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Mount Wilson according to Ben
You need to enjoy the cars and all the chaos, like you would a video game. Once you start climbing and gain elevation then the real deal, remote and epic, is out there – and plenty of it, too.
I’m meeting Cole and Aaron on the corner of Franklin and Vine. The sun is coming up over the hills to the east but only a few buildings and a row of tall palm trees are in direct sunlight. I’m late. Two days ago now, I was riding and mixing it up with mates from England and a local club called Adrajust outside Andalucia in Spain. Now I’m in Los Angeles, stuck in trafﬁc, riding my spare bike that I haven’t serviced or touched in ﬁve months.
I catch up and we head east over the shoulder of Grifﬁth Park and Silver Lake, dropping into Eagle Rock on our approach to the mountains. While no physical boundary exists between one neighbourhood and the next the transition is surprisingly abrupt and clear, we roll by the sound of Mexican oompha music then suddenly it’s the smell of an Armenian bakery. It’s like that for miles. We are talking and riding our way across town through Pasadena. Aaron’s laugh is enormous. The San Gabriel Mountains are in front of us and you can literally see the edge of civilisation at their base where it goes green to brown as if drawn with a ruler.
From the foothills in La Canada the ‘2’, Angeles Crest Highway, goes straight and up, like a ramp, for a mile. At the top of this ﬁrst stretch of road all evidence of civilization fades slowly away. The road snakes upward for eight miles at an almost constant pace and pitch. It’s a slow winding climb that opens every mile to more and more views of the valley below and the ridge across it to the east. The sky is crystal clear and you can see downtown Los Angeles where skyscrapers reﬂecting sunlight make the city look like its ﬂoating, like something from a science ﬁction movie. Further south and west, past downtown, you can just make out a big arc of coastline.
At Clear Creek the road levels off and splits. We pass to the left of a ranger station with a parking lot and a water fountain. After a short descent the road returns to its upward elevation. We are now leaving the front range and heading into the wilderness. It’s greener now with trees and spiky green cactus replacing the dusty low shrubs and chaparral. Strawberry Peak rises up to 6100fton our left. At the top it’s bald and rocky. As the road runs out of valley the turns become angular switchbacks.
Cole and Aaron are just behind me and it sounds like they’re giving me a hard time, laughing and making comments. I slow-up a bit to listen. Aaron takes the chance to ask me again about the annual Mount Wilson Hill Climb. Every year on the ﬁrst of January all kinds of everybody show up, from pros and serious racers to cruisers and recreational riders to race or simply ride to the top of Wilson. It’s basically the ride we’re on today. Last night I made the mistake of telling Cole that I did pretty well, maybe really well this year. Something came up and the matter was thankfully dropped. But this morning somehow it came back up and now it’s an ongoing joke. I shift up and move ahead.
We’re rolling up past Red Box together turning right on to the ﬁve mile access road climb to the top of Mount Wilson. It’s cold and piles of old snow line the road. The road has only just been reopened after a series of storms bringing snow forced closure of the top section for a week. The road is narrow, broken and covered in gravel.It’s sketchy. On the right side is a vertical stone and shale cliff with piles of rubble lining the edge of the road. On the left over a low stone wall it drops away quickly into an abyss.
On the top of Mount Wilson there are number of radio and tv towers and a few non-descript municipal buildings. On a clear day you can see everything, LA, the ocean, Catalina – its all right there at your feet. Today the top feels like a quiet, eerie and misty-white movie set. It doesn’t matter. The lads and I have thirty-ﬁve miles of practically uninterrupted descent back into the city.