If you are looking for the perfect conditions for ‘mindfulness’, jump on your bike at midnight on the shortest night of the year and keep riding until dawn. It is mesmeric, self-absorbing and re-creative…….one thing it is certainly not……. quiet. Let me tell you about it.
Going out for an all-night ride at the summer solstice used to be a regular happening for me. Last night the conditions were near perfect. Warm (20C), clear sky, no wind, and the promise of a clearly visible sunrise…..or so the weather apps promised. My route around Northamptonshire villages and Oundle took me along country lanes seldom used by other traffic and, until 3am, I had to use a front light to see my way….but thereafter, the northern horizon began to brighten and the day was under way according to all the wildlife around me. Let me tell what you might encounter if you did something similar……
Life does not close down during the night, especially in summer time. Some of the sheep continue to graze through the night. Birds may be roosting, but they can be supremely noisy at all hours, and occasionally you will disturb a big bird of prey that will take off just metres away, causing you to wobble with the shock. Your olfactic awareness will be sharpened by the diversity from country earth and manure heaps, to the exquisite sweetness of flowering beans and the hedgerow profusion of honeysuckle, occasionally interrupted by the faint whiff of battery chicken farms.
You will engage in races with hares that inhabit the roads through the night. One of the three that I chased reached the heady speed of 25mph (40kph) before veering off through the hedges. You will be followed by owls for several hundreds of metres, and little birds (generally finches, I think) who will precede you along the roads, landing and taking off, asking you to follow them. You will cross bridges over busy trunk roads that are as busy at night time as during the day. And the occasional shift worker will overtake you in the small hours either going to, or returning from, work. One even stopped to ask if I needed any help while I was resting by the roadside.
I stopped in the market square in Oundle for an energy snack and, apart from some distant voices and the passage of two cars through the town, I had the town to myself, illuminated by both street lighting and shop security lights.
I got to within 1km of home at exactly 04.39, the moment when the sun was to rise in our area but, though the sky was generally clear, the northern horizon was obscured by both cloud and mist, making the sunrise a non-event, and I needed to get to bed. So after a quick shower, I climbed into bed at 05.15, to be woken gently (she lightly shook the duvet at the foot of the bed…..) by my lovely wife at 08.20 so I could have breakfast before attending a commitment at 09.00.
All this may sound a bit breathless, but it was invigorating and life-affirming. My mission now is to stay awake until normal bedtime…….