It’s 31 degrees at 5 am. I walk out the door to a clear moonlit sky. Walking to the car, I see the fiery destruction of a meteorite as it streaks across the upper atmosphere, a shooting star. I look at the almost full moon which just started waning gibbous a day ago. Amazing how beautiful it is.

I start the quick 12-mile drive to the Bartram Trail at the Petersburg campground and I’m excited about heading onto the trail so early. The roads are almost deserted but just a few minutes into the drive, I find myself behind a truck pulling a bass boat. What crazy person would be going fishing at this time? Then my mind screams “hypocrite!” as I think about the fact that I’m heading to the same lake with my mountain bike. The more I think about it, most people would consider me the crazy one, especially if they saw how I was dressed: a pair of tan baggy shorts, a grey skull cap, riding glasses, homemade grey leg warmers, and a bright orange paddle jacket. I could be the poster child for PeopleOfWalmart.com with this get-up.

On the way in to the trailhead I notice a single truck on the west side of the road, most likely a hunter or two. My plan to ride west on the trail changes – not that I’m afraid of hunters or dislike them, but out of respect for their space. I believe hunters have as much right to enjoy the forest as I do, or hikers do, or any other group does. Let them have their time and I’ll go the other way in private solitude.

Finally, I pull into the lot, not surprised to find it empty. The first thing I do is turn on my bike light so I can unload my bike and get geared up. I guzzle the last of my coffee and jump on my bike. The forest is quiet. It takes me a few minutes to get into my rhythm. My fingers are cold – maybe I should have worn warmer gloves.

All of a sudden my worries of cold fingers disappear when I hear movement in the woods. Then I see three deer running ahead of me across the trail. What an awesome sight! I am energized and continue riding into the dark.

As I ride, I notice the sky ahead is grayish in color but the moon is behind me. Night is slowly turning to dawn. As I meander down the Lake Springs loop, I notice a sliver of dark, crimson red at the horizon – a new day has arrived. I slow down, not because I’m tired – far from it. I want to see the birth of a new day. I find a spot and take a few minutes to enjoy watching the sliver of crimson turning into a chasm of purples, reds and oranges. Off in the distance I hear, for the first time, motors of boats as fishermen head onto the Lake. Closer by, the forest is starting to wake up as I hear rustling in the branches and a few birds chirping.

Soon I am on my return trip. I still need my light under the canopy, but where the trail is in the open I can see the trail meandering ahead. The leaves are slowly changing from dark shades of grey to their bright autumn colors. Finally, I reach up and turn off the “tunnel of light” and pick up the pace. Unlike other times I ride, this type of riding allows me to go all out at the end. When it is dark I hold a little back, more cautious.

I manage to pull into the trailhead a few minutes late. Late? Yes late, I wanted to beat the sunrise. I load up the car, still alone at the trailhead, no evidence that I’ve even been here. Another successful Dawn Patrol!

Riding pre-dawn is just another way to do night riding. Here are a few reasons why I enjoy it.

1. When you have four kids, you ride when you can.

2. You usually get the trails to yourself.

3. Watching the forest wake up is amazing.

4. A least for me, I have more energy in the morning.

5. I am a morning person already. I wake up before dawn most days and I’m not a night owl.

6. In warmer times of the year, you do a service to other riders by clearing out cobwebs and spiders. You think they look scary during the day? Check them out in the dark!

7. If you have a breakdown or bad crash, you won’t have to spend the whole night out in the woods – just a few hours at most.

8. I get a killer ride and still have the whole day to spend with my wife and kids. In other words, I still get the rest of the day to do whatever I like, maybe even another ride.

9. Can you think of a better way to start the day? Neither can I.

# Comments

  • trek7k

    Incredible. I’ve been mountain biking for a long time and I’ve never done a dawn patrol ride – after reading this I have to! That’s an interesting point about holding back at the beginning of the ride since it’s dark and slowly accelerating as the trail lights up. Sounds like the perfect ride!

    Just last week a friend was mentioning that a lot of 24 Hour race teams fight over who gets to do the dawn lap which I had never considered. The only problem: after everyone reads this article you’ll have to start sharing trails in the morning. 🙂

  • slipfinger

    Great read! I’m an early riser as well and try to get out as early as I can. I especially like getting up and on the trials early this time of year. Its a little colder on the fingers but the trail has yet to thaw from the over night frost, which makes for a little less mud flying!

  • Johneblz

    God bless you and thanks for clearing the webs. Way too early for me!


    I’ll have to follow you around, I’m usually the one clearing out the webs. Don’t think you’ll have to worry about the trails getting crowded in the AM. A lot would like to start early, but just can’t seen to get out of the warm cozy bed. I’m usually up driving by 4 or 5 AM, get a few hours of not so crowded roads. Good night; past my bedtime.

  • SoggyNilla

    Sounds Great! love the part about getting your ride in time to be home for the wife and Kids! Im gonna give the dawn patrol a shot!

  • mtbgreg1

    Great article Brianw! Great points as well. Another bonus: during the summer months, the hours before sunrise are the coolest of the day. Of course, they are in the winter as well… seems like that would be freezing cold during January and February!

  • dgaddis

    great post Brian. I’ll have to join you one morning for a ride…would be kinda fun to start a really big ride before the sun came up. Could get 40 or 50 miles in and still be home by lunch time, leaving all afternoon open for nap time!!

  • fleetwood

    Great post. My buddies and I go on “dawn patrol” rides a lot, but ours usually mean arriving at the trailhead right at or right after sunrise. I did do an 18-hr race (my first) recently and was fortunate enough to have the sunrise lap. I was mentally & physically drained, but that lap will be a memorable one for that very reason.

  • maineskiaddict

    Well put! (and nice photos to boot) I am sure it is a killer way to start your morning.

  • brianW

    Glad you all enjoyed my 1st article. @soggynilla, yes cold mornings mean hard frozen trails and no mud @dgaddis, I think the Thurman epic would be a good one. Both attempts i made the heat made me stop.

  • maddslacker

    @ trek7k, at 24 Hours of Moab riders fight over the dawn lap. Sunrise in the desert is amazing!

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