Alta Alpina Challenge double century

Wow. This was over a month ago now. But back in June, as part of a 10-day trip, Max and I rode the Alta Alpina Challenge in Markleeville, California. It’s put on by the same cycling club that used to do the infamous Death ride, but apparently some conflict led to the local Chamber of Commerce taking it over. This year was the inaugural Alta Alpina Challenge and I rode the double century.

(Carson Pass avalanche warning)

Thursday night we stayed with an ex-Angeleno in Mammoth Lakes with the idea that we’d go for a mountain bike ride Friday morning. A 7800ft headache kept that from happening, so instead we continued up the 395 past Yosemite into the ‘California Alps’. This state never ceases to surprise me. I’ve spent time in Alaska, Montana and New Zealand and this part of California can hang with the best awe-inspiring, expansive landscapes. The first plus of this ride? It starts at a park with a campground. Score. After running into yet another Angeleno (the organizer of the Midnight Express ride), the three of us headed out for a 30-mile spin that meandered along a river, out of the valley which contains Markleeville and up toward Ebbetts Pass. We had no idea that we had turned around just before it gets gnarly.

(Near Ebbetts Pass. How beautiful is this?)

I signed up for the latest start time, 516am, while Stephen (who joined us from Mammoth Lakes late Fri evening) opted for the 330am start. I heard his alarm, but not mine. Getting out of my tent and dressed at 545am, I made my way to the start and left Swarm! style: alone and late. This route (see map) utilizes 6 major passes in the area, 4 of which you climb from one side (Kingsbury, Luther, Carson and Blue Lakes) and then turn around while on the last two (Ebbetts, Monitor) you climb over, descend and climb back up the other side. I usually avoid out-and-back routes because my interest is in transversing and seeing as much as possible, but the magnificence of this area cannot be understated. I didn’t want to leave! Seeing the same area from multiple perspectives was actually quite enjoyable.

(Carson Pass, looking out from the checkpoint ran by a Pearl Izumi store. The woman was chastising me
for only having a vest and sleeves. I teased her about just wanting to sell me leg warmers.)

I’m not a great climber, so 20,000 feet comes only with significant work. What I found to be helpful is tolerance for poor weather (had rain, storms, temps in the 30’s and even snow flurries on the passes), ability to descend quickly and being diligent about time at checkpoints or skipping them altogether. What’s also fun about starting late is you spend the day catching people- makes you feel faster than you really are. I also got to ride a few miles with Stephen and then with Max as they did their rides.

I have not been riding a ton so it felt fantastic to be out on such a well-supported ride with so many strong cyclists. The roads were quiet, with ample 7mph speeds; perfect for absorbing the environment and thinking through all of those deep, hidden ideas that only come to you on a 15hr bike ride. I flatted once, but was still happy with my results. Riding, eating and then passing out in my tent is second nature and it brings back great memories of bike touring. I always feel so fortunate to be able to live, ride and explore where I do and all of it seems that much more magical when the day ends in a tent.

Los Angeles: opportunities for those who pedal

Originally written for the most recent Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition zine.

The best things about Los Angeles are hidden. When I first moved here 6 years ago I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the city by bicycle, which in my opinion has always been the best way to find what you least expect in a city. I explored neighborhoods and back streets and all that comes with being where most people from outside never see. The crisp air and great smells on the quiet streets of Hancock Park to the late-night food vendors on the busy streets of MacArthur Park. I grew up going to NYC often and was told that if I loved NYC I would hate LA. I’m not blind to what there is to dislike in this city, but I quickly learned that if you make it your own, there is plenty to love. I don’t think I would of had these experiences if it wasn’t for my bicycle.

(Echo Mountain and the remnants of the old hotel)

Unlike NYC, here we have unbelievable, accessible, wild protected areas within cycling distance. Central Park is pretty cool, but Griffith Park and its howling coyotes and miles of cycling roads is unbelievable. But Griffith is just the beginning. I’m no cyclocross racer, but for many years I’ve ridden a touring/cyclocross bike in the city. It took some time, but I eventually got some knobbie tires and began to explore off-road in the San Gabriel and Santa Monica mountains with the same vigor and thirst for exploration that I originally approached the urban landscape with. And the results were similar. There are many miles of fire roads accessible by bicycle out of your front door here in Los Angeles. Within a few hours I can be a few thousand feet above the city with only nature, some animals and an occasional hiker or cyclist to distract me. Last weekend I did a loop to the top of Mt Wilson from near the Rose Bowl almost entirely on dirt and saw only a handful of people. Even after 25 years of riding a bike, I’m still amazed at the opportunities and beauty it presents.

One Less Prius

Just got these stickers back from the printer, after a long while in the making. Stoked! A rip-off of the ubiquitous, One Less Car sticker from Microcosm. The bottom says, ‘Fewer Smug Emissions’.

Most people, at least here in Los Angeles, ‘get it’, but I want to clarify more on the meaning of this and I’ll do so in my all-time favorite format, FAQ’s.

What’s wrong with driving a prius? They get great gas mileage!
Yes, they do. When I need to rent a car for a trip (PA/VA MTB adventure!) I always try to get one. But buying a prius and making no other changes in how one travels every day in a city is not a paradigm shift. Cars are environmentally and socially damaging in many ways beyond fuel use. The energy and resources required to build and ship them, the destruction the space created for automobiles does, the separation of being in a 2,000 pound box, etc. And many hybrids drivers use it as an excuse to just drive more often!
To a cyclist, a prius is just a small hummer.

Isn’t this splitting hairs? Why critique people who are trying to make a difference?
Are they really trying? How much of a difference are they making? Buying a prius and not making any fundamental changes, ie walking, biking, public transit, etc, is easy and non-threatening. What makes that worse is the smugness of hybrid drivers, as if what they are doing requires great risk or vulnerability.
On my bike I risk my life every day for what I believe is the right thing to do. Prius drivers are constantly being patted on the back for what they do while cyclists are still being criticized for being in the way and demanding too much.

Can’t we all get along?
Ever been cut off by a prius with an Obama sticker? It happens more often than it should. The tipping point for the One Less Prius sticker was nearly being hit by one such vehicle IN THE BIKE LANE on Sunset Blvd. The guy gave me the finger when I threw my hands up.

But I drive a prius and I’m nice to cyclists!
Great, congratulations on being civil. And you want to be patted on the back for this? Get on a bicycle and join us in the streets, where we put our body behind what we believe. Get out of the safety of your metal box and feel what we feel, live what we live.

Cyclists are smug too! Isn’t this a contradiction?
Yes, some are. But who has more sweat-equity? Who is literally busting their ass for what they believe?

Okay, okay, I’m beginning to understand. Where can I learn more?
There are plenty of bicycle resources here in Los Angeles in the sidebar of this blog. Derrick Jensen just wrote a fantastic article, Forget Shorter Showers, about the importance of political change over personal change, that is appropriate for everyone interested in environmentalism.

Where can I get a sticker?
In person. Look for me on the bike.

Addendum (Wednesday, July 8th):

Wow, I’ve gotten quite a lot of criticism for this sticker. While it is always great to see people thinking, most comments (here and in random forums for automobilists) can be easily dismissed with, ‘Did you actually read the post?’ or ‘Do you have a sense of humor?’

It still comes down to the fact that driving a prius is not a paradigm shift and has similar environmental, social and community health repercussions as an SUV. It changes very, very little. Is it a better option when one is forced to drive? Yes. I made that clear in the first question. And note the sticker does not say, ‘Fuck you for driving a prius you mindless, selfish bastard’. It’s a joke on people taking themselves too seriously. Can every single person in the world use a bike for every trip? Of course not. I never said that. But most urban people could use bicycles for many of their trips. Unfortunately, our cities are not set up this way, they continue to use 2,000+ pounds of metal to go 2 miles and real change never crosses their mind.

Those who ride a bicycle are taking more of a risk (one that is often exaggerated) and we do not have the infrastructure to make it more feasible. Reducing the risk and getting this infrastructure is the paradigm shift I am busting my ass for every day!
See you in the streets.