In the first days of June I cleaned up my bike and added some cute frog stickers…
then packed it up in the car and drove to LA.
On Sunday morning I woke up very early to participate in the LA River Ride, an event presented by the Los Angeles Bike Coalition. The morning started out cool and overcast – perfect for a long ride!
I got my wristband and route sheet – there were a lot of turns listed for the 100 mile ride, so I decided the best course of action would be to stick close enough to other riders to follow a group, and hope they knew where they were going so I didn’t have to!
That strategy served me well, as we took off on a loop around Griffith Park, then entered the LA River bike path to head south. I tried to soak in the scenery along the bike path as I was riding, and I was happy to see that the river really is more than just a trickle of water in a concrete channel – there was a variety of plant and bird life taking advantage of the water, rock and sandbars formations along the river’s length. I even saw a crane with its wings spread wide, just like in the River Ride logo.
Of course, I almost paid too much attention to the scenery and not enough to the road – a few yards before the first automated photo setup, I unexpectedly hit a big bump in the pavement while my hands were wrapped casually around the bars, and ended up jamming the handlebars between my pinkie and ring fingers on my left hand – ow! I managed to recover in time to smile for the camera, but it hurt for the rest of the day (actually, it still hurts a little bit a week later…) and for a while I was worried that my hand was broken.
A few miles later, the ride entered the streets of Downtown LA, and headed south for a few more miles before joining back up with the bike path near Maywood Park. With a slight downhill in the first half of the course and calm winds, I was able to pedal along easily at 20 MPH for long stretches, and before long I came to the Dills Park pit stop at 31 miles.
After filling up my water bottle and downing a banana, I headed back to the trail toward Long Beach. After leaving the park, I was surprised to see an equestrian park and trail on the east side of the back path – I had no idea something like that existed along the LA River. Of course, I’d never even been on the bike path before, so the whole ride was very new to me, but it was fun to get glimpses of all the communities we passed through along the way. As I got closer to Long Beach I noticed a budding headwind blowing in from the ocean, but before long I had covered those 10 miles and was passing the Catalina Island ferry station on my way to Shoreline Park – 42 miles done!
The Long Beach pit stop was party central – riders from both the 100- and 70-mile routes were resting, refueling, and taking in the view before continuing their journeys. I grabbed a cheese-and-cracker snack, filled up my water bottles, refreshed my sunscreen application, and helped another cyclist get a picture of himself with the Queen Mary in the background, then set off on the next segment – a 24 mile loop through Long Beach and Seal Beach and back to Shoreline Park.
I once again found the wheel of a few other riders to follow, and soon found myself enjoying the bike path along the beach, except for a wicked side-wind blowing in from the water, that is. It was mid-to-late morning by then and the beach goers were starting to turn out, but I was still impressed by the orderly sharing of the path, with bikers and pedestrian generally sticking to their designated sections. After a couple miles we turned inland again, taking city streets for a few blocks before turning onto the San Gabriel River bike path – yet another great river-side bike path in L.A, county! I didn’t realize it until I had reached the turn-around and started heading back, but there was a lovely tailwind that eased my way along the river…and then I reached El Dorado park, turned around to ride back toward the ocean, and – Head Wind! No!!!!! I was having a hard time keeping up a 13mph or so pace on the way back, although after a while I was lucky enough to catch the wheel of some riders from the VeloViet cycling club as they passed; I tried to stay in their slipstream, but kept yo-yo-ing off the back and having to face the wind by myself.
On the way back through Long Beach I got to check out the cool new bicycling infrastructure they’ve installed recently – bike boxes and sharrows that are visually connected with green paint to form virtual bike lanes in the right-most traffic lane. We have a few new sharrows in San Diego, which I’m very appreciative of, but the ones in Long Beach were fantastic – the green paint helped tie them together, and made it very obvious that bikes had the right to share the roads with car traffic. After a mellow stretch of a more residential section of 2nd Ave, mixing it up with traffic on Shoreline Drive was a little unpleasant, but soon I was turning into Shoreline Park again for another break, with 64 miles done – almost 2/3 finished!
The pit stop was a little less crowded the second time, and the riders were all a little bit more tired, but the pit stop volunteers were still as cheerful and welcoming as before. I grabbed some snacks and water, popped some ibuprofen to keep down the swelling in my not-quite broken hand, stretched out a bit, and started back up the river.
I was still feeling pretty good as I left Shoreline Park for the second time, but by the time I got back to the Dills Park pit stop I was starting to feel the miles. It was right around 75 miles, which matched my previous longest-ever ride distance. My legs were starting to feel just a little tired, and I was definitely getting tired of my saddle (note to self: adjust saddle position or try out other saddles for long rides). Event though Dills Park was only 10 miles from Long Beach, I was very glad for the chance to stop!
At the park I overheard some other riders talking about the samples of coconut water and decided to give it a try: I am now officially hooked on chilled coconut water as a refreshing sports drink! Thanks Zico!
After I left the park, I soon passed a group of kids taking a ride on the path with escorts from the LA Sheriff’s department. I’m not sure if that was related to the LA River Ride festivities or just a concurrent event, but it was great to see the kids out learning how to ride on the path. From Dills Park on, I was still had a decent amount of energy, but was getting very uncomfortable from sitting on the bike so long and was basically counting down the miles until each successive pit stop. I stopped briefly at the Maywood Park pit stop, then was soon back onto city streets with less than 20 miles to go! There was still a steady trickle of riders heading back toward Griffith Park, and I once again caught the wheel of the VeloViet team and enjoyed the slipstream for a while.
I made a quick stop at Hollenbeck Park, I noticed that the mileage on my bike computer was no longer tracking the route sheet exactly – it had been pretty close through my first stop in Long Beach, but from there the trip computer was showing fewer miles – so either the pit stop mileage was a little off on the route sheets, or my Cateye was going to clock the ride at under 100 miles – oh no! I continued on through the city streets, thankful to see another rider ahead of me make a left turn (probably from Main St to S. Ave 20) where I had missed the route markers and was about to miss the turn and go off course. Shortly thereafter I joined the bike path along the river again – almost done! By this time I was seeing just as many recreational riders on the course as River Ride participants, and I rode along trying to enjoy the sunshine and scenery while willing myself to keep up the pace so I could get off the bike!
Finally I made the turn off of the River Path and back to Zoo Drive, only to confirm that I was about .1 miles from the finish line and my bike computer was reading 98.2 miles – Arrrrrgh! I was tempted to just trust the route sheet and called it a successful century, but for the sake of my mileage spreadsheet I had to turn right instead of left onto Zoo Drive and bike out another .9 miles to ensure that I would see “100″ on my Cateye when I finally turned around and rode back to the finish. The nice part was that I knew exactly how long I had left to go AND I could coast back part of the way. Fittingly, I came through the finishing chute just after the VeloViet guys, so I was able to grab one more mini-draft :)
I was pretty happy to finish with total moving time just under 6.5 hours (total time was about 7.5 hours including pit stops and stop lights), for an average of 15.4 MPH. I was able to sustain my energy pretty well over the whole ride, and my legs were only a little tired since there wasn’t any climbing of note. The LABC did a great job organizing the ride, and the volunteers were all friendly and helpful. Best of all, I got to ride on some fantastic bike paths that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to – the route was truly a great showcase for the bike paths and communities along the LA River.