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Part 2 - Angeles Crest
The ride out of Pasadena is quiet and beautiful. The streets are wide and the houses are almost too well kept. Behind the well-spaced and notably healthy trees lining the road, sprinklers jut-jut-jut and small blue security signs, from their mid-lawn-stake-out, watch us like sentries as we ride casually by. It’s still morning and things are cool and easy. A dog barks and I hear the pleasant sound of an unhurried (unworried) group—shifting and coasting. I’m reminded as we roll by it, of the Rose Bowl crit, a Gentlemen’s Race every Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon. I used to live over the hill in a little village called Montrose. The road picks-up for less than a mile as we round the shoulder of a large hill before dropping gently into another neighborhood—La Canada. Ira starts pushing and I complain.
He’s pushing because he can sense the incline like a parakeet or horse in a Disney movie—it’s a gift. The front range is over five thousand feet high and jumps out of the ground, steep and solid like a dirt wall, five blocks from the stop sign we just slow-rolled through. They’re just hidden behind tropical trees, in ground pools and dripping wet just-washed sport utility vehicles. Cole doesn’t help things with his persistent fitness. Ryan and are on our own again.
We t-bone Foothill Boulevard, La Canada’s main artery. It’s easy to ride but traffic is constant and vaguely apathetic to our endeavor. We miss our turn and over climb almost to Montrose, the next village, my old home. From the corner of a gas station parking lot we right our wrong with a phone call and the help of our recently remembered map.
Really on our way now, we make the left onto HWY 2. It starts like a giant-sized ramp, a mile-long 1000-foot-high handicap ramp to the bottom of the sky. The road is impressively straight, unyielding and wide, and lined with expensive though generic homes. At the top we make a right turn into the wilderness and with that the city is gone.
For eight miles the sun continues to warm, then heat the world. The pitch never changes as the road marches upward in a seamless series of regular and predictable never-ending S-turns. Everywhere it’s tan and dusty and army green. It smells smoky like sage. I’m starting to fade and sink behind the others. I can see Ira working now in earnest for his happy-place, his face, though stoic and as dark as ever, is a record of the process—find legs, move up, settle into breathing, tune-out the cars and the others, complete the math (time, distance, day) and bite into it, dig into it, meet it, charge up it, get in front of it. The road. Own the road.
Ryan is climbing well, almost effortlessly. Cole’s face is closed but his actions are so smooth and precise, like a well-oiled properly tuned machine, it’s meditative. He’s efficiency incarnate. They settle into the chase.
In the time it takes to sit-up and unzip my jersey I fall irretrievably behind. I’m briefly inspired by the splayed ends of my coattails, flapping like a cape in the wind and my speed, so I lay down a decent but conservative effort. At first it’s just a switchback, then it’s two, three and four. I’m dropped.
The Valley on my right grows deeper and more interesting with every turn. I focus on it instead of my weakness. I daydream about the single-track I see cut—as if by laser-wielding aliens, bored with crop circles that have a penchant for mountain biking—into the hillside. I think about wagons and pioneers and traveling west across these mountains without roads—how at the end of an already exhausting transcontinental journey these very same mountains could be too much to bear. I think about anger and the insistence of mountains. I always think about roads in this situation, when I’m climbing alone. The theme changes but it always concerns roads and their origins, from deer paths and Indian trails to chip seal and asphalt.
Cole, Ryan and Ira are at the top waiting patiently though visibly cold. We regroup. Cole is funny and superbly optimistic. Not in a disingenuous way at all, he’s just quick with the lemonade. We’re talking and laughing and being friends. These guys are amazing, the climb is behind us, it’s not really but we didn’t know it at the time, and the sun is where a five-year old would draw it. Still, the wind is sharp and our cooling sweat brings shivers and the need to exert.