In the last year I've been taking classes at Metropolitan State University. Wait, scratch that. I've been taking classes for what feels like forever. But we moved last year, so instead of Metro State being 3 miles from my house and pretty much right on the way home, it's now about 10 miles out of the way. Being a weenie, I'd been driving my usual Light Rail stop at Ft Snelling in the morning to catch the train to work. Then in the afternoon I would take the train back to Ft Snelling, get in my car and drive to school, park, and then drive home after class. Since Ft Snelling is pretty much as close to the opposite direction from school that I can really think of, it wasn't a very efficient use of time or gas. I usually put about 30 miles on the car every school day. I thought, there's got to be a better way. So yesterday I went about finding it.
In the morning I rode my bike to Ft Snelling and took the Light Rail into work, as I do the other 4 weekdays during the kids' school year. Then, in the afternoon I took the 94D bus from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul and rode my bike the approximate 1 mile to school. It took me about half the time it usually does to do the Ft Snelling shuffle. Thus ends the boring part of the trip.
When I left school at 9:20 it was dark. Of course, I knew it would be dark so I brought my lights along. I've ridden at night before, no problem. I turned on my taillight for the first time this year and noticed from the exceptionally dim output that the taillight is in dire need of new batteries. No biggie, there's plenty of streetlights. So many in fact, that turning on the incredibly cheap $14.99 headlight was really a non-event. I pedalled from school through downtown St. Paul and headed into Harriet Island park. As I rode through the park I was amazed at how many streetlights they had along the bike/walking path. I didn't even need my crappy headlight! But all that was about to change.
Harriet Island park ends quickly and the bike path runs parallel to Water Street and the Mississippi River. And this is where things get dark. I'm talking black. Water Street is not heavily travelled. Last night I saw two cars on it. Apparantly it's an out of sight out of mind kind of street when it comes to lighting needs. And lights on the path? Forget about it. I adjusted my headlight so I could see about 5-10 feet in front of me and decided not to worry about anything further up the road, since there wasn't much I could do about it.
For some odd reason, I have a fear of the homeless at night when biking. It probably comes from biking through Swede Hollow at night when we used to live in St. Paul and I would see homeless folks. During the day they seem harmless enough, but at night they are a little more bold. So I have visions of the homeless, lying in wait beside the trail to spring out and grab me. You don't have to tell me how unlikely this is, because I know. For one thing, most of the homeless folks I see are not exactly the spry type. I'm thinking that instead of springing out, they would sort of lurch in my general direction and I could easily avoid them. And another thing, I think anybody lying in wait on a path perhaps 2 people use after sunset would give up out of sheer boredom after about half an hour.
Why do I mention my irrational fear of the homeless? Just to give you an idea of my mindset as I rode along. There's a section along the bike path that has a chain link fence next to it, and while I was riding I heard something rattle against that fence. My active brain screamed out "Homeless attack!" and made my legs pedal faster. I actually looked over my shoulder to see if perhaps a down on his luck former Olympian was chasing me down. Nothing. I turned back toward the front and "Aaaah!" there's something right in front of me! in my headlight beam! Jesus, what is that?! As my brain calmed down I realized it was running away from me, not toward me. It was a great big racoon. I would guess a 20 pounder. And that dude was hustling to avoid getting run over. I slowed up, and he or she zipped off to the side. There was another running about 5 feet in front of his/her brother or sister who lit out for the territories at the same time. So what I had heard rattling the fence was in reality another racoon I'd startled. Nothing like a little rush of adreneline to get you the rest of the way home though.
Will I do this again? Probably. Am I glad I ordered a new headlight a couple weeks ago (which still hasn't been delivered)? You bet I am.