that with the recent night-time MTB craze, in which context locals seem able and wiling to spend quite a bit of money.

      Delete
    2. I've had to do a lot of manual fitting of the Magnic Light, by trial and error. The mounts they come with aren't flexible enough for my use--they have to be mounted at the brake. I had to make modifications to fit them around my fenders and at the back of a rear rack. And it's tricky to mount the light because it has to be very close to the wheel to work, but if it rubs you can easily breach the housing and destroy the light.
      On the other hand, the lights work well once they're properly mounted. The rear light, especially, is great because it is more than bright enough and doesn't require batteries or wiring from a front wheel generator. It also has a standlight that works better than other ones I've tried (the B & M tail light standlight with the SON hub isn't nearly that bright). And there's really no drag that I've been able to notice. Front hub dynamos have a small drag, the Magnic Light has much less.
      In the front, the Magnic Light is bright enough for most riding (especially if you're slow like me) but it is not nearly as bright as the really bright battery-powered lights. So you can't really use it if you like riding fast at night in bad conditions.
      Overall, I'm more than happy with them, but it took me some time to work out proper fitting. If I wasn't inclined to trial and error I'd probably want a bike shop with some machine shop capabilities to get them installed properly.

      Delete
    3. Ah okay, so it's definitely not the sort of setup you can casually move from one bike to another.

      Still, even considering the trial and error it sounds like a good system for commuting. Thanks for the feedback.

      Delete
  12. I'm barely able to get a ride completed before dark lately. It's been fun trying to beat the darkness. My bike lights will be coming out soon.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Pretty soon there will be clown sightings. Luckilly clowns only ride unicycles, so you can easily outrun them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am hoping that despite Irish Halloween celebrations becoming increasingly more American, the clown thing won't make its way across the water!

      Delete
    2. It's started http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/12/world/europe/clown-hysteria-spreads-to-britain.html

      Delete
    3. Well that didn't take long

      http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/northern-ireland-school-closes-over-killer-clown-threat-35126483.html

      Delete
  14. I did this exact thing tonight. As it started to get a little dark I popped my lights on only to find that they were both dead. I had to do a quick calculation of how far i had to go and how much time i had to get home and picked up the pace for the last few miles of tonight's ride.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Magic happens, for me, when I fail to make it home w/o lights….Magic happens when things fail….I enjoy the dark rides, and I've had many….

    ReplyDelete
  16. The skunk arrives at the party.
    In your former incarnation you would have known how hard it is for people to see things they are not expecting. Low visibility makes this even worse. Cyclists need to help drivers see them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Being an occasional driver again for the first time in years, I am aware more than ever of the folly of playing chicken with the sunset. But even now and again it happens to everyone. Often not deliberately.

      Delete
  17. Was at a bike store today and saw this very saddle hanging out on display. Thought, cool, I've seen this before on one or more of your bikes. It's listed at $175….!!! So seeing it on this bike makes me wonder about choices as we assemble our bikes. This seems like an odd combination.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You've seen this same saddle on a few of my bikes, because I've tried it on different bikes. I was one of the early testers when Brooks released the Cambium range.

      Saddles can be very expensive, especially good saddles. But they are crucial to the bike's ride quality and therefore are usually the first upgrade a person will make to their bike. From what I see, when someone buys a vintage bike or a "budget bike" it is not unusual for the cyclist to spend more on a saddle upgrade than they spent on the bike to begin with.

      The good news about the Cambium range, is that not everyone who tries these saddles likes them - so there are quite a few available secondhand, barely ridden and at decent prices.

      Delete
    2. Good news? Go to buy a car and it would be rare not to get a short test ride but bikes and saddles for most are a real gamble. I have three Brooks saddles, one is almost unrideable two are pure joy and the one which was stolen half a lifetime ago was perfect once broken in...

      Delete
    3. This is very true. The one ray of hope is that some bike shops have started offering "saddle libraries." Would be great if the trend catches on.

      Delete