I woke up to a quiet Sunday morning, the weather is cool, clear and breezy. Walked out to get coffee and have a look around. Ventura is a great little town, a nice mix of traditional industry and surf culture. The old cinema is classic, I wonder past the original Patagonia workshop and a branch of Iron and Resin, with a fabulous BMW R80g/s in the window.
Up the road I bumped into a bunch of locals on their way for a Sunday ride, including a British guy who had lived here for 20 years on a yellow BMW 1150GS. They invited me along, and it would have been great to have joined them, but I want to get moving down the coast.
This railway line is a feature of lots of the coast of California, built to ship produce from the farms to the ports for shipping, it is now an Amtrak route called the Pacific Surfliner which runs from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Trains roll straight through the centre of towns – largely because the lines predate most of the building, which are less than a century old and you find yourself walking over the tracks all the time, which gives it a real ‘Stand by Me’ feel.
The first Europeans to settle this part of California were the Franciscan Friars who travelled up from Mexico in the late 18th Century. They established a string of Missions and built beautiful churches. You see references to El Camino Real all along the coast, which is the Kings Road – the original road that linked all these missions together.
Between Ventura and LA is another great little stretch of Route 1, running under the Santa Monica Mountains with the beach on your right. I ride that all the way to Malibu, where I plan to stop for breakfast. Being a Sunday morning the breakfast place I had lined up was rammed, so I ended up having a very unsatisfactory Starbucks breakfast. And then with LA on the horizon I set off excited about what the day entails.
Once again this isn’t going to go to plan.
So I am using my Phone for navigation. It is mounted on a RAM mount and I’m using the TOMTOM app. It’s a great setup – I know lots of people prefer a dedicated Satnav, but this does all I need, which is mostly a north arrow, and a map with live updates and speed cameras. However rolling towards Santa Monica I noticed that my phone isn’t charging, and the Satnav drains the battery pretty quickly.
I stop to see what is going on, and somehow I have managed to crush the Powerlet/USB adapter that powers my phone. What follows is a quite long story about trying to find a replacement on a Sunday in a country that despite appearances doesn’t speak my language. It is like when you speak with an English accent people just look confused and assume they are not going to understand you.
The BMW Motorrad dealership is closed on Sundays so I had a nice tour of hardware and electrical stores in LA. Not your normal way of navigating around a great city, but interesting nonetheless. If anyone is ever in this strange predicament again the answer is no, nobody stocks them. Eventually I go back to Frys and manage to get enough bits and pieces to cobble something together wiring what is left of my hella blog into a conventional 12v socket extension and then putting a USB adapter in that. It actually works pretty well, and I should have done this first
I’ve now spent quite a lot of the day doing this now. I sort of saw LA along the way, but not in any meaningful sense, and I’m fed up of heavy traffic and incessant stop lights every block.
First I went to see the Griffith Observatory, made famous most recently by La La Land, and the views were magnificent.
Looking at the satnav it is heavy Sunday evening traffic all the way to San Diego, and I just can’t quite face that. The danger is that you make ‘poor’ decisions in this mood. It’s odd actually, both times I have been to LA I have had this claustrophobic sense of needing to get out. It is a fascinating city, but there is something so overwhelming and self referential about it that I just need to get back to the wilds. I live in central London the rest of the time, so it isn’t that I have a problems with cities. It is just the endlessness of the sprawl and that fact that nothing means anything and what little history there is is so idolised.
And of course your eyes are constantly drawn to the mountains which dominate the skyline. So with little forethought and no provisions, I head northeast aiming for the fabulous sounding Angeles Crest Highway. It is always fight to get out of LA, but eventually the road heads up a canyon, and altitude starts to be gained. Amazing views in every direction, with the city and the ocean behind, and the mountains and the Forest ahead. Great sweeping bends, big drops – I find myself a bit surprised at how high I am (these mountains rise to over 10,000 feet. The sun starts to set, and the temperature is dropping, but I am having too much fun to care. At the watershed I stop to take photographs of the clouds rolling over the pass. But I hadn’t missed the fact that it was now nearly dark, and I was in the middle of the mountains.
Do you do that thing where you don’t stop to put your cold weather kit on, because you are in a hurry, as a result get more and more chilled but as you get chilled your brain functions less well and you can’t make the decision to stop and put on your kit? I did that thing.
And the next was a sign saying ‘Road Closed Ahead’. Now I have already explained my attitude to those signs, and so I plough on. Despite the cold and dark I am having an amazing time, and a proper adventure, and I certainly don’t want to turn back.
Everything seems fine but I do start to notice a few small rocks in the road. And then bigger ones. And then I discover why the road has closed. This will not be the last rockfall I encounter on this trip. It became quite the theme. I guess that after years of low rainfall, when it does come down it brings down a lot of accumulated debris with it.
Eventually I am weaving through some small boulders, thinking that perhaps this isn’t smart. I’m obviously having to go quite slowly too so it is getting late. And the ice light on the dashboard has come on. I don’t have one of these fancy modern features on my bike at home, so I’m not absolutely clear what that means, but I get the gist. And I notice that there are ski resorts up here and man it is cold.
My initial plan is to find a campsite up here, a night under the starts in the mountains sound perfect, but it is probably going to be sub-zero up here tonight, and I’m not sure I am up for that. And the road is now starting to descend, so I attempt to get a bit lower before I stop. Finding a campsite in the dark is actually really tricky, and when I do find one it is closed. The Angeles Crest highway is 66 miles of twisting mountain road. It is brilliant and you should probably do it in the daylight. When I finally get to the end, at the little town of Big Pines it is very strange. Because after 66 miles of wild Alpine scenery, I am back on the outskirts of the vast LA sprawl again. All convenience stores and gas stations and 6 lane highways. I’m not really sure where I am, and I don’t care. It is now very late, I am very tired and I just want to go to bed, so I stop for gas, book a hotel and ride up Route 15 to find a Holiday Inn Express outside a town called Hesperia and take a hot shower to warm up and then crash out.