A favorite ritual of mine on Sunday mornings is to head out early on my road bike, ride a 24-mile loop from my house to Griffith Park. It starts with about 7 miles of city-riding to the park, leads to a lovely loop through the park, which loop includes climbing up a winding road to the Griffith Observatory. Then I get to fly back downhill and home again. It’s a gorgeous ride, gets in about 1700 feet of climbing, takes a little less than 2-1/2 hours, and I can get home and showered with enough time to catch the 11:00 service at First Unitarian Church of L.A. to complete my spiritual nourishment and recharge for the week. As much as I enjoy that ritual, lately I started feeling like I was getting into a rut and limiting myself from doing longer or more challenging rides.
A couple of Sundays ago, I had a reason to ride to Torrance for a visit with extended family. That took me onto the Ballona Creek Bike Path, which feeds in to the bike path that runs south along the beach all the way along the South Bay. In other words, the bulk of my 25-mile ride that day was on bike paths. I’d forgotten how nice it can be to cruise along on a flat path without having to stop at intersections and interact with automobiles.
Then last Sunday, I had a reason to go to Venice. The Rapha Pop Up Shop on Abbott Kinney was hosting a women’s round table and social ride, and a friend was going to be one of the panelists. To get there on time for the 9:00 a.m. event, I headed straight west on the Venice Boulevard bike lane. The social ride (I opted for the “low-key” alternative, as I knew I couldn’t keep up with the serious roadie gals) was a gentle 14-miler, so I took a little bit longer return route when it was time to head home, allowing me to get back on that Ballona Creek Bike Path. That day I got in a total of 37 miles, and that whetted my appetite for adding more distance.
The next Sunday, I had an excuse to visit the Unitarian Universalist Church in Santa Monica, and to arrive there between 10-11 a.m. That would allow me to knit a bit with the knitting group I used to hang with each Sunday, catch the 11:00 service, and get in on the final opportunity for bidding on the Dining 4 Dollars events, an annual fundraising tradition that involves bidding on themed dinners and events. I really wanted to try my luck at Lorenzo’s Crawfish Boil.
I decided this was also an opportunity to put together an epic ride. Something that would challenge me on both distance and climbing, since all of my recent rides have been one or the other, and never that much of either. I mapped it out with Google: head up Nichols Canyon (after all, I did that one last Fall – should be doable), descend from Mulholland at Coldwater Canyon, work my way farther west and see if I can handle Mandeville (it’s been 4 years since the last time I climbed that one), and then I would be not too far from Santa Monica. After the service and bidding was done, I could then take the longer way home, along the ocean and then back east toward home via the Ballona Creek Path. The total mileage would be close to 50, a challenge given my current level of conditioning, but not too intimidating or unrealistic.
I figured the first climb was definitely within reach, and if the second was not, well, I could always just turn around and end the climb early, giving me more time with the knitting group. So off I went, leaving the house at 7:15. It was cool and foggy; we don’t usually get such dense fog this far inland. I felt good, and was psyched for the challenge. By the time I was approaching Nichols Canyon to begin climbing, I was rather wet. My glasses were wet with dew, my clothes were damp, and my brake hoods and shift levers were slippery. Even my tissue that I pulled from my pocket to blow my wet nose was damp, just from being in my pocket.
Soon enough, the dampness was no longer distracting me, and must have disappeared somewhere along the climb. It turned out to be a great day for riding, maybe just because I started out early enough that there wasn’t much car traffic on the winding narrow road. I like checking out the variety of interesting-looking homes along the way, and then being awestruck by the scenery once I’m high enough to see out over the Hollywood Hills. By this time it was just plain sunny; no hints remained of my foggy start. Before I knew it, there was the right turn onto Woodrow Wilson, which told me I was beginning the final and steepest part of the climb to Mulholland. I certainly felt maxed out on that last steep part, and grateful for my bike’s lowest gear, and especially grateful for the knowledge that this part of the climb would be short. Otherwise I might have considered giving up.
Once I got to Mulholland, I took a good little break. I needed to catch my breath, chug some water, and snap a photo to memorialize my adventure on Instagram.
The next part, cruising along Mulholland, was better than I had remembered it, in that the road had been repaved, and I didn’t have any scary moments with motorists zipping by too closely. At least not until I crossed Laurel Canyon. Then it was the rough road and hostile/ignorant drivers I remembered. For those reasons, I prefer to limit my time on Mulholland and take the first good option for my descent: Coldwater Canyon. I love this one. The road is in good condition and traffic is fairly light. There is plenty of room for cars to pass me safely, a minimum of cross-streets, and I can really pick up speed without freaking out.
I stopped at the bottom to check google maps and plan the next segment. I felt good enough to continue with my plan to head over to Mandeville, but knew the steep part of that climb would be harder than that last part of Nichols, and I may well not be able to go the whole way. No reason not to see how far I can make it, though, especially since it’s an up-and-back route.
Riding through Beverly Hills is nice: giant mansions and ridiculously manicured lawns to gawk at, plus ostentatiously wide streets. I discovered for my first time that there is a cut through to Santa Monica Boulevard that makes it easy to head over to the west side. You still have to ride the awful part through Century City, with cars swooshing by at freeway speeds and no bike lane. There really needs to be a protected bike lane there, more so than anywhere else I’ve ridden in L.A.
Having made it to Beverly Glen without getting plowed over, I got to ride in bike lanes all the way to Westwood and continuing as I headed north to Ohio. Ohio got me to Federal, which got me to San Vicente. There’s a bike lane there, but this is Brentwood, so cyclists have to be extra vigilant about inattentive drivers, cars stopped in the bike lane, and entitled drivers who think nothing of cutting you off in their hurry to make a right turn.
As I got close to the turn off to head towards Mandeville, I considered the time, and how I could just go straight on to Santa Monica and be able to join the knitting group for the full hour between services. But,no, I was too close to Mandeville not to at least see how far I could go. I survived the scary 0.3 miles one has to ride on Sunset in order to get to Mandeville, and shortly thereafter pulled over to take off my jacket and refill my main water bottle from my backup bottle. At this point, another rider pulled over, too. Turns out he was about to attempt Mandeville for his first time, and asked me about it. I told him I hadn’t done it in 4 years, but that I remember that just when you think you aren’t going to make it, you can see the top, and that helps you make it up that last super steep bit. We wished each other luck, and got to it.
In general, I did okay. I was able to enjoy the ride, and could feel the climb, but without discomfort or feeling discouraged by my limited conditioning. At least not until I got to the steeper part. I was working hard, breathing hard, and reached a point where I began to wonder if I might be pushing myself a little too hard for my own good. Was I starting to cross that line between embracing a challenge and stupidity? I wasn’t sure. I remembered that you can see the end of the road when you are near the top, and it bothered me that I still could not see that end. Maybe I still had a ways to go. My pulse was pounding. If I’m not ready to make it all the way today, I can just stop and turn around and try again another day. No biggie. Yet maybe that guy who was trying Mandeville for his first time was waiting for me. But I couldn’t base my decision on that. I decided I was struggling just a bit too much and ought to stop and turn around at the shady spot just ahead of me, so I did. But as soon as I stopped, I looked up and there was the top, only a short block ahead of me. I took a minute or two to drink some water and catch my breath, and mustered up a little more oomph to get me up that last grunt! Three gentlemen on bikes were at the top, resting, and I recognized one as my friend from the bottom of the hill. They offered words of encouragement, and before I knew it, I’d made it!
I snapped a selfie for Instagram and to send to my hubby, who knew I hadn’t been sure about my ability to do this climb, and took only a short break before getting rolling again. The descent was sweet, especially with the added glow of accomplishment.
I didn’t get to the Santa Monica church as early as I’d hoped, but it didn’t matter much. I had enough time for a cup of coffee and to catch up with a friend before the 11:00 service began. I got some knitting in during the service, and then joined the bidding frenzy and chatted with old friends in the social hall. My mid-ride break ended up being over 2 hours, as it was after 1 pm by the time I got rolling again.
I headed south toward the beach, and enjoyed watching all the sunny Sunday afternoon action along the Santa Monica oceanside before heading into Venice on ultra-hip Abbott Kinney to get over to the bike path into Marina del Rey.
By this time, the reality that I hadn’t eaten any lunch was getting to me, yet I didn’t feel like stopping at a restaurant or fast food joint. Hungry as I was, nothing like that sounded very appealing to me. Once I’d started onto the connecting Ballona Creek bike path, I decided to stop at one of the recently added beautiful park-like areas that have been added along the path. I drank a good bit of water and ate my second Kind bar to keep the hunger at bay.
It was great to zoom along the path without being interrupted by intersections. At the other end, in Culver City, I considered looking for a place to get some lunch, but I really just wanted to finish the trip home. I figured I could just eat something when I got home.
But as I got closer to home, heading east on Venice Boulevard, I saw that Strava showed my mileage was only in the low 40’s. I thought my route was going to be 48 miles, which could easily be nudged up to 50 by altering the last bit home. This bothered me. I’d been out all day and I wanted to claim I’d ridden a half century! I decided to take a left when I got to Country Club Drive, instead of the right turn that would have taken me straight home. I arced west and north, the way I go when taking the longer, prettier route to work through Hancock Park. As I came back east, though, my miles traveled remained disappointingly short of the target, so I extended my route farther east, and took Harvard south to 11th. This looped me through Koreatown and then back west to home. The final tally (49.3 miles per Strava) was still a wee bit shy of 50, but I decided to just go home already!
It was still a ride I could be proud of, and getting home after 3 was late enough!