Day 26: San Gabriel Mountains, CA to Los Angeles, CASeptember 28th, 2012
59.3 mi / 4:33:57 time / 12.9 mph avg. / 2034 ft. climbing
Staying at Laurianne and Brad’s Place
While the mountain-climbing part of the trip was effectively over yesterday, I lack access to a helicopter, so the top of a mountain is not a very practical jumping off point for my return to normal life. That meant I still had a ride into and through LA on the menu today, which I owas actually pretty excited about.
Laurianne, the sister of my old childhood friend Dave, lives in LA now, and she had been following along on my trip via Facebook. Some talk about meeting up for a drink had morphed into a very generous offer from her and her boyfriend Brad to spend the night at their place. This was at least triply-awesome. First, and silliest, it meant that I would spend every single night of my month-long trip without ever staying in a motel. I think my previous camping record was 14 days; I blew that away on this trip by camping 25 nights in a row, and combined with a night at Joel and Chika’s and now a night at Laurianne and Brad’s, it’s about the purest (not to mention cheapest!) way to spend a month away from home. Second, it meant that I would be able to break my streak of solitude by spending the evening with some cool people. And third, it gave some definition to my time in LA. The LA/exit portion of the trip is the one bit that I hadn’t pre-planned in excruciating detail, and that meant that I probably would have just defaulted to finding a motel in the morning, and upon arriving, would have slumped into the room, and spent the next 24 hours eating, watching TV, eating, and eating.
Only in the last few days had I remembered that I actually did have one slack day built in: it would have been bad news for the people next to me on the plane, but if I lost a day somewhere, I theoretically could have rode straight from the mountaintop to the Amtrak station, shipped my bike, and made it to LAX in time for my 2:45 flight. But now I would make something of my time in town (and give my seat mates on the plane and more pleasant-smelling flight!)
Last night’s campground was a lot nicer than I had been expecting; the area in the Angeles National Forest had been hit pretty bad by fire a year or two ago, and many of the areas are still restricted. So I pictured a campground with some scraggly brush and a few blackened tree trunks. But it was actually filled with nice healthy shade trees enclosing the sites, and even had a small stream running through the middle (and directly over the concrete campground road).
And the whole “forest” was much nicer too. Some of the mountainsides were actually green, and wow, there were some serious mountainsides. That meant I still had a bit more up-and-down to do before hitting the final descent. I always knew LA had “mountains” around it (that Hollywood sign is widely visible for a reason) , but had no idea that there were 5-6000 foot Mountains just outside the city. That’s a similar elevation relationship as Denver and the Front Range to its west.
The afternoon before, as I traveled south and up from the Antelope Valley, I noticed most cars were coming in the opposite direction. This morning, it was the opposite, and I guessed 10 cars passed in my direction for every one coming the other way. So hey, let’s count. In the 5 mile section to the Angeles Crest Highway, the count was 99 to 9. Darn it, 11 to 1, my estimate was just off! 🙂
So that clearly means these are commuters living in the Antelope Valley and working in the LA area. At an absolute minimum, that’s a 70 mile round-trip commute, which maybe isn’t crazier than a lot of exurb-to-city commutes in the country, but the craziness of such commutes is revealed with unignorable obviousness when you see them happening over a winding, nearly-empty mountain road that was only intended to be traveled by vacationers and forest service workers. To their credit, many of these commuters were driving relatively small, fuel-efficient cars, but nonetheless they are lifting at least 200 bowling balls up (and down) seven Sears Towers just to get to work every day. Insanity. Presumably they’ve done the math and found that this route works better for them than the longer-but-flatter main highway connecting the same valleys. Or maybe they just like the prettier and less mind-numbing drive, for which I can’t really blame them. But I can (and will!) blame them for living in an entirely different region from where they work!
On the downhill I got my first view of the smog-obscured LA basin (though apparently far clearer than it once was!) and then suddenly I was dumped into the very pretty, high-class suburb of La Canada Flintridge, with greenery and flowers everywhere that I hadn’t seen since Portland. The town is still on the mountain slope, so on the main road running down the slope I saw my first runaway-vehicle ramps in a residential neighborhood. They aren’t actually ramps, instead, it’s a gravel/sandy median in the middle of the road that presumably drag your vehicle to a halt.
I wound down Chevy Chase Drive, looking at all the fancy houses, and then stopped in the very Armenian suburb of Glendale for library and lunch (Armenian-language section in the library! Armenian lawyer for hire!) Lunch was at BJs Brewhouse, a sort of commercial/chain place, where I got myself a 2400-calorie “deep dish” pizza for lunch (probably over 3000 with my 2 beers + salad). The pizza of course wasn’t anything a Chicagoan would recognize as “deep dish”, but I had to get it just for comparison, and it wasn’t bad for what it was.
Then it was time to see LA! The lines of tall palm trees, the vagrants and suntanners laying about the greenery of Griffith Park, the iconic Hollywood sign, a cruise down not-so-glitzy Hollywood Boulevard, a roll through very-nice but surprisingly-normal residential Beverly Hills, past tourists and high school kids at Santa Monica pier, an observation the highest concentration of LA weirdos, freaks, and potheads at Venice Beach, and finally and most importantly, my long-awaited return, from heights unimaginable, to the ocean! I got myself a big old waffle cone from a Venice Beach ice cream shop to eat on my walk across the wide, soft stretch of sand, and under the California sun let the warm waves, so different in character than their Oregon siblings, wash the wear from my feet. Ahhhhhh. Life reset to zero. I checked to see if this ocean would spit my lost cyclometer back to me, but no luck.
Then I turned around for a ride up Venice Boulevard to Laurianne and Brad’s place. LA is as spread-out as I expected, so at least 30 of my miles today were just touring the city, which I think gave me as good a feel for a place as you can get in an afternoon. I actually liked the place a lot more than I expected I would (and certainly more than all the haters of Northern California who frequently made a verbal or non-verbal commentary when hearing of my final destination!) I don’t think I’m ready to move there, but I can certainly understand why so many people have decided to. The cycling was actually pretty good too. On a stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard, when I was still in dawdling sight-seeing mode, even though there were no sights to see, I got passed by a guy with a messenger bag who clearly knew what he was doing. That inspired me to put the hammer down and take off after him. I couldn’t quite keep on his tail, but for miles never got more than half a block behind, and he did a great job of leading the way, pointing out opening car doors, crazy bus drivers, and generally giving me a lesson in LA cycling to follow. It felt awesome to switch out of touring-cyclist mode and back into (sub)urban-warrior mode, especially since this warrior was piloting a tank today!
I met Brad at the apartment, he helped get my bags and bike up inside, and shortly after Laurianne arrived home from work. I got a shower (not on a concrete floor, that I didn’t need any quarters for, and with an extensive selection of cleansing products!), and then we cracked some beers and caught up a bit. As I had hoped, they did a great job of thinking of LA places for dinner that would also be a good fit for a guy who just finished the most energy-intensive tour of his life, but first we got a quick look (and smell!) at the La Brea Tar Pits, because, you know, there are these primeval tar pits still bubbling away right in the urban middle of the 2nd-biggest metropolis in the country!
Then it was on to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, proudly decorated with photos of President Obama’s recent visit, where I followed the suggestion of their logo that features a chicken and a waffle, and got, yes, chicken and waffles. Specifically, half of a chicken, smothered in gravy, and two giant waffles, smothered in butter and syrup. Oh my. Somehow the enormous lunch less than 5 hours earlier, nor the giant ice cream cone, had any effect on me clearing my plates (yes, plural).
Then back to the apartment for some more drinks, laying about, catching up on both personal and world news, and even helping start my transition back into society with some Thursday night TV! I got set up on the nice soft couch for a night’s sleep, so glad I hadn’t used up this buffer day earlier, and thankful to Laurianne and Brad for helping draw the final period at the tail of my trip.