3 River Trails 200K

31 Dec

My favorite mural along the SART (click to enlarge)...

On December 3rd, I woke up at 5:30AM, a couple minutes before my alarm went off – assembled the things I had forgotten to the previous night and headed out the door. It felt a bit like any other day commuting in to work, so I had to keep reminding myself that I was choosing to head out into the chill pre-dawn air for “recreation.” I took the subway downtown and then the light rail to Pasadena where my ride was to begin. I waited for 20 minutes munching on snacks from Starbucks, hoping my buddy Mannuel would show up, but eventually his cancellation text arrived instead, so I was off on my own.

My drive-train has been out of adjustment recently (just replaced my cassette and chain which seems to have fixed things up), so I was happy to ride a route which didn’t require much climbing (which exacerbates the chain slipping). This permanent affords a reprieve from the heavy traffic that comes standard with riding in urban Los Angeles as well – as a large percentage of it follows the extensive river trail system we have here.

The start is a fun descent through Sierra Madre past a variety of schools – the invigoration you get from this initial speed is tempered by the realization that you’ll have to climb this long hill on stale legs, 120+ miles later. The foliage had just started to change color and it almost felt like Fall (though Winter was nowhere in sight):

(click to enlarge)

After no time at all I had reached the initial information control, and was turning on to the river trail in North El Monte. The pavement was smooth, and the bike traffic was sparse – so I was able to watch the river more than the road, as it dropped off its storm-drain like bed into an unpaved area. The Santa Fe Dam controls the river’s passage a few miles down the road, though it is not the photogenic engineering spectacle that the Whittier Narrows are further down the path.

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)

I saw a kitchen sink near here – so I guess this permanent really has everything.

The Rio Hondo trail was a nice change of pace from the other river trails, flanked by nature preserves rather than the giant storm drains that our tributaries have largely been transformed into.

Nature reclaims what were once considered "high power" transmission lines...

Tracing the San Gabriel river from the Whittier Narrows – you pass former farms and ranches, now largely taken over by industry. Several large nurseries line the banks, using the run-off from the river to irrigate their stands of boxed palms and other decorative trees. The river itself is a concrete expanse punctuated by abandoned couches, feral dogs, city workers, kids on BMX bikes doing tricks on the steep banks, and occasional homeless men bent over their collections of detritus.

Whittier Narrows (click to enlarge)

Whittier Narrows (click to enlarge)

Someday I’ll figure out how to lace together panoramas…

It was a time trial down to the ocean, where I picked up the PCH around Seal Beach. I stopped briefly at the Starbucks Huntington Beach before heading to Newport. In Newport, I exited PCH to enter the bike trail which rings the Newport Bay Ecological Reserve. The trail is shared with equestrians and pedestrians, and as such it has a speed limit of only 10mph! Birdwatchers and school field trips further slowed me down so I relaxed and tried to see if I could identify any rare birds or plants in the estuary. Hoping to see some burrowing owls, black rails, least terns, or at least a pelican or three…instead there were only coots and ducks raising a ruckus at my passing.

The next control was at a McDonalds – a place I haven’t frequented in at least 16 years. I ordered a “milkshake” which I paid for and received in 24 seconds (so said my receipt)…”is there something else sir?” I was asked politely before I realized I had already been served. Impressive in a way.

Some Orange County cycling club was out in force, but not being allowed to draft them, I decided to push by all of them, hammering back up PCH until I reached the Santa Ana River Trail. Here there was some confusion as construction was blocking the entrance indicated by my route sheet. The detour lead me back to the highway, so I realized I would have to figure out how to get by on my own, switching sides of the river whenever necessary.

I remembered my first 200K earlier this year which ended by coming down the SART into a stern head-wind – happy that my fitness/nutrition/etc had improved substantially since then. I was free to enjoy the parks and freshly paved sections that I passed through heading North.

SART - freshly paved the margins sprayed with chemical seed...

Angel Stadium from the bike path...

Had I taken a few hours longer to get up to Placentia, I could have veered of course to The Bruery – but they weren’t open yet so I continued on to the next control where I spent a little longer scarffing down some brevet food:

The rando food pyramid well represented here...

No more bike paths from here on out, just a series of long mild climbs through Brea, Walnut, the Covinas, etc. The hills lent a remote feel to many of these miles, despite the proximity of a freeway just out of sight. Once productive oil fields are now dormant and filled with rusting derricks…riding thorugh here at night would be eerie:

(click to enlarge)

I got in an extremely low-speed race with a kid going uphill, both of us in our granny gears before I finally inched ahead and rushed past on the descent. I would have said hello but like many people I meet cycling on the roads he had walled himself off from outside stimuli with ear-buds. Oh well.

Climbing back through Arcadia and Sierra Madre after a long stretch on the Arrow Highway past more dams and nurseries, I was slowing to a crawl – eventually reaching the end of my ride after 8 hours and 9 minutes…not as fast as I was expecting considering how speedy I was reaching all the controls through Newport…but not bad.

Tomorrow is the new year, the new decade, and my first brevet of 2011.

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2 Responses to “3 River Trails 200K”

  1. Apertome January 6, 2011 at 11:14 AM #

    Great ride report, not being a fan of cities, I much prefer rural riding, but it sounds like a great ride nonetheless, and you spent a lot of time away from traffic. Great photos as well.

    • cyclingasmetaphor January 6, 2011 at 12:12 PM #

      Thanks!

      L.A. is certainly known for sprawl, but when you head into the mountains (either the Santa Monicas or the Angeles Crest) you can at least imagine yourself in a rural area (especially at night when traffic abates) and improve your ratio of encounters with motorists vs. encounters with wilderness dramatically.

      Of course, I envy your country roads and eclectic mix of terrain…

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