When you ask the average American what comes to mind when you mention Los Angeles, you’ll hear movie stars, beaches and plastic surgery as your most common responses.
One thing that surprises visitors is that our region contains several vertical elements to it. Whether it’s our rolling hills or significant mountain ranges, you don’t have to ride too far to face a challenge. That’s fortuitous for Mr. CiclaValley otherwise he’d be known as CiclaDesert.
In my time both is a cyclist and a runner, I’ve climbed just about every hill in the Los Angeles area. The Santa Monica Mountains, San Gabriels, Palos Verdes, the Elysian Valley. You name it, I always search for the vertical.
There are some exceptions to the rule. Up until last year, I avoided some of the toughest, if not most infamous, climbs in the city. Most wouldn’t believe it, but Los Angeles has 4 of the top 6 steepest streets in the country. I had lived in the Bay Area and driven their toughest climbs and you’re telling me LA has it worse?
I had ridden by Baxter and Fargo many times before, but just to stare. It’s not that I’m afraid of failing, it’s how you fail. A couple of my friends tried but aborting before reaching the top with one spraining his ankle catching himself as progress stopped.
My biggest fear actually deals with the theorem, “What goes up, must come down”. You see, even though Mr. CiclaValley is adept as a climber, but he is still a bit thick for what you’d expect. Being forced to descend down these hills using all your bicep strength to avoid hitting runaway speeds is something I don’t look forward to.
As the story goes, a group of us happened up Baxter to give it a tourist quality stare until one of us went into “because it’s there” mode. I don’t know how we made the jump to herd mentality, but we all decided to give it a try.
I wanted to get a good amount of speed at the beginning, but you’re somewhat limited by having to make a sharp turn to start the climb. I shifted into my 36T small ring, started spinning and let it fly. Before I knew it, I was more than halfway up with a bit of momentum. It got progressively harder the closer I got to the top, but I stayed in my drops making a huge difference as I came out of my saddle.
To my surprise, I made it all the way up with only making one narrow S-shaped path at the top. Myth blown!
Fortunately, we you get to the top, there are a few other ways of coming back without having to descend back down. It gave me a lot of confidence to tackle everything else!
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Thinking back, it might not have been a coincidence that we did the climb two days before Feel My Legs, I’m a Racer took place. If you’re unfamiliar with the event, it’s a quasi-competitive event/challenge without prizes covering ten of the toughest climbs in the Silver Lake/Echo Park/Mt. Washington region. Since I now believed I possessed the man strength, I decided to give it a go, even though I was up against another time commitment.
The first two climbs up Micheltorena and Duane were strenuous, but manageable, and now Fargo loomed next on the horizon. I wasn’t that afraid seeing how Baxter is graded similarly, but now I think it is more difficult than the two.
Perhaps it was having to fight for space among other riders, but Fargo seems longer, meaning multiple S’s as you reach the top. There were a few others getting cutoff by other cyclists ending their journey up and once you’ve stopped momentum, it’s hello walking cleats!
I’ll call it half-skill, half-luck that I was able to make it up. It took winding back and forth across both sides of the road to barely reach the crest. Making it up is an accomplishment, but I knew that Fargo offered a challenge where my success would often be perilous.
After a couple more climbs, it was time to return to family duties and the other hills would have to wait until another time.
Including Eldred Street.
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Being a nerd in all things Los Angeles, I am a frequent viewer of the Tom Explores Los Angeles series. When I saw his episode featuring Eldred Street a couple of years ago, it pretty much killed my interest in climbing it.
From the video, you could see the concrete was cracked in a hazardous manner. The thought of getting my tire caught in a rut and flipping over was enough to keep me away. Couple the fact that Eldred is a dead end street and there was no other way to ride back down, I decided I would deny its existence from that point forward. I didn’t want to know where it was and I would never go there.
The funny about Mr. CiclaValley(Rickey Henderson loves my 3rd person references) is that he loves cycling up the many climbs that take you up Mt. Washington, but had somehow avoided Eldred altogether. I’ve ridden down Avenue 50 many times and looked back up the hill, but never with the thought of searching that unholy climb because the force of denial was strong in this one.
This week, as I stopped to let kids cross in front of Aldama Elementary, I looked over to glance at the rickety street to my right. I admit this wasn’t my first glance over, but I would always turn my head away to avoid any form of recognition. Unfortunately, this time my eye also caught the sign that said, “Eldred St.” Damn.
At this point, I said, “it doesn’t hurt to look”, which also means “maybe it’s not as bad as you think”. I headed over hoping someone had knocked that whispering devil off my shoulder.
Investigating it, the street doesn’t look as steep as you would think. Part of it is an optical allusion being there is a big valley, featuring a wider portion of the road up to the point where the real climb begins.
I approached the foot of the climb to the same manner Indiana Jones would discover an ancient relic: in complete awe. Then, I snapped into reality. As much as there’s the little voice telling you to do it, it gets over-powered by a Judge Judy souding lecture everytime I attempted to rationalize it.
The road is cracked even worse than I thought. Even if someone wanted to repair it, we probably don’t have the technology to do it. If you want to fool yourself into doing it, you focus on the little channel in the middle that’s fairly in tact. It seems doable if you can hold your line, but that’s going against the law of physics.
This is where my story ends.
Yes, every good writer should take their readers through a journey where there is a point of discovery, but not for this hack. Sometimes, it’s just better to live another day and to leave somethings unsaid.
If you ever climb Eldred Street, maybe you can finish this article for me…