Saturday, May 31, 2008

Where the stars still shine.

A long time ago there were stars in my sky. All I had to do was walk outside at night in the cool summer air and look up. My hometown was and is home to several observatories one of which was where Pluto was discovered at, and that actually meant something until people decided that Pluto was not a planet anymore but a planetoid. Of course the town has grown and the observatories have had to move further out of town. But the sky can still be amazingly dark at night there if you find a secluded spot devoid of streetlights.

Tonight I was aiming at escaping the lights that obscure the stars. Those abominable lights of Phoenix that pollute the night sky for miles and miles. I decided to ride all the way to the end of the pavement on the Apache trail and back.

First of all I had a flat tire before leaving which I had to fix and by the time I got my water bottles filled and the kids down to bed it was basically 9 PM so I would be looking at getting back a bit before 2 AM. I had to stop on the edge of town to get extra batteries for my light which had the same batteries I used on the 300k last February in it and they were dimming a bit.

It has been a long time since I rode this length of time at night. It was a warm night but sections of the desert were chilly. I would ride through areas of warm and cool air throughout the night. Hilltops being warm and valleys being chilly usually. Riding along the road outside of Apache Jct the traffic died down to a very rare car coming out of the night here and there. The desert was alive my friends. The constant noise of crickets permeated the air and here and there a cicada buzzed (could have been a grasshopper too). occasionally a bird could be heard singing over the darkened desert, as a lone voice in the night.

The cliffs of the Superstitions reflected the city glow and other pinnacles were silhouetted against the sky. Saguaro cacti looked like giants standing by the road ready to throw things down upon poor cyclist's heads and the hills looked like gargantuan dark creatures sleeping and not to be disturbed.

Slowly the darkness descended with the exception of the glow to the south marking the direction of town. As I climbed and descended I remembered the last time I rode this at night. It was with Steve Jewell during the Harvest Moon a year and a half ago. We were riding the Legends, Superstitions and Ruins permanent and only needed our lights as a formality for the moon lit up the landscape in spectacular fashion. Not tonight though. Tonight there was no Moon and as I climbed the stars increased in number and intensity.

At Canyon Lake were the two steel truss bridges over two inlets on the side of the lake. One steel decked and one asphalt. Riding through these was like crossing ghost bridges as the white cross members spanned the space above and to the sides speeding by with every pedal stroke.

After passing Canyon Lake the frequency of cars dropped even further. I would only see two cars before I got back to canyon lake. Climbing El Diablo under cover of darkness was something I had not done before. Dropping into low gear I spun up but even so I found myself breathing a little harder with the added effort. On up into the darkness I climbed. Not too far from the top I could see headlights winding up in the darkness far below. It would be several minutes before the car got to me. When it did I was near the end of the pavement and after he passed I stopped where I had parked my car on Monday and stared at the vast tapestry of stars in the heavens. There is something about a sky full of stars that causes the soul to reflect and deepen I think. It was one of those moments you can't really explain but occurs after you have worked hard for several hours to finally arrive at a particular experience which only comes to those who struggle.

Down into the night I sped. My light illuminating the road far off into the night. Moths and bugs dive bombing their way into my light in last attempts to seize the day. Plants and trees speeding by at 40 mph on either side. Soon I would drop out of the warm air into the frigid air of the valley which would chill me before I would warm again during the trip back to Canyon Lake.

A long slow climb from Canyon Lake would put me on top of the hill viewing the lights of Apache Jct far off into the distance. After a parting look at the stars I was off for home.

I didn't set any records. I was only 7 minutes slower than my fastest time though and I had headwinds on the way there and back and my fastest time was in daylight . With the 3800 feet I logged tonight and the 5600 on Monday I climbed nearly 10000 feet this week which I am sure is a record for me. So, it was a wonderful way to spend a Friday evening.

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