Being a child of "the theatre," I love a good spectacle, and N.I.T.E. Ride delivered in spades. 3500 cyclists gathered at IUPUI's Carroll Stadium last Saturday. It was a big first for me; N.I.T.E. Ride popped my cycling event cherry, and oh how sweet it was.
I arrived at around 9:30, and already, hundreds of cyclists had queued up in front of Carroll Stadium. If it hadn't been for the blaring beats of music sounding through the crowd, I would have been able to hear my own heart thumping with adrenaline. It was exhilarating to see, for the very first time, Indy's cycling community in mass, riders of all shapes, sizes and ages.
After visiting the BGI tent to purchase my mandated headlight, picking up my registration packet, changing into my N.I.T.E Ride t-shirt, and affixing said headlight to my bike, there was still plenty of time to kill before the big event began at 11:00. I turned up stag to the dance, and I was content to simply marvel at the pageantry. With each minute the queue of bikes behind the start line grew, and at about 10:15, I found my own spot among the throngs.
My awkwardness at being alone at my very first CIBA event was soon superseded by some friendly cyclists near by. I struck up a conversation with Charlie and Bernie (whose last names I unfortunately did not get). Bernie, a veteran of the N.I.T.E. Ride since the early '90s riding a vintage bike, had brought his friend Charlie, a newbie to N.I.T.E Ride like me. I asked them what to expect, and Bernie, aware of my nerves, offered "just relax and have fun." Charlie, a former competitive cyclist who had been out of the game for a while, sat atop a hybrid loaned by Bernie.
After an instrumental recording of the National Anthem, for which we all removed our helmets, the ride began... for some anyway. We, however, were two-thirds back in the queue, walking our bikes forward inch by inch to the start line for the next half hour. Bernie assured us, "It's a long wait to start, but if [the ride] wasn't worth it, there wouldn't be all these people."
Finally, we pushed off down New York Street. Police cars at every intersection held traffic for us, as we made our way through downtown to the Circle and started the trek north on Illinois St. Though alcohol is very clearly prohibited from the event, one group took an early pit-stop at a discount liquor store, raising their PBR beer cans to us as we passed.
Though I rode for about six miles with Charlie and Bernie, we all started to find our own grooves, losing each other in the crowd. I settled into the ride, contented to find solitude in the solace of such a large crowd.
Residents along the course sat on their lawns cheering and watching us zip by. Volunteers at every turn directed traffic, as calls from cyclists to each other sounded: "right turn ahead" or "left turn ahead." In fact, I was surprised at how much these cyclists called to each other. Things like "box in the street" or "water on the road" in an attempt to keep everyone, friend or stranger, informed and safe.
As we made the turn down 52nd Street, headed toward Butler, my stomach revolted. I was running out of fuel and needed to keep pushing until the rest stop. Thankfully, bike traffic started to slow through the Butler campus; the blinking red lights bunched-up. Water and fuel were in sight. I gratefully sat down to eat my cookie, and I refilled my water bottle twice before heading on to Act II.
The drunken cyclists, noted earlier, zoomed past the crowd laughing their asses off and screaming, "I think we just might win this one." Cyclists around me muttered discontentedly about how they were putting us all in danger. Personally, I can't imagine dehydrating yourself like that on such a long ride. Later, I saw the same group looking a little green, but still drinking, as they rested on the side of the road about five miles from the finish.
The ride continued through the IMA, onto 38th Street, down one incredibly fun off-ramp, and onto White River Parkway. The roads by the river darkened, and I began to understand the necessity of the headlight. And with about eight more miles until the end of the ride, I started to wish it would never end. The image of cyclists spread out in front of and behind me, streaks of red lighting the path: I'll never forget it.
As rear lights gave way to city lights, the end was insight. We wound our way back to New York Street for the finish line. Tired and unwilling to wait in the long line for food, I grabbed a Coke, and headed home finishing my final leg of the evening.
In total, I rode 23 miles, my longest ride to date. And I just can't wait for next year.