The Lee Bird Birthday Ride :: 7 Riders, 4 Peaks, 63 Miles on Dirt

“No way! That’s impossible!”

The words fell heavy into the fire of his psyche and stoked the flames– enough to send Lee Bird on a grueling one day adventure that would become an annual epic mountain bike ride.

The “Lee Bird Birthday Ride”, also known as the “4 Peaks Ride”, began in 2004. An excerpt from the invitation to the 2011 ride expatiates the origin of the ride:

On December 8, 2004, I left my house for “a little mountain bike ride”. Through rain and snow, I rode to the antennas on 4 mountain tops that I can all see from my house – Mt. Wilson, Mt. Lukens, Verdugo Mountains, and Cherry Canyon. I remember the day well because as I descended down Angeles Crest from Red Box, I was stopped by the CHP – the road was closed because of a tragic van crash with JPL employees in it. 3 were killed. That was one of the many “obstacles” I was faced with. But, I made it and since then we’ve done a few different variations. This year, in honor of the 7th anniversary of the ride, we’re going to do the original loop.

It is now 2011, and I was invited for the first time to join the Lee Bird Birthday Ride. I occupied the space of token female on the ride.

It was time to head out. With camera, plenty of warm clothing and food in my pack, we were off. Alex and I were caught up by Nor Oropez on our way to the Pinecrest Gate, the meeting place for rides heading up the Mt. Wilson Toll Road. At the trailhead we met the crew: Lee Bird, Sean Bird, Brian Provost and John Saliamonas. Kevin Martin was on hand with his R8, but wasn’t riding due to a sinus infection. Vu Le was the last to show and we tore off down the road to start the official first mountain climb.

The Crew : John Saliamonas, Tonya Bray, Alex Boone, Vu Le, Lee Bird, Sean Bird, Nor Oropez, Brian Provost. Photo: Kevin Martin

The Route is simple. Climb the Mount Wilson Toll Road to the top. Ride down the pavement past Red Box to Clear Creek for pit stop #1. Continue down the Angeles Crest Highway to the Mount Lukens road and climb to the top of Mount Lukens. Descend the south side and a quick pavement ride lands the group at the base of the Verdugo Mountains. Climb to the top and descend into Glendale. Climb to the top of Cherry Canyon and the 4 Peaks are in the bag. The 4 Peaks, Wilson, Lukens, Verdugo and the top of Cherry Canyon are the 4 peaks visible from the Bird residence. Each peak is ensconced in chain link fence and topped with radio towers.

Just after 7.30a, we coasted down the pavement to the beginning of the Mount Wilson Toll Road. The Toll Road winds up the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains to the Mt. Wilson Observatory. The road was built in

John and Brian set the pace and the rest of us filed in. My goal was to stay in my endurance zone with tempo peppered in for the entire day. Bonking and burning out were not in the options when I made the choice to go on this ride. The pace was hot, but I held myself to my pre-ride promise.

First stop, Henninger Flats. Gingerbread Men with white fudge frosting. Pit stop. Water. And we were in for the long haul on the Mt. Wilson toll Road.

Road block. Photo: Tonya Bray

When we arrive at the rock slide, it feels like we’re almost to the top. Not so. The miles keep coming with the top in sight and quite out of reach. The rock slide happened after the Station Fire, and unlike a log that can be cut with a chainsaw, the rocks are quite large and not easily moved by humans. So we dismount and climb carefully over the pile of boulders in our slippery cycling shoes.

We amble to the top of Mt. Wilson, where Lee gets his first summit on the day. From the summit, we descend Red Box Road to the Clear Creek Station. At Clear Creek, we are greeted by Pat Bird, Lee’s loving wife, and a trunk full of Gatorade, Allen Lim Rice Cakes, potato chips and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We refueled, rested and set off for the second peak of the day, Mt. Lukens.

Lee Bird flying down Haynes Canyon. Photo: Tonya Bray

A very cold descent down Angeles Crest Highway dropped us at the trailhead to the top of Lukens. Where, once again, John and Brian set the pace. There were many downed trees, resulting from the wind-aggedon wind storms, so the going was slow for most of the road. Each time we switched back to face the east, our eyes were blasted with Alp-like images. Peaks shrouded in clouds and green slopes. For a few moments, I forgot we were in Southern California just minutes from downtown Los Angeles. It just didn’t seem possible.

Near the peak, we passed “George of the Jungle”, a local icon of hiking. Alex and I had just met this Frito pie eating, beer drinking guy at the Cosmic Cafe a few weeks ago after climbing to Mount Wilson on our road bikes. Today, George and his mad hikers guild opted to hike to Lukens since the Cosmic Cafe was closed, and they needed a change of scenery.


After mowing down a bag of Trader Joe’s Vinegar and Sea Sat potato chips, and other nutritional atrocities we were eager to hit the singletrack descent.

The only mechanical of the day, a flat tire, happened here. I came around the corner, and Alex was on the side of the trail, halfway to repairing the flat.

We sped on carving turns on the rocky singletrack and landed on the pavement where we rode to meet Pat for the final pit stop at the base of the Verdugo Mountains. More Allen Lim rice cakes, more potato chips and PB&J sandwiches disappeared as we fueled ourselves for the next climb.

Up and away on the Verdugos. Again, Brian and John led the crew. I stayed with the two for the first half of the climb, but pulled off and waited for Alex who was catching up. Alex and I rode to the top together, missing the turn and almost going too far. The rest of the crew wasn’t far behind, except no one had seen Vu. Vu had been suffering from cramps, and, thankfully had not ridden off course as we speculated. Once reunited, we sped down the east side of the mountain range and on to Cherry Canyon.

Alex fixing his flat tire. Photo: Tonya Bray

The final climb to the top of Cherry Canyon proved to be one of the steepest of the day, and I was ready to be at home, showered and fed, at this point. We rallied to the top.

Every one went off on their way home. Alex and I finished with a fun ride down the singletrack to the pavement before spinning home.

At the end of the day, with 63 miles and about 8 or 9 hours total time outdoors, we were spent. We lived to tell the tale, and we’re excited to do it all over again in 2012.

Happy Birthday, Lee!


Tonya, mtbchick

Tonya, après-ride. Photo: Alex Boone

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