Friday, November 12, 2010

It's all fun and games until you hit a skunk (and other observations from the night commute)

Chortling merrily at the power of my new light system I ventured into the deepening dusk of late October and November on the park-and-ride version of my commute. On this route I am only exposed to traffic for a couple of blocks between the shop and the beginning of the trail, and again briefly where the trail crosses Center Street. After that it's just me and the wildlife for several miles.

Regardless of apocryphal cougar sightings, none by me, my wildlife encounters have been limited to small birds at close range and some waterfowl at a distance on the sections of lake I get to see. I gave passing thought to deer, moose and coyotes. Only the moose really worried me. In some places the trail runs on a high embankment with a steep dropoff on either side into wetland. If I startled a moose on one of those I could get stomped before I could get away. They're not exactly quick-witted. But you can ride for many years without encountering a moose at all, let alone at close range. So I've felt pretty serene on my car-free private pathway.

Two nights ago, zipping along in the darkness, I rode into a fresh cloud of skunk spray. It wasn't aimed at me. It wasn't enough to leave a scent on me or my equipment. It is enough to make me peer with a bit more urgency into the shadows beside my patch of light. The whiff I got was only a warning shot. Imagine what a mess a real skunk hit would make.

Fallen leaves have also gotten deeper as autumn has advanced. They make the rail crossings harder to see, especially at night. I overshot one the other night, bouncing over the railroad ties for several bike lengths as I slowed to a stop.

The fun turns where the trail goes toward the Allen A town beach also get more interesting in total darkness. I'd been feeling pretty cocky in deep dusk, because the faint remaining light gave me a slightly wider picture. On my first run through there after the time change turned twilight into night, I found out I don't know the turns as well as I thought I did. I managed to avoid hooking a tree, but not by much.

Wednesday and Thursday nights I took Route 109 past Lake Wentworth to Bryant Road rather than stick to the possibly skunky trail through the spooky forest. A sliver of moon reflected off the smooth waters of the lake. I did have to herd traffic a little. The Superflash still smartens 'em up, but I don't think I'll make the detour a regular thing.

Herding in darkness is trickier than in daylight because I don't have full use of my peripheral vision when doing head checks at night. On Wednesday I left my helmet light on. On Thursday I turned it off because I felt it confused drivers behind me and might also blind them. Without the helmet light I no longer had light aimed where I was looking when I checked the margins of my light patch or looked for obstacles extending in from the sides. On the plus side, drivers seemed less squirrelly.

The generator is about to eat its second drive roller since I installed it. The first one probably wore prematurely because I had not dialed in the alignment perfectly. The second one lasted longer, but it's nearly gone after about a month. The alignment seemed to have drifted very slightly, but I wonder if it also wears faster because the tire is slightly irregular. The uneven pressure has a greater effect as the roller wears down.

I ordered four of them when the first one wore out. I carry a fresh one in the trunk so I can replace it anywhere. I carry spare shift cables for the same reason. I've had some very pleasant roadside breaks while replacing a shift cable. I much prefer it to replacing tires. Tire replacement is a dirtier job.

A dyno hub will alleviate this problem. It would mean building another wheel, though. I don't know how much longer I will push the commute for this year. I have enough rollers to last a while.


limom said...

Skunk spray?
Dude, those are some serious road hazards.

cafiend said...

People love their cougar legends around here.

The skunks are the real worry.

Ed W said...

One important point about skunks - they haven't learned to lead their targets. So if you approach one at speed and diverge at an angle, it will -probably- shoot behind you. They'll often hiss and stamp before they swap ends and the tail comes up. Their kittens are really cute, but it's a certainty that mama is somewhere nearby.

Guess how I learned all this!

cafiend said...

@Ed W: Sounds like the voice of experience. My problem on the trail is that in many places there is no escape route. I have to stick to my course.

Of course my story would have been funnier if I had actually gotten hit. That's okay, I'll take it as it is.

greatpumpkin said...

I don't know why you are wearing out rollers so fast. I'm still on my original one. I ride less than you do, but it still seems to me you should get more than a week or two out of a roller.

cafiend said...

I think I got 3 weeks out of the first one and the better part of a month out of the second one. I don't know if it's the distance I ride, the high-pressure tires, or what. Maybe I should call Peter White...I kind of hoped he would have more info already on his site about the details of setting up and operating these systems, but then I figured I should just do my own science and report what I discovered.