It was 6:00 a.m. and dark on the Interstate Bridge that crosses the Columbia River near my home. As I started up the steep section, reasonably well lighted by my generator-powered front lamp, I became aware of a bright light coming up from behind me. It had to be on a bicycle. What else could be traveling so silently on the narrow bike-pedestrian trail on which I was cycling to my early morning breakfast?
Yet this light was brighter than any bike-mounted light I had ever seen, and it was closing in upon me faster than I could imagine.
On the Oregon side of the bridge, where the bike trail divides, I bore to the right and the phantom rider behind me moved to the left. To my amazement, he-she-it was towing a trailer, which made the speed even more difficult to believe.
On a few other winter mornings since that first encounter, I’ve seen the phantom rider again. Always silent, brightly lighted, and fast.
On a recent morning, the lift section of the bridge was up so that a big tug and barge could clear the span. There he was, my phantom companion, waiting for the span to settle back into place.
He looked to be about forty years old and was wearing a yellow rain shield to protect himself from the 65-degree morning chill. His bright beam was emitted from a series of high intensity light sources mounted on a panel fastened to the front of his handlebars. A radio with small external speakers was playing brightly.
The trailer was built of larger than normal steel angle irons. Strapped upon it was a bright orange container, roughly 16 inches by 16 by 20. A heavy cable was looped from the case to a socket welded to the rear stays just above the brake bridge.
“Motor assist?” I asked, finally realizing why his lights were so bright and he was so fast.
“Yes,” he replied. “I commute from Hazel Dell [a community on the north side of Vancouver] to OMSI [the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry near down town Portland.]” It takes me fifty minutes to ride the distance [which is about 15 miles].”
The trailer weighs ninety pounds, but the set-up allows him to cruise up hills at 30+ miles per hour and on the flats even faster. He likes to pedal for the exercise and can program the controls to maintain the speed and pedaling cadence that he chooses.
“You built it yourself, I presume.” And then I added, “How much did it cost?”
“Yes, and I’ve spent about $1,500 on the project. That’s pretty expensive, I know, but I can’t stand the thought of driving to work every day.”
Since I hadn’t brought a camera, I couldn’t record a visual image of our encounter.
At this point in the conversation, the bridge opened again and we mounted our respective bicycles to continue our trips toward Portland by different routes.
By the way, I let him go first.
Note: The bridge photo was taken on the Oregon side of the Interstate Bridge earlier in the summer, and the nearly dark photo was taken from my condo balcony.