For parts one and two, look here and here.
Ten minutes of climbing after the penultimate stop, with snowflakes alighting around me like tangible benevolence from above, the terrain levels out. We've arrived in an alpine basin at over nine thousand feet above sea level. I roll up to a stop near the rest of the group. 'There's Hyalite peak' states one of us. I shut my lights off, it's pitch black, then my eyes adjust to the indirect starlight mostly obscured by clouds. There, outlined against the sky I see the sharp outline of Hyalite Peak, it's not the most majestic mountain in the world, but I'm still standing at its base in the middle of the night. We marvel for a time, but all of us are feeling anxious about getting back down to the trail head, it's been a tough night, and we've got a wicked, gnarly, decent through a dark snow filled night.
Heading back down the trail is mixture of fun and extreme anxiety, the switchbacks at the top are some of the steepest I know of. To my left is a sharp drop, and under my tires is a trail basically carved out of scree. I'm wet, cold, tired. Carving through each switchback, I giggle with glee. The immediacy of threading through never-ending rock gardens never dulls. I had started this ride with five weeks off from real riding, now I was relying on instinct alone as my skills had lost a step or two to say the least. The trail is loose and every move feels like a chance to tumble. Onward through the darkness surrounded by my personal LED produced halo, I advance cautiously, and recklessly, dichotomy is the theme on this night, maybe also the theme for my life at this point. Speed is a relative quantity on a mountain bike, on a night ride every single thing you come across is immediate, and you must react with presence of mind honed from years of experience. If you've never done a night ride, you should.
We finally make it back to the car. Twelve miles are behind me...and now after well over a month, I know I've got some real rides in my near future. The dark, snowy, wet, cold, rocky, technical ride was perfect. Everything went wrong, and that was exactly what I needed to greet every single ride that has come since without a hint of hesitation. I faced it all, if it had been less tasking, I would have gained far less.
The worst case scenario was the only thing that could have brought me back.