Riding into the Sunset on the Dusk Patrol

The dusk patrol has a different vibe from its morning cousin.

First the light changes, and the landscape is bathed in a golden hue. Sagebrush branches cast long shadows like skeleton arms reaching across the trail.

Heat from summer sun is muted, and every shady spot feels like stepping into a cave.

The dusk patrol has a different vibe than its antemeridian cousin – the dawn patrol – when the day is young and the hours stretch like a scroll waiting to be written. Many people love the dawn patrol, but I’ve never been a fan of single-digit, a.m. times. They come too early, my mind is too foggy, and my body sputters like a cold, diesel engine. But in the evening, I tap into reserve energy, and the ride unspools at its own pace.

There’s a dichotomy on the dusk patrol. You want to milk the ride for every last moment, but the light is waning, so you feel a little hurried so you don’t get stranded in the dark.

Photo: Greg Heil

What the dusk patrol lacks in the optimism and endless potential of the dawn patrol, it makes up for in the mystical qualities of dying light, in the acceptance that all things, no matter how good or bad, are temporary. The dusk patrol is like a blank tombstone needing a short inscription: a good ride, and a fine day ended here.

It also invites introspection, so I crank the pedals, feel the golden dirt under my tires, and let my mind drift on a path of its own. My thoughts wander and flow, more subconscious than conscious, and soon I’m not thinking about anything, which clears my cluttered brain.

I am focused solely on what’s ahead of me, and what I must do to get past it, whether it’s pushing a little harder on the pedals to top a rise, unweighting the front tire to clear an obstacle, or popping the rear tire to get airborne for a split second. My mind is otherwise blank beyond what’s immediately in front of my tire, and then it’s instantly forgotten after it’s past.

Watching the moonrise on the dusk patrol.

The golden ribbon of trail snakes across the valley, and when the phase is right, a glowing silver moon rises before the sun’s rays have faded. I savor the fading light and cooling temperature, but what really keeps me rapt is the inevitable sunset. That brilliant orange glow descending beneath the curve of the earth is a daily miracle because light is evaporating and darkness descending, but the light will soon return.

Pedals churn and wheels turn. The earth revolves around the sun. The trail loops around the landscape and returns to its start point. They’re all cycles.

Photo: Greg Heil

As dusk patrol winds down, most people have returned to their indoor lives, so I have the trails to myself. I dare myself to let go of the brakes. The bike feels unleashed and rebellious, like it’s suddenly in charge, and I am holding the reins of a horse no longer taking orders. My job is to hold on and avoid crashing while wheels and gravity have their fling.

Midway through a sharp corner, I lose my nerve, grab the rear brake, and clear the apex with a skid that’s both exciting and naughty. I crest a hill and see the trailhead below. This is the final approach before touchdown, and rather than shred it, I coast along and savor the fading light like a headlamp draining the final volts from its batteries.

I load the bike into the back of the truck, sit on the tailgate and take a swig of water, not because I’m thirsty, but as a silent toast to the end of the day. Soon a shotgun blast of stars will dot the night sky. The day and the dusk patrol are over, and I etch its epitaph.

End of the ride, and a fine day.

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