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Part 6 - Route Description
Head east on mostly residential streets through Pasadena, East Pasadena and Arcadia for several miles on the way to the San Gabriel River Path.
To the left of the path is the river and to the right, an eight-foot high prison fence and a string of air-conditioner and satellite-dish clad town homes. Not long after, less than a mile, pick up a second section of path on its way through a vast, arid and flat San Gabriel Valley. The San Gabriel Mountains rise almost at right angles out of the sage and chaparral to the north.
Highway 39 takes you quickly out of the flat, past the last few hyper-green lawn communities and into the foothills. The ride architecture is suddenly clear and familiar, twist and turn with the river, the San Gabriel, and then climb up the foothills and past a reservoir. This first climb, to the gate behind which the road continues to be closed to cars, is four miles long and runs parallel to a river.
The crux of the ride begins past the gate, where the road gains 4,000ft in seven miles. There are no services or water or food for the next 25 miles. The climb ramps up and switches back relentlessly. The road crosses bridges spanning large chasms and cuts through the mountainside oblivious to what’s reasonable or sensible. The false summits are massive and many. As the road climbs 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
The next section, just past the turn-off for Crystal Lake, itself a six-mile out-and-back, is four miles long. The road here 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.
Through a gate at the top, Angeles Forest Highway starts with a long tunnel and miles of rolling roads. Eventually, the road starts to climb, with fewer reciprocal descents as you approach Cloudburst Summit. On the way, you pass two ski resorts, Waterman and Snow Crest. On the other side of Cloudburst is a seemingly endless descent interrupted in only in two spots: the Redbox climb and the turn-off for Mt. Wilson; and again for a quarter mile, up to Clear Creek Ranger Station.
The descent is a twisting, undulating fast-paced affair, rich with ridiculous top speeds and exhilarating, banking turns. It’s also gorgeous, with views the of the surrounding mountains and the desert to the east. As you get closer to the final plummet into Pasadena, glimpses of Los Angeles appear with the arcing coastline behind it.