Night Ride through the Tahuya Hills

With the Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting approaching – Sept. 8 and 9 – I wanted to double-check the course. I had never ridden the new route out of Bremerton that by-passes the busy highway. And in the Tahuya Hills, landslides and floods can wipe out roads entirely. Better to check that our routes are still rideable!

Most of all, I wanted to go for a long ride. Rather than head out for an all-day trip, I decided to ride at night. That is how I boarded the 10:30 p.m. ferry to Bremerton on Saturday night. My plan was ambitious: Ride two loops of the Un-Meeting course, exploring different route options, before taking the 11:10 a.m. ferry back the next morning.

250 km (155 miles) in 11.5 hours should be plenty of time – until you consider the terrain. The Tahuya Hills are famous around here. They are as remote as they are challenging. I knew I’d have my work cut out for me, especially since I’d have to stop and update my route sheet at many intersections.

There is one bike in my stable that is ideal for a ride like this: my René Herse Randonneuse. It’s light and fast. Its wide tires handle all types of roads. Generator-powered lights make short work of long nights on the road. The large handlebar bag carries clothes and provisions. The Herse is ready to go any distance, at any time, and to do so swiftly.

The ferry docks in Bremerton at 11:20 p.m., right on schedule. But my ride out of town doesn’t go as planned: What had looked good on the map turns out to be a maze of one-way streets and extremely steep hills. I find a rideable alternative, but it zig-zags more than I like. I decide to continue my ride, and fine-tune the route during my second lap of the course.

It is with relief that I turn onto familiar roads. Belfair is fast asleep as I pass, and then I am riding along the Hood Canal. After weeks with smoke-filled air in Seattle, it is nice to see the hills on the other side of the water in the moonlight – the smoke already has cleared here!

I really enjoy riding at night. Apart from the moon and the lights across the water, the world is restricted to the beam of my headlight. With little to see, I become more attuned to sounds and smells. A small animals is rustling in the bushes. Then, a few miles later, I smell horses. I doubt the horses just moved here, yet I’ve never noticed them before. When I pass a little bay, the briny smell of the sea wafts up to the road.

In between, I am just riding. Cycling is always meditative, but doubly so at night. I don’t think about my bike. It runs straight without attention, yet tracks the sweeping turns without conscious input. My hand instinctively pushes the shift lever to change gears, without thought. With my 46-tooth large ring, my cruising gear is in the middle of my rear cluster. Shift one way to go faster on a slight downhill, the other way when the road turns uphill or the wind picks up a bit. Only a long-ish rise interrupts my meditation: Shift to the small ring or increase my effort? I have a long ride ahead, so I shift to the small ring, then go down two cogs in the rear to end up in the gear I need.

While I am spinning along, I really appreciate how evenly my SON Edelux headlight illuminates the road. It’s not too bright, but it puts the light in the right places. Thanks to its complex optics that put more light into the distance, where the beam hits the road at a shallower angle, I don’t have to strain my eyes to look through a bright spot right in front of the bike. It makes a huge difference during these long night rides.

Suddenly, a young deer appears in the beam of my headlight. It is standing on the road, as startled as I am. I hit the front brake hard, and just as I come to a stop, the deer bolts and disappears into the undergrowth.

Then come the hills. Climbing at night is a different experience, as I can only guess at where the hill crests. I haven’t ridden the ‘Hill Route’ across the Tahuyas before. It’s great fun, with fast descents that have my eyes out on stalks as my headlight scythes through the forest, and steep climbs that require multiple shifts. Meditation is replaced with full immersion into the experience of cycling. My bike feels like an extension of my body. The French call it “the taste for the effort,” and I feel it to the fullest tonight.

Checking the clock, I realize that I have to keep the pace up, if I want to complete two laps before my ferry leaves at 11:10. I return to Bremerton at 5:25 a.m., after 6 hours on the road. My second lap will have to be faster than the first!

The refinements to my new route out of Bremerton work out great, and I am excited that we now have a pleasant alternative to the unpleasant highway.

Dawn comes gradually on this overcast day. By the time I am rolling along the Hood Canal for the second time, I turn off my lights.

The big question is: Will I be able to complete the second lap of my ride? I’ve calculated that I have to reach the foot of the Tahuya Hills by 7:40, otherwise, I should head back to Bremerton. Coincidentally, 7:40 is also when I’d have to turn around to get back in time for the ferry.

Today, I won’t have time to ride the gravel option, but Steve and I rode that a few months ago, so there should not be any problems. Instead, I want to check the ‘River Route’ through the Tahuyas, since it’s the one most prone to interruptions due to floods and slides.

I reach the turn-off at 7:33, seven minutes before my calculated cut-off. Phew! But my calculation doesn’t include any extra time, so I’ll have to continue riding at maximum pace.

The Tahuya Hills consist of narrow valleys and steep climbs, punctuated by river valleys. I can’t resist taking a photo in this lovely spot, even if it costs me almost a minute.

As I lean my bike against the fence, I notice blackberry vines everywhere. The berries are almost ripe. I look forward to eating them in two weeks when we pass here during the Un-Meeting. We won’t be in a rush then!

As I penetrate further into the hills, the roads become smaller and more curving. It makes for wonderful riding. The two routes converge again, and even though I’ve ridden this section just a few hours earlier, it feels completely different during daytime.

A steep descent drops me back to sea level. This is one of my favorite parts of this ride.

Every once in a while, my favorite sign appears by the roadside. It seems superfluous: If drivers or cyclists don’t realize that this road is curving, they probably won’t make it this far! There was no traffic at all here during the night, and even on this Sunday morning, I meet only a single car on the entire traverse of the Tahuya Hills.

As I speed along the undulating, curving road, I reflect that a bicycle is pretty much the only vehicle you can enjoy to the limit of its performance on the road. Cars and motorcycles are just too fast, so you either have to stay far below their limits, or you have to take them to a racetrack.

Another long descent drops me into Seabeck, where we’ll spend the night during the Un-Meeting. It’s another lovely place.

By now, the two water bottles I’ve brought are empty, but I don’t have time to stop and get more fluids. I wanted to install the third bottle cage on the bike, but I ran out of time… But with less than two hours to go, I know I’ll be fine.

A light tailwind springs up, helping me along. Putting all the power I’ve left into the fearsome Anderson Hill with its three stairstep ascents, I climb stronger the second time than during my first loop.

And then I cross the bridge into Bremerton and reach the ferry terminal just as the boat pulls in. The time: 11:01. Nine minutes to spare! Without the tailwind, it would have been closer yet. I am glad my calculation has proven accurate. And perhaps best of all, the wind has cleared out the smoke here, too.

I park my bike in the belly of the big boat, and climb to the passenger deck on slightly wobbly legs. Finally, I can get a drink from the vending machine! Then I sleep for most of the ferry ride back to Seattle.

It’s been a fun ride, and I am glad that all the roads for the Un-Meeting are in good shape. Now I’m working on the updated route sheets. They will be posted tomorrow.

More information:

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into the high-performance components we need for our adventures.
This entry was posted in Rides. Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Night Ride through the Tahuya Hills

  1. Grant Diamond says:

    Jan, I’d love to read in-depth about you experimenting with helmet-mounted lighting. I, for one, far prefer them. there is the obvious shortcoming of having to carry a battery, and they are a lot less “zen” because the beam moves around, but visibility is superior, especially once you get off the open road. -Grant

    >

    • I use helmet lights to read the cue sheet and map, as well as for repairs. I also think that for mountain biking, they are probably useful, as you need to see where you want to go, not where your front wheel is pointed, when going really twisty terrain.

      On the road, I prefer the light to be mounted on the bike. The biggest issue with helmet lights is that they make you almost invisible, because they are so unsteady. (That is why they are illegal in most places.) I once manned a night-time control during a brevet, and even though the road was straight for kilometers and I was looking out for cyclists, two riders who used helmet lights almost snuck up on me. The unsteadiness almost makes them tiring when you ride with them. I don’t hold my head totally steady, and my eyes move to compensate for the head movements, but with a helmet light, I look at an unsteady beam, which would be very tiring over long distances. So I’d use helmet lights only as auxiliary lights, but not as the main illumination of the bike.

      • Steve Palincsar says:

        On my first brevet at night I learned that helmet lights can be so bright they dazzle you when you look at a cue sheet, and afterwards all you can see is a bright green after-image from the glare off the paper. A small flashlight like the Fenix LD-02 on the low power setting is about right for reading cues and instruments.

      • B. Carfree says:

        Perhaps because I live where night-time fog/mist is common, I’m not a big fan of helmet lights as a primary light (the reflections off the mist is almost blinding at times), and they’re mostly too heavy to wear for intermittent use.

  2. Ablejack Courtney says:

    Seeing as two water bottles sufficed to keep you hydrated for this spirited 155 mile ride, what sort of riding do you expect that might require three? Even if you might be able to imagine such a ride, which you have never run into as yet, a third water source of any size you like can be carried in a saddle bag for the rare times you might need it. Maybe keep this beautiful bike as it is.

    • The Herse has a third set of braze-ons under the down tube, so installing the third cage takes all of five minutes. The cage fills the space between front wheel and bottom bracket, so I don’t think it detracts from the appearance. I’ve used it for the Oregon Outback and the Raid Pyrénéen, among others. On this ride, it was cool at night, so I needed much less fluid than I would during a hot day. And I initially thought I’d have time to stop for breakfast somewhere along the way.

  3. Sukho in PDX says:

    Great way to whet the appetite for us Jan! Really looking forward to this. This post has inspired me to think about jumping on the bike for a little cruise after we set up camp and have dinner on Saturday night. I’m sure I could find a few UnMeeting campers to join me 🙂
    Sukho

  4. bikemike says:

    I love reading about your rides. Keep sharing please!

  5. Matt A says:

    I love riding at night and I e just this weekend come back from a local group overnighted here I the UK, it runs every summer at the full moon in August and starts inland and then travels a little over a hundred miles down to the coast where a local cafe opens early for us to have breakfast. The route isn’t that challenging (~100 miles/5000ft ascent) but it is excellent at night and includes a lovely descent through a rocky gorge and some enjoyable climbs across one of the local hill ranges. I’ve ridden the roads many times during the day but nothing beats a moonlight ride with zero traffic, familiar roads take on a new character and I feel alive like nothing else during those dark hours!

  6. Frank says:

    I like the idea of riding at night … but the kamikaze wallabies make descents treacherous … the polar opposite of meditative : (

    • I guess it all depends on where you ride. Around here, you have to watch for deer…

      • IME, deer don’t jump or change direction with the alacrity of wallabies. And wallabies are small compared to grey kangaroos, one of which jumped out of an outer suburban front garden to land adjacent my front wheel before leaping across it at about head height. Then there are wombats, 30–40 kg hub-high nocturnal marsupials, that not only do not get out of your way but will actively run at your wheels at around 45 kmh. Then there are the spiders and crocodiles …

      • That sounds like too much adventure even for me!

    • aquilaaudax1 says:

      I hear you about the wallabies. The Pretty Face wallabies are the worst in the hills around my area pre-dawn. You really have to be paying attention on fast descents.

      The Grey Kangaroos are also bad on my pre-dawn commute to work. They have a habit of shadowing alongside of you and then for no apparent reason will decide to shoot straight in front of you, not much fun when its a 2 metre tall buck pushing 60 odd kilos. The feral Red Deer aren’t to bad they just look at you for a second and then bash their way off into the scrub.

      The worst animal encounters have to be the Magpies between August and October. I’ve has many a blooded ear from them over the years.

  7. Tim Nielsen says:

    Bravo! What an experience, the night belongs to the brave. I was interested in your comments about lighting, and the actual pattern cast up the road. Everything I see is simply listed in terms of lumens, the more the better. Is there a resource for me to learn more about modern cycle lighting?

    • We’re working on a post about lighting. What matters is not the lumens (how bright the light is), but lux (how much light shines on a given area of the ground). In other words, if you have a lot of light that goes straight up in the sky, it doesn’t do you much good. And if you have a lot of light on one spot of the road, that makes other parts much harder to see. Hopefully, we’ll have a post on that with more details within the next 4-6 weeks…

      • Fred Craven says:

        That sounds quite interesting. One thing I would like you to cover is daytime lights. My light are particularly bright (perhaps too much for night and they don’t have the nice beam you describe, so they have to be turned down) but I bought them for the day, and being visible to oncoming cars. When I do a lot of night riding I actually create a “cover” of aluminum foil to cut off the bright light for cars. This has a net effect of throwing a pool of light under the bike.

      • In the city, I often keep my Edelux on during daytime. It’s hard to say whether it helps – it seems the border between being almost invisible and being dangerously annoying is narrow. Out in the country, especially on backroads, drivers don’t have many distractions, and we’re visible enough during daytime without needing lights.

      • During the day on urban & country roads (not footpaths or trails) I use the dimmest flashing pattern on a high quality battery MTB light (a TraiLED—no longer made). This light is much, much brighter and has a different color temperature.than any commuter light I’ve seen. Australia’s urban drivers are IMO extremely aggressive and generally poorly skilled—worse than anything I’ve encountered in Asia or Europe. It’s not a scientific test, but since using this light in daylight I’ve had noticeably fewer incidents of cars suddenly pulling out from cross streets, turning across me, or hogging the middle of the road &c. No one has ever flashed their lights at me in protest and pedestrians at crossings have complimented me on my visibility without any complaints. I’d never again ride without it in daytime, especially in a city. At night I use a dynamo light, but in remote countryside I’ll use the steady, wide beam MTB light when there may be some of the above-mentioned fast moving marsupials lurking off the side of the road and on squirrelly descents. I tilt it right down on it’s lowest setting or turn it off when traffic approaches. Generally, I think German-style dynamo lights with focused cut-off beams that don’t flood the road and overwhelm your night vision are best. During the day, and at night when you need to be alert for fast moving animals, the wide beam MTB light works best for me.

    • Mike says:

      I think that you need a certain minimum level of lumens in order to see the road effectively at night. I’d put the number at roughly 150. Beyond that level, the value of more lumens drops off significantly, while it becomes more important to direct the light to the road and not in the eyes of other road/trail users (or off at unhelpful angles).

      I personally use a couple of USB-rechargeable lights on the handlebars that are rated at 350 and 250 lumens. I find that going with a higher-lumen light and running it at half power gives you more usable light for more time than in getting a lower-rated light and running it at full power.

  8. Rob Mackin says:

    I think early morning rides, say between 3 and 6 am, are one of the best kept secrets out there. I almost always have my own private road. I live on the gulf coast but recently visited Oklahoma City, western Arkansas, and Pinehurst, NC. In each place the early morning streets and highways were my own. The SON Edulux headlight was one of the best bicycle investments I’ve ever made.

    • B. Carfree says:

      That awesome time framed by the drunk drivers having landed, not always well, and sober motorists hitting the road is also my favorite. If I get far enough afield, I can get the better part of 200 km in before a motorist passes me. I always wonder why I never see any other cyclists out at that time. Perhaps we should share the secret more widely.

  9. Craig Lloyd says:

    As much as I love a regular sleep pattern, night riding (or running) is wonderful for all the reasons you mention… your senses expand outwards and your focus expands inwards. The quiet roads, the moonlight, the thrill of playing around while the world sleeps. I am just about to wire up an Edelux II and look forward to comparing the beam to my Lezyne 350, which I always found worked quite well with its soft edges… but half the light is wasted and limited battery life verses the unlimited potential of a dynamo system.

  10. Sukho in PDX says:

    Speaking of moonlit riding, it seems this year’s UnMeeting will fall almost exactly on a full moon…hmmm.

  11. Jon Blum says:

    Regarding the risk from drunk drivers, a recent paper in JAMA Internal Medicine presented data on the risk of death due to drunk drivers, from the US Fatality Analysis Reporting System. (The article is not available on line for free, unfortunately.). One of the striking findings was that about 40% of the deaths occur in just two 12-hour periods, namely 6 PM to 6 AM on Friday and Saturday nights. Outside of those nights, 6 PM to midnight is the riskiest period of each day, and 6 AM to 6 PM the safest. The magnitude of this uneven distribution is even more striking when you consider how many more cars are on the road in daytime; remember this was deaths associated with drunk drivers, not total accident deaths. I realize that weekends are prime riding time for many of us, but it’s something to consider. The risk would probably be reduced by staying away from areas where establishments serve liquor during the periods of highest risk, as Jan mentions.

    • Those statistics seem better than most I’ve seen. Route selection is crucial for safety. Another big issue is avoiding flashing lights, helmet lights and other things that can cause target fixation.

      • Noel Hoffmann says:

        I was in the ambulance service in a previous life and can confirm that if you draw the Friday or Saturday night shift you will not get any sleep.

        Beyond that, I will say that I strongly dislike ride reports in general, but that this is the second report from Jan that has very much made me wish I was along for the ride. Well done.

    • Harald says:

      Would you mind sharing a link to the article? That sounds very interesting. Thank you.

  12. aquilaaudax1 says:

    Just out of interest Jan, what gearing did you use to complete this ride?

Comments are closed.