Fending off the predators of the dark...

At one time I loved to ride my motorcycle at night. I actually thought at one time that I could see better at night. It seemed to me that the air was cleaner at night and there were less distractions.

Of course that was all before I learned that most animals come out to wander around and feed at night. Back on New York's Long Island where I grew up, even back in the 60s before it grew up into a extension of New York City; we didn't see many wild animals much bigger than mice during the day or night. This lack of observation led me to believe they didn't exist, I now know better. What I didn't realize was that deer like the edges of civilization not the solitude and safety of deep forests. Most of Long Island back in the 60s was edge area; and yes they used to hunt deer on the island.

Riding at night can be pretty intense if not terrifying. It's not so bad in the city where the streets are well lit or on interstates that pass through well developed areas; encounters with wildlife, at least those covered in fur are very limited.

I live in the middle of Newport News on a well lighted street; but that didn't stop deer from standing on our lawn in the middle of the day us on several occasions. That just goes to show you that you can never really be sure about when and where you'll come across wildlife and besides there are more than enough dogs and cats running loose in our cities.

Out in the back country wildlife can add another dimension to your riding.

At night a motorcycle's headlight becomes a darkness carving tool. Our headlight carves a tunnel into the blackness; it's in this tunnel that we ride. The darkness that looms outside the tunnel of light becomes even more menacing, because it hides all of those monsters and creatures of the night that are out get us.

This tunnel of light that pierces into the darkness isolates a rider in his own world. Nothing since the beginning of time will make a human being feel more alone than darkness. In total darkness our eyes adapt to some degree giving us some night vision. Even with our limited night vision we are limited in our ability to see in the dark; but once you add a light source of any kind it's lost for at least thirty minutes depending on how bright the light was. The brighter the light source is the less night vision we have. At night on a motorcycle with oncoming traffic our night vision is nonexistent.

Because of the lack of night vision; the darkness becomes even darker on the edges of the light tunnel. This shapeless darkness takes us back to a time when all humans feared the dark. This fear was well formed way back when man first stood up on his feet and discovered he needed clothes. Fear of the dark and the huge predators who hunt in the dark has never really left us.

Oh I hear you, only children are afraid of the dark; if that's so then why do you always look for a way to light up your way, or a room… You may have become comfortable with darkness; but total darkness will still reach down into your being and pretty frankly scare the crap out you. Go deep into a forest at midnight on a moonless night and see what happens. You may not go screaming into the night out of fear; but I'll bet the little hairs on the back of your neck will tingle.

What makes this night riding so scary is that your vision stops at the edges of your light tunnel. What isn't in the light will go by unseen. No matter how hard you try to see into that darkness it remains a place of formless dark.

This picture was taken in the middle of the day, my neigbor's front yard.

As your motorcycle travels along the road in the dark; the light tunnel bounces and sometimes jumps up and down. The light tunnel doesn't follow the road, instead in only points in the direction you're traveling not where it's going. Every turn is a step into the dark unknown. The road bends but the light tunnel doesn't. The rider is forced to turn into the darkness and wait for the light tunnel to catch up; some tense milliseconds of life…

While you're hurtling down the road you have a may have a feeling of being safe in that circle of light, traveling on the ground 20 to 25 feet in front of you. But most times your traveling much faster than your ability to see, react and then evade or stop. This is the reality of riding at night; it's not a very friendly place for humans.

Our inability to see in the dark is because our eyes were never designed for night vision; we lack the monochromatic vision that enhances night predator's vision. And over the years we have become accustomed to the light in our tunnel. The light in the tunnel coming from the headlight causes the pupils in our eyes to contract and block out the extra light. To see in the dark we need the opposite to happen the pupil has to open wider to allow more light in. We can only see in the light or the dark not both at the same time.

The brain knows we are riding on a road at night and we need to see the road that's illuminated by our headlight, so our eyes are focused for the light. Everything that's on the side of the road outside the tunnel of light is un-see-able. In our minds nothing exists in the darkness; only the monsters and predators lurk in the dark.

Humans are day creatures, our eyes are designed to work in the daylight. Daylight vision is in color, if we were meant to see in the dark we would have monochromatic vision (we would only see our world in shades of gray). We gained some limited ability to see in the dark with the campfire. Huddling with our fellow humans in the light of the fire made us feel safe.

Deer out in the early morning, roadside...

It wasn't until modern technology gave us true night vision that humans could see in the dark. This new night vision technology hasn't come to driving or riding a motorcycle as of yet. So riding a motorcycle at night on an unlit back country road, we're left to strain and fumble in the dark with just the human eye and a tunnel of light.

Today we know that there are very few predators and monsters to jump out of the dark. However we know that there are all kinds of wildlife and domestic animals roaming around which can at any time cross our paths; once again the danger is in the dark. It's just as well that wildlife and domestic animals don't seem to care about man or his mechanical transportation devices or his inability to see in the dark. But whether it's a saber tooth tiger, tyrannosaurs rex, or someone's pet pooch once it's suddenly appears in your path does it really matter.

When I was a young man I wasn't as aware of what was in the dark, therefore it didn't scare me. Now that I'm older, wiser and my vision isn't as good as it use to be; I try to keep all of my night riding confined to cities. But at least a couple of times a year I manage to find myself riding in the real darkness and experience the fear that being alone in the dark can bring. Somehow these experiences; tempting the predators of the night; help to exercise my old heart and challenges those fear genes in my DNA.

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