With the push of a button, conscious movement is replaced by reactionary reflex as my reptilian brain slowly assumes control from my cerebrum as the light from my headlamp fades into memory. My eyes gradually adjust to my new surroundings. A world much larger than the few square meters of light cast from my helmet, but is shroud in infinite mystery.
Like an obscure vision pulled from Jim Henson’s darker years, the scene is nightmarish in its architecture. The charred carcasses of ancient juniper trees stripped of their greenery in some distant wildfire stand silently, like motionless sentinels waiting to be awoken by the parting of clouds revealing a cold and dazzling full moon. Luckily for me, the apex of the lunar cycle is still two days away, but the bright silhouette of the large moon casts sharp spindly shadows from the branches obscuring scraggly sage and salt brush. Everything here is sharp and brittle.
Was it really a good idea to go for a solo midnight ride on unknown single track atop a lonely mesa with no one for miles in any direction? Yes it was. One of the charming features of desert singletrack with dirt beaten into submission by years of bike tire abuse is that it creates a very light coloured dust contrasting with the prolific reds and oranges which seems to emit moonlight from its chalky atoms so that on a mesa such as this with no foliage, I am free to ride by the light of the moon.
The distracting vibrance of crimson, orange, yellow, and ochre rocks by day are replaced by shape and shadow which aids in navigating across the undulating maze of slick rock. As I pedal towards the south end of the mesa sandstone melts into singletrack and I follow the white line snaking off into the darkness. Feeling my way over rocks and around corners is a very tactile and freeing sensation compared with the calculated intellectual style of being able to visually inspect the numerous options of possible line choice.
Near the canyon rim I am stopped dead in my tracks by a large inky black stump perched in amongst the boulders beside the trail. I know it is just a stump, but something about that spot sends a tingling chill across my scalp as I stare paralyzed in the silent tenebrosity of the moment. Thoughts of ancient Indian burial grounds and chanting sacrificial ceremonies enter my thoughts. I gather up the courage to race past the stump, trying not to imagine what terrible black magic this woody apparition may have in store for me. I reach the relative safety of the next hill a few hundred meters away and look back into the obscurity of muddled shapes and cannot define that horrible stump. The silence is calming and unnerving at the same time as I start the motion of pedal stroke after pedal stroke towards the hazy, nearly full moon.
- March 2016