Early to Rise, Early to Post Ride Beers

The rewards of an early start. Sunrise over Zion.
"Anytime now," I kept saying in an agitated voice, looking to the east waiting for a glow to halo the Wasatch. Now that the brutality of Utah's summer had subsided, I flipped the weather-hypocrisy switch and now eagerly awaited the sun warming up my pre-work ride. That was last Tuesday morning, when I shimmed a 25-mile, pre-work, road ride in for the first time in nearly a month. In the span of that month, the oncoming winter solstice transformed my glorious sunrise ritual into a defiant battle against the chill and darkness. Normally on these rides, I'm done with my headlight by Wasatch Blvd and I'm basking in the sunrise. But on this morning, I needed the light well into Draper and was reminded of summer's fleeting life expectancy.

It really didn't seem that long ago that I teamed up with my friends to start our summer training rides for the 25 Hours in Frog Hollow Race. I got more mountain biking in this summer than years past, but with less than three weeks to the race, I have a hard time feeling prepared. Adjusting to the darkness was a major part of our preparation. Sunset rides at Corner Canyon, pitch black excursions at Snowbird and pre-dawn starts at Deer Valley constituted a majority of my miles on the mountain bike. But conditioning for laps sans light wasn't all these nocturnal rides are about. There is a subconscious element in my desire to ride before sunrise. I'm looking for an "early start".

My bike is mumbling, "Just 10 more minutes
of sleep, then we can ride."
My wife reminds me that not having a plan is sometimes necessary for our personal sanity, yet those views are not intrinsic to my being. Instead, I find comfort in plans and staying on top of things as an overriding philosophy, and nowhere is that more evident than my belief that everything is better with an "early start".

The seeds of this devotion to an early start began with skiing in the midwest. It seems like chairs at some resorts would start loading at 8am and my dad would wake my brother and me up before dawn to get up to Ski Brule for an early start. It seems crazy when I think of how eager we were to get on that frozen anthill. But the snow was never going to soften anyway, so you might as well make the most of your lift ticket.

Making the most of our limited time motivates a lot of us to make an early start, but I think there is another factor. It's solitude and silence. Once again, I go back to my dad, up before dawn, working on estimates, without the interruption of appointments or phone calls. That lack of distraction is appreciated in cycling. I'm pretty clumsy on a mountain bike to begin with, and navigating a trail in the dark without an audience can be calming despite the limited visibility. Although navigating switchbacks in the dark has the same effect as light saber training with the blast shield down. I have asked myself, "Why again am I on this trail?" Thankfully, no switchbacks have blasted me in the ass yet.

The mental fatigue of riding in the dark is something I hadn't quite considered. Yes, physical fatigue will be the bigger hurdle in this race, but I'm noticing that the brain works so much harder in the dark. In the daylight, you take for granted how unencumbered vision helps us make split-second decisions. In the dark, when you vision is tunneled by a headlamp, you don't get the luxury of peripheral vision. So when your front wheel careens off a rock and aims your light into a moose's living room, your adrenaline spikes as you try to remember the obstacles your light illuminated 2 seconds prior.

If you are patient, the sun will eventually illuminate the Wasatch.
Courtesy Jared Hargrave
Fatigue and chill aside, there is a self-satisfying feeling I get when I'm done with a ride and drinking a beer on the tailgate while people are just starting out for their rides. What's that old army saying, "We do more before 9am than most people do in a whole day". Early starters are a pretty smug bunch. Probably why I enjoy an early start.


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