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Part 3 - Santa Monica Mountains
We pass many canyon roads on our way west, each one of them coming up from somewhere different below—Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Studio City, Canoga Park—and dumping different kinds and qualities of traffic onto our road. We pass the 405 freeway and two miles later Mulholland, the real paved Mulholland, dives into the valley and leaves the apex of the ridge to continue, unmolested by motorized vehicles, on Old Dirt Mulholland.
Fifteen miles in and we stop for a moment before starting into the dirt,we talk status and assess food and water. Ryan is concerned he’s getting sick. I would be concerned he’s getting sick too if I wasn’t more concerned that I was getting sick. Ira is concerned about the traffic and the state of the world in which a place like Los Angeles can exist. Cole is concerned that we are not properly enjoying an amazing and epic tour of Los Angeles roads and riding he loves so much.
All-road wagons and sport utility vehicles with pretty roof-racks populate the first parking lot and wait, like obedient dogs, for their masters to return from mountain biking and trail running. Passing them, we’re reminded of how self-important and heroic riding road bikes on dirt and gravel roads can feel in the presence of suspension. For several miles we pick and shuffle, thread, and body-English our way up the first few miles of Dirt Mulholland. Vacillating between a single-file slow motion paceline and the criss-crossing of each other’s line we flock, unflock and reflock as if choreographed by an innate understanding of the road, which, at this point, has become a canted slalom course. We top-out on a ridge and squeak past a gate blocking unconvinced cars and drivers from proceeding any further into the wilderness.
The next seven miles is fun.
The road surface is hard-packed sand and dirt and mostly free of loose gravel and washboards, and clearance is not an issue. The hills are tan and sporadically covered in an emporium of plants and colors best described as desert camouflage. The terrain rolls up and primarily down, with our progress marked by smaller ridges and valleys butting perpendicularly against our road like a ribcage. We are skirting the northern edge of Topanga State Park and headed west to the coast.
Ira is working the cement-like embankments on the side of the road like a velodrome, depositing and withdrawing momentum through the turns. Cole, riding a pink ‘80s-era Schwinn Paramount with down-tube shifters is playing, not riding down the mountain. Ryan and I drive and pedal through the bottom of the road looking for the perfect speed where the rattling and vibrations dissipate, if not cease, and we can high-speed float, smooth and quiet and fast. It’s 25mph.
We are deposited, with smiles and dusty bikes, onto a paved road lined with nice homes in Topanga Hills. We make our way as a group, nice and easy, to Mulholland Highway. Cole and Ira take the lead as the road begins to climb and push for several miles through Calabasas Highlands, ending with a high-speed descent into the Santa Monica Mountains and Las Virgines Road. Las Virgines is busy and loud but a beautiful vantage from which to watch the surrounding mountains fold and unfold into countless valleys and hills marked by rock outcroppings, like prehistoric battlements and cairns, and chaparral-dominated vegetation. We are riding through a Western movie set; actually, feels like we are riding through the Planet of the Apes. I notice now that with the return of cars and noise and Los Angeles paraphernalia, since Dirt Mulholland, we have slowly slipped back quietly into our own heads. Ira is moody, Ryan is cracking, I am fading, and this is forcing Cole to baby-sit not guide us west.