In a recent post, I mentioned the fact that we had ridden through some tunnels on our last tour in France. This is seriously great fun, and an interesting way to check out just how good your headlamp actually is!
Only once before have I ridden on my bike in what I would consider ‘genuinely dark’ conditions. On that occasion, we were cycling around a few of the lakes in the Rosnay area (also in France); it was a warm moonless, night and the roads had no guide lines, posts or other reflectors. And it was seriously dark ….. !
Our tunnel experience, like that at Rosnay, was totally unexpected. The road between Millau and Albi winds through a deep valley and towards the lower end, it goes through a series of about eight or ten tunnels. Some are quite short, and others are well over a kilometre and curve through the hills which rise above them.
This may not seem like anything of consequence, until you realise (when mid way through) that you can see nothing when looking ‘forward’ and nothing when looking ‘backward’! You are truly in the pitch dark.
The tunnels were originally designed to accommodate a railway line and the route has numerous narrow bridges as well as the tunnels – all that is missing is the track and the trains! But the melancholy sound of the train whistle will never be heard along this valley – which I think is rather a shame, because the scenery is nothing short of incredible. But I digress!
The challenge with cycling through a narrow, curving, dark, (should have been a) train tunnel is that there is very little space. Motor vehicles have to use a traffic signal warning system to let those coming the other way know that the tunnel is ‘occupied’. But this works on a timer and turns off after a ‘reasonable’ period of time.
But what of a bicycle? Only one of the tunnels had a “Cylists in the tunnel” warning system. I guess you could set the traffic lights to red and then pedal madly (simulating a motor vehicle), hoping to get out the other side in time….. but that is no way to enjoy the thrill of riding in the dark!
The only way to enjoy the ride is to listen for vehicles as you pedal along, and then make yourself very visible (as you move to one side) if someone comes from behind or in front. Even stopping to take a photo seems like a risky thing to do…. unless, unlike me, your headlight and taillights are powered up, bright and very visible 🙂 (In my defence, we were riding in clear, sunny conditions – I did not think I would need a light for that stretch!!)
I want to return and re-ride through this valley because this time, I want to have good lights, and I want to ride s-l-o-w-l-y through each tunnel to savour the experience again. What fun!