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The Midnight Riders

By Lawrence Muhammad
Well-worn trails become adventurous after dark


© 1996 The Courier Journal, Louisville, Kentucky. Reprinted with permission.

As a handful of bikers pedaled last week under night skies through the pin oaks at Waverly Park in southern Jefferson County, only the owls and possums, the raccoons, crickets and flying squirrels saw their headlamps beam and heard their rubber on the road.

"It's an adrenaline rush," said Leta Weedman, a medical editor who rode with the Kentucky Mountain Bike Association. "Humans are visual creatures, and in the dark you have to rely on different senses to get you around. You hear all the night sounds, the night insects, and come upon different kinds of animals you wouldn't see during the day."

Nighttime is attracting increasing numbers of joggers, skaters, cyclists and hikers. Well-worn trails become adventurous after dark. Daytime crowds and traffic are gone by sundown, so in-line skaters have more open road.

Demand for moonlight boating and kayaking on Elkhorn Creek in Frankfort has "doubled or tripled," said Ed Council, owner of Canoe Kentucky. "It's increasingly a popular thing to do, especially among groups that want to have a unique outing. People are doing more and more outdoor activities, but at night it's a whole different experience. It's almost a religious experience."

Rod Napier of Cabbage Patch Settlement House in Louisville rhapsodizes about floating under moonlit skies on a remote Canadian lake during a recent canoeing trip: "Moon rays were shimmering on the water. Loons were calling and moose were coming down to the shoreline. It was a very relaxing, calm time, just a special time at night that aesthetically had a lot of appeal." Reliable figures on nocturnal sports activities aren't available, but health clubs extended nighttime hours years ago for professionals working irregular schedules.

Now more than 20 percent of U.S. jobholders work shifts other than 9-to-5. And Weedman, vice president of the Kentucky Mountain Bike Association's Louisville chapter, says that when fall arrives and darkness descends earlier, "we don't have a chance to get in a ride in daylight after work."The group also sponsors an annual Halloween night ride-bikers in costume follow the Cherokee Park bike trail to Ohio River and ride the shoreline path.

Experienced hikers, families and scout troops also enjoy walking in dark woods. Larry Hilton, naturalist at the Jefferson County Memorial Forest, said that last year the forest received "deluges of phone calls requesting night hikes, and a as result we offered more than we originally planned."

Margaret Pentecost uses overnight camping to teach team-building and leadership skills as curriculum coordinator for residency, family and community medicine at the University of Louisville.

"There's something about the night that invites interaction," she said." It breaks walls down just a bit where people will communicate better, especially with inner-city kids. Very rarely are they anywhere there are no lights."

With the vogue in nocturnal recreation has emerged a market for tailor-made gear. Years ago many makes of running and basketball shoes added reflectors or heel inserts that blink upon impact. And now there's everything from reflective clothing to night-vision binoculars and gun sights, rotating lights on in-line skates and luminous footballs that help sports enthusiasts play in the dark.

The Quest Outdoors store in Matthews carries an assortment of headlamps, from 30-foot beams to 100-meter beams, said general manager Bryce Malone. They are "designed for nighttime hiking and setting up camp but are adequate for cycling, paddling and other outdoor activities."

"The store also sells safety "cylinder sticks" that emit an incandescent glow when snapped. "People leave them lying around camp to help them find the way back in the dark," Malone said.

"I actually fell a couple of times," Weedman said. "I hit some sticks. I didn't really have any lights but was riding between people who did." Dr. Richard Fee, chairman of the health promotion, physical education and sports studies department at U of L, said of nighttime sports:

"Sure it's a challenge, an adrenaline rush, because you don't have as good a visual field. But there have been lots of hikers in Kentucky who walked off the edge of cliffs and stumbled into sinkholes being out at night. The dangers are much magnified. It's something I don't recommend at all."

Midnight Riders Tour Colorado Springs


The lights of 260 bicycles twinkled through the streets of Colorado Springs during the early hours of June 30. It was the 2nd annual Starlight Spectacular Bike Ride, a benefit for the Pikes Peak Area Trails Coalition.

The 20-mile ride began at 2:30 a.m. as riders, some draped in Christmas tree lights, set off in groups of 30-40 on a trip through the sleeping city, ending up in Garden of the Gods Park for breakfast. The event raised $5,000 for the Coalition.

For more information: 719/633-6884.

return to TrailTracks Fall '96 index