Monday, January 25, 2010

Taking Our Temperature

Sunday, January 24, 2010. New York City: cloudy skies, temperatures in the low 30's F. London: 40. Moscow, Russia: 3.

Los Angeles, California: after several days of rain, the temperatures would reach into the 60s. And as I began a ride with the Los Angeles Wheelmen, in yet another jersey, I would wonder about the temperature of the reception we would receive - warm or frigid - from the residents of one neighborhood through which we would pedal.

We dozen met at "the corner," Ledoux Street and Olympic Blvd., on the border between West Los Angeles and the city of Beverly Hills; at 9.m., after a bit of socializing, we headed west, through streets wondrously empty of motorized traffic. After rolling through Beverly Hills, we cycled into West Los Angeles via the Holmby Hills, cut through UCLA and then pedaled through the Veterans Administration. Everywhere, it seemed, people and especially their cars, were still under the spell of sleep in their homes and garages, under the blue and warming sky.

Above and below: pedaling through the quiet UCLA campus.

Below: Rolling through the Veterans Administration

The calendar reads January. In Los Angeles, spring is already here, with the green grass growing tall and wildflowers advertising their yearly revival with bright splashes of color. Along broad - and mostly empty - San Vicente Blvd., in the Brentwood community, we rode by trees in bloom.

Below: Heading north along 26th Street toward the Santa Monica Mountains.

We turned north, to reach the base of the Santa Monica Mountains, and the entrance to Mandeville Canyon. Once home to the indigenous Chumash and Tongva people, the canyon is now home to well-off residents of Los Angeles. With its sycamores and oaks and remaining open spaces, the canyon still manifests a rural feel. Mandeville Canyon Road snakes its way for five miles up into the mountains, to dead-end not far from Muholland Drive, out of sight above a chaparral-covered ridge.

Although Mandeville Canyon Road draws cyclists like a magnet does iron filings, I hadn't ridden there in over a quarter of century, since my family moved east some miles from our former home is W. L. A. Since the move, I've have easy access to a plethora of other roads in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Over the march of years, I rarely gave thought to Mandeville Canyon, and had only vague memories of what it looks like and what the ride up to the head of the canyon entailed. In July, 2008, the canyon was thrust into the news and became of particular interest to cyclists from around the world. That's when a doctor, after an angry shouting match, slammed on his car brakes in front of two cyclists. Both riders were seriously injured. After a well-publicised trial, Christopher Thompson was sentenced on January 8 to five years in prison for his assault.

Were we going to be inflaming the residents with our presence in Mandeville Canyon? Were we pouring salt in a wound? I know there are people who feel some hostility toward cyclists. Could we not have chosen some other canyon road?

Below: An artificial waterfall in the canyon.

Below: Looking up the canyon, toward the spot where Dr. Thompson injured two cyclists

To abandon Mandeville Canyon Road because of the actions of one motorist filled with irrational road rage, though, is risk abandoning all roads. To make the ride up and down the canyon is therefore not only justified, but mandatory.

Moreover, whatever my trepidations, the perhaps 100+ cyclists I saw that morning, and those far fewer people driving cars, were uniformly polite to one another.

I experienced anew the pleasures of the canyon. Most of the elevation gain five is fairly gentle. Perhaps the last quarter mile, though, tilts viciously upward, the grade above 10%. Pleasure didn't turn to pain, but pleasure took a back seat as I pushed my way to the top of the road.

Below: The road at the top of the hill ends, where the canyon narrows, at the gate to a private home.

Below: "You haven't finished the ride unless you the gate," someone said.

On our ride down the canyon, we stopped briefly to regroup. Someone in a car drove by us and gave us the thumbs-up sign. I'm under no illusion that love now blooms between all cyclists and all motorists where before annoyance and hostility ruled. That thumbs-up sign, though, proved the temperature of relationships between even strangers in Mandeville Canyon is anything but uniformly frigid.

What happened that morning in July in Mandeville Canyon, as terrible as it was, may have had some salutary, if temporary consequences: it's made everyone on the road more aware of each other's presence, and more aware of the risks, physical and legal, we take when we angrily confront each other. It's usually better to share the road - and the world - with each other than fight over it.

Away from the canyon, we reached Ocean Ave., on the bluffs above the broad beaches of Santa Monica. On this early afternoon, with the temperature hovering somewhere above 60 degrees, the beaches were deserted. Mike Escobar, a friendly city of Santa Monica park ranger snapped my photograph; unfortunately, I managed to vaporize the picture I made of him.

Above: That's my Wildflower Century jersey. I purchased it in 2001, after I first made the ride, which takes place in and around the town of Chico, in Northern California, in late April each year.

Our last stop was de rigueur – Pete's Coffee and Tea shop, along San Vicente Blvd, which, like Mandeville Canyon, attracts legions of cyclists on Sunday mornings.

Below: A Pomeranian eyes me suspiciously while his "master" enjoys a double decaf latte at Pete's.

As we turned onto the bike lane along Santa Monica Blvd., with the towers of Century City in the foreground, we could see the snow-covered San Gabriel Mountains to the northeast, rising to a little over 10,000 feet above sea level.

It's clouding up again, and the temperature in and around Los Angeles will drop. My next ride in the sun, in a day or two, after fresh snow falls in the mountains, should be as warm, as beautiful and as friendly as my Sunday ride.

Click on pictures for larger versions. Camera: Panasonic Lumix TZ5

1 comment:

RideFast600 said...

amazing ride! that looks like so much fun