Close Encounters

For many years strange lights have been seen in the woods on the darkest, mistiest nights.
Like a silent group of wraiths we peeled away from the sides of the cars and headed immediately into the nearby trees. Slurry tried to hold onto us as we fought for grip up the smallest of inclines. Even the fireroad that would take us deeper into the dark was soft beneath our passing. A low murmur passed through the air as precious breath was used to push a brisk pace on cold legs.
Really quickly the lights fell away below us as we appeared briefly through the gloom crossing a field top with any eyes below only seeing the ribbon of lights like a silver sliver against the night sky. We rode into the darkness again and wound away along a trail known only to the badgers.
The next twisting trail was soft, but firmed up towards the end, where Graeme despatched the last big obstacle with new found ease. The next track found us split into two groups, but no sheep were left behind. The mist was thickening as we climbed up and up, and then we stopped climbing to play hike a bike. Another unknown trail filled with twists and turns and trees and lumps and bumps and frustration. I should be able to ride this easily, I should be able to go faster and smoother, I should be able to miss that stump with my pedal and I should be able to ride all these obstacles without using every single chicken run at the side.
Oh well a trail for me to do better by summer!
A voice comes out of the darkness.
“Where are we?” Not telling.
“Have I been here before?” Still not telling.
“Where are we going now?”
“Somewhere else.” I replied not wanting to seem unhelpful.
“I think I know where I am and then I don’t. It’s like Pandora’s box in here.”
More Tardis than Pandora’s box I hope as I ride sweeper behind the conversation.

We try a different sweeping approach to a familiar trail and get held up by some bushes. Smugly I ride to the side and nearly fall in the nearest thing to a loch around here. I wait for the stragglers to fight through the brush and off we trundle and promptly ride into a tree with my handlebar. Skilfully balancing while disentangling myself from the branches I look as if I am wrestling a bear in the woods.
And losing.
Broken chain now, but a short faff later, Nik is up and running and through the next gate, onto the steep hillside with more gusto than brakes. He is first down, big turn, faster and bumpier, another big turn, STEEP, SLIPPY.

Nik slides to a stop, still upright, feet down, using his crossbar to hold all his body weight. It may work for him but…


Road climb up and Graeme slips off the front as he always likes hills. He gains a big gap so I drop to a big gear, build up speed and flash past him. He cannot catch me up so I slow and try to catch my breath as everyone else catches up.
Graeme moves in front again, but checking for lights this time so that I do not catch him unawares. Mark cheats, turns off his lights and turns on four lungs and maybe four legs and catches up the gap in a blink of an eye. Graeme is caught by surprise again but Mark just slows to match Graeme’s pace.
Ride through another trail and swoop back for another. I pull off down the fireroad to take some pictures through the trees as they approach. I wait for ages alone in the pitch dark. I cannot see the anything other than the faint l.e.d. of the camera. Slowly strange lights wink through the timber.lurk2
I hope it is them because it does not look like a line of riders. The lights disappear in a rainbow haze.
Then crack! They appear immediately right in front of me from the darkness and silence, without warning, in a cloud of mist illuminated in a rainbow glare from the different lights. I take pictures as quickly as the camera can recharge and in a moment they have disappeared.
I am alone in the dark again. How can they have disappeared so quickly into the night. Silence. I pack the camera in my pack, find my gloves, turn on my lights, and trundle out onto the fireroad again. Lights twinkling ahead means everyone has waited so I do not need to kill myself to catch up.
Another trail. Should have used the new extension. Never mind, more photos are calling. I race down the adjoining fireroad to get ahead again. Where is the turn off? I sweep my headlight backwards and forwards. I should find this easily as I must have ridden this bit a hundred times but I ride past it. I turn around, quick, they must be there by now. I pull off the pack, gloves, glasses and extract the camera.
I wait for ages again in the dark and the silence. Again they explode out of nowhere. I desperately try to point, focus, frame and shoot.
Rubbish, cannot see, missed him, got him. Perfect.
Mark, Nik and Sam peel off into the night to ride home. The rest of us carry on for one more trail. It will be fine. A bit steep perhaps but probably not too slippy. I hurtle off again to get in position at the bottom of the hill. I can see lights flickering as they try to find the start of the drop. It looks steeper from the bottom looking up. I wait at the exit where they should drop down the hill, turn and drop slowly to the fireroad.
The first light careers down, straight down, not turn, where are you going? Freeriding in the dark down a steep hill in the dark without a trail. Slip off. Rider number two then. Slip off at the bottom. Bit of a pattern here. Even the last rider negotiating in the darkness slips at the drop to the fireroad. Maybe better to be the one with the camera.
Another last trail but the batteries have died so we all run down. That little wall is hard enough in the dry but in the mud Graeme and I cannot make it over cleanly. Oh well there will be another chance next week perhaps.
We roll down into the carpark. Two hours, lots of trails, some new, some old, some easy and some testing but a good ride for all I hope.

Why don’t you join us next week. Bring some lights, a helmet and a sense of humour. There will be other new faces trying the trails for the first time in the dark so you will not be alone.
That’ll be me trying to get one good picture of the night.

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