Archive for June 27, 2008

So here’s the problem.

Here’s the problem with bicycling in L.A. (Okay, one of the problems.) Unlike other places I’ve lived, there’s really no great place to ride here.

What should be L.A.’s crown jewel – the beachfront bike path that runs from Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades down past Redondo Beach – is so clogged with pedestrians and drunken tourists (is that redundant?) that it’s almost impassible at times. The lower section, below the marina, is usually better. But the upper section, through Santa Monica and Venice, is so bad that it’s not even worth riding if you can’t get there before noon. And most riders just avoid it entirely from Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Even if you wanted to ride it, the problem is getting there.

Some people try riding the major streets like Santa Monica, Wilshire or Olympic Boulevards, which is akin to playing Russian Roulette with five live rounds.

The Ballona Creek bike trail, which runs from Culver City all the way to the coast, should be a freeway for the velo crowd. But the need to swerve around all the homeless encampments and drunks passed out in your pathway kind of limits its ride-ability. As does the fact that it runs through some of the most dangerous, crime and gang-infested neighborhoods in the city. (Evidently, I’m not the only one to notice this sort of problem.) So if a nice young man with facial tattoos stops to admire your bike, I’d suggest giving it to him. Seriously.

You can get to the beach by taking the bike lanes on Colorado, if you don’t mind stopping every few blocks and dodging buses once you get below 4th. Or you can try avoiding all the oblivious drivers with their surgically attached cell phones on Montana.

But the best, and most popular, route to the coast is the bike lanes along San Vicente Blvd. Unlike most of L.A., the drivers on San Vicente are used to seeing bicyclists, so they usually drive safely, and there are no stops signs, and only two stop lights, giving you a safe, fast ride. But even here you can have problems, like when a construction or film crew takes over the bike lane for no apparent reason, forcing you to compete with drivers for the limited space remaining in the traffic lanes.

And don’t even get me started on riding PCH through Malibu.

Sure, it’s flat and scenic, making it one of the area’s most popular rides. But with narrow – or sometimes no – shoulders on the road, high speed traffic, countless cars turning right in or out of driveways, and frequent construction sites that force riders into traffic lanes – which resulted in the death of two riders a couple years ago – it’s often more demolition derby than relaxing ride.

Sure, I used to ride it anyway, like everyone else. But these days, my wife insists that I come home in one piece.

Go figure.

Biking on little cat feet

I’m really not a fan of bicycling in Los Angeles.

Sure, I ride here, because this is where I live.  But of all the places I’ve tried to ride, this town ranks pretty near the bottom.  The only place I’d rank lower was Baton Rouge, LA, where I could count on getting run off the road or doored every time the frat boys at LSU had a few too many.  Which was pretty much every weekend, now that I think about it.

But there are days that make it all worthwhile.  Like the other day, when I took a quick run down the coast to cool off from an early season heat wave.  It was just early enough in the day to beat the crowds that usually clog the beachfront bike as the day goes on, and the weather at the beach was perfect.

I was feeling good, so I just kept going, past sailboats and surfers, seagulls and sun-drenched beach babes tanning on the shore.  After about 25 miles, it was time to turn around, so I stopped briefly in Hermosa Beach to tighten a spoke and eat one of the Kashi bars I keep in my seat bag.

And in that short amount of time, a heavy fog rolled in, blanketing the coast and completely changing the texture of my return.  Instead of clear, sparkling views, I passed through a heavy grey curtain, hiding all my landmarks and parting only briefly to unveil a building or allow another rider to pass by.  As I rode, I could see breakers come out of nowhere, sometimes bearing a surfer floating out of the haze.

The result was a sense of splendid isolation, as if I was somehow cut off from the world, and every person and object I passed was a welcome revelation.

Of course, it’s one thing to savor a fog like that on an isolated bike path; quite another to slog through traffic when you can’t see where the cars are coming from.  But within a few blocks of the beach, the fog — and that magical feeling — melted away.

(The title refers to a poem by Carl Sandberg, which begins, “The fog comes on little cat feet…”)

The comeback (non)kid

You ride. You train. You do intervals and sprints. You climb hills. You work on your breathing and conditioning. You chart your miles and watch what you eat. Then one glorious day, it all comes together. And suddenly, even the hardest training ride seems almost effortless, and you remember why you love this sport in the first place.

I’m not there yet.

I’m still working my way back from a bad accident last fall. The kind where you lose consciousness — and a lot of blood — the paramedics rush you to the hospital and you spend a night in intensive care, hooked up to enough monitors to manage a space launch. The kind that keeps you off your bike for four months, and makes your wife think you’re crazy for even thinking about getting back on it again.

You know, that kind of accident.

I’m getting close, though.  I started riding again shortly after New Years, slowly building my way back up to 50+ mile rides, and a cruising speed of 18 – 20 mph. I’ve got most of my strength back, though I still need to work on hill climbing, and for some reason, I haven’t been able to get a handle on my breathing yet. Then there’s those last few pounds I still need to drop, left over from the 15 or so I packed on during my enforced sabbatical on the couch.

But it won’t be long now.  One of these days, I’ll hop on my bike, and suddenly, it will feel natural again, like I was born in that saddle. And I can just ride — anywhere, with anyone — without having to think about it.

I’m looking forward to that day. Because it’s been a long, hard ride to get back there.

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