wandering in elysium

Last week, Will Campbell posted footage from his 26-mile post-Thanksgiving burn-off-and-otherwise-expel-your-excess-calories-ride, and it set me to thinking about my own adventure. While I’ve done a fair amount of biking between Koreatown and points west, my experience of the city east of here has been woefully limited.

While you can see the map below for a more accurate representation of the route (and for a yet more accurate map, the gmap version), a couple of thoughts about the ride. First, figuring out the best way to roll towards Downtown took some doing. Following some of Will’s maps, I pedaled down to head east on 4th; but when that petered out a couple of blocks later, I couldn’t remember which streets Will took to make it to Sunset and Sunset’s bike lane. Instead, I found myself on Beverly looking at a “bike route” sign and thinking that there were worse things I could do than ride by Tommy’s on a Saturday afternoon. As for Beverly – once they finish the construction on it, it’ll be a much nicer ride, but as it stands now, there’s a stretch around Alvarado that’s cut down to one lane on account of that construction, with an exceedingly bad shoulder to boot. But what traffic there was thinned out as I came down the hill over Glendale Blvd, and I had a peaceful slog up 1st to Grand. I rode Broadway north mostly because I remembered it from last week’s Critical Mass ride until I found myself with the south slope of Elysian Park on my left with the LA River channel spreading to my right.

Now for people who live or travel in and around that area, seeing that part of town might just be old hat. But for someone who’s spent so much of his life on the Westside and who’s gotten so used to seeing the Downtown skyline from a particular point of view, there was something tremendously exhilirating about being able to stop at the curb on Broadway and take in City Hall, the old business district, the greened expanse below me, the rail lines cutting along the River channel, the sense of a completely new city. And I’ve driven the 5 before, taken in the view of Downtown from this other side from through the windshield of a car, but it’s a completely different experience to watch the city move from the saddle of a bike.

I cut up – following Will’s route – into Elysian Park just before the bridge over the river, and worked my single-speed up Elysian Park Drive. Along the way, I stopped to catch views east and west, smiling all the while. I worked past Elysian Fields and the baseball diamonds before stopping to call my friend Matt and tell him that I was standing on a hill looking out over Dodger Stadium in the clear late afternoon, that I was going to get back on my bike and pedal through an aisle of palm trees before curving down Chavez Ravine to pick up Sunset Blvd. by way of Elysian Park. The rest of the ride back – minus an awkward turn onto Santa Monica – was easy enough, and when I came out of Scoops after a celebratory ice cream, the clouds in the west were lit up like the backdrop of some set of a movie I have yet to write.

Beautiful ride, and one that makes you appreciate just how much there is to do outside in this city. A friend of mine from back East was just out here to interview for a residency at UCLA. He commented on how strange it was to be in a city with no green, with no nature around. It’s something I hear a lot from people, especially people just recently removed from those states where trees are as natural as rain, and I never know exactly how to respond.

I’m not sure I have the whole answer yet, but this ride is a start.

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