It’s highly likely if a cyclist lives in the San Gabriel Valley, that cyclist spends an inordinate amount of time on the Angeles Crest Highway, also known as “The 2” or “ACH” or even “The Crest”. The 2 winds from La Canada-Flintridge across the San Gabriel mountain range to the high desert. Many a Wednesday morning has been collectively spent riding, spinning, attacking and racing up The Crest. Some mornings the ride is short and ends at Clear Creek Station. Clear Creek offers water, restrooms and is the junction of Upper Big Tujunga, as well the trailhead to the famous Strawberry Peak mountain bike ride. From Clear Creek, the ride can continue to Red Box Road which quickly winds its way to the top of Mount Wilson, the host of the Mount Wilson Observatory which opened operations in 1908.
View Angeles Crest and Mount Wilson in a larger map
Strawberry Peak is currently closed, sadly, with the Station Fire, and along with it ACH from La Canada to Clear Creek. The arsonist single handedly crushed the hearts of cyclists– mountain biker and roadie alike– for what is now almost 2 years by burning over 160,000 acres.
What the closure of ACH means today is that Mount Wilson must be approached via the West, via Tujunga. From Altadena that means an almost 15 mile uphill slug through stop lights, traffic and perhaps even an unsavory neighborhood or two. Big Tujunga Canyon is a beautiful, difficult and long road– an enjoyable ride– however getting to the base of the climb presents some of the most uncomfortable, boring and junky miles in the saddle.
When I see this sign, I feel a sense of relief. I am finally in the mountains, out of the foothills, away from the city and on my way to Mount Wilson. I know this will be a long day in the saddle. I’m on a test bike and it has a compact crankset which is actually good for this type of climb however I am used to standard gears and I will spend the day trying to decide if I should spin in an super easy gear or grind away in a hard gear as if I were on my singlespeed mountain bike. No matter, I am on my way.
Each turn greets me with a vista worth a photo. I’d prefer not to stop but I can’t help myself. The beauty stuns my senses and breathless I can’t continue until I set the scene into my digital encyclopedia. As I continue, I begin to see the remnants of the Station Fire. In spite of the victorious vibrant green of life, of rebirth, the black charcoal trees and scrub point to the sky reminding, remembering, reliving the disaster.
I climb. I cross the dam and am greeted by riders returning from Mount Wilson. They– almost home. I– not even close to my prize.
The road steepens as I reach the construction zone. Industrial dumptrucks buzz loads of landslides from one pile to another with no apparent logical end. Like a butterfly in a swarm of wasps I flit up the mountain, ignoring the dumptruck drivers who seem to attempt to befriend me. I must make to to the top of Mount Wilson without being crushed and eaten by the predators of the road.
No matter how long I have been cycling, there is one thing that makes me feel so strong. It is when I look back on the road I climbed as realize I just pedaled my self and my bike up this mountain. It almost transcends reality, this dreamy state of awe. To be able to do such a thing. We, the cyclists, are magical beings.
Alas, ahead I must look.
And as I do look ahead, a familiar sign shines bright green against the darkening clouds. The ACH. Finally! I have reached Clear Creek via Big T. If only I could make a right hand turn and I’d be home in minutes. Just pedaling past the sign I tried to create my own reality. A reality in which the 2 was open again. No matter how much I believed it, it wasn’t so. I would still have to pedal back down Big T to get home. After I make it to the top of Mount Wilson.
I turn left onto the 2 and head to Red Box Road. Time to get to the top.
At Red Box I take a break, fill my bottle, and shop around at the Native American market, skip the fry bread tacos (wow am I hungry!) and finish the last few miles of this glorious climb. I am chilled, however climbing keeps me warm.
Layers of snow capped peaks presented themselves under roiling clouds. For a moment I truly believed I was in Colorado again. Durango or somewhere in the Southern Rocky Mountains. At once I thought perhaps my hallucinations were just that, and my weary and hungry brain transposed the vista of my dreams onto the real landscape. But no, this scene was real, and moments away from Los Angeles (by car at any rate).
Once at the loop at the top of Mount Wilson, I am out of the clouds and looking down on the inversion. A beautiful sea of pure white clouds covering the millions in Los Angeles. It bothers me not that I cannot see Long Beach today. For all the romance LA has to offer, I’d prefer not think on it at this particular moment. Now I will relish in the beauty of the mountains towering above Los Angeles and her people, her buildings, her roads, her traffic, her budget deficit and drama.
I reach the Cosmic Cafe. It’s time for refreshment. My ride is little over half over. The rest of my ride will consist of harrowingly speedy descents, annoying, short climbs and miles of traffic signals, SUVs and dive bars.
Down I go. From the top of Mount Wilson I have just over 35 miles of pavement to cover. I am a little fatigued, but the Canada Dry gave me some pep. Inside the clouds, it’s cold. I could use an extra layer or two. All I can hear is the whizzz-zzzzz-zzzz-zzzz of the rear hub and nothing else. I carve into the mountain roads relying on my vision and my balance keeping my fingers away from the brake levers. My heart pounds. I climb up to Clear Creek and believe again The 2 is open. True belief. I have faith. I do believe!
Like a child finding out the reality of Santa Claus (rather the lack of reality I suppose), I pout and make a right hand turn down Big Tujunga. The descent is fun, yet very cold, and I yearn for a hill. I cross the dam and get my short hill. The rest of Big T is a rolling hill extravaganza. Not quite enough dowhill. I exit Big Tujunga and head to Foothill where I will again climb out of a pit of suburbia.
It’s been several hours on the bike. Many things smell good when you’re over 4 hours in on the bike. Perhaps fried chicken. Things I never eat.
As I pedaled along Foothill Boulevard passing every manner of dive restaurant, I encountered a horrible smell. Not even after so many hours on the bike does Jack-in-the-Box smell remotely good. I cringe and long for home. Long for some good home cooked pasta and grilled fish. I could eat some pommes frites right now, but what I really want is good healthy delicious home made food.
I cut off Foothill and coast by Descanso Gardens. It would be nice to take a tour. And I am almost home. I cut over to Hahamonga and finish my ride on dirt through the wetlands and up the singletrack at the end of Altadena Drive. This is home. Only cut through a neighborhood and ride up the 32% driveway and now I can rest, and eat.
I hope you enjoyed the ride.