The alarm hurts. It actually hurts, physically, emotionally, maybe even spiritually. It’s dark out still, the blinds not yet outlined in the dawn’s gray light. A sense of disbelief blooms. Am I really doing this? My sleeping companion stirs only a little. It’s not her alarm. This is not her terrible idea.
I’ve laid out my things, because I know I’m not capable of cogent thought at this hour, and anyway I’m getting dressed in a closet or in the living room, so as not to disturb the other people for whom this idea seemed dumb, the ones who will start their days when the day actually starts.
This is dawn patrol, the boondoggle that goes down before anything else can come along and fuck it up.
It’s strapping the lights on my bike and rolling onto the trail when the deer are still prowling the open spaces and the coyotes aren’t yet done working the garbage can in the parking lot. It’s a headlamp and extra careful footing on a run. It’s snow shoes and the hope that, once I we climb high enough on the mountain, the sunrise will reward us for our headstrong stupidity.
Dawn patrol seldom disappoints.
At the very least you get the magic of solitude, of no one else being around. At best, you get a spectacular light show as the sun lights the horizon, filtered through the clouds into pinks and oranges and reds. Then it appears, like a bright ball of hope, validating all your questionable choices.
Sometimes you’re rolling back into the parking lot on studded tires. the early dog walkers just showing up. Sometimes you’re back at the breakfast table, the sweat still prickly on your neck, and the eggs and the coffee have never been better in your whole life. And sometimes you climb and climb and climb up the steep, snowy pitches, and you switch from snow shoes to skis, and you bomb down the empty slopes with a dumb ass grin cracking your face, carving through the groomer’s fresh work, and you only want to do this one thing forever, because it’s just that good.
The next time someone suggests a pre-dawn adventure I will hurt with the pain of that alarm going off and, despite the magic I know is waiting out there, everything in my being will resist wanting to join in. I don’t know whether it’s just my failure to see what’s good for me, or it’s inherent in the thing, the price you have to pay for an always winning ticket.