Day 32: Leo Carrillo State Beach to Rancho Palos Verdes, CA - Four Legs on the Slow Road - CycleBlaze

September 27, 2014

Day 32: Leo Carrillo State Beach to Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

Saturday morning on the PCH means almost as many road bikers as cars, which means we get passed in silence by dudes in color-coordinated Lycra suits more times than we can count. Soon after we leave the park the mansions and compounds of Malibu start to appear in force, with their wrought iron gates, fountains, rows of palm trees, perpetual remodeling projects, and all of the cameras and intercoms that go along with security systems priced in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I watch several groups of teenagers jog past throughout the morning, which is one of the more disheartening things I've seen in the last month. I want to yell out, "You're seventeen! Go play sports or go surfing and stop worrying about what you eat and whether or not you have six-pack abs! Jogging is for adults with jobs and car payments and mortgages, not teenagers! Go be a kid!"

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Try to steal the artwork, end up with a bullet in the chest.
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We dedicate a lot of time to making fun of the roadies. There's the guy who yells out "Two on your right!" like a drill sergeant; the guy who passes us without a word and then cuts into the traffic lane without signaling, where he almost gets demolished by a passing Bentley; the woman who holds out her right arm in front of cars at an intersection, as if they will be frozen in place by the power of her gloved palm; the guys with calves so big it looks as if they've got melons trying to escape from beneath their skin; and the groups of twelve that ride in one amorphous pack, all eight inches away from one another, deep in animated conversation about jobs and prep schools and USC football the entire time.

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Tbe backdrop for everything isn't the ocean or the traffic or the perfect weather, but money. It's impossible not to notice the bikes worth eight grand, the high-end boutiques, the Italian sports cars, the estates perched on mountain ridges, and the private university that costs at least $50,000 per year to attend. At certain points we ride right above the turquoise tint of the water and the near-white sand of the beaches, but almost always we're instead behind the walls and garage doors of the long lines of homes and condos that crowd to within inches of each other on both sides. Riding becomes a challenge of avoiding fast-moving traffic on the left and the garbage cans, pedestrians, yard workers, and luxury car washers that clog up the narrow strip of pavement on the right. It's hard to imagine that three weeks ago we were deep in the Cascade Mountains, traveling as many as two full days between towns, none of which had more than a thousand residents.

The gates to the mansion where Cher lives, which we stop in front of to put on sunscreen. I yell to her that I believe in life after love, but even after waiting for like five minutes I never get a response.
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Malibu gives way to Santa Monica, where we pick up a path along the beach that will just about take us to the end of our ride through California. Because it's Saturday the path is thick with bicycle riders and joggers and distracted tourists. The beach is a living collage of volleyball players tanned to the shade of fried chicken, pale vacationers drenched in sunscreen, surfers walking toward the shore with boards tucked under their arms, sun umbrellas of yellow and orange and pale blue, and homeless men laying flat in the sand with hats pulled over their faces and everything they own crammed into the dirty and frayed backpacks they use as pillows.

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We see bikes mounted with boom boxes, cruiser bikes by the hundreds, and people walking expensive purebred dogs. Soon we ride beneath the Santa Monica Pier. Then we reach the boardwalk in Venice, where you can buy a skateboard or shoes or a cellphone, eat pizza or funnel cakes or churros, get drunk for ten dollars, or get a Chinese massage or a tattoo or a medical marijuana card. The boardwalk is a strange mix of very interesting people surrounded by people that never once in their lives have been called interesting. It's a fascinating assault of food smells and mariachi music and aggressive commerce set to the ocean breeze, the hazy skies, and the warm but never hot sun of the Southern California coast.

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Even though the bike path is crowded and we have to dodge the occasional walker or jogger or baby stroller, it turns out to make for fun riding. Whereas riding the highways can feel like a life-and-death battle for survival — which in some cases it is — riding on the boardwalk feels like a video game, where we have to bob and weave our way around obstacles, but where the worst that can happen is we bump into someone, tip over into the sand, and then pick the bike back up and start rolling again.

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Beyond Marina Del Rey we pass below the endless stream of airliners taking off from LAX and bound for Chile, Japan, Germany, and Albuquerque. Then we pass through the long series of beach towns — Manhattan, Hermosa, Redondo — that all front the water with homes spaced about a foot apart from one another and also from the pathway on which we ride. There's so much wealth on display that after awhile it becomes the rule, not the exception. Yet it doesn't make me envious or wishful, because on the bike, even though I'm carrying so little, I almost never want for anything more than I have. What I do want tends involves the things I can't change, like less traffic, less headwind, or more pizza shops. It seems like the farther I ride, the less I worry about earning more money or buying new things, because the adventure itself becomes more than enough to leave me satisfied, content, and fulfilled. Everything else would just slow me down.

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We stuff ourselves on burgers, chicken strips, onion rings, sweet potato fries, milkshakes with whipped cream, and cherry Cokes as a kind of reward from cycling all the way from Portland to Los Angeles. Right after, we head to the end of the boardwalk and then start heading up the big climb to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Given all of the garbage and liquid we just pumped into our stomachs it starts to feel like it's not the best decision we've ever made. But soon the squishing and sloshing recede into the background, because we find ourselves on Palos Verdes Drive, a road that Kristen has traveled more than a thousand times in a car but not once on a bicycle. From its bends and crests we watch surfers paddle and catch waves in small coves along the coast, and look down the flocks of pelicans that hang on the wind being pushed up from below. To the north we can make out the skyscrapers of downtown L.A., the smaller towers of Westwood, and along the water we can trace back the path we followed today — to Santa Monica, to Malibu, and all the way back to the state park where we started, now pale and white and blurred in the haze of the late afternoon.

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When we arrive at Kristen's house, the only one around to welcome us back and congratulate us on what we just accomplished is Maggie, a seventy-pound black Standard Poodle who is by any objective measure the smartest dog in the world. Kristen's mom and stepdad haven't yet returned from their trip to Hawaii and we won't see her sister and brother-in-law until tomorrow. But it some ways it's nice to be alone, because it gives us a chance to drink a few cold beers, open a good bottle of wine, raid the pantry, and start the process of unwinding from twenty-four straight days of riding. We now have a week to rest up, pack up, and prepare for spending five months out of the country, which is about four months longer than either of us have experience with. This leaves us feeling equal parts excited, optimistic, curious, and apprehensive about what's to come.

Today's ride: 55 miles (89 km)
Total: 1,472 miles (2,369 km)

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