Unique. A bit strange. Spooky at times. Irreverent. Challenging.
And incredibly fun.
The Night Bison is a bike event unlike any other bike event I have participated in. Riding gravel is a novelty on some of the tours I have done, usually a short section of the route that is there just to add a change of pace to one day of a tour. Night Bison not only is 55 miles of gravel roads, it’s riding on gravel with several hundred people in the DARK.
Do I hear you doubting this whole fun concept? Oh come on. Trust me!
I rode this event last year, finished towards the back of the pack. I will ride this event next year. Last year I survived while riding a heavy mountain bike. This year I rode my new light mountain bike, finished towards the front of the pack. Who knows about next year? Perhaps I can scrape together the cash for a cross bike, a vehicle that would make me a faster old man.
All riders wait for the starter to give the signal to roll out of the parking lot behind the bike shop in downtown DeKalb, Illinois together. The ride out of town is a leisurely stroll, a warm up of sorts, a mass exodus as we head to the outskirts of town where we all gather again at a road where the pavement turns to gravel. The route ahead faces west as the sunset disappears in glorious red tones. Tall corn lines the road to the left, a few riders taking the last opportunity to pee before the ride starts rolling again. Riders are bathed in the glow of various LED bike lights and red tail lights. As the last of sunset’s pink glow begins to fade, the pedals begin to turn. Clouds of dust surround us, covering each with a fine grey film.
After a short ride west, the route takes a left turn, a line of blue lights bouncing in front of me like a luminous snake in the night as the riders in front turn. A giant shadow version of shadow bike riders leads me on. I smile as I see the shadow version of my legs churning away. Guiding red lights mark my way, beacons that I depend on as the groups of riders spread out, splitting up into smaller groups. Slowing or stopping is not a real option if I don’t want to get lost in the dark no where.
It was really dark out there. At one point, I distanced myself from the slower riders behind me, barely keeping the red tail lights of the faster riders in front of me in sight. A tree covered lane can be really spooky in the dim light of a cheap bike head light. Take my word for it. Thank goodness for the reassuring crackle of gravel underneath steady rolling bike tires.
Don’t ask me how fast I was going. I don’t know. I don’t have a bike computer or GPS on my mountain bike. Instead, I just plugged along and focused on keeping my legs pumping at a steady pace. Last night was a humid night and fairly hot. There wasn’t a dry spot on my body.
The Night Bison crowd is a bit… ummm… “eclectic”. There are a lot of tats, beards (even on some ladies), piercings.. more than what I am used to seeing on a typical road ride. Also different from typical road ride is what is served at the rest stop along the route. Road rides feature mostly healthy, performance oriented food and drink such as strawberries, oranges, nuts, energy drink and water, maybe a peanut butter sandwich and cookies. The rest stop at the Night Bison featured coolers of beer, a whiskey bottle on a table with paper shot glasses, Red Bull, Mountain Dew, Pepsi. There also were jugs of water. The rest stop was over 40 miles into the ride, my legs a bit tired, especially since this dummy forgot to raise his seat from singeltrack height before starting the ride. So I imbibed, took a shot of whiskey (cough, cough, cough). I don’t know if it was a mental edge or what, but I think I am going to start carrying a flask on long rides from now on!
My buddies had ridden ahead of me a few miles after the start, but somehow I managed passing them in the dark without knowing it. They are strong, fast riders, but I finished before they did. I got to my car, toweled off, changed clothes, and sat next to the side of the road with some cold water while I waited. We enjoyed the pizza at the end of the ride (another thing not usually seen at road events), a few cold brews and stories of what we saw or heard in the night. My friend, Jon, who hitched a ride with me, actually popped a spoke mid way through the ride and rode a lot of the ride with a wheel rubbing against the brake. Jon is a strong rider who recently finished a ride called Paris-Brest-Paris in a little over 80 hours, on three hours sleep. The guy can ride.
This riding season is turning into one of the best I have had in a few years. I am riding well, finding good rides and places to ride — Tacos one week, Night Bison the next!