It’s 5:30 in the morning. My phone alarm starts playing the Chan Chan to semi-rudely rouse me from whatever trippy dream I am definitely having. I am simultaneously annoyed that I’m no longer sleeping and also find myself humming to the familiar tune while being annoyed. It’s a great song to wake up to. I highly recommend it.
Now comes the crux move of the day: to actually wake up and go for a bike ride or to set the alarm for 90 minutes later and go back to sleep. I repeat my daily mantra about getting up at this awful hour to ride, “It’s always worth it. It’s always worth it.” But, in this moment of pure comfort and relaxation, it seems like a no-brainer. The mercury is hovering right around 34 degrees Fahrenheit outside (1 Celsius). My bed is significantly warmer. And more comfortable. Like a livable burrito, minus the guacamole and whatnot. My dog is starting to groan from his bed and I hear him pitter-pattering around on the hardwoods. He’s not allowed on the bed so he jumps on his hind legs to try to get my attention. I pull the covers over my face and mumble something indecipherable about sleep, cold, he has fur so he can’t be cold and leave me alone. He doesn’t care. He’s ready to ride.
The weather looks like it’s going to be another glorious day, a rarity in the winter in the Pacific Northwest. So, I take a cue from Roscoe and slowly slither out of my covers. ‘God damn my house is so cold!’ I think to myself. I get dressed as fast as I can. In spite of the cooler temps outside, I opt for minimal layering, knowing that I tend to run pretty warm on rides. Shorts, wool socks, a thick base layer, a light jacket, and I’m good to go. My lights are freshly charged (I run a 2200 on my helmet and a 900 on my bars. Yes, I look like a freight train on the trail, but I ride with the gusto of a groggy turtle this early, so I’m sure it’s a sight to behold.)
Lucky for me, the trailhead is about a 90 second pedal up the street from my house. God bless Bellingham. It’s just long enough to get the blood pumping and overcome the initial shock of no longer being in my bed burrito. The road is frosty and sparkly under my headlamp. It reminds me of sugar candy, which immediately makes me hungry. We take a left and hop onto the climbing trail and I’m blown away by the perfect texture of the dirt. Slightly moist from the morning dew, but cold enough to be almost crispy under my tires, I chug along the trail that I’ve ridden hundreds of times. Using just my bar light, I follow Roscoe as he darts up the trail and occasionally pounces on something in the ferns. He’s 9 now, but still able to hold a pretty quick pace on shorter rides. I’m hoping he lives forever. I tell myself he will because I can’t face the fact that he won’t.
As we plod along I’m always in awe of how cool my lights look against the dark setting of the woods. The alders act like tall skinny ghosts of a forest past. The shadows cast from my lights make them seem like they’re dancing in the dark. Occasionally the beam will catch a pair of eyes staring back at me. A deer? Cougar? Coyote? I choose not to find out today and keep spinning the cranks. The best part of riding before the sunrise is when that first hint of light escapes the sky and is caught by the spaces between trees. That visual ignites something in me like I’m racing the sun to the horizon. I’m in my groove now. Up and over the roots, pumping through the flatter sections of the climb, and feeling good. Each inhale is cold on my lungs but feels like a total refresh on life.
Pastel colors begin to permeate the trees as soft light casts a warm glow on the ground. I click off the light and try to navigate using only the natural light. This trail is to me what a daily commute is to a driver. I know every nuance and every shortcut. I feel like I could almost do it with my eyes closed. Almost. We reach our summit and are greeted by an unobstructed view of the mountains behind us and the slowly awakening town below. A thin marine layer has crept in off of the Bay leaving a soft blanket hovering over the downtown area. Our one tallish building pokes through the fog. The sky has turned from deep purple to an orangy pink. Thin clouds shoot across the sky like dragon’s flames making the picture-perfect scene almost seem sci-fi like. It’s nature at its finest and I can’t stop staring. These are the moments that make that rude awaking worth it. “It’s always worth it,” I repeat again.
The sun is still has a ways to go, but my time to soak in the view is running out. Roscoe is eager to run and I’m eager to fly. We pedal the few cranks to the entrance to the trail and are off to the races. My Process CR/DL is like a rocket ship on the hardpack of the frozen dirt. I pretend like we’re in some sort of high production bike film and try to throw shapes off of the little jumps. A twist of a bar here, a little skid and roost through a corner there. Roscoe is hot on my heels as if we’re dancing through the woods together. We alternate berms on tight corners and occasionally he’ll cut across a switchback and take the lead with me trying to keep him as close as possible. His scrubs would make James Stewart proud. Not bad for an old dog. Not bad.
We enter the steepest part of the root-strewn trail. My repetition on this section has taught me how to float over the majority of the obstacles. I feel like I’m riding on a cloud. Tight trees require my fast twitch muscles to be on high alert as we thread wooden needles with precision. I don’t even realize it but I’m whooping with pure elation as I descend as fast as I possibly can. My eyes are watering with tears from the cold. We reach the final jump on the descent and hit the perfect sweet spot, sailing just perfectly centered through the corridor of trees, landing softly on the frosty leaves just in time to slide into the final corner of the trail. And just like that, we’re down. I stop and look around, The leafless alders are completely shrouded in hot pink. The frost has begun to melt. Roscoe and I trade breath for breath as our exhalations puff out gloriously satisfying clouds. My face hurts from smiling, or maybe from the cold. It’s hard to tell. Riding with the sunrise never ceases to amaze me. It’s like riding through a new, stunning canvass every morning. I take a deep breath in and sigh it out and start to pedal home. Roscoe looks up at me as we’re rolling. “It’s always worth it,’ I tell him.