Endless delays and a wrong turn on the highway meant the shadows were already long as I got ready to ride. The plan was a hard ride alone on the Rich Mountain trails, then sleep, then meeting people for a long ride on Sunday. I parked on the Cherrylog side of Stanley Gap and got to it, already knowing I would not get the out-and-back done before dark. No matter how fast I rode I’d have to turn around midway to get back to the car before dark, and I had no lights with me.
But it’s hard to stop in the middle of a good trail, like turning off the radio in the middle of a good song. After some steep climbing the ridge riding is a reward, then a beautiful descent through ferny hillsides and young forest. I kept on, knowing I was digging myself a logistical hole. Down to the Aska Road trailhead and it was already 8. I checked my map. I could take the paved Aska to a gravel USFS road and loop back to the car without having to negotiate singletrack in the dark. Problem solved but there was an irresistible smidge of light left before the sunset. I crossed Aska and headed up the old logging roadbed of Green Mountain Trail. Reached the top of the climb, and it was ten minutes until it would be just too dark to continue. I turned around for a fast descent.
Out of the woods on Aska, it was lighter but I was lightless. Luckily there was no traffic on the road, and I rode no-hands, arms crossed, right on the double yellow. The road follows the Toccoa River for a couple miles, past summer homes nestled in the woods. At an outdoor restaurant a band played a Patsy Cline cover under a gazebo. I regrouped for a moment at the corner of their driveway, looking in at people having a much different kind of fun than my own. At last the turnoff to the forest service road appeared, just as I was starting to doubt its existence.
The crescent moon helped just enough to pick out the edges of the roadway. As the route turned to gravel and started to climb, the black forms of the trees closed in on either side. And as the darkness deepened, the sound of the cicadas overwhelmed. They formed a rhythm, so loud I could barely think, so distracting that I forgot to worry about riding blind. The bugs work together, each pulling its own weight, adding up to a giant noise. The pulse of the southern summer forest, the nighttime manifestation of the daylight’s inscrutable green tangle.