My extended stay in Southern California comes to an end this week, as I return to New York late Thursday just in time to teach a Friday morning, film history class at Pratt. In terms of my own physical activity, it couldn’t come at a better time, as my Apple Watch is keen to remind me.
Ironically, I am significantly less active in the mild climes of Southern California than in the less hospitable December weather of New York.
Much of this is because I have been staying in the suburbs, and it’s been hard getting in any casual exercise, such as bike commuting or walking around the neighborhood. But it was unseasonably warm in New York this December… to the point where it was as warm on Christmas Eve as on Independence Day in 2015.
One way to mitigate my lack of daily physical activity is to plan and take some long-distance rides. This month, I rode two.
The Kickoff Century Ride
What a better way to start the new year than to ride a century?
Though I sacrificed staying awake to midnight to ring in the new year, I met up with the LA Wheelmen in Malibu to ride in this annual rite for them. The group was smaller than I had expected. Only four hardy souls showed up.1 The rest, they explained, were likely scared off by the heavy winds and relatively cold temperatures forecast for that day. I can understand their ambivalence. The predawn temperature was 20°F when left my parents’ house, warming only to the mid-40s in Malibu at sunrise. But as is typical around here, the temperature did warm to the mid-60s by lunch time.
Also, the scenery was splendid.
The wind, on the other hand, was a persistent obstacle. It was in our faces for most of the ride. For example, one of the riders noted that on a particular stretch of road in Oxnard, it’s common to ride well above 20 MPH, but on this day, we struggled to maintain a meager 12-13 MPH pace. We caught our breath at the Missile Park at Point Mugu.
By the time I reached Malibu for the last 28 miles of the ride, I was exhausted. And, of course, there were plenty of hills and vehicular traffic to make things more challenging.
With the persistent headwind and extended rest stops, I finished the ride in about nine hours, in line with my most recent “century” ride to Philadelphia. I was just a few minutes—one bathroom break—behind the other riders. I promised to join them on another weekend ride, but unfortunately, I didn’t. I simply ran out of weekends.
The Agoura Hills Ride
One reason I didn’t ride with LA Wheelmen was because I was staying in with my brother in the Sylmar and planned to ride with the San Fernando Valley Bicycle Club. This past Saturday, they had at least four rides scheduled, including a fifty-mile ride in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking Calabasas and Agoura Hills. Almost all of their rides start in Northridge, at a CSUN parking lot, and since that’s only 10 miles from my brother’s place, I had planned to ride to the start instead of borrowing a car or hitching a ride.
As sometimes happens with these plans, I overslept. I also forgot to pack my SPD bicycle shoes. Since I had the route programmed in my GPS, I resolved to ride anyway, even if it was by myself and with a pair of sneakers.
The SFVBC route was very well designed in that I was riding in a bicycle lane on most of the urban Valley roads: boulevards and avenues that are familiar to travelers on the 118, the 405, and the 101. Twenty-five miles later, I reached the base of the Santa Monica Mountains and began the steady ascent towards Calabasas on Mulholland Highway.
The road was great for cycling. I saw dozens of cyclists, all of them Freds2, ascending and descending past me, but there were only a handful of automobiles. That was fortunate because on the steep descents, it is much safer to ride in the lane than to ride in the shoulder, where rocks and debris compromise safety.
Once I saw some signs of civilization in Agoura Hills—a shopping center, the 101 freeway, and a Trader Joe’s—I knew that I had reached the bottom of the hill and that the most intense climbing efforts were behind me.
The next segment of the ride paralleled US-101 back to the city limits and Woodland Hills, LA’s westernmost neighborhood. There was one unexpected climb—Mureau Road—that required more effort than I was expecting after forty miles. But after that, I cruised into Woodland Hills and ate lunch at an outpost of my favorite Southern California burger chain.3
After eating my fifth Santa Barbara Style Char burger in the last four weeks, I travelled through the Valley for about eight miles before I realized that my GPS had not been recording my ride. Bummer!
I finished the ride in San Fernando at their local brewery taproom. I was underwhelmed by the two beers—a pale ale and red amber—I had there that were way too wheated for my taste.
Whether it’s my age or my lack of riding over the last few months, I was really tired after this ride. I considered doing a recovery ride on Sunday, but instead, I sat on the couch and watched football with my brother.
- I do mean hardy: one guy rode twelve centuries last year, while I only rode six. Two of them each rode about fifty centuries last year and a handful of double centuries. ↩
- I wonder if any of them noticed that I was riding in a pair of Nike sneakers and wearing a backpack. Both are Fred no-no’s. ↩
- Were you expecting In ‘n’ Out? ↩