Surfers, anglers, hunters, and photographers all know the importance of rising before the sun to score their quarry of choice. The ocean is usually glassy, fish are braver, deer are foraging for breakfast, and the magic hour of light begins at sunrise. Often the Dawn Patrol will provide the only opportunity for success all day. For cyclists, however, hitting the Dawn Patrol is not a requirement for indulging your passion. The dirt won’t get bumpier throughout the day, and trails won’t recede into the woods as the sun makes its way across the sky. That doesn’t mean that rising before dawn and taking your first pedal strokes as the sky turns gray is worthless, however. Hitting the Dawn Patrol, no matter what your motivation, has benefits beyond what a mid-day session, requiring minimal dedication and will power, can provide.
You’ll have it all to yourself—Sure, riding with some buddies usually sends the stoke meter farther to the right, so if you can convince a friend or two to meet for a ride in the hour between light and dark, by all means take them up on it. Getting out of bed at 4:45 AM is a little easier knowing someone else is doing it too.
No matter if you are hitting it solo or with a partner, you’ll probably be the only ones on the trail. That means no worrying about meeting 1100-pound, paranoid, skittish, oversized-squirrels which require you to dismount, stand in front of your bike, and speak gently so they understand you are, in fact, a human, and not a birotal equinivore. It also means that you’ll probably get a complete run in without having to slow down or stop for climbers, or ruin someone else’s descent by making them stop. If you live in an area that sees heavy trail use, that alone is worth getting out of bed early for.
Boost Your Self-Esteem—Similar in importance to cycling’s physical benefit is the mental sense of well-being that intense aerobic activity provides, which borders on superciliousness this close to sunrise. There is no better ego-boost than the smug sense of self-importance realized as you prepare for ten minutes of blissful descending following an invigorating climb in the crisp morning air, while the inhabitants of Whoville are still tapping their snooze buttons. Your pity for the poor fools who are missing out on both this beautiful time of day and the discipline to get out of bed and suffer a bit, is worth an extra 30-second sprint during your descent.
Guarantee Some Trail Time—For many of us, the small hours at the beginning of Helios’ daily journey across the sky are the only hours we can call our own. A time where we answer only to ourselves—as long as we get home in time to make breakfast and get the family out the door.
As you never know what the day will throw at you, or how your schedule will change, it’s important to ensure you get some turns in. Thus, going for an early ride allows you to check the most critical requirement of a good day off the list. If the universe smiles upon you and grants time for a lunch ride as well, then you have a built-in excuse as to why you didn’t contest the KOM, and you just clocked double the miles you were expecting to.
No matter what happens the rest of the day, at least you were able to ride, and that should keep a smile on your face until the work day is through. Conversely, if you had a chance to ride and didn’t take it, the specter of The Glory That Could Have Been will haunt you for the rest of the day, and you won’t be able to indulge in the plate of cookies someone left by the coffee machine either.
Sort Out the Meaning of Life—In that magic time of day when the light comes from a low angle, creating contrast and clarity, the key to happiness seems simple; enjoy what’s in front of you. In that mental state brought on by the combination of being up too early, coffee kicking in, and physical exertion when your body really wants to be asleep, a trance-like, transcendent state results, letting you focus on the beauty before you, and hopefully, the contentedness within you.
Perhaps the best reason to commit to the Dawn Patrol is simply this—because you can. The ability to ride at this special time of day is a gift to be enjoyed whenever, and as often as possible.
Just be alert on those blind turns, ’cause I’m not expecting anyone else to be out there that early…