Monday, June 08, 2009

LA River & Cycling Love

I wouldn't say that staring at the LA River fills me as tightly as staring at the ocean, but it's close. Very close. Which would seem odd to the majority of Angelenos because the LA River is basically considered an iconic eye sore. The property around the ocean is coveted and the most expensive in the world. The property and neighborhoods around the LA River just as soon be forgotten, and often are. These neighborhoods are some of the poorest in the city and often experience the highest crime. But I find the most extreme beauty in the aftermath of a social-economic-political backturning because in these neighborhoods there are still people; mothers and fathers who want well for their children, people who want comfort and fairness for themselves and their community. Beyond the struggle, and criminal frustration, a fiercely organic hope emerges; beauty blossoms that is rooted in the collective, if minimal hope of people. It's a beauty that cannot be stopped. This can be witnessed in any neighborhood, anywhere.

On Sunday, I rode my bike 50 miles in the 9th Annual LA River Ride which is put on by LA Bicycle Coalition. The LACBC is a bicycle advocacy group that champions our issues as cyclists whether for sport, transportation or recreation. I think they do amazing work and I'm thrilled to be a member and really, if you live in Southern California and have a bike, be it collecting dust or used every day, please become a member to support them. Lately they've been relentlessly staying on the city to follow through with our huge, planned Bike Path program that would create many more bike-only roadways in LA.

Not only do I love the LACBC, but how lucky am I that they put on a fundraising event to be almost entirely ridden near the LA River?

I want to now admit that I was at first regretful I had signed up to ride 50 miles. Pre event, I kicked myself for not starting smaller with the 36 miler or maybe just the fun family ride. Maybe I should just watch! On Saturday night, my stomach was in knots. I didn't feel prepared. I felt I hadn't put in enough road work on my bike. This event is not a race at all, but I didn't want to feel like shit out there, y'know? Then I just resigned to it. I'd just go out there and roll around and take pictures and fuck it, right? I figured a 50 mile ride would take me at least 4 hours, maybe more, especially since the route would only be half bike path and half open city streets with traffic. I could deal with that. I made homemade energy bars from Brazier's book Thrive and rolled them into individually-wrapped balls to stuff into my fanny pack. I filled two water bottles with electrolytes, packed my camera, my phone, sunblock, lip balm.

Sunday's sky was uncharacteristically full of character for LA. Our skies generally like to stay clearly blue or muted silver and not much in between, but the shimmer off the clouds onto the water and neighborhoods was a breathtaking back drop. Here we are starting out along the river near gorgeous Griffith Park, downtown LA in the far background. Here, on the bike, my nerves had evaporated. I was thrilled to be there.

Heading out into the streets on the peripheral of downtown, we crossed a classically inner-LA bridge, over the river.

I sighed going over the bridge and said aloud, "Ug, I love the river." A gentleman who was riding near me and who had exchanged plesantries earlier said, "Really?" I said, "It's so beautiful." And he said, "Huh. I guess you have to have a lot of imagination to find it beautiful." I looked at the river again just incase we were looking at different things, and thought, Do I just have a lot imagination? Thank god for that, then.I think what moves me a lot is the clash of industrial with natural, or the emergence of the natural no matter what. The broken down factory-like businesses along the stretch of river between Commerce and Compton were dinosaurish, but I saw wild lilies growing in unkept grounds around them. Cattails had been planted to line parts of the path, just underneath barbed wire fences. Even the river itself is contained in a human-made concrete vice, but the graffiti keeps it alive. The touches of expression burst and compliment the river. There are a lot of industrial businesses in these neighborhoods, and whoever constructs these steel and concrete monstrosities, no matter how hard they try to make them look so drab and unappealing, they can't stop plants sprouting through the cracks or kids releasing their art onto the banks, the awnings, the tractors, the steel-bolted monster buildings.

There's nothing in this next picture really. It just appeals to me. Rolling along at 18mph, it was hard to get all the photos I wanted. I couldn't capture a fraction of the images that moved me. And looking at these photos, and thinking about what that guy said, maybe it doesn't translate as Beautiful to many others, but maybe you guys could use your imaginations too.
Here I am, riding along sola, just after at the halfway turn-around point in Compton.This was the last picture I took(with my Post Punk Kitchen tshirt on!) because I told myself that if I felt strong, I would pick it up in the last half of the ride. And at 25 miles, I did feel strong. I told myself that if I still felt good in another 12 miles, I'd bring it on even more. With about 20 miles left I caught up with a man wearing a Tivo cycling jersey. He rode a decent bike at a decent pace and he and I exchanged leads through the streets near downtown. We passed a bunch of tiring riders and we caught up with another rider who wore an event jersey. He became our new pace car. What I learned about myself as a cyclist is that in the streets through traffic and over rolling hills, I was a very strong and confident rider. The endless amounts of railroad tracks and manholes and crater-like pot holes did not bother me in the least, while I heard many a "serious" cyclist grumble about the bullshit going on in the streets. (P.S. The biggest obstacle I wove around was a huge pile of horse shit right in the middle of the bike path in Lynwood. Lynwood! Where are these city horses at?) So, obstacle courses and cars didn't phase me because I've mainly ridden my bike in traffic since I was in 3rd grade. But when the two jersey dudes and I got on the flat, empty bike path, they smoked me a little. They gained a good 75 yards on me that I wasn't able to recover. When I finished the ride, I was a little breathless, my legs felt fatigued, but I felt like a billion bucks. With all the traffic lights and the one time we had to wait for a passing cargo train which lasted five minutes, I finished the 50 miles in 3 hours and 15 minutes. Seriously, a billion dollars and all the worrying for nothing! I kissed the frame of my bike while waiting for my goodie bag.

My car was parked about a mile away and I slowly rode back to it, elated. The last 200 yards to the parking lot was a steep hill. I decided to walk it, but half way up, where the road leveled a little before it got steep again, I decided I should just ride up the freaking hill already. Walking in my clip shoes was almost as hard. I clipped in my left foot, went to accelerate and realized I was still in a big gear, so big that the bike did not move, only leaned left. When I realized I was doomed, I just relaxed and resigned to the fall and I timbered over onto my left side in the empty street. I was laughing and unclipping myself when a grandma drove up next to me in a minivan. She rolled down her window and asked if I was ok. I love how I can feel so badass one minute and be so not badass the next.

I love you LA River and LACBC. Thanks for a great ride.


Michael B. said...

I can't say it enough, girl, I love your writing.

I'm not sure why, but your stories almost always leave me with a lump in my throat... Good job!

Marigoldie said...

Oh, swoon city, and totally, totally, totally on the LA River and all that life sprouting up among the concrete! I get it, I get it so good, and I love you for writing about it. I especially love that you did this ride by yourself. That inspires me big time. Gorgeous post, sister.

Anonymous said...

Your love of the LA River is perfect. I see the world differently with that view, and I like it...

Thank you.

And CONGRATS on FINISHING in a FANTASTIC TIME! That is an accomplishment. Go get em girl! You are a true cyclist and athlete!

Anonymous said...

Awesome ride and awesome write-up. Good for you for finding beauty; it's all around us if we'll only stop to look for it.


nec said...

I've said it before and I will say it again... YOU ROCK!!!

Your imagery is wonderful - and through your lense I see the beauty that you do. It is amazing what is right there in front of us, if we only take the time to look.

Great ride - great post - Thanks!

Madame One Tree said...

roses amongst concrete.

j-boo said...

Oh, I love this post!
I love that you love the LA River! I love the photos you took. I love your writing! I love the organizations and projects that you support! And I am SO PROUD of you for doing a 50 mile ride!


Sending you big hugs, Jinxi

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