LA Tourist Race No. 1: Dispatches From a Flying Squirrel and a Moose on the Loose.

… aka Rocky and Bullwinkle

Rocky and I didn’t really know exactly what we were getting into when we showed up at an LA Tourist Race last year, but that’s how most Rocky and Bullwinkle adventures start off anyway. They always end up saving the world, so why should this be any different?

The LA Tourist race is this race—well, kinda a race, well, no yeah, it is totally a race for those who want a shot at snagging the coveted jersey that represents a combination of fitness, mental agility, and conviction—that is put on out of love and love alone by Mike from Golden Saddle Cyclery (GSC). For the rest of us, it’s an unpredictable situation to get yourself into some laughably challenging terrain. And that’s what makes it fun. It isn’t just a bike race though, it’s unsanctioned, it offered coffee and bike snacks – spoiler alert there was an aid station – it’s a free bike race that welcomes and gathers the people, and it doesn’t have a set route. Like a fixie alleycat for the mountain people. This lack of an established course is where the mental agility comes into play. So, layered on top of the “bike race” strategy that needs to be employed [for the racers at least] is this create-your-own-map puzzle that spans from the city to the peaks punctuating the beautiful San Gabriel Mountains, and these peaks tend to always be on gravel roads.

Leading up to the race, the LA Tourist Race Instagram sends out coordinates of all the checkpoints. Copy/pasting “34o 11.819 N and -117o 57.515 W” is more difficult than it seems. Who knows how to enter a degree symbol into an iPhone? Not Rocky. Not Bullwinkle. And it doesn’t have to be the first coordinate you check into. All I remember about permutations from cramming for the SAT is that the exclamation point after a number means WOAH, that’s a large number, and there’s a lot of multiplying going on. And, there are a lot of roads and trails in LA, lotsa subtle elevation differences, lotsa big mountains and lotsa little hills of all pitches. Lotta options, lotta routes. For those plagued with the tendency to over-analyze a situation and stress out if it isn’t perfect, then, your fun might get drenched with adrenaline mixed with cortisol once the race goes off because the pack sometimes takes a different route. Natasha Fatale and Boris Badenov had that personality, which is why they never officially caught Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends.

With a route and a map downloaded on Rocky’s phone (thanks to some of Rocky’s friends) we rolled into GSC around 7:15. I’m a moose, and meese have antlers, which do not fare well in a wind-tunnel, so I got dropped when the peloton went under a bridge with merging lanes that were a result of bad city planning. I kept bumbling along because Rocky has a good track record of saving Bullwinkle.

Rocky and Friends kept up, heading to the first climb, at 720 ft elevation gain, this climb is named after an American sweetheart. The one and only Clark Griswald…Chevy Chase. We were all heading to Highway 2, the Angeles Crest Highway (Fun Fact: the address in the Shell Station at the base writes Angeles Create Highway on their window). The mountain that has been recently taken over by people trying to emulate Paul Walker in Fast and The Furious, but with way less training. This has made the road dangerous for cycling, but it was still in the wee hours of the day, and the crotch rockets and racecars were lucky-for-us still nursing their Monster Energy drink hangovers.

I joined a couple more riders, and as we were deciding our second move, a man with flailing arms on the sidewalk yelled, “You guys are pretty far behind! And my bell broke!” Which was too bad because bells are way valuable when they make noise. After the bad news, Clancy dropped some helpful opening game strategy—Verdugo, measuring the same distance as Chevy chase,  not only climbs 200 feet fewer, but it’s also not as steep as Chevy Chase. The other riders went harder and up Chevy Chase, and the peloton shattered. What is especially serendipitous about this was that without planning, Rocky and Friends and I ran into each other at the stoplight at the bottom of the mountain.

We kept pedaling up, and then about halfway up the 2 jutted left up a gravel road called Grizzly Flats towards our first checkpoint. It was the driest and lowest of the gravel roads, topping out at 3,300 feet. Wrapping around to the front of the range exposed the city of Los Angeles, haloed by a layer of popcorn clouds. Rocky was on it and led the zoo to our first checkpoint, which was nestled in a bush behind a graffitied water tower. At these checkpoints, there are hidden paperback books, the kind you’d find at the Goodwill. Thankfully, no one wants to actually read these books, because the way to prove you were there is to rip the page out that corresponds with your race plate number.

“I am offended!” Set sounded genuinely hurt. “Can I not celebrate my brother’s birthday? Are we so estranged that I cannot even apologize to the king?”

Osiris smiled at Isis. “My dear, it is only a game. Fear nothing.”

He rose from his throne. The gods applauded as he approached the box.

Page 175 from The Red Pyramid, ripped out and read, then thrown into the handlebar bag as proof Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends made it.

The next decision came at the top of Josephine—is it time to let air out of the tires? I did, Rocky, knowing that we had quite a bit more road to ride, kept hers at 50 psi, and waited to the top of Mt. Lowe to release some. I let some out, dropping mine from 65 (ooooooh boi, on the knobbies) to somewhere around 40. I doubt it was a blunder, maybe it was right, I wasn’t sure, but if nothing else, it was merely a simple inaccuracy, and with those, the best next step is to be okay with a slight shift in strategy and continue on, no time for second-guessing an irreversible decision. Well, I mean, if there was a WABAC machine out there, we could go back, but there wasn’t.

Because all exceptional reports include statistics [lie], I will let you in on another fun fact, 34% of all LA tourists get Dolly Parton’s Jolene stuck in their head while riding up Josephine Peak [dead serious], and this statistic, encompassing global tourists in LA, actually becomes more concentrated when looking at just the tourists of the LA Tourist Race. Turns out, a whopping 87% of LA Tourist Race participants get Jolene stuck in their head while riding up and down Josephine Peak. I think the number is significantly lower for all tourists because it is more likely that people from the United States listen to Dolly Parton than people not from the United States, but that’s just conjecture, I could be entirely wrong.

The snow came on fast along Josephine Peak climb. Packed snow that is not ice has a lot more traction than I expected. Still, it was not the easiest terrain to climb, requiring more focus, core, and triceps than your typical fire road. I know everyone has heard of yellow snow, but what about red snow?  I bet most of you readers never even thought about that. Well, I crawled behind a bush along a snowbank to change my tampon right as Dudley Do-Right and Erika, Mr. Peabody perhaps, rolled down—they had just summited Josephine Peak—so we all gathered as team Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends one last time along the trail. We didn’t see her again until the end, and another spoiler alert, in that winner’s jers’ we talked about in the beginning. Rumor has it she found some of the last few PBRs in the goody box at the base of Josephine, snapped those cracker-jacks, and still won. By the time we got there, only Ted King’s maple squirts, coke, and a bag of handled peanut butter pretzels remained.

Josephine reaches 5,558 feet, and we have to get off our bikes and hike the last wee bit to this cabin on a mound of only rocks to locate our next bagged book, “The Firm.” There were no trees, but there was a 360O view of mountains and mountains and mountains and those popcorn clouds, with a subtle and obscured glimpse of LA through the haze. Some of California’s finest crop was being enjoyed by the weary racers who were starting to feel the pain. The descent back down was just as snowy as the climb. Two out of four ain’t bad, right?

To get to the next checkpoint, we had to ride from Clear Creek to Red Box on the paved CA 2 HWY. A steady four miles at a 7% grade. Rocky and I felt our powers come to our legs and swiftly pedaled straight to an affable crowd surrounding this godsend of a feedzone with water, chocolate chip cookies, and peanut butter sandwiches. God bless whoever took time out of their lives to set this up for us. Almost every rider at that zone wheezed out “Oasis!” as they pedaled up to it, then sniffled back the snot, grabbing at the tasty replenishments. It seems like some nasty colds have paraded through California this year. And it got all over the peanut butter pretzels.

A peek at a high Mount Lowe Railway intersection held the third and our last checkpoint for the day. We scrambled up towards this water tower, grabbed “The Stalker,” and ripped out our pages. We enjoyed the solitude of the mountains amongst friends who were on the same aimless mission to escape our daily routines for a moment to relish in a primal game of survival. And then it was our turn to enjoy the most beautiful flower of all. We took a moment to breath it in, then out. A reward to set us up for a truly beatific dirt descent down the mountain.

Then, more snow! This made Frostbite Falls look like a tropical island. “Only to that other corner, not that much left,” a friend upstreaming the course confided in us as he passed. But, there was that much left, until it was gone, and in its place sat the rare and precious southern California tack.

Then it was Rocky and Bullwinkle, floating down a magical descent. At the bottom, we could have gone left towards Arcadia to hit the final checkpoint, but it was something like three o’clock, adding the last checkpoint meant three more hours on the road and riding in the dark. We already felt pretty damn accomplished for that day, so we followed the fun and cruised home through Pasadena. A peloton ripped by us a few blocks from the shop.  In it was the friend who had shared the map with us that we followed that day. They didn’t realize the winner, Kent Hammond of team Butterglory had already been sitting there for a solid half-hour. He showed up unassuming, then just played his own game for the win.  And didn’t even stay to party.

We rolled back into the world as we pulled up to Golden Saddle Cyclery, to masses of people who had already started partying as they waited for their friends to limp in. Mike, the brains behind the race, was disappointed to hear we didn’t hit all the checkpoints. But just like Boris said, “If they want to be hard to kill, let them.” And Rocky and Bullwinkle were gonna make it to the finish line alive!

Erica Schwanke aka Mr. Peabody came in with the dusk and secured the women’s first jersey.  And well after dark had set in, some friends who decided to take the high line trail across the top of the mountain came in screaming, “That was the worst decision of my life!” Then told tales of trees buckled under in the winter storms this year, leaving the trail a jungle of pine and oak that they had to crawl through for six miles!

The karaoke went well into the night, the cases of clubs were cheered and chugged, and Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends are ready for their next adventure in the LA Tourist Race Series. Fearless Leader remains defeated to catch the moose and squirrel and spoil their fun. But hey, “Sometimes, it’s not so easy being Fearless Leader!” And these busybodies haven’t busied their last body.