‘“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”–John Muir
When I was a younger, dumber person – more inclined to evenings of considerable debauchery – my friends and I would consider any mountain bike ride that started before 1oam as ‘Dawn Patrol’.
Then at some point you have to start getting up at like 6 for work. And to get kids to school. Or to hurriedly rush a vomiting dog out the back door.
Then maybe you decide that in order to get a jump on things and/or keep your sanity as well as a moderate amount of joint flexibility into your twilight years you should get up early to meditate and do yoga, so you decide 4:30am is a good number because Jocko Willink says so.
At some point on weekends you’re already awake and there’s no work and the kids are still asleep so you decide to skip the meditation and yoga, because it makes you feel somewhat rebellious – in as much as a middle-aged dad who’s a slave to the Man can rebel – kind of way, and ride bikes. Invariably as the seasons change you end up riding in the dark, pre-dawn. The true Dawn Patrol.
You end up seeing a lot of things you’ve never seen before and come away changed. As a bonus you get back just in time for breakfast – sometimes you’re even back before anyone else gets up.
Heading out before dawn in the dark also means you get to ask yourself interesting questions like “how is it possible I’m this fucking cold and still enjoying this,” “is it possible for quiet to get even quieter,” or the more thought-provoking “where do I want to watch the sun come up today?”
Sometimes it’s a walking bridge. Sometimes it’s a field on a river flat. Sometimes it’s a town square. Sometimes it’s an empty intersection. The possibilities are endless, really.
Our Man, the champion of achieving transcendence via the mundane, Karl Ove Knausgaard, has a chapter in his book Autumn called ‘Dawn’.
“It isn’t the light in itself that feels good, for once it’s here, say at around 2:30 in the afternoon, we take it for granted. What matters is the actual transition. Not the light from the immobile sun, which shoots across the horizon as the earth’s sphere turns towards it, but the faint glow cast by this light in the minutes before, visible as a pale streak in the darkness of night, so faint it almost doesn’t seem to be light at all, merely a kind of enfeebling of the darkness.”
“Dawn is always the beginning of something, as its opposite, dusk is always the end of something, and when we consider that in practically every culture darkness represents death and evil, while light represents life and goodness, these two transitional zones between night and day become manifestations of the great existential drama we are caught up in, which is something I rarely think about as I stand in the garden gazing towards the growing light in the east, but which must still resonate in me somehow, since watching it feels so good. For darkness is the rule and light its exception, as death is the rule and life its exception. Light and life are anomalies, the dawn is their continual affirmation. “
Over a month now, I’ve been getting out before dawn at least once, if not twice on the weekends. At first it was about finding the best Hallmark Calendar spot to watch the sunrise from. A hill. Over a river. But there’s been other spots too. Sunrise over a strip mall is still the same sunrise as the one you watched 3 km away from the riverbank – well, that’s not really true – no two are the same. It’s the same sun rising, over the same planet – but even then, very little is the same – but you have to see both of them to figure that out. Or perhaps to figure out that you’ve really got nothing at all figured out.
The more I’m out pre-dawn, the less I tend to think of the darkness as ‘evil’ or ‘death’ and the more I think of it as merely the opposite of light. This is no news to anyone who’s familiar with eastern notions of non-duality – the idea of “not two” or “one undivided without a second.” Obviously there’s a mathematical/astronomical formula that tells me exactly when the sun rises and ‘day begins’. Actually, it’s the app on my phone that tells me personally, but is that really when it happens? Really, it’s just one continuous moment endlessly spooling out. There is no distinction between the two.
One of the main revelations I’ve had with these rides is how much there is to see before dawn. It’s exciting to rediscover what the human eye can see – even in almost pitch black – if you let your eyes adjust. On a clear night, even if there’s only a sliver of moon, it’s astounding the amount of light it casts and on the night of a full moon, you can conduct yourself quite easily without any artificial light at all – even more so if there’s snow on the ground to reflect it. It occurs to me that my ancestors knew all these things innately and somewhere they got lost for me to find again.
Every now and then, I’ll sleep in on a weekend. I invariably end up regretting it. There’s so much to see – even in the dark – I feel bad wasting it – and days take on a whole new perspective when you’re able to literally watch them begin.
Weekend ride with Teacher Man Titus after his first week back at school.
Got out for the usual weekend ride. Some beavers had felled a tree across the trail, so I followed their drag marks down to the river and sat there for a bit. Took a bunch of pictures at few minute intervals of the same ridge of trees trying to catch the sun lighting them up. Did some yoga and stretching in-between. The little white speck in the bottom left corner of the photos that looks like dirt is a reflection of the Moon in the river. Then basically followed the sun coming up down the Nashwaak River to the Saint John before meeting up with Titus for a trip out to Oromocto and back. Post-ride root beer in the Clubhouse was sublime.
Universal Truth #1,437: when you are chasing the sun coming up down the Nashwaak River to its confluence with the Saint John, it really doesn’t matter that you never get to know who wins. (Note: Your results may vary. Can be applied to other rivers, trails, alleys. Test on a piece of scrap wood to ensure desired results. Offer not valid with any other offer. Proof of purchase required. Don’t try this at home, use only in a well ventilated area and only under hip-hop supervision. -Ed.)
Out for a nice mixed-surface ride with Andrew and Kelly. Up and over Keswick Ridge, Mactaquac Dam and the St. John River. Some nice views and excellent weather. Oh, and I brought leftover pizza as a snack. Had to soak my knees afterwards in the pool to quiet them down. From my CABC Instagram post:
Got out for a CABC social ride with club members @spoke_n_words and @kelly.lynn.murray today. We attended mass at the Church of the Saint John River by riding up one side of it, crossing, then back the other side. The ol’ St. John has an interesting congregation, a few of which we ran into at an early morning gas station coffee stop where one of the local parishioners kindly offered to ‘roll us a bone’, At 8:44am. Although obviously a truly compassionate and charitable soul, we opted not partake – you know, UCI rules and all. I informed him that I was indeed, high on life, and asked if he’d accepted @gary_fisher as his lord and personal savior. He had not, so I gifted him with my tattered copy of The Rider and we parted in peace – I on my trusty Surly Cross Check – he in his jacked to the sky pick-em-up truck which, I believe, was sporting a pair of truck nuts. We’re all members of the same tribe, us humans, even if we fly different flags. The weather, views, and conversation were sublime and Kelly even managed to avoid any untoward confrontations with mutant canines. Perhaps the ‘off-piste-de-resistance’ was a delicious repast of some left-over pizza I’d brought with, which, if I’m not mistaken, is the official ride food of the gods. I arrived home feeling saintly, purified, transformed and indeed, saved. I immediately baptized my knees in the icy waters as they were completely full of hellfire and damnation. Some of this is true, some myth – use your divine inspiration to determine which is which. Hallelujah brothers and sisters, can I get an amen?
We didn’t need anything in town but it was like 8°C so I went anyway. And took the long way.
Coffeeneuring 2019 Control # 2: Headed out to one of my favorite #coffeeoutside spots and set up a ‘coffee shop without walls’ for Control #2. Fixed myself up a nice coffee black. Gas station cream cheese and chocolate chip muffin was only a 6 out of 10 though. Did manage to drop a bunch of existential angst on this trip thus making it a legit Corrective Action Bicycle Ride as well. Also, learned that the @porcelainrocket Microwave Pannier holsters work great even without the proprietary drybags just for stuffing extra stuff in. Layers, ground scores, what-have-you. I imagine they would also work great with other dry bags in a ‘multiple-smaller-dry-bag’ configuration as well as with various kinds of totes and other bags or whatever. I believe in the marketing industry this is all referred to as ‘added value’. I’mma call it rad.
An Autobiographical Photo Essay in 8 Frames.
I love these rides that dip in and out of nature and civilization. A great reminder of how close we are no matter how much we forget or try to distance ourselves. Headed out this morning to commune with all kinds of spirits. 1. Found myself on some snowmobile trail on the Devon Indian Reserve. How do you know when you’re on snowmobile trail? Well, the trees are cleared real nice, but it’s full of massive rocks and roots because it’s meant to be ridden by machines with 4’ of snow on top. There was some walking involved. Would have been easier with a different bike.
2-3. Visited these cool murals on the St. Mary’s First Nation done by April Paul – they are beautiful and worth the stop. It must have been insane hard to paint them on that ‘corrugated’ concrete surface too.
4. I really liked this one portion of one of the murals for it’s ‘one world, one people-y’ vibe. I have no idea if that’s what it was meant to convey. If it actually means ‘don’t lean your bike against my art and take a photo’, I sincerely apologize.
5. Coffee and nutrition at the Two Nations One Stop – I love the double entendre of this name. 6. Saw some local northern wildlife.
7. Stopped for a few minutes to listen to what the St. John River had to say. 8. I should really wash the bike. The drivetrain was making very disagreeable noises on the final stretch home.
When I moved here in 2006 I discovered there were two options for a commuting route from my house, both about 15km one-way. One was on the road, the other, almost entirely on converted rail-to-trail. My policy has always been and continues to be to avoid slicing and dicing with grumpy morning folks trapped in confined metal boxes, so whenever possible, the trail it is.
Up until 2010, my commute to work took me across two rivers, The Nashwaak and the St. John. After 2010, I changed jobs and now work on the north side of the St. John, so only cross the Nashwaak each trip. I used to keep track of my rides and mileage and all that but have stopped bothering. So, subtracting weekends, holidays, weather, sleep-in’s and other misses and adding back in various market trips, rides for coffee and group rides, I’d say conservatively on average I’ve commuted or ridden this route 150 times a year (each way, so 300 total) – at some point during every season and kind of weather you can conjure.*
Some dude, wiser than I, many seasons ago, once observed that “no man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Well then it must also apply that a man can’t CROSS the same river twice either.
Doing the fancy math that accounts for both jobs, that means approximately 5,100 different rivers crossed for this cat in 13 years. And I probably have at least half that many pictures clogging up the internet and cloud storage to prove it.
The thing is, they are truly different. Every. Time. Which is why I almost always stop. And while I didn’t always stop, make coffee, eat home made granola with chocolate milk and watch the sun come up on Fredericton across the St. John while tons of ducks do whatever it is ducks do in the morning – I have been quite a bit recently. If I had my druthers (and I don’t know what a ‘druther’ is – or why anyone would want one) I’d just ride my bike around rivers drinking coffee all day, but like so many of you, I have to go to work. I’m pretty sure though, that if one HAS to go to work, I may have stumbled onto the absolute best way to do it. Even without coffee and snacks.
*That’s also roughly 58,500km of commuting for those playing along at home. Also, there’s not enough space here to discuss how I have changed as a man, so don’t ask.