I Still Got It… With A Little Help From A Nemesis

Biked yesterday. Eighteen miles. This bears mentioning not only because it continues to be a rare activity for someone who’s averaged about 10 miles each of these last three months when I used to crank out around 550, but also because of the route I took into Griffith Park up to Mulholland. Haven’t done that in what I’d guess was a year, maybe two.

Even more rare, I came down the Vista Del Valle Road, which I haven’t rolled since about a year before the 2007 Griffith Park fire closed it indefinitely. If you’re not familiar with the park’s byways, Vista Del Valle (highlighted in orange at right; click for the bigger picture) courses from the top of Mt. Hollywood Drive down the valley side affording excellent views of Burbank and Glendale, before coming around the easternmost point of the park’s range and providing an even more awesome view of the downtown skyline and the Los Angeles basin. It is mostly paved though severely degraded in parts, so it’s road bike-rideable if done so carefully through the broken, dirt-covered portions. Around another couple bends and you discover a wondrous pine grove, which miraculously avoided the devastating 2007 flames, before dropping down to meet the road alongside the sixth hole of the Roosevelt Golf Course that’ll take you down to Commonwealth Avenue and back to civilization.

All told it’s about a three-mile section with an elevation gain/drop of about 400 feet, so if you haven’t done it on bike or on foot, I highly recommend it.

Beyond the terrain and scenery, the most interesting aspect of yesterday’s 18-mile ride was my trip up the rather intimidating hill long-dubbed the “roller coaster.” Starting from Traveltown, it crawls up about three-quarters of a mile to where it meets Mt. Hollywood Drive. On a single-speed it’s a chore, though in the past for me one always surmountable given the conditioning of my legs.

Never in the eight years I’ve been climbing it have I failed to pedal the entire way up, but yesterday taking a break in the Traveltown parking lot, I had my doubts, fueled by the headwinds that were sweeping down the hill.

A few minutes into my rest, a cyclist perhaps a few years further into middle age than me passed where I was and kept going. Let’s call him the Wicked Witch because of his high cycling cadence, meaning that he was already near his granny gear moving slowly and comically forward on the relatively level road about a yard for every couple of cranks.

He’d already incurred my curiosity when I’d first met him way back on the L.A. River Bikeway coming down off the Baum Bridge over Los Feliz Boulevard. When I passed him, for reasons unknown, he muttered a “shit!” that I wasn’t sure was directed at me or the failure of his MP3 player or perhaps the too-tightness of his all-black spandex outfit.

So here he’s caught up to me and kept going, and I realize unless I find some patience to wait the five-minutes it’ll take to glacially make his way to the top, I’m probably going to pass him again since with my one-gear compared to him I can’t help but cover about three feet with every revolution of my pedals.

I try to sit still, but I can’t and after another minute or so off I go, not only apprehensive that I might not make it to the summit without a rest, but also psyching myself out that I’m going to incur another expletive when I inevitably pull alongside him. On top of that at the first rise of the road I’m met by that headwind mentioned earlier, and headwinds always make me momentarily consider giving up bike riding entirely.

But I keep going. And in a few hundred yards Wicked Witch comes into view. His feet spinning crazily and his bike going almost nowhere, I close on him quickly, catching up with him around the last bend when the road settles in to its steepest incline.

Does he curse? No. Worse. As I pass him with my head down, ass up off the saddle, cranking my already lactic acid-filled wobbly legs very much like one of those gassed cyclists in “Triplets of Belleville,” he lets out a snort. Again, it might not have had anything to do with me, but the timing and my derisive “there’s no way this idiot’s going to make it to the top in that gear” interpretation of the sound couldn’t have been worse.

Actually it couldn’t have been better. Because while its initial impact was deflating and my id was all too ready to agree, my ego thankfully stepped in, called for a review and came away entirely indignant. And before I knew it I had double-clutched into Prove This Sumbitch Wrong mode and redoubled my efforts, pulling away from him and making it to Mt. Hollywood Drive, where I stood sucking wind for the couple minutes it took for him to arrive. And when he did I managed to refrain from embarrassing myself in yelling out some rhetorical variation of “who’s the idiot now, eh slowpokenstein?!”

Of course, Wicked Witch plastered a shit-eating grin all over his mug and kept granny-gearing past me up the winding grade of Mt. Hollywood Drive around the first bend and out of sight, but after a sufficient rest brought my heart and breathing rates back to normal I got going and reeled him in at the final vista point overlooking Forest Lawn and the San Fernando Valley before the final stretch up to Vista del Valle.

So basically whether the derision I perceived from him was actual or imagined, I have the Wicked Witch to thank for getting me over my doubts and up to the top to enjoy views like this (click it ofr the bigger picture):

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Will Campbell arrived in town via the maternity ward at Good Sam Hospital way back in OneNineSixFour and has never stopped calling Los Angeles home. Presently he lives in Silver Lake with his wife Susan, their cat Rocky, dogs Terra and Hazel, and a red-eared slider turtle named Mater. Blogging since 2001, Will's web endeavors extend back to 1995 with laonstage.com, a comprehensive theater site that was well received but ever-short on capital (or a business model). The pinnacle of his online success (which speaks volumes) arrived in 1997, when much to his surprise, a hobby site he'd built called VisuaL.A. was named "best website" in Los Angeles magazine's annual "Best of L.A." issue. He enjoys experiencing (and writing about) pretty much anything creative, explorational and/or adventurous, loves his ebike, is a better tennis player than he is horr golfer, and a lover of all creatures great and small -- emphasis on "all."