A diagnosis, of course my second option was Google
I recently spent an uncomfortable 24 hours with a blood pressure monitor strapped to me, to check on possible hypertension. The results were reassuring, but I did find myself explaining to the doctor why the numbers were elevated in the middle of the night: I was on my bicycle. For someone who’s probably heard everything, this genuinely seemed to take him by surprise: “You were on a ride?”
I went on to share my self-diagnosis, with a second opinion from doctor Google, that I appear to be a biphasic sleeper. This means I prefer to turn in early, get up when the rest of the household is deep in dreamland, then go back to bed for a few hours in the morning. Years of ‘insomnia’ finally made sense. You might say a lightbulb went off.
Most people understand the allure of traffic-free roads, but magic moments are made of more than this.
There’s the moon, for a start. Those times when it paints the road silver, compelling me to turn off my powerful little light and use it as the celestial headlamp it’s always been, are the closest I come to flying while earthbound, gliding through my own mare tranquillitatis. Houston, it’s not a problem.
When not moonstruck, the darkness itself is the draw, a coverlet silencing the day’s concerns, yet granting permission for thoughts to drift forever out into space, playing pinball with the stars. (This flight of fancy prompted by the fact that I live near Roger Daltrey, the pinball wizard himself.)
Then there are the badgers. I’ve been nearly knocked off more than once by these otherwise reclusive beasts, busy with their nocturnal errands and not at all concerned with such niceties as signalling. I also encounter bats who seem surprised to meet me, as if I were the one with echolocation.
Both are a constant reminder to stay alert, no matter the hour, and not just because I don’t want my obituary to read “run over by a the milk delivery man.” Yes, we still have those here.
I wouldn’t generally recommend night riding down bucolic lanes unless you have company, or are intimately acquainted with the road surface, lest you meet it up close and personal. I was once brought down by a pothole on an unfamiliar road and took a short nap on the dotted line, until a passing motorist collected me and took me and my bike to hospital. (The bike was fine. I had concussion.)
It is the safest time to carry a tune, if you’re so inclined, the bonus being that you can sing along without fear of embarrassment, assuming you don’t care what the badgers think. “I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to,” I’ve belted out more than once to the silent countryside. “That was ‘Mr Tamborine Man’, by Mr Bob Dylan. Thank you very much.”
Hills become easier at night. I can’t prove it, but it’s true. When they’re shrouded in darkness they lose most of their power; this holds even if it’s a brute you know already. In a neat twist of Einstein, it’s as your single beam of light bends gravity enough to give you a boost.
I grant myself special dispensation to go through any red traffic lights, there being no witnesses to these transgressions. Relatively law abiding citizen that I am, it still feels mildly daring. Perhaps another reason I enjoy these rides is they’re my way of bucking the system, or at least the usual circadian rhythms: one small step for a freewheeling cog in the machine.
Sometimes I leave quite early and get back when it’s still dark, feeling like a burglar picking a lock as I try to get my key in the door. Other times I head straight into a full glorious sunrise, like ET in technicolor. Whichever, it’s always time well spent.