Riding Under the Harvest Moon
The plan was to meet up with our friend Howard on the Springwater Trail after he got off work. We loaded our bikes and rode down to the trail just as the sun was setting. It was just the right time of day when everything was bathed in the sort of gilded light that makes you sigh constantly at how beautiful things look. The evening was unseasonably warm and it was nice to ride on the thinning trail that was usually croweded with people. We got rolling about 7pm and after a few miles down the trail the sky had gone through its various hues and had settled into darkness.
For all our years of touring, we’ve done very little night riding. What struck us immediately was how much further distances felt in the dark. We have ridden that stretch of the Springwater several times and for some reason it never seems as long during the day. But at night, with the small patch of vision provided by our lights, it seemed to go on forever. We stopped momentarily near Powell Butte to eat some snacks when we heard a chorus of coyotes not far from the trail. The howling and the nearly full moon seemed fitting.
It was with some relief to get off the Springwater at night, which was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic and be on actual country roads. We noticed houses and a little cafe that we usually missed when riding through the area during the day. But at night, with their porch lamps shining it we a bit surprising to see how many people lived in this stretch of countryside. We passed one hopping little cafe on Dodge Park road with some people hanging out outside by their truck. Of course, as we roll by someone spots us and shouts out a cheery “Hey, Lance!” I smile and for a second contemplate responding with “Hey, Bubba!” but think the better of it and pedal on.
We take Dodge Park road and turn on Lusted which has a slight incline to camp. Nothing major, but enough to keep your legs honest. When we reach a part of the road where the groomed inhabited meadows fall away and we are faced with tall brooding trees once again, we know we are near to camp. It also means the start of our final descent to river level. Laura has the weakest lights of the three of us, so we plan to descend gingerly so she can see by the pool of our lights.
We begin our descent into the darkness and are only vaguely aware of anything else but the striped line of the road, that we try to keep centered in our patches of light. My headlight is mounted to my left fork and it is a strange and slightly unnerving sensation when the road twists to the right where I have no visibility. I make a mental note to look for a helmet mounted light if we plan to do more night touring. It’s a fairly long descent (atleast it feels long at night) with lots of twist and a few hairpin turns. There are few straight stretches but when there are, I try to look up and see around me. The full moon peeks through the tall black rushing trees. Somewhere below we begin to hear the unmistakeable sound of running water.
The end of the descent is punctuated with a spectacular exit out of the trees. Suddenly you are on a bridge and the forest opens up and on either side of you is a wide and glorious river in different shades of grey and dark blues in the night. I drag the brake to momentarily take it all in.
As luck would have it, we get into camp just in time. It is a little after 9pm. At 9:30, the camphost calls it a night and starts their final rounds of the park before shutting the gate. We have our choice of the campground and pick a spot quickly and get to work setting up camp. Laura puts up the tent and I work on getting the fire started. I’ve brought our camp knife and chop up lots of bits of kindling. I use an Esbit cube as a fire starter and soon we have fire.
Now we could finally relax. We each brought burritos for dinner from a foodcart and try to warm them by the fire. We packed light and brought no cooking gear, except for a kettle and a folding Esbit stove for coffee (we are not completely Spartan). We talk around the fire and take everything in. The tall trees around us hide the moon but its light works it way to the forest bottom and gives everything a bluish glow. Our small fire burns for a surprisingly long time before we call it a night.
The next morning, I get up at 7am and try my hand at some fishing. The water is at late summer levels before any of the winter rains so it is noticeably low. What were rapids a few months ago are just wade-able trickles. With no luck, I go back to camp and have some coffee and breakfast. Laura gathers some twigs and the rest of our wood to make a small morning fire. I decided to tackle the water one more time before heading out and switch tactics. Instead of fishing the riffles, I try out the slower deep water rigging up two weighted nymphs I cast upstream and drift the flies subsurface hopefully near the bottom. It’s tricky to fish this way since the takes are harder to feel. After about a half hour I’m ready to call it a day since we have to take off by 9am. I’m doing a slow retrieve over some rocks and see a flash of silver and the familiar tug of a fish on the line. I can tell by the weight on the line it is no monster, but the little guy has some fight. It’s a beautiful six inch rainbow. The other people fishing across the river momentarily look up and give the nod. I let it go and head back to camp to pack up.
We have to be back in Portland at a certain time, so it is not a leisurely ride going back either. The road that we gingerly descended in the dark, we attack with gusto in the morning. We make short work of the two climbs and before we know it we are back on the Springwater heading into town. We stop at a foodcart just off the trail and inhale some enormous cheeseburgers in record time. The trail in full daylight doesn’t seem as long or as mysterious; it is an altogether different place when the sun is out. The magic of riding under the full moon is gone, but not forgotten. We are a little sad that we won’t be able to camp at Dodge Park for another year, but excited at the possibilities of other places night rides could take us.