Outdoors | Cycles of the Moon: A personal log of an annual late-night bike ride across Antelope Island | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Outdoors | Cycles of the Moon: A personal log of an annual late-night bike ride across Antelope Island 

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Smack dab in the middle of the Great Salt Lake sits Antelope Island. Although it looks awfully barren from the mainland, it is home to many a plant and creature. Yes, antelope do reside there (a misnomer was avoided by reintroducing the species in 1993 after a long absence), as do deer, bobcat, coyote and elk, not to mention various birds and waterfowl. It is also home to a herd of bison now numbering over 600.

But take note—I, for one, saw none of these things. After driving across the causeway that connects the north end of the island to the mainland, all that caught my attention were gigantic swarms of brine flies and a stench unlike any other. Also, shortly after making the 30 minute drive north of downtown, the sun set behind the Lakeside Mountains, leaving me and more than 800 biking enthusiasts in utter darkness as we prepared for the annual Antelope by Moonlight bike ride—22 mapped round-trip miles from the marina to the historic Fielding Garr Ranch and back again. And sitting there, suffocating with the bugs, stink and encroaching darkness, the question might be asked, “Why?” Why would anyone subject him- or herself to such obnoxious biking conditions?

The year I participated in the ride, it was an all-out red, white and blue affair. This year, for the 15th-anniversary bonanza, participants are encouraged to decorate their bikes with all sorts of lights and trimmings, using the somewhat enigmatic “Creatures of the Night” theme as guidance. If all goes well for attendees, 2008’s Antelope by Moonlight Bike Ride should be just as successful as my time cast away on the island. I recorded it at the time as follows:

It’s 10 p.m., and after a near calamitous beginning, the critical mass moves south along the eastern edge of Antelope Island, creating a string of lights against the hillsides that measures several miles long. Out of nowhere, the clouds suddenly part, and the yellow moon rises over one of the saltiest inland bodies of water in the world. Unfortunately, I’m too busy staring at what I can make out of the scenery—OK, I was trying to spy a bison or two—and almost running over a pack of giggling Girl Scouts.

At 10:55 p.m., close to an hour after starting the ride, I’ve made it to the bug-infested corral in front of the ranch. It’s littered with bedecked bikes in all shapes and sizes. The barn, where the good eats and good times are said to be had, is quite literally lit up like a Christmas tree. After riding in the dark, everyone seems disoriented by its sheer luminescence. I don’t last long within the festive throng. At 11:30 p.m.—while the majority of people hang around tapping their toes to yet another fine Pat Benatar or Creedence Clearwater Revival tune, waiting anxiously to see if their slapdash costume will give them an edge up on their equally giddy competitors—I decide to head back early.

It’s just after midnight, and I finally find the peace I’ve been looking for. The moon decides to make another showing, painting my shadow on the pavement, and the road unfurling in front of my spinning wheel is completely deserted. The hills above me light up with the illumination of the dry golden wheat. The moonlight draws a path off of the island, across the rippling water, over to the far shore where the city’s lights twinkle like grounded stars. As if miracles themselves are readily handed out, the bugs go their own way, clearing the road of their irritating presence. It is only now, out on a seemingly solitary ride, that I can turn off my headlights and obtain what was promised—riding Antelope Island by moonlight. The open road. The silence. The beauty. The brilliant isolation of Antelope Island at midnight. Now if only we could do something about that damned smell.

Antelope by Moonlight Ride @ Antelope Island State Park, Friday July 18, 10 p.m., Check-in starts at 7:30 p.m. DavisCounty.gov


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More by Jacob Stringer

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