My wife popped up to ride the indoor trainer at 4:45 a.m. I crawled out of the warm bed at 5:15 and dug out the running stuff from the TYR bag resting by the foot of the bed. Admittedly I’d already scrolled through the list of Likes and Comments on Instagram, whisked through the Notifications on Facebook and watched a hilarious video of Bryan Cranston celebrating his 60th birthday on the Jimmy Kimmel show.
Perhaps I’m not proud of the grip social media has on my conscious mind, but winter mornings demand a little light and the phone is all-too-willing to provide it.
Outside, the skies were still dark. Or so it appeared from inside the house. When it’s cloudy overnight where we live, the sky never gets truly dark. The lights from the auto dealerships two miles to the south take care of that. So does the glow from nearby Geneva, where the lights from shopping malls illuminate the sky. And in St. Charles as well, a pod of wan light washes across the otherwise dark horizon.
I’m used to running in the dark. There’s a predictability to it if you do it long enough. Best not flirt too much with the road edge, which can be uneven. It’s typically easy enough to see the pavement cracks except when a car is approaching and the headlights blind you. Then it’s necessary to raise a hand and shield the eyes for safety.
Welcome to the heart of un-darkness, where a little light is a blessing and a lotta light can be a curse. It is the space I long occupied as a paperboy in the early 1970s. I’d cover the route in darkness, especially on the side of town where streetlights were spaced far apart. Along I’d roll, pedaling a Huffy three-speed bike with caliper brake (whoooooaah). Even in deep snow I’d roll around the slushy streets with that often-heavy bag of newspapers over my shoulder. That was a 5:30 a.m. job to earn probably $8.00 a week. But I was motivated and did a great job. The Christmas tips proved that to me.
I share these experiences to convey the sense of familiarity one can develop with moving about in the un-dark. When people ask if it’s hard to run or ride before it gets light, I do recall there was ever a time when I crashed the bike or stumbled enough to fall while moving about before dawn or after twilight.
Of course, I’ve run into fallen trees in broad daylight and tumbled into the landscaping by tripping over a curb on a bright summer day, but I cannot recall a single time when I crashed or fell all the way to the ground while it was dark out.
Perhaps, like a person lacking sight or hearing, one develops an extra sensitivity to training in the dark. The un-darkness is, in fact, its own world, a realm in which one moves about with senses operating in a different fashion than normal.
I recall reading those Carlos Castaneda books about the teachings of Don Juan, a mystic warrior whose insights included how to transcend the physical world. I can’t say anything like that has happened to me, but there have been some weird moments over the years when I passed by a human figure in the shadows who would not say hello. The dark is privacy, to some degree. But so is the half-dark.
It’s not loneliness exactly, but alone-ness that sometimes matters to the soul. That feeling of being someone, or something sentient is important. You exist in a space between the worlds. Never mind the coming day or the approaching night. This little world of un-darkness is just about perfect for the soul seeking answers from the sound of footsteps or the whirr of tires.
Running in winter un-darkness can seem dank and foreboding. But there’s also running in the summer night with just shorts and a pair of shoes, or cycling home after twilight has fallen, when the nighthawks course under the streetlights and one arrives tired and happy, on your own driveway thankful for the gift of it all.
And the un-darkness of the soul.