Distance 21.22 miles
Last Saturday we picked up our bikes from an LBS (that’s Local Bike Shop in cyclist lingo) in Santa Monica. So our first outing on the bikes was along the much-filmed Santa Monica beach bike path, where the glamorous, the tourists, and the homeless go to rub shoulders.
If you’ve ever been on or seen the Santa Monica bike path on a Saturday, you’ll know this was not our first real ride. It’s more like a bike-based video game where the object is to not collide with the hundreds of people doing hundreds of activities on the bike path that are patently not biking.
Our mantra for that hour became:
This is a bike path. A bike path. A path for BIKES!
Having come shortly after a raging argument (before we’d even left the parking lot) over something really stupid, this ride is being officially erased from my memory databanks.
Phhht. It is gone.
Bike Envy: A Love/Hate Story
Since bringing our bikes home, I have been mildly seething with jealousy as Stephen rides to and from work, sometimes twice a day. He comes home aglow from the workout, extolling the many charms of his new love.
Meanwhile, I am stuck in the home office (not to be confused with the Home Office), gazing longingly at my bike. I’ve been too busy to do much more than pat its rump and feed it a couple of sugar lumps now and again.
To compound the jealousy, our LBS seems to have installed and built Stephen’s bike with care and competence. Everything is adjusted well and fits him perfectly.
My bike, on the other hand… Power Grips upside down, seat way too high and tilted forward at a dizzying angle, brakes off-center, brake pads misaligned, front derailleur rubbing in low gears.
Every maladjusted thing has also been over-tightened by some crazy bike-mechanic Hulk. I almost popped an eyeball trying to loosen my saddle and I had to call in a MAN to get my Power Grips off. Rrrrrgh.
Even with all these minor trials, I love my bike!
Fit, Healthy, and Strong
Naturally, when Saturday morning came I wanted to ride.
Stephen was iffy. “I’ve already ridden 80 miles this week,” he sniffed.
OK, I’ll go without you then.
I smiled to myself, knowing how Stephen hates to miss fun if fun is being had.
Fifteen minutes later we were suited up and ready to go.
We live high up off the street, which means carrying our bikes down 34 steps every time we want to go somewhere. I’ve done this a hundred times with my old bike. It’s a little workout, but no big deal.
Today, we got to street level and I bent (from my knees, I swear) to set the bike on the pavement.
Nope, that wasn’t my pants or a shirt caught in a bike part. That was how my lower back felt right before it seized up. It was like something deep inside had torn end-to-end.
Suddenly, I wanted to throw up. I wanted to collapse. Our whole plan for next year disappeared in a puff of smoke as I imagined months of recovery, expensive surgeries, a wheelchair…
Thrusting my bike into Stephen’s hand, I attempted to walk it off. That failing, I just attempted to walk. With more foul language spilling from my mouth than we hear from our Tourettes-y neighbor in a month, I took a few careful steps.
Breathing deeply and anchoring my abs to my spine, I managed to do a basic forward fold. Sitting in the middle of the street, I even managed Ardha Matsyendrasana, a gentle twist.
A few more deep breaths and I started to feel a little less barfy, teary, and hopeless. We discussed giving up on the ride. But dammit, I am fit, healthy, strong, and flexible. I am not a person who destroys her lower back lifting a bicycle.
I want to ride!!
Riding Through The Pain
We did a slow lap around our street. Being in the saddle felt OK (as long as I didn’t really pedal) so we headed off down our giant hill towards our first stop. Lunch.
A traffic-filled but otherwise uneventful 4.5 miles later, we were locking our bikes together around a conveniently placed parking meter. As we were trying to stretch our short cable lock around two bikes without yelling at each other, a guy wandered up to us.
“How long have you had those bikes? That’s my dream bike. And you even have the mountain bike wheels on them? That’s so cool!”
Yep, the Surly Long-Haul Trucker is a guy-magnet. Must be that understated-beauty-meets-retro-chic vibe it has going on.
After huge bowls of tasty vegan noodles at Viet Noodle Bar, one of my favorite restaurants I never go to, we were well fueled and ready to roll on to our next destination.
The Wonders of the LA River Bike Path
In case you’re not familiar with the LA River, let’s start with the basics. It is only a river inasmuch as there is water, moving via gravity, towards the sea. Sadly, the water flows through a giant paved concrete ditch.
Travel Trivia Time There is a similar concrete river in Antalya, Turkey. LA’s has much less garbage.
Despite its lack of natural riverbed, there is a lot of nature in the LA River. It’s home to weeping willows and many other plants that one day realized they were in a desert and migrated to the only place in the city with water. Similarly, herons, egrets, and sandpipers abound.
Another type of life also congregates here. Humans.
There are people with fishing rods. I imagine the fish they catch look a lot like this.
We also saw hammocks, tents, and makeshift shanty-town style dwellings. No doubt there is an entire LA River subculture that only marginally intersects with the day-to-day goings on of the Los Angeles around it.
The river is unique in another way. It is (I’m guessing) the only place in LA where there is smooth, uncracked, untraffic-choked pavement to ride on. We could ride and look around, not worrying about falling in a crater-sized pothole or getting run down by an SUV-driving pothead. It was awesome.
Being in such an atypical place, it was easy to imagine our trip had already begun and that the days and weeks we spend on our bikes will feel just like this. I could almost imagine wheeling down that giant concrete slope, across the river, and into a grove of trees to set up camp for the night.
Don’t worry Mom, I could only almost imagine it. Not quite.
Since this was our first real ride together, it was kind of a relief to discover that Stephen is great to ride with. He takes his time, looking around at everything, and pointing out the interesting stuff to me. Left to my own devices, I’d probably just put my head down and pedal. I’d get a good workout and log some miles, but I’d be missing all the amazing things there are to see along the way.
Like this cool-ass graffiti.
And these fluffy little guys.
And this gigantic freeway filled with thousands of cars (OK, I may have noticed this one on my own).
My back is still a little sore, but other than that minor (it better be minor!) inconvenience, it was a perfect first ride.