I did a bad thing recently. The morning began as any other: a little chamois cream, the bibs, embro, base layer and long-sleeve jersey, all donned in between bites of a standing breakfast. I rolled north to the land of the Hollywood hoi polloi, better known as Malibu.
That’s when the whimsy hit.
“With no one on my wheel,” I thought, “I can turn up any canyon I want, do any climb of the bunch … and no one will complain if it gets steep, least of all … me.”
I turned right on a road I’d never ridden in my life, certainly a selling point, right? What I knew of it came from Google Earth, and because I’m a trusting sort—hey, I met my wife online—I figured I knew enough to go all in.
I was in Malibu, so I wasn’t surprised that the road went up. Nor was I chastened by the road’s steep pitch. The sign announcing the end of the county-maintained road did nothing to cause me to reconsider my endeavor. And the gate marking the end of the road? It gave me a chance to take a long pull on my water bottle, after which, I lifted the bike over, remounted and continued riding.
Like the muur of Flanders, the road tilted up and up, a paved telescope looking to the heavens. Thanks to recent spring rains, rockfall littered the road. Somewhere along the line the layer of dirt and rock that painted the road became, well, the road itself.
Riding a 14-lb. carbon fiber road bike shod with racing tires onto a fire road is a Charlie Sheen sort of moment. You’re thinking what I should have been thinking: Something was amiss, rather on the order of, say, the San Francisco Bay minus the Golden Gate Bridge. But head shrinkers say the first clue someone is crazy is that they don’t know.
Everything seemed fine to me.
I’ll admit when I shifted forward on my saddle—rather than back—so my front wheel would stay down on a particularly steep jag, I thought, “I haven’t done that in a while.” At the top of the climb there was a meditation labyrinth. I looked at it for a moment and while it offered the perfect opportunity for introspection, a chance to look around me and wonder, “What am I doing out here on a road bike?” it was lost in the fog pooling in the canyons on either side of me.
And then, rending the silence: Pffffff.
I found a slight cut in the tread of my rear tire; cool air blew against my hand. This, this is the moment any reasonable person would take stock and consider how a flat on the way up paints a vivid omen for the trip down. I was too busy fixing the flat to contemplate the implications.
As a result, I hopped back on my bike, shifted into the big ring and got a jolly from the sound of the rocks pinging off my spokes. Ducking under a branch here or there? Pure fun. And jamming up a brief rise in my big ring to maintain my momentum into the black-diamond run back to the gate resulted in the moment when I looked out on the Santa Monica Bay just long enough to catch the water gleam in the morning light. My thought: “Wow, that’s really beautiful.”
Okay, so I got home, looked down at the bike and noticed it was coated in milk chocolate, or something thereabouts. That’s when I knew others might not approve.
I washed the bike and then put on a new set of tires with flat protection. I plan to go back next weekend. I saw some sweet singletrack near that labyrinth.
This was originally published by Bicycling Magazine in “The Selection” back in April, 2011.
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