Nightlife: Lunar Leisure

Photo by Ofer Sivan

Kangaroos and ostriches. That’s what I hoped to see during the second Full Moon Bike Ride through Iowa City on Sept. 12. As a recent transplant to this fair town on the Iowa River, I was ready to enjoy a different breed of wildlife from the creatures inhabiting northern Indiana. Mountain lions? In Iowa? So I figured what the hell. I’m keeping my eyes peeled for kangaroos and ostriches.

Kasey Bullerman, a ceramics instructor at Kirkwood Community College, brought the idea of a full moon ride with her when she returned to Iowa City from Carbondale, Colorado. In Carbondale, scores of folks hopped on their bikes for the rides.

“People would dress up,” she said. “And someone would bring a boom box along so there was music. People came out of their homes to watch us go by. It was like a parade.”

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about riding at night, full moon or not. Nocturnal cyclists have slammed into parked cars, crumpled rims in unseen potholes and been chipped into ditches by unobservant drivers for decades. But they’ve also delighted in the joy of whipping along in the dark like goblins, startling pedestrians and tomcats, then disappearing into the night.

The plan was to meet in College Green Park at 9 p.m., then head out on a route Kasey had scouted earlier. I rolled into the park around 8:45 not knowing what to expect. I saw people sitting on the grass and other cyclists pedaling through. Then I spotted a road bike parked atop a table under the light of the gazebo and saw a guy with a camera and tripod taking pictures.

“Hi, I’m Ofer,” he said. “You Mark?” Ofer was hoping to frame a shot of the bike and the quickly rising moon.

After few minutes a guy rode up on a utility bike with shiny fenders and polished rims. Bill, who works with the Iowa City Bike Library, said he learned about the ride from a flyer he found in his seat post. “It sounded like fun,” he said.

Before long the rest of the riders–Hannah, Vicki and A.C.–arrived and we were off. Kasey led the group out onto College and we glided downhill toward the center of town. We took a right at Linn and a left into the alley. I watched for beady eyes peering out from among the dumpsters but saw none. At Dubuque we turned right and scooted past pedestrians strolling along the sidewalk ,and imbibers enjoying the warm night with a beer outside the Deadwood Tavern. Streetlamps lit the way, with bright full-moon globes.

We took another right onto Iowa, ducked left between Van Allen and Seashore Hall, then merged right onto Jefferson. My attention drifted for a while as I took in the tidy houses shaded from the moonlight by the tree canopy, and before I knew it Kasey had guided us into a parking garage near Mercy Hospital. She whooped once or twice in the empty concrete cavern and I followed suit, adding my echo to hers. A few laps around the glowing lower level and we shot through the gated exit, back into the night.

Kasey led us north on Governor, left onto Fairchild and right onto Lucas toward Happy Hollow Park, where we took another right onto Brown. The streets were deserted and nearly silent. The only sounds came from our quiet conversation, the whirring chains and humming tires of our bikes. As we jiggled up the bricks on Brown Street, Oakland Cemetery hove into view.

We pushed between the limestone-capped entrance columns and into the graveyard. Here, A.C. took the lead because he apparently knew the layout of the place. Narrow cemetery lanes designed to discourage speeding may work for cars and hearses but not for bicycles. He whipped us from one tight path to another, zipping past tombstones and monuments, crypts and crosses. More whoops. We moved like sprites. Headlights illuminated headstones for split seconds. The light of the harvest moon fell in odd shapes among the graves. Trapezoids, crescents, lampshades, kangaroos, ostriches. Aha!

Around in a circle at the far end of the cemetery and back to the entrance we went. A right followed by a left put us on Summit, past the Hilltop Tavern and onto Prairie du Chien. We looped through a neighborhood to our left and headed back down Prairie du Chien, then onto Dodge. The long slope of Dodge got us rolling fast. At some point speed exceeds a headlight’s reach and you give yourself over to trust: trust that the front wheel bearings won’t suddenly seize, trust that a squirrel won’t decide to dash into your path for a juicy nut and trust that the road crews filled all of winter’s craters.

In no time we arrived in one happy bunch, back at College Green Park. I was pleased to have seen Iowa City in a new, more intimate light. Kasey was pleased with the turnout, though small, and the general mood of the riders.

“I think it was good,” she said. “Everyone was excited about it. But we need to get more people involved. It’s nice to discover different spots, new places. We all know different areas of town. And maybe get someone with a boom box.”