Tag Archives: night

Normal People Don’t Do This

It’s gone midnight, it’s pitch black apart from the small slits of light emitted in front by our respective bike lights and the twinkling lights of the highway off in the distance, and we still have another two hours to go. Ordinarily I would be found out on the Al Qudra desert cycle track – all 50km of this tarmac loop stretching off into the desert before spinning back towards civilisation again – most Friday mornings, when it seems most of the cycling and triathlon community of Dubai drag themselves up early, don their lycra and venture out in pairs or packs (rarely solo) for one, two, maybe more loops of this wonderful training resource we have. Not this week though.

With the daytime temperatures now reaching the mid to high forties, and the humidity knocking on uncomfortable, training in the daylight is simply becoming a silly thing to attempt to do. The value derived from braving the fierce heat is, in my opinion, negligible whilst the risk of simply getting sunburnt and succumbing to heat exhaustion makes it not worth attempting. So….. training simply ceases, right? No. Training continues. In fact, training is increasing in volume and intensity as I find myself a mere 12 weeks away from standing at the start line of Ironman Lake Tahoe. What has to happen then is to either train indoors, which I find impossibly dull, or to become nocturnal. Hence why we find ourselves peddling around in the desert in the first hours of Friday morning.

My programme prescribed a 5 hour bike ride with a run off the back of it for this week and so I pitched the idea of a Thursday night cycle marathon to the triathlon community here in Dubai. A few people got back to me and so it was arranged that we would meet at 9pm at the start of the AQ loop. I would have preferred an earlier start to be honest, especially given that 5 hours would lead to a finish after 2am, but such is the nature of working as a vet that even getting away from the clinic at 7pm was a blessing. So a quick turnaround at home, including shoveling some food down, loading up the ice vest system which I had planned to test out (didn’t need to in the end as the temperatures experienced made it redundant), and water and nutrition for the bike, it was back in the car and heading straight out to the desert.

For anyone who doesn’t know where the AQ track is, one drives past Arabian Ranches, out towards Bab Al Shams desert resort and just keep going for what feels like a long, long time. The stick (an extension of the cycle track) runs alongside the road for the last 18km of this approach before reaching a roundabout and the main parking area with amenities such as a cafe (closed at that time of night sadly) and toilets which are mercifully open all the time.

Jan cycling at nightLoop one saw four of us band together for the ride: good friend and fellow Dubai Tri Pirate, Jan; Ironman Zurich preparee, Stephen; another Ironman, Matt; and myself, yet to join the ranks of the men of metal. A fast first loop was had and we came home in good time and spirits, with Matt ending his session, which had started much earlier in the evening, and Jan, Stephen and I heading straight out for the second loop. By the end of the second legs were certainly starting to be felt and water refills were in order, as was a quick top up of the fuel tanks, although in hindsight the choice of chocolate and a can of Red Bull (I still don’t know why I touched it?!), was less than optimal, as I didn’t feel wonderful heading out on the third and final loop. Stephen spun back round at the 15km mark, as he was on track for a total distance that evening of 180km, having also started earlier, and so Jan and I forged on for the remaining 35km towards home and a total distance of 150km in a little over the target 5 hours.

One of the rather interesting features of cycling in the dead of night is that all that can be seen is what is immediately around you. As such, one cannot see the horizon, which means that the impression of it not getting any closer on those impossibly long stretches of track does not occur. Which is probably just as well given how uncomfortable I was finding the third loop. By now my legs were well and truly complaining and I unfortunately cramped up on at least two occasions, one such requiring a gritting of the teeth and some real willpower to move through. I am still in the process of figuring out my optimal nutrition plan for the bike, and suspect that it may have had a role to play. Although I had taken electrolyte in the bottles, I wonder whether I should have added additional at the water bottle refill after our second loop and looked at something more quick release, energy wise, than the nuts and dried fruit that I had with me. The process of experimentation continues therefore.

Wildlife experiences were a little closer than usual in the day, with at least two episodes when we nearly had impact with an Oryx, as they suddenly dart out across the track. Hitting one of them would not be fun and a few bruises and some road rash would, I daresay, be the best case scenario of such an accident. We also saw several smaller species on the track, all doing their best to try and get run over, thwarted in their efforts by some quick and deft swerving on our part. A desert rat was the coolest thing I remember seeing, with its long, kangaroo-esque back feet and lengthy tail that made it look like a Stretch Armstrong version of a gerbil.

Chris cycling at nightHowever, even the interesting nocturnal activities of the desert wildlife could do little to distract me by the end of the third, and thankfully final, loop as my legs were screaming at me to stop. If I hadn’t fully appreciated the enormity of the challenge that I face in September before then I do so now, as I simply felt unable to even contemplate any further time on the bike. Unfortunately I found myself feeling a little dizzy (again, inadequate nutrition? Or maybe pure fatigue, as it was afterall gone 2am?). Anyway, it did mean that venturing out solo for my run felt like a poor idea and so I made the executive decision to forgo that element of the session and head home. The drive itself was a challenge as I had to stop at one point back towards Arabian Ranches to deal with a sudden onset of cramp in my driving leg, and then there was the very real risk of actually falling asleep at the wheel that I had to contend with. Scary stuff indeed and I was ecstatic at arriving back, dumping my stuff in the house, grabbing a much needed protein shake and a shower before collapsing into bed for what ended up being an epic and well deserved period of sleep. All in all, a big session but nothing compared to what is to come. Thank you sincerely to both Stephen and Jan for accompanying me out and if it were not for Jan and his encouragement that third and final loop would have been sheer and utter torture.

Main points:

  1. Cycling at night is certainly much more comfortable in terms of the heat, with the temperatures a perfect mid to late twenties for most of the time, and at times even a little on the noticeably chilly side. This certainly translated into faster speeds at the same effort than would be possible at higher temperatures.
  2. The track was very, very quiet, as one would expect at those insane times. In fact, the only other people we saw were two cyclists going in the opposite direction on both of the first two loops. There were then a couple of crazy morning warriors clearly starting when we finished at gone 2am, otherwise the track and desert belonged solely to us.
  3. In spite of the challenges and discomfort associated with heading out overnight, the fact that I was able to simply sleep on through Friday morning did make it all worthwhile.
  4. Nutrition is still something I need to figure out. I should not have cramped up and I suspect that I need to examine my electrolyte intake more closely. I shall not be taking Red Bull out again and some more natural quick release energy sources, such as bananas, may have been of more use during the actual cycling.

Falling in the Dark

Life is a series of opportunities and experiences, some odder and more extreme than others. I had the chance recently to take part in one such experience that most sane members of society would consider utterly insane, and I can see that they may well have a point. The activity in question was nighttime skydiving, which as you might have correctly guessed involves skydiving. At night. In the dark.

skydiving essentialsHaving recently acquired my USPA B-license I was eligible to sign up for the jump, which is only generally run once a year and is limited in terms of how many jumpers can take part. As it is part of the requirements for the D-license it was an extra bonus that I was able to get that part of my skydiving career under my belt at this stage. So, after making a mad dash out of work on the Saturday evening in question, skillfully navigating myself away from the car park that was Sheikh Zayed road and heading out to the desert dropzone, it was time to manifest, grab my rig and get psyched up for what was always going to be a mad experience. The fact that pretty much every other skydiver regardless, it seemed, of their experience level looked nervous simply added to the feeling of epic trepidation that I was certainly feeling.

The briefing was conducted once everyone had arrived and like pretty much everything we ever do in skydiving it was completely focused on safety and ensuring that the jumps went as smoothly as possible. That is one thing that crops up again and again with ‘extreme’ sports: the uncompromising focus on safety, in spite of what most people view as simply a bunch of unhinged loonies engaging in reckless tomfoolery.

The jumps were to be performed from a helicopter, which is always a treat in itself, and each skydiver had three lights on them: a green glowstick on the back of the helmet (so we could be seen by other skydivers as we jumped from the helicopter), a red light on our chest strap (so we could be seen by other skydivers should we be falling with our backs to the earth), and a strobe light attached to our left ankles, to be switched on only once we were safely under canopy. It was drilled into us how much of a bad idea it would be for us to make the mistake of switching our strobes on in the helicopter, as someone had done the year before. Basically it takes about 30 minutes to regain night vision and so having a bright light suddenly go off in front of you before leaping would have done nothing good for everyone’s ability to see.

The plan was for everyone to complete two jumps in total: one solo jump and the second a group jump with one or more other people. As the number of jumpers that could go up at any one time was relatively small and the ground control had to be certain that everyone who had just jumped had landed and returned to the dropzone safely, the progression of the evening was a little slower than I think I had initially anticipated. As such, I spent a lot of time actually just kicking back on the sofa, waking up just in time for my jumps.

Gearing up and cracking the chemical light sticks on both my helmet and chest strap, I couldn’t help but feel like a character in the sci fi movie Tron. One thing that was a little disappointing was that the ‘glow in the dark’ Batman t-shirt that I had excitedly purchased the day before did anything but. In fact, the whites of my eyes were probably glowing more than the bat logo! Shame as I reckon it would have looked mental to have the bat logo looming out of the dark.

The helicopter ride up was a strange sensation, as the only lights visible were the soft luminous glows of various red and green light sticks, and the various dials and switches of the main cockpit area. As such, the atmosphere was one of calm anticipation as we each mentally prepared and rehearsed what was about to follow.

Once at jump altitude it was a relatively swift business of leaping out, dropping silently away from the helicopter blinking before us, whilst savouring the utterly alien sensation of freefall in the dark. I found that we had surprisingly more time in actual freefall than initially expected and when pull-altitude eventually came I felt satisfied that my appetite for this new form of adrenaline shot had been sated. The canopy portion of the descent was much as it is in daylight, apart from remembering to twist on our strobes and the fact that, well, we couldn’t see much. One of the strange and apparently unnerving phenomenon that can occur when jumping at night is that your own shadow can end up looking like another skydiver flying in uncomfortably close proximity to you, with a lot of jumpers instinctively turning to fly away from the perceived danger. The problem, of course, is that one’s shadow tends to follow and can’t be shaken off, so it takes a few moments to realise that you’re actually trying to escape yourself!

skydiving at night in DubaiLanding was, in many ways, a much calmer process in the dark as the fact that you can’t easily see everything around makes you focus intently on what is immediately approaching, and also on good altitude awareness and steady canopy control on the approach. I think my landings in the dark were smoother than many of my daylight ones. The landing area itself was very clearly marked, with lights in an arrow shape, and the fact that we had the road and InFlight tunnel very brightly lit up made it easy to know where to aim for.

Having checked in with ground control – one of the important safety measures in place to ensure that everyone was present and accounted for after each jump run and before the next – I headed back in to get my rig packed and wait for the next jump, this one being a two-way.

Jumping with someone else in the dark was just as insane, and we had time enough to turn a few points before turning, tracking and pulling as we normally would.

A late finish (1.30 in the morning!) but a great way to spend an evening here in Dubai and a unique experience to record in the personal history.