steep climb into the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains, my efforts – of blood, bone, muscle and mind – were rewarded with a magnificent view of the city of Glendale and the San Gabriel Mountains.
Above: the summation of my eight days of the Festive 500. A
Click on any photo
(especially the one above)
to view a larger-sized image
The Time Machine
Yesterday the year rushed forward, like Lance Armstrong in a time trial, towards its conclusion. While there were two days left in the old year, it was the last day of the Festive 500 challenge: to ride a bike 500km (310 miles) in eight days.
Cyclists from around the world took part, many of them riding – voluntarily! – through temperatures that could turn spit from a liquid to solid in the blink of a frosted eyelash.
Summiting Mt. Lee, above the Hollywood Sign
In Los Angeles, needing another 81km (50 miles), I rode under blue skies on the clearest and possibly coldest day of 2010. Struggling with wintry temperatures in the low 50s F, I spent much time uncharacteristically dressed in arm and leg warmers, with a wind breaker over my bike jersey.
Looking into Mid-City Los Angeles
If I didn't have the bone-chilling, frost-bitting, snot-freezing, wind-burning, wintry conditions others faced the past eight days, I did occasionally challenge myself with some good climbs. On this day, I made myself suffer a little by riding up 1,218 meters (a foot less than 4,000 feet), to add some spice to the 81km stew. And as I had done for every ride during the past eight days, I chose to pedal to several new locations.
The Kaiser-Permanente medical facility, where I spent a few days
Defying the ordinary rules of physics, I morphed my bike into a time machine, purposely spending part of the day revisiting my life of two years ago. Reversing time, I pedaled my way to the hospital where, in December, 2008, I'd spent a couple of days recuperating after a heart attack. Of course, I was too young, too fit for a heart attack, which I assumed would come, if ever it did, with me on my bike. Instead, this one had surprised me on a quiet evening as I sat on a couch. The plaque blocking 100% of my right coronary artery soon put me on the floor, and then into a hospital. Five days later, with a stent holding open my damaged artery, and with my doctor's permission, I was back on my bike.
A trail at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, with Mt. Lee & the Hollywood Sign, where I'd been earlier in the day, in the background
My time machine took me back to a day in August, 2009. As I'd pedaled up a steep street to reach the famed Hollywood Sign – the place I like to say is the symbolic meeting point of myth and reality – I felt serious chest pain. I stopped, felt fine, popped a nitroglycerin pill and finished the steep ride to the top of Mt. Lee, just above the sign. I felt fine riding, too, so I knew the relief the nitro gave me proved there was seomthing wrong with my heart. So I coasted home, showered, drove to the hospital, was quickly admitted, and a day later two new stents were resting comfortable in my left coronary artery, which had been stuffed with enough plaque narrow its diameter by 90%. Three days later, unbeknownst to my doctor, I was back on my bike.
A rare glimpse of San Nicolas Island, thanks to a clear day and my telephoto lens
Over the past year and a quarter, I've been back up to the sign many times, without chest pain. Today I pedaled back up the road again to the sign, breathing steam-engine hard, but feeling good. The views from the top were out to forever. At the upper edge of the blue horizon to the west, lying motionless on the surface of the Pacific Ocean, I could see a bump that was little San Nicholas Island, the most remote of the Channel Islands off the California coast. With our coastal haze and smog in Los Angeles, seeing that island is a rare treat.
The top of the Hollywood Sign from Mt. Lee, looking out over Los Angeles and Lake Hollywood
Leaving the sign, I pedaled myself farther back in time: as a shy, skinny seven-year old, I joined my fellow day campers one morning to hike up to the Griffith Park Observatory. Our counselors took us off the trail and made us scramble up through the brush. I've always remembered that difficult, warm summer's morning, and not with particular fondness. Yet here I was again, on my bike, on two wheels that were spinning not wool, nor gold, but spinning me back to that day in my mind, long ago, when I made that arduous climb up to the observatory.
The Griffith Park Observatory
On this beautiful day, the road near the observatory was clogged, like my coronary artery with plaque, with cars; hundreds of Los Angelenos and tourists from around the world wanted to enjoy a visit to the Observatory and take in the grand views. I found myself passing cars on the uphill, as I pedaled toward the views, too. This time, older if not wiser, and not skinny nor shy, I relished the endorphin-induced euphoria of my exertion.
I met a cyclist who, like me, had stopped to enjoy the view out over the city and the ocean, more than 1,000 feet below
Beyond the bald domes of the observatory, I pedaled for miles over car-free roads in the upper reaches of Griffith Park. The bone-shaking pavement at one point was covered with a thickly textured carpet of mud and sand, washed down from recent rains, and I had to walk over the sticky mess for several yards. I saw few hikers and fewer cyclists. Much of the day, in fact, I had the streets to myself, from quiet residential lanes to the closed roads in much of Griffith Park.
End of the Ride
My last few miles, though, took me at dusk through Beverly Hills, up busy Wilshire Boulevard, where I zig-zagged from lane to lane, around slow-moving and stopped cars and buses, their own movements laterally constricted by the white line stripes. Then I was back into my own neighborhood, in the present moment, where the leafless, silhouetted trees proved that winter had arrived.
On my eight days of riding, I traveled from my home to the eastern edge of downtown Los Angeles, to the shores of the Pacific Ocean on the west, from the San Fernando Valley and the Santa Monica Mountains on the north, to the Baldwin Hills on the south. I tasted savory tacos at midnight, rode a few miles with the team I raced with an eon ago, rode geared, road fixed, rode a mountain bike, explored a national recreation area, toured historic neighborhoods, made new friends and met old ones, reached the heights while pushing my own limits, and balanced time on the bike with time for my friends and family.
How many miles will you or I travel next year, if not on a bike, then in our minds? Where will the miles of life, however few or however many we ride, take us in 2011?
I don't have the answers. I do know that I wish everyone Happy New Year.
– 500km (310 miles)
– 4191 meters (13,752 feet)
Follow my day's ride here.
Note: Click on any photo to view a larger-sized image.