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09/07/2009: "Up and Dirty on Mulholland drive"
Yesterday, I regretfully skipped Chuck Schmidt's Rose Bowl Vintage Ride to join the Southern California Rivendell Riders for a jaunt along the unpaved part of LA's famous Mulholland Drive, familiarly known as "Dirt Mulholland." This was to be an "underbiking" journey, steep dirt riding on road bikes.

The dirt begins a few miles west of the Sepulveda Pass, and ends at Topanga Canyon Road, the former hippie haven now almost entirely gentrified, VW vans and mountain bikes replaced by BMWs and yuppified Harleys, but still a beautiful canyon.

I chose Trevor, as he wears both wider tires and lower gearing than the Bottecchia, though he's still a fixed-wheel. Though a bit tired from recent colds and a bout of food poisoning, I headed west on Wilshire to the UCLA area, where I picked up Sepulveda Boulevard. A brief conversation with a fellow riding a beautiful vintage Jack Taylor that he had borrowed from his dad, and then across one bridge and up a bit to Mulholland itself (which doesn't, oddly, connect with Sepulveda directly), back across the freeway, then up and up and along the tree-shaded curves of the last fancy neighborhoods just east of the Santa Monica Mountains Park.

Dirt Mulholland is just a turn in the road where the pavement disappears, marked by a number of state park signs, and usually a few SUVs left by hikers and MTB folks. I waited a good hour or so--I am always early to meetups, and everyone else in LA is always late--but, when airplanes weren't passing by, it was remarkably quiet; I could hear leaves moving ten yards away, and when I spoke to a mountain biker as he put his steed away, fifty feet off, we spoke in normal tones without the least effort.

At last the Rivendellers showed up, with only three actual Rivendell bicycles, and we began the "official" ride.

Trevor and his Vittoria Randonneur Pro tires handled the dirt better than I expected, but my inexperience in riding loose surfaces made me pretty slow on the downhills. (As did my intense consciousness of having no health insurance.) However, most of the first half of the ride was uphill, where the 66" fixed gear kept me working hard but moving fast--relative to a string of riders in their granny gears, of course. A lot of climbing--to judge from my Veloroutes plot of the ride, at least 2200 feet of the total of over 3800 feet of climbing took place within the nine or ten miles of dirt I rode. Despite being geared too high--60" would have been much more comfortable--I walked only one appallingly steep quarter mile of the ride.

The descents were, as I said, a bit spooky to me, who have never ridden mountain bikes or much dirt at all, so when we arrived at Topanga Canyon State Park for water and rest, I (and a couple of others) left the group and rode down Topanga Canyon Boulevard to the sea. Once at the beach I felt practically home, though I still had some miles to traverse.

Forty-five miles total, and the vast quiet desert hills beautiful under the September sun. One of the fellows (Esteban, I think) posted photos on Flicker; see them here.

Next time? Lower gearing, wider tires, maybe wider handlebars. And a great deal more food in the saddlebag!

A trip to and through the wilderness, no car required.

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