Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Above: Looking east from the top of Runyon Canyon, with Mt. Hollywood atop the ridge above the Griffith Park Observatory. The San Gabriel Mountains rise in the background.

The Perfect Ride

Last Thursday, as I coasted toward home, I knew I had just enjoyed a classic, solo bike ride. There were busy city streets to navigate, quiet residential avenues, a climb into the higher reaches of the Santa Monica Mountains with vertiginous views of the flatlands, and people-watching, all in the span of about 17 miles.

My ride turned vertical when I reached the mouth of Runyon Canyon. This amazing strip of wilderness, with two steep trails running up its east and west sides, sits in the middle of a great metropolis. I can remember my first visit, several years ago. The views out from the canyon were almost hallucinatory attimes, as I'd round corners that made me feel like I was floating above Los Angeles.

Cyclists don't much favor Runyon Canyon. Only the west side trail can be navigated by two-wheelers. It's a steep climb on a narrow, mostly concrete path, some of it sandy. Moreover, the path is shared with hikers who are allowed to bring their dogs. For much of the way, about 1.5 miles, dogs are allowed off-leash, too.

If there are few cyclists, there are many hikers and dogs. This is also one of the finest places to not only to people watch, but to watch beautiful people. As I've reported elsewhere on this blog, most of the snippets of conversation I've heard as I've rolled by people have concerned personal relationships or the film industry, people hoping to change or enhance their fortunes, and this trip was no exception.

Above: Looking down Montcalm Ave., with it's 15% grade; beyond are the San Gabriel Mts., below is the city of Burbank.

The top of Nichols Canyon reaches Mulholland Drive. Beyond Mulholland, a network of tangled roads spill over the north side of the Santa Monicas, into the San Fernando Valley. Along the way, I discovered what must be one of the steepest streets in Los Angeles; my cyclometer registered more than 21%. I put my bike into its lowest gear and slowly pedaled to the top; I felt strong.

Taking my time allowed me to enjoy the scenery. Here the hillsides on the north side of the Santa Monica Mountains were almost lush, shaded and well-watered, and the homes were an eclectic mix of of styles and sizes, one looking like a cross between a castle and a mosque.

After losing myself on some dead-end streets, I found myself at a junction. Not wanting to lose altitude, and unsure where the road led in either direction, I pulled out my cell phone and used the GPS feature. I was lost in Los Angeles.

Above and below: Views out from Runyon Canyon over Los Angeles.

Regaining Mulholland Dr. with comparative ease after a short climb, I pedaled back to the top of Runyon Canyon. I turned my wheels downward, carefully making my way to avoid the hikers and their more free-spirited dogs, all of them friendly. Gravity still held me in it a sway as I traveled without haste across Sunset Blvd., through West Hollywood and the Miracle Mile, taking my time as I rolled to my own street and home.

Yes, this was the perfect ride.

Note: Click on photos f or larger-sized views.

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