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Part 3 - Angeles Forest
We re-begin the ride with an immediate descent. It’s fast and lazy and rolls like a red carpet unfurled into a stiff breeze down the scree and chaparral-covered hillside. We are bewildered by the bottom, it comes too quick and definitive. We’re climbing again for real. Not a hill or a roller but a continuation of the front range. Just ahead is a very round tunnel connecting here and there. We reach there in 47 seconds and collectively blink into existence a Hollywood bridge, a long aesthetically pleasing bridge spanning a massive rift in the mountains. On the other side of the valley up the road a piece, is a small market with a screen door and a dusty parking lot. A rusted-out Pepsi sign swings in the light wind, it sounds metallic and lonely.
Together we turn onto Big Tujunga Canyon Road and notice for the first time the appearance of dark clouds on business. As a group we sit-up, zip-up, pull-down and repack, and non verbally assess our situation. As we continue gaining elevation the feet between each of us grows to yards until Cole, obviously under a direct order from that part of his brain, surges up to sit on Ira’s wheel. Ryan and I smile and share a moment—Cole don’t let up till the top, never back-off. The dusting of snow on the side of the road has grown to a blanket an inch or two thick. Large piles of recently plowed snow sit against the guardrail on the side of the road, mid-melt, in irregular intervals. Cole and Ira, dueling, disappear behind a switchback not to be seen again until the top.
Where’s Ryan Thompson. Why isn’t Ryan on my wheel. Over my shoulder I see him, 600 yards down the road, the unmistakable shape and motion of a cracked man. He’s suffering, enduring, barely maintaining and not, unfortunately for him, riding. This is just what I need, an adrenalin shot to the arm. Emboldened, I stand for five pedal strokes then sit down hard. We’ve been effectively climbing for 42 miles and the weather is starting to suck. I need my ipod and a new pair of legs. I think out loud—just maintain, you’re moving confidently in the right direction, don’t fuck it up. Ryan is gone, Ira and Cole are gone, I need my ipod.
The top, where Tujunga rejoins Angeles Crest Highway, its misty and eerie like the top of a mountain, socked-in with increasingly bad weather. I’m steaming, Ira and Cole look dangerously cold. Five minutes pass and Ryan still isn’t here. The tan head-high dirt wall across the street has tree’s growing out of its exposed vertical side and it’s striated with black rocks and green-brown soil. The scene is Paleolithic. Still no Ryan.
He’s practically humping and thrusting his bike up the hill. It’s not riding, what he’s doing. Fifty miles of almost uninterrupted climbing and Ryan is finished and resigned to the fact that he will ride again but not today. Room is made for Ryan and his bike in the journalist vehicle.
Cole volunteers out loud that the next five miles to the base of Wilson is all downhill. We’re cold but laughing and appreciating the beauty and perfection of everything and everyone around us. Just before embarking on our prescribed five-mile descent we’re rudely accosted by a Highway Patrol Officer and his ride-along. He’s curious why we’re taking pictures—it’s a guidebook project. He’s not convinced but what can he do.
We climb for the next five miles in rain that turns to snow as the mercury drops. I remember riding together, talking and nodding. We’re animated as we climb the empty jet-black black-top in the snow like soldiers trusting the end is near.