The two most hated vehicles on the road, says Justin Short, are bicycles and semitrucks.
He would know. He's a long-haul trucker and a long-haul bike rider. The last thing he wants do after spending all night on the road is to drive more.
"I discovered that 14-hour night shifts weren't a deterrent," Short says. "I'd wake up once I got on the bike."
And, yes, sometimes it's deeply dark and single-digit cold.
Had a more strictly sensible person read about the Icy Bike Winter Commuting Challenge, they might have said, "I'd prefer not to." Sensible, Short is not.
"I was like, 'Oh, crap, now I'm gonna have to ride through this stuff all winter,'" he says. "From that moment forward, I just became a four-season bike commuter here, no matter how bad the weather."
He broke his hand in a head-on collision with another biker at night in Denver. He's been hit by a car in San Diego and thrown over some bushes. He was a bike messenger in Pittsburgh for a year.
"The fact that I survived that year..." he says, trailing off. "The worse it gets, the more I get, 'Let's get out there in the stuff.'"
There's a hundred subcultures of cyclists, all weird in their own weird way. There are the commuters. The racers. Then there's the crazy kind, the sort they used to make T-shirts in the '90s about. Short is all of them.
We could start our story when Short first got his training wheels off — "The last kid in my neighborhood" — or we could start it with the first BMX race when he was 13, when he got hooked on the sport.
Instead, let's start at midnight.
The Midnight Century starts just after 11:59 pm in the peak of the summer, outside the Elk Public House in Spokane's Browne's Addition.
That's when Short began as a columnist. His first column for local recreation magazine Out There Outdoors magazine was called "Mayhem and Madness on the Midnight Century."
"It travels to Central Foods in Kendall Yards by way of a colossal 100 miles of road, trail, and gravel," Short wrote in 2019. "There are no promotions, no sponsors, no entry fee, no insurance, and no support aside from the camaraderie of your fellow riders. This thing just happens."
Since that gonzo piece of bicycle hedonism, Short has written over a dozen Out There articles.
"The Midnight Century was my gateway drug" to the local bike community, Short says now. "Sometimes it's 60 or 70 people at the start. Half of them are trying to do it as drunk as possible."
There's a certain kind of bond forged — a certain kind of pride — that can only be achieved by a few dozen people embarking on an absurd, vaguely dangerous quest.
There's the Great Spokane Shop Ride — "a ride where you hit all 16, 17 bike shops in the area" and ends at the Brick West Brewery.
There's "The Stairmaster" ride, held in late winter, which, as advertised, requires mastery of stairs.
"You go and carry your bike up every county-maintained staircase in Spokane," Short says. "Some of the staircases you're trudging up through snow."
There are the gravel bike races that are popular despite being "grueling 100-, 200-mile slogs."
Then there's the joy of just aimless exploring.
"Getting lost in the woods is my primary focus," Short says. "My fascination is with going places I've never been before."
That turned into creating a 100-mile route that circumnavigates the city of Spokane and includes "every major hill — Tower Mountain, Anton Peak, Beacon Hill, Baldy, Five Mile Bluff."
"The Midnight Century was my gateway drug. Sometimes it's 60 or 70 people at the start. Half of them are trying to do it as drunk as possible."tweet this
Despite being from Pennsylvania, Short knows Spokane better than most locals.
"I ride with people who grew up here, and are in their 50s," Short says. "As a transplant I end up taking them places they've never been."
There's the price to all this, of course — paid in blood and bruises.
"I try to have a good crash every year," Short says.
But the payoff increases with the effort. Short describes the experience of biking up Green Bluff on his approach to Mt. Spokane.
"The mountain disappears for a long time," Short says. "You're climbing so long you forget that you're ever doing anything else."
And then, without warning, "the mountain pops into view."
"I always gasp in awe," Short says.
An experience like that is something you can share with the community of cyclists, those weirdos in those subcultures of weirdos.
"There's a lot of goofballs here that are really fun to ride with," Short says. "Just about every week, you know — you run into someone, you swap phone numbers, meet up for a ride."
After all, in a city this small, you never know who you're going to run into. Indeed, Short asks if I used to live in Browne's Addition on First Avenue. I did. He'd lived in the apartment next door. He, it turns out, was the guy whose van accidentally rear-ended my Toyota Corolla a decade ago in our shared driveway.
We all have to share the road, as we cyclists know. It's just, occasionally, we also have to share a driveway. ♦