Our annual full moon pilgrimage to the Cannon Valley happened this weekend.
We met in the back parking lot of the Cannon River Inn in Welch Village. The sun had set nearly two hours earlier and the moon was high in a cloudless sky. Our destination was Miesville Ravine, 8 miles west on gravel roads. We left the parking lot with headlights lit and rode through the single intersection in town. A block later we were in the country and one by one the lights went off, leaving only the blue white light of the moon to guide us. Our rides created a steady hum of crunching gravel, tree branches cast black, sharp-edged shadows across the road, an owl called in the distance, an animal rustled leaves in the woods and the night air turned chill. This is what we came for, that surreal feel of riding at the wrong time of the day, in the wrong season, with inadequate lights. Every noise and shadow could be interpreted as ominous or fascinating. We chose fascinating.
A car’s headlights approached from around the bend. Our headlights blinked on in response, but by the time the car reached the last riders in the group, the leader’s lights had gone dark. Headlights narrow the view. We were here for the expansiveness of the night. The road leveled off briefly, then turned and resumed its climb. The climb felt long and exhausting but warmed us for the regroup at the top.
We passed between two barns, one large and red, slightly run down and cast in shadows, the other low and white reflecting enough moonlight to create a ghostly aura. A moment later the road dropped sharply through deep woods. Headlights returned as riders raced to the bottom in an adrenalin rush of gravel and gravity. Then the night resumed.
The old farm road up the ravine wasn’t meant for bicyclists. On the other hand, it didn’t say No Trespassing and it was within park boundaries, so we slipped around the gate and began our ascent. We needed headlights to avoid overhanging branches on the high side of the trail, the rocks in the middle and the ravine on the low side. They went off again at the top when the landscape turned to open prairie. The farm track skirted the edge of the prairie, then plunged through the middle along an old windbreak of trees. A Loch Ness style piece of farm equipment deep in the prairie inspired a headlight-illuminated photo session and some high jinx.
By the time we returned to the ravine, we were chilled and ready for a break. The front riders dashed through the woods and up the road to a picnic table. By the time the rest of us arrived, the table had been laid with a spread of food and beverages including hummus dip, cheese, chips, a lit votive candle, salted peanuts, beer and a couple of flasks of hard spirits. We emptied our packs, adding hot cocoa, guacamole dip and more chips to the cornucopia. We had matches and would have happily gathered firewood, but the site lacked a fire ring.
We would have lingered at a campfire. Without it, we leaned on the food and flasks for warmth, then moved on to a short exploration across the road where the glare of headlights cast picnic shelters in an eerie set of light and shadow.
The return ride reversed the outbound route so what came down on the way out went up on the way back. The ascents warmed us. The descents chilled us and a slow burning meteorite confused us as it lit up the sky for a couple of long seconds.
The ride ended too soon for some, but for others a warm car with heated seats held a lot of appeal.