Monday, April 28, 2014

Revisiting the "Ride of the Year"

Your beloved bikeist is TAD today.  That's Navy talk for "I'm on a business trip and don't have time to properly blog."

Driving north up the coast today, though, reminded  me of my ride from L.A. to San Juan Capistrano last Fall, so please tide yourself over with this exciting re-run of The Bikeist's "Ride of the Year" until I'm back in the saddle:

Monday, December 30, 2013

The End is Nigh!

Those of you tuning in to find out how my Topeak iPhone "Drybag" performed will have to wait -- needs a little more field testing with a variety of apps before I'll be ready to weigh in.

Besides, this is my last post of the year, so I'm obligated by the laws of media to do something gimmicky.  No lists, though -- too many folks out there doing end-of-year lists.  Instead, I'm going with "The Ride of the Year."  By default, it should probably be my journey from the CA/OR border to San Francisco, but you have already heard all about that ride in infinite detail via the epic, neverending Bikeography.  Plus, that was really more a "trek" than a ride.  To be eligible for "ride" of the year, the sojourn must have been completed within the bounds of a weekend or less.

So many rides to choose from, but there is one that stands out for so many reasons -- L.A. to San Juan Capistrano (southern Orange County).  Part of my quest to conquer the entire Pacific Coast from Canada to Mexico, this ride was spawned from a "basic" errand (as so many of the best bike rides are).  My littlest bikeist is actually a genuine "ist" - as in "violinist."  She's been playing since she was just shy of four, and graduates to a new sized violin every couple of years.  As it so happens, one of the very best violin shops anywhere, Robert Cauer Violins, is in West Hollywood.  Normally, we turn our bi-annual violin trip into a mini-vacation, spending the weekend in LA in conjunction with the violin trade-in and purchase.  This year was no different with us taking advantage of a generous military discount at the Beverly Hilton:

 . . . and hitting Universal Studios the morning after.  But what about the errand?!  -- you ask.  Be patient, I'm getting there.  For the first time in many journeys, my little violinist couldn't make up her mind about which violin she wanted.  So, after hours and hours of trying to pick the right one, we decided to bring two back to San Diego, so she could get help from her instructor in making the choice.  Thus, it became necessary for us to get the rejected violin back to Hollywood the following week.  Since nobody in my family was anxious to drive all the way back up the I-5 a second weekend in a row -- I pounced on the perfect solution -- I'd deliver the violin by bike!

This should come as no surprise to anyone.  I did not actually have enough time to complete the whole trip by bike, but with the help of Amtrak, I could get the whole delivery done over a Saturday and Sunday.  I set out early on a September Saturday morning with two violin cases strapped to the back of the newly re-furbished Red Cannondale, do-anything, urban-assault bike.  As I said above, there are many reasons this ride stands out for me.  The fact that it allowed me to incorporate my trusty old Cannondale into a significant portion of my Pacific Coast conquest is one of the biggest.  This ride provided the perfect opportunity to test how she would perform on an extended journey (after so many years relegated to trips for groceries, etc.).

Here's how she looked, geared up (those are surfboard straps securing the cases) early on a Saturday morning as I headed out:

The metamorphosis was not yet complete (new Shimano pedals and Brooks saddle yet to come), but the most important upgrades were in place -- skinnier, Specialized All-Condition Pro tires and "bullhorn" handlebars (didn't even have time to add the Roubaix tape they are now adorned with).  The all-important rack, though, is what made the Cannondale the bike for this job.

The first nervous moment of the trip came early, as I secured the fully loaded bike into a bus rack to get us over the Coronado Bay Bridge to San Diego proper.  I've been doing this for as long as MTS buses have had racks, but was a little worried about the added weight:

No problem, though, as the rack easily held my violin-laden bike.  After getting off at 12th and Imperial Transit Center, I zipped past Petco Park and along the bike path that parallels the Trolley along Harbor Drive to Santa Fe Station to catch the "Surfliner" north to Union Station in LA.  About 2.5 hours later, I was walking my bike through the venerable old lobby:

Not, quite, Grand Central Station, but beautiful nonetheless!

Now, it was time to get serious -- needed to knock out eight miles across the heart of L.A. to get to the violin shop.  Luckily, traffic in downtown LA is pretty light on Saturday mornings, so the (surprisingly hilly) ride was much easier than I anticipated.

Robert, et al, were quite amused with my delivery method, and couldn't recall anybody (even a local) delivering a violin back via bicycle.  We got the transaction done, quickly, and I was then on my way through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills to Santa Monica where I'd start my trek southward along the coast.  Have to admit, though, that I was waylaid, by a burger calling me from this West Hollywood, upscale diner:

The waiter was, probably, the most attractive man I have ever encountered in person, yet I left the restaurant just as hetero as when I walked in --

As I headed along Santa Monica Boulevard to the iconic pier, I had to admit to myself that I was surprised at how easy it was to cross LA on a bike.  This busy thoroughfare had a dedicated bike lane the whole way and the drivers were actually fairly courteous and attentive to this bikeist (of course, the most dangerous drivers were probably still dead asleep recovering from Friday night revelries . . .).  Best of all, though, I came along this unexpected treasure:

YES!  The actual Little League field and complex where they filmed the Bad News Bears -- not only one of the best baseball-themed movies ever filmed, but, IMHO, one of the best movies ever -- period.  I know, I know -- you may think of it as a farcical tale of foul-mouthed adolescents and their alcoholic coach, but I beg you to revisit it,  There is genuine pathos there.  The kids are actually way more REAL than I remembered them, and Matthau was simply brilliant as Buttermaker.  Worst of all, the horrible coaches/parents weren't nearly as bad as the worst I experienced on my way up to playing D-1 ball.  So, it was with great excitement that I briefly abandoned my journey to explore the situs of one of the greatest movies in film history:

I couldn't get out on the field to get a proper vantage-point (since there were authentic little-leaguers actually using the field), but the billboard in the corner has a faux advertisement for "Chico's Bail-Bonds" -- the supposed sponsor of Matthau's "Bears."

14 miles later, I hit the Pier and started following the boardwalk south.  Here was my second big surprise (which continued for miles and miles).  The boardwalk (which separates bikes from pedestrians along separate paths) allows bike riders to traverse, pretty much, the entirety of Los Angeles County right on the beach.  How awesome is that?!  This was some of the best scenery I have ever experienced in the saddle.  Endless stretches of Pacific coastline, the weirdos amassed at Venice Beach, world class volleyball players almost the entire way, and the blue, blue ocean stretching on forever to the west . . .

In case you're wondering, I still have a violin case (vice the two I biked in with), because I needed a full-sized case for the new violin waiting in San Diego.

Surprisingly, with the need to take care of business first, and several pit-stops, I was only able to make about 17 miles southward before the shadows started getting a bit long.  I had hoped to get to Seal Beach in OC, but was pleasantly surprised by my locale as the sun began to set in Redondo Beach in southernmost LA County.  Great pier, great restaurants, lots of happy young people, great vibe!  I found a motel near the beach and partook of a sushi feast (see a pattern hear, loyal readers?) before hitting the hay.

The next morning, I got out early, and was immediately gratified with my decision to stop in Redondo Beach as I had to cross the living hell that is Carson City in order to get to the OC Coast and the type of riding I had been enjoying.  For those of you unfamiliar with this ungodly stretch of sprawl, it is a conflunce of oil refineries (think North Jersey) just south of Los Angeles proper.  The acrid air I breathed in for a good fifteen miles is indescribable.  God help the poor souls who live within the confines of this polluted wasteland:

Once I got past this purgatorial stretch, though, it was miles and miles of wonderful OC beach riding that welcomed me.  The same LA-style boardwalks stretch along the coast, with a brief, although arduous, detour through Laguna Beach, which may be the most bike un-friendly town in all of So-Cal.  Taking the advice of "the bible," I got off the 1 for a good stretch of Laguna Beach, but the parts where I was forced onto the main road offered no bike lane and seriously obnoxious drivers in multi-hundred thousand dollar cars. 

The steep hills through LB definitely enhanced the difficulty, but once I cleared it, there was nothing but smooth sailing to Dana Point and on along a great bike path to San Juan Capistrano and its Amtrak Station.  

60, tough miles on my rigid Cannondale down, after 40+ tough urban miles the day before had me pretty pooped, but, luckily, I still had my wits about me as I lingered on the train platform.

As I was standing there with my bike, I noticed a woman sitting down on the platform (literally on the area painted yellow for caution) with her legs dangling down toward the track. I thought of saying something to her about the wisdom of sitting that way, but figured she would notice when a train was coming and move -- not the case. About ten minutes later, the bells and lights started going off at the crossing, but she just sat there, obliviously smoking. I calmly got her attention and said that she should get up. As she looked at me with a confused expression, I saw the train swooping into the station behind her, triggering my loudest and most commanding: "MOVE NOW!!" She jumped up and back about five seconds before the train crossed where she had been sitting -- partially hanging over the platform. Dude next to me, looked at me and said it was a good thing I said something, otherwise she would have been dead. I'm still not sure the clueless woman has any idea how close she came to the end --

There you have it, folks, indisputable evidence that bikes save lives.  If I had taken the easy way out, and driven back to LA, that lady would likely be dead.  Further, I might have never seen the field where my favorite movie ever was filmed.  My bike saves my life every day, and, I hope, will continue to do so into 2014 and way, way, beyond . . .

Happy Biking to all, and to all a great ride!

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