I've heard night riding (with lights, of course) described as riding through a tunnel. This isn't really accurate--unless, of course, someone is following you with lights. I would describe night riding as this: Almost getting into a tunnel.
You see, in a tunnel, you are lit up--along with everything in front and behind you. Even with a light mounted to my helmet, I am not lit up. I am in darkness. The entire time. I'm almost there, almost to the tunnel, but I never quite make it. I can almost see my hands on the bars. Everything behind that is obscured by darkness.
Riding in the dark also makes nature seem small to me. I can't see anything around me, all I see is what is in front of me. Perhaps this is that tunnel feeling. I'm no longer in the wide-open expanse of nature. Everything is small.
Well, small and spooky.
Thanks to James' comment on my post yesterday, I stuck to the closer-to-man trails around the mouth of Provo Canyon. I wanted to go longer--indeed, my lights would have lasted at least an hour longer, but I couldn't quite bring myself to venture out into the truly wild. Okay, it isn't wild like the Amazon basin, but wild for Utah. Though I have often been in almost dark situations (especially just before dawn), this was one of the few times I've mountain biked from start to finish in the dark.
Some things I discovered
Bird's eyes reflect just like other animals. There was a particular stretch of trail that I covered both coming and going. There were birds trying to sleep on the trail. At first, I thought I was seeing mice, but then they flew away. One poor bird was too tired to fly more than a few feet. Unfortunately, it was a few feet further up the trail. Eventually, after a chasing it a ways up the trail like this, I took pity on the bird and rode far enough around it so it didn't try and fly away.
Large spiders also reflect light--though I suspect it wasn't the eyes I saw. At least I hope not. Moving on...
Though I am slow at descending, I am really, really slow at descending in the dark. Also, because the light doesn't allow me to view very far down the trail, I don't think riding a lot in the dark would help me learn to be a better descender--it would teach me to look only just in front of my front wheel.
James always tells me how a helmet light alone isn't that great because you lose depth-perception. He's right. In fact, though I wouldn't want to get rid of the helmet-mounted light altogether, I wished my handlebar light were brighter and my helmet light a little dimmer. There were times when I'd notice an obstacle, like a dip in the trail, only to look at it (with my bright helmet light) and have it vanish. The handlebar mount is very important.
Even with both lights, very tall grass surrounding very narrow trails makes it hard to see where you are going.
Challenging bits of trail aren't any easier in the dark. Perhaps this is what makes riding in the dark so much fun. If you're used to a particular trail (like the one closest to your house), you can liven things up a bit by doing it in the dark.
Besides being sick to my stomach (too much dinner), it was a lot of fun last night. If you have the lights, I recommend it.