My sister is just as happy about this, because by now it’s Monday and though it’s still Christmas, rush hour traffic is already back in effect. Meanwhile, she asks her friend, S, if he has a bike lock.
If luck favors the prepared mind, I’m more prepared than I feel. Just as I’m about to leave the house, S shows up with a lock, an offer of a small back pack - and what turns out to be the best benefit of all: a traffic-free route to the beach that gets me off Venice, and takes me along Ballona Creek instead.
Ballona Creek is as much a creek as the LA River is a river. Both of them are what you would call “Washes,” a word I never came across until I moved West. A wash is essentially drainage (not to be confused with sewage). It’s a safety valve for rain which, when it comes, is cataclysmic; water is not adequately absorbed into the ground and needs a place to go. I remember Ballona Creek well as a cement-encased area that is a trickle most of the time, and during winter rains, a dangerous mass of roiling water.
And it has a bike path. Huh.
I follow S's directions to the letter, stopping at a Starbucks for the expected break (that lock comes in handy), but otherwise riding as directed. And here’s what I find:
Gradually it becomes wider and deeper, attracting wild life that is beautiful and seems contented.
And there’s something so LA about it. You can bike in the mountains if you want to challenge yourself. But you can also ride here every day and just enjoy yourself.
Which if I did that, I’d lose every bit of training I’ve worked for over the past 6 months.
And that’s the thing about LA. If you’re focused and know just what you want – challenging yourself, pushing yourself even on a straight away like the beach - this place can be ideal. But if you’re someone who needs stimulus, who tends to get lost without some kick-ass structure, you can end up on a path like this and before you know it, you’ve lost your training and your life has dissipated into a meandering quagmire. And just as I’m thinking about all this, I shift clumsily and lose my chain in the worst way.
I don’t just lose it. I entangle it in a nasty figure 8 caught between the two derailers. I didn’t even think this was possible. I know how to loosen the chain to restore its place, but nothing I do seems to get at the problem. I turn the bike upside down the better to work on it. At a loss, I try hailing cyclists en route, hoping for someone with more technical savvy than I have. And this nice guy pulls over.
Have you ever noticed how there are some people computers just love? Your (young) tech, for example. He comes over and all the ways your machine was misbehaving suddenly disappear as soon as he touches the keyboard. And you begin to wonder if you didn’t make the whole thing up and could have saved yourself a service call.
Apparently, it’s the same with bikes.
In any event, I am suddenly up and running again, but not before Mike and I get into an impassioned conversation about our love of cycling, discovered for both of us so late in life.
“You can think about everything on a bike – or you can think about nothing,” he says. “And on hills, you just suffer.”
We both laugh.
But that, I’ve come to know, depends on the hill and to some degree on your training and your bike. Cheviot Hills would have been unthinkable for me a year ago (and more of a challenge with Lucille). Meanwhile, Mike says he’s planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies. They should provide plenty of suffering, I think, especially if this is where he’s doing his training. But I wish him the best; it sounds like a fabulous trip.
I ride as far as Playa del Rey, then turn around, arriving home with both hands covered in chain grease - my favorite moisturizer.
Having breathed fully, and with that “job well done” feeling that is one of the great rewards of cycling. This is a trip I’ll definitely make again.
Meanwhile, Esteban mentioned something about riding through a nature preserve…