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Part 3 - Road Closed
As we get ready to roll, the parking lot is a scene of minor anxiety. A mile up the road and we’ll be on our own for seven more miles. It’s approaching 100 degrees and our entire route lies beneath a cloudless sky, fully exposed to the sun.
We pass in single file through a large, yellow gate. I’m too fat to fit through, even where it’s widest. The grade and ascent and our positions resume without variation. Ben, Ira, Cole-Hahn-Neil, Daniel and Aaron. The next four miles, ramping up and switching back relentlessly, are hell. We cross bridges spanning large chasms and our route cuts through the mountainside oblivious to what’s reasonable or sensible. The road ahead haunts us. You can see it, plain and clear, turn for turn on its entire laborious journey up the mountain.
The false summits are massive and many. They’re optical illusions or mirages and they come and go so slowly and so completely I’m starting to spit and bitch to myself. The road below is melancholic, washed out and over-exposed in the heat.
Hahn and Cole drift back to me.
Hahn: Where’s Aaron?
Daniel: He’s coming, I think he’s starting to really pop, though. He’s sinking a bit. Is Cole smiling?
Hahn: I think so.
I leave them. I have to keep moving. My last image is of Cole and Hahn yelling to Aaron down a seventy-foot cliff at the top of a quarter-mile of switchback. Cole tosses a Clif Bar down to Aaron. The next three miles are a sweaty haze. As the road climbs again it intersects with the river periodically, creating pockets of pale-green vegetation. Otherwise, it’s a mix of pines and Paleolithic-looking cactus. Spiky, angular, vertical, furry. The mountain shows infinite variations of the same theme – rocky, dry, steep and sparingly green.
We regroup where the road splits. The path to the right ends after a three-mile climb to Crystal Lake, a location rumored, falsely, to have been used in the filming of Friday the 13th. Left, our route, continues for four more miles to Angeles Forest Highway. Ira, Neil, Ben and I talk in the shade.
Ira: Did you guys stop to fill your bottles at the falls?
Daniel: What falls?
Ira: Dude, you need to stop wearing your headphones.
Ben (who isn’t yet sweating and is still wearing his helmet): No, I’m good. I still have bottle left.
Neil: I think I’m starting to hurt.
First Cole, then Hahn, and eventually Aaron appear around the corner and pull up. We’re all out, or almost out, of water and food. The cracks are visible.
Aaron: I’ve never been so deep in that pain cave. I almost stopped on the side of the road to call my wife and cry.
Cole: I lost my hat in the falls. I tried to dip it in quick to fill-up but it just took off. I wanted to scramble around and get it but that sucker was moving too fast.
Daniel: What falls, where were the falls?
Ben: The next five miles mostly rolls, we can stay tight and pace line it together.
When we get back to it, it soon becomes apparent that by 'roll', Ben means "climb", and by “pace line”, he means “ride right behind me if you can”. The road is narrow and covered in gravel and rocks. On the left side it drops precipitously into a steep, miles-wide valley with no visible bottom. On our right, a rocky hillside alternates between vertical, near-vertical and over-hanging. It’s obvious at this point why the road has been closed to cars for years and why it may never reopen. The mountain is reclaiming anything level with landslides, avalanches and erosion. Our ride has become a dry, wobbly death march, as we pick lines through the rubble. Neil is really starting to fade now, getting closer with every pitch and turn. Ira and Ben are, presumably, in a parking lot at the top. Hahn and I round another corner to see Neil and Cole leaning their bikes against a fallen tree. Snowmelt is spilling onto the road, pooling, running and evaporating. Black, discolored pavement never looked so promising. Cole is first to run up the tree roots and rocks to fill his bottle where the snow is thickest and the water fastest. I’m apprehensive about the purity, or at least about it’s lack of giardia. But I’ve also been riding for an hour with empty water bottles and the worst cotton-mouth ever. I decide to hustle up the bramble to the source. Bottles are thrown up empty and returned full of dubious glacial water.
"With each switchback we change both direction and our relationship with a now ripping wind. A left-turn brings us face to face with a headwind while a right leaves us to climb in a convection oven. Still and hot. Counterintuitively, I relish the headwind as it’s cool and reminiscent of a living world." - Hahn