"Heights by great men reached and kept were not obtained by sudden flight—H.W. Longfellow
but, while their companions slept, they were toiling upward in the night."
Night rides are a great escape from summer's heat and are always thrilling—especially all-night brevets, where reaching the dawn serves as reward for one's nocturnal toils. On brevets, many of us find by nightfall that our group has become stretched out so sparsely along the route that the ensuing nights often grow lonesome. Those quiet backroads, deep in the Carolina woodlands, can however be truly excellent company along with the moon, wind, trees and nocturnal wildlife. Deer, with their poor sense of roadway etiquette, have proven problematic to a few unlucky randonneurs (Hi Chet! Hello Cindy!) and even much smaller critters can challenge one's bike handling skills. Thankfully the bears seem to be more elusive, but I'll wager that the tandem could take down a small one if they earnestly put their minds to it, and replace those E-6s with infrared. Keep those hunting licenses up to date!
Three night creatures offering far more pleasant company come to mind. All three of them are night birds with distinctive songs that call out their own names loudly, clearly and persistently, allowing us to connect with them while keeping our eyes on the road. They are: the bob-white at dusk and the whip-poor-will and chuck-will's-widow on through the night. If we are enjoying a full moon, mocking birds may trill the night long too. Though they do not monotonously repeat their own names, you should be familiar with diagnostic triple repeating of extensive repertoire of mimicked songs.
J. J. Audubon says of the Chuck-Will's-Widow (The 'Widow and Whip' are both "Nighjars", aka "Goatsuckers"):
"The sounds of the Goatsucker, at all events, forbode a peaceful and calm night, and I have more than once thought, are conducive to lull the listener to repose…Their notes are seldom heard in cloudy weather, and never when it rains."I'm told that the whip-poor-will always hatches ten days before the moon is full—how's that for proof of a creature's splendid connection to the night world?
Doubtless, many of you have learned to identify these birdsongs around the time you learned to form sentences, but others riding amongst us were raised in cities, or even places outside the eastern United States, and it occurs to me that they just may be missing out on the comfortable recognition of these guardian angels of night travelers, these unseen forest dwellers who seem to follow the weary traveler mile after mile and hour after hour with audible encouragement to keep our minds clear.
Despair not, you of such pitifully deprived upbringing, findsounds.com is here to enlighten you. I've grabbed three .wav files, converted to .mp3 and saved the bobwhite here, the whippoorwill here and chuck-will's-widow here that I might serve to further facilitate your education and night-cycling enjoyment. You will never ride alone in the woods again, at least not this side of the Mississippi.
Should you ever chance to pedal on down to the deep south, Louisiana and Mississippi are possessed of the loudest nocturnal insect choruses. The neighborhoods of insects create auditory waves that run back and forth through the wood lots. I have had no entomologist confirm it, but I’d bet these choruses are a prelude to reproduction. I will leave that to the insects, but in two weeks I will be investigating whether the cacophony of insect calling and the silent phosphorescent calls of lightning bugs, so prominent in my memory of Louisiana and Mississippi, also extend to Arkansas.
Now, dontcha wanna go for a ride tonight?