First time on a trail. Would you go at night?
There are a couple of trials I want to ride, but I only have time to ride at night. Have any of you explored a new trail at night? If so, are there any special precautions you take to try and stay safe?
Yes, absolutely. I have done this several times, usually when I go on a trip to ride. I would leave after work and drive to the destination and on getting there, gear up and go ride. If the trail is "out there", sometimes I'll mark a waypoint on my GPS at the truck (then turn it off and toss it in a pocket). I always take a map and compass. Beyond that no extra precaution than any other night ride.
This is what I suggest; Find some places that you know and get used to riding at night. Since you mentioned "exploring new trails at night", I want to make clear, this is never a good idea.
Exploring new trails is always touch and go. Real easy to get lost even when riding during the day. Real scary getting lost when you only have so much water or when weather conditions change and you are not prepared. Even with the use of maps ( or GPS ) things are not always clear which is the trail juncture you are looking for ( if there is more than one option ).
Night riding brings another element to the mix, basically making sure you have enough battery power to finish your ride. If you run out of battery power while out exploring you are screwed. Not to mention all the other things that apply as I mentioned before. Since you are exploring it is hard to know just how much battery power you will need to have. Now if you have good experience with night riding and are carrying enough extra batteries to last for several hours you should be good, equipment wise.
Nowadays exploring is much safer because LED lamps are much more efficient and have longer run times. If you also own a GPS/map/compass device and a bike computer for mileage, these can also make exploring more safer. Just remember that electronic GPS and or phone devices have batteries too. If you know what you're doing you should be good but exploring at night can bring the unexpected.
Just before the winter hit I did a little exploring off the trail loop that I normally ride. I was looking for a trail that I had spotted while using Google earth. Unfortunately I had left my phone/GPS device home and had no way to verify that I was near where this so called new trail might be. I knew I was headed in the right direction so I continued on expecting to empty out onto a known electrical power line right-of-way. Well, that didn't happen. I ended up approaching someones back yard ( about 11:00pm at night ). As I sat there pondering what to do someone from the house started flashing a light in my general direction. That was my que to get out of Dodge. While exiting I just hoped that I wasn't going to hear gun shots coming my way.
One other time I planned a known route in an area that I don't usually ride. This was back when I only had halogen lamps and maybe two hours of run time at best.
It got dark half way into my ride and I turned my lamps on. Somehow I took a wrong trail and lost my sense of direction. I finally came to a stream crossing that I recognized but couldn't figure out why I was on the wrong side... No GPS devices back then. Just good ol' compass and map. The compass set me straight but I knew then that I had missed the trail I had wanted. Not wanting to take chances with getting lost again I bailed onto the closest trail back to the car ( seeing that I had wasted at least a half hour of run time going in a circle.. )
I now own all the LED lamps and batteries one could want. I also have GPS / smart phone. Still, unexpected strange things happen at night. If you're going to explore at night it's best to do it in moderation. That said, have a "plan B" ready if things don't go as expected. ...Things that screw up planned explorations: Crappy, muddy trail conditions, excessive dead falls, disappearing trails and or unpassable trail overgrowth, riding on unknown Private property and getting chased, Park or local police.
Last edited by Cat-man-do; 01-13-2014 at 12:45 PM.
How much exploring are you doing? I wouldn't go into the backcountry or somewhere there was a chance of getting seriously lost (by seriously lost I mean not able to find a road or someplace I'd likely encounter another person) at night. If it's a well-used trail with marked/signed intersections you could compare to a map... then yeah sure I'd ride that at night not knowing the trail otherwise. Even better if it's in the middle of a populated area and you could see/hear roads nearby and bush whack out if you needed to. If you are talking about going 100 miles out into the desert where if your lights die, you're basically guaranteed to get eaten by hyenas...
This time of year when it's likely to be cold - if I got lost in the summer at night and my batteries died and I couldn't make a call, worst case is sleep/hang out till morning. That's not a great fallback plan now.
I haven't done this myself but I wouldn't be too opposed as long as I could make the ride an out and back as opposed to a loop. Also as Joules stated it would be better to explore a well used trail system as opposed to heading really far out there into the wilderness.
I wouldn't do it unless it was a trail that was regularly maintained by a club, clearly marked, and you had an accurate map before getting started. Some trails have these little offshoots that the locals make in order to get between trails or to get on/off the trail from other neighborhoods. You'll be staring at these intersections in the middle of the night wondering which way to go.
If you had the trail programmed into a GPS device then that wouldn't be too much of a problem, but you still wouldn't be know which direction to ride it in. That can make a huge difference also.
It's best to get some advice from locals. I would call a local bike shop and ask for help. Better yet contact the group that is maintaining the trail.
I think I should have added to my post that it also depends on how comfortable and experienced you are in the outdoors in general. I'll also counter Joules thought "Even better if it's in the middle of a populated area and you could see/hear roads nearby". In my experience the "urban" type trail is the habitat of undomesticated humans. A species best avoided.
yes no problem
but if alone, I would want to scope out the area via google maps
or other, so if i was in trouble I could crawl out/phone home and have some
idea of getting out of the area
Keeping with this thought....Last year I was planning to expand a regular ride of mine that was beginning to get boring. The idea was I would try to find some local back roads ( dirt / gravel ) that would add some more mileage to one of my regular loops. On line I went to "ridewithGPS.com" which allows me to scope out roads and even has the same Google satellite view zoom feature. Looking at the map via the zoom feature I spotted an area that I thought sure would be good. Hey, if Google shows it as a road it must be something there, right? Unfortunately the zoom feature could only show parts that were not blocked by forest but it still had a line indicating "something" being there. I figured a nice quiet dirt road. I programmed it into my phone app and took off.
Originally Posted by 127.0.0.1
I started in the late evening with the sun slowly setting. Everything went fine for the first mile or so. Then things got sketchy. The road ended and went off into the woods. I followed. After a couple of minutes it was quite obvious that I was not on a well used trail. I ended up following a power line right of way that was barely passable. I continued only because the GPS kept telling me I was on the right track. Halfway into the unknown I came upon a barbed wire fence. On the other side an old tar/gravel road. The GPS indicated that was the way to go. Signs on the fence said "No trespassing". I thought on that a moment, looked at the setting sun and decided to take my chances. Eventually I came to the main road where once again, a locked gate stood blocking my way. Not too far away was a house. With a dog barking at me from the yard I quietly climbed over the fence and continued my ride.
There was another section of unexplored road I needed to complete to finish the loop. By the time I got to it the sun was gone and I was using lights. Once again the entrance to the road ( railroad service road ) was posted with signs of "No trespassing". After going through what I just went through I decided to bail.
Oh, I'll eventually explore the next section but when I do I'll want some sunlight and some extra time. The first section, that I'll not go back to. I like finding stuff off the radar so to speak but that said even I get spooked once in a while...And speaking of getting spooked, I Hate riding close to a house in an isolated area once the sun goes down. My biggest worry...Dogs and guns. If I know I'm going to pass close to a house late at night I will either try to ride stealth ( lights out ) or do all I can to avoid going pass them.
I have a couple of times, but the trails were part of park that had trails I had familiarity with.
However, if it were a completely new area to me, I would probably be a little hesitant unless other riders gave some indication about how technical the trail was and how well marked it was. If it was known as a highly technical trail (drops, baby heads, HAB sections, and other gotchas) I would defiantly not ride it first at night. I also would have to take the remoteness of the area into account.
So, in closing.....it depends.
Some good points put out here.
I'll add my own opinion…
I'm all for exploring but as with any outdoor exploration… day or night.. I always recommend some steps..
1. Let someone know exactly where you are going… where you will be parking, which trail(s) you are starting out on and which you are thinking of exploring. The guys I ride regularly with like to explore and sometimes our planning will go like this.. "remember when we top that one big hill that had that side trail to the left and we were wondering about it? How about we try it tonight?"
So, if you have a "known" target.. let your home base know you might be exploring that.
If you leave home and no one is there to tell, but someone will be there eventually… leave a note, with a rough(or detailed if you can) description on:
- where you are going (parking and riding)
- how long you expect to be out
- are you going alone or meeting up with someone (include their info like name, cellphone#, and vehicle description)
- when you would consider yourself OVERDUE! This really helps the people back at home who are wondering whether to call for help or not.
- what equipment you are taking and what your experience/training is in… mtb'ing, staying out overnight, first aid.
- any pertinent medical information… are you diabetic? asthmatic?.. meds you might have on you… inhaler, epi-pen…
2. I teach wilderness survival so I'm pretty confident in stopping, sheltering up, and getting out in the morning. But I don't usually want to do that! I like my nice warm truck/beverage/bed
If I'm going out on a new trail, maybe a night ride, or feeling especially energetic and might take a fall or two… I take my M.U.L.E. with a space blanket, first-aid items, adult airway, sam splint. I carry an extra light (usually a headlight, but I'm shopping for new lights as I type), foodstuffs, and water.
I have a survival whistle attached to my shoulder strap in a position I can access should I be on the ground and unable to move around very well.
It's not a lot of weight vs the piece-of-mind should I need any of this stuff.
3. Be smart, and give yourself an OUT PLAN!
No matter if it's MTB'ing or hiking, kayaking…. if this is an unknown area/trail you are going out on… set yourself a definite time to stop, assess the situation, then continue or turn back. Not just a time either… trail conditions/distance, weather/light conditions too.
People seem to get in bigger trouble when they are doubtful, yet continue on just "hoping" things will get better, they'll make it to their target, and have time/energy/stuff enough to return.
Having said that… I totally understand being curious and cautiously moving ahead, and getting by most of the time, but it still pays to stop and assess your situation from time-to-time, especially in nighttime/heavy weather conditions.
4. Lastly (good grief! lol)
Your equipment! I literally cannot tell you how many times I have blown it here! Forgot to charge up my lights in the morning or the night before and here I am an hour before I have to leave watching the little charge light…. hoping it changes to the proper CHARGED color in time!
Scrambling around for the other glove… "Where'd I put my clear goggles/glasses?"… I'm sure many of you know what I'm talking about!
I try to get everything gathered the day/night before a ride, or at least the morning of.
The bike… "OMG! I was going to clean all the mud and crap off from the last ride… oil/lube everything up… adjust that rear derailleur that was giving me a bit of trouble last time… I should REALLY pump up my tires, naw, I'll just do it at the trailhead real quick!…"
When I'm on a routine… everything is SO cool and dialed! When I'm not… well… at least I have patient riding partners!
Best wishes on your night riding/exploration!
And remember…. IT'S NOT AN ADVENTURE UNTIL SOMETHING GOES WRONG! hahaha
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