Landscraping with the Passage Ride

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It's not so lonely at the top - Vasquez Rocks
It’s not so lonely at the top – Vasquez Rocks

Long the province of insomniacs, the Passage Ride has been offering once monthly day time rides.   Each one meets at Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles and sets off on the Metrolink train to a remote destination in the hinterlands of Southern California (You can ride all day for $10 plus you get a free transfer to the MTA.  If you’re lucky, you’ll be on a train equipped with a bike car).   In this second installment, we headed to Acton near the Antelope Valley, in the far northern desert reaches of Los Angeles County.  The last was a tour of scenic San Bernadino.

How long will this trail be here?
How long will this trail be here?

The Passage is an entirely different sort of bicycle-borne enterprise from anything you’ve experienced in the past.  It’s not a road ride, not an off-road ride, not a competitive ride, not a hike, not a party ride – it’s its own thing.  Sometimes you may find yourself inventing an entirely new mode of travel altogether; today we engaged in bikewacking, hiking cross-country through heavy foliage while carrying a bicycle.  The idea is to take in the entire topography with the bicycle.  The routes are not limited to roads and paths whether of the paved or dirt variety.  The routes take advantage of every possible type of peculiar segue from one street to the next.  When the conventional traveler might just use an intersection, the Passager carries bikes up a staircase, or rides under a freeway through a little used tunnel that serves as a roof for the homeless on most nights.  In essence the ride encourages the rider to appreciate and examine his surroundings by moving through them in new ways.

Just a cave full of bikes, nothing out of the ordinary
Just a cave full of bikes, nothing out of the ordinary

The Passage of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Moment in Time or the Passage Ride as it is known is all about experiencing the familiar in unfamiliar ways.  Since it’s a bike ride, of course that usually means experiencing places by bike.  The Ride is a Wednesday night institution, heading out in every possible direction from its epicenter in Little Bangladesh each week at 9 pm.    Because of the urban starting point, the Passage has always had a very city feel.  Most of the rides journey through some of the most densely populated neighborhoods of Los Angeles, albeit while most of the residents are fast asleep.  They usually end up in some form of wilderness-ish  location, a park, a wildlife preserve, a disused landfill, a pier – you name it.

Bike-Hikers scurrying over the ridgeline
Bike-Hikers scurrying over the ridgeline

These daytime rides, with their Metrolink theme have enabled the Passagers to explore destinations further afield.  It’s the same thought provoking format, but applied to places that are stranger and at the same time more normal.  Some of these places are so boring that they becoming fascinating, like the Amazon fulfillment center in San Bernadino.  Others ford vast swathes of post-mining wasteland.  The landscapes alternate between beautiful, sad and everything in between.

Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?

Here is the ride description from this week’s “Landscraping” adventure, written by co-leader Nathan Snider.  Nathan alternates leading the rides with Sean Deyoe AKA the Royal Academy.  The description is cryptic yet telling  (Passage Rides never tell you where they’re going.  Part of the fun is deciphering the ride description to figure out the destination):

Vasquez Rocks” In the city, we often find ourselves riding along the edges of things, skirting boundaries, gravitating toward spaces that seem to lie just outside of formal control. These patterns of exploration are practically compelled by the fabric of the city itself. As we are constantly surrounded by areas that are either physically or notionally closed off, there is a kind of freedom to be found in loosening the ingrained restrictions on movement.

An Inconvenient Passageway
An Inconvenient Passageway
But what of the country, with its wilderness, its wildness, its wide open spaces? Are there even greater degrees of freedom to be found there? It would seem so. Indeed, there are those who move to the country precisely to escape the city’s restrictions. But of course, with each new seeker of freedom comes the establishment of new boundaries and zones of exclusion. We see an incremental scraping away at the land, leaving it graded, fenced, and retained, until the wilderness is scarcely wild, and “the country” is scarcely the country.
Just another middle of nowhere sign
Just another middle of nowhere sign
What new patterns of movement will be compelled by this new set of restrictions? Join us this week and find out, as we explore the most ex- of exurban regions and all the various ‘scapes, scrapes and scarps along the way.”
What are YOU doing here?
What are YOU doing here?
Landscraping started at the Acton Metrolink Station and quickly left the pavement along a dirt road lined with dog kennels, horse ranches and other rustic businesses.  A few dirt bikers quizically circled the group on their mix of road bikes and gravel grindersa popular form of road bike built for riding off-road.  Kind of a contradiction in terms, but really these are a throwback to early road bikes, which were ridden on rough roads that were rarely paved.  If you take a look at photos from the Golden Age of Cycling before the turn of the century, you will see indeed there is nothing new under the sun.
Finally, the tunnel out the wild
Finally, the tunnel out the wild
Mechanical problems are to be expected.  Patience is required.  Despite everyone’s best intentions, you can’t be on a set schedule on a Passage Ride.  Part of exploring terrain in unconventional fashion is not necessarily arriving from point A to point B like a Swiss train.  I never wear a watch to a Passage Ride.  Time is just another one of those constraints that hamper our perceptions of our surroundings. There is usually no shortage of flat tires that come with riding through city streets littered with broken glass and trails strewn with goathead thorns all in the same ride.  The group is a helpful bunch and everyone chips in to make sure any disabled bikes are quickly back in working order.  Be sure to bring a couple of extra tubes and tools though.
We soon veered further off the beaten path as we descended into Agua Dulce and its famous, otherworldly Vasquez Rocks.  After taking a break to scramble on the one of a kind rock formations, we descended into an overgrown streambed.  This sort of navigation would have been difficult on foot, involving clambering over fallen trees and pushing through heavy overgrowth.  On a bicycle or more accurately carrying bicycle, it became very challenging.  At  times our progress slowed to a crawl as we formed a human chain to pass the bicycles down rocky ledges.  Eventually we made our way to a tunnel under the 14 Freeway and were on our way once again.  The ride ended with a lengthy descent down Soledad Canyon with a pleasant breeze propelling us to our destination in Santa Clarita.  Residents of the area are not used to packs of urban cyclists, so we were treated to more than a few hoots and hollers from passing pickup trucks.  We celebrated a friend’s birthday at a local Vietnamese restaurant while we waited for our train back to Downtown.
Civilization encroaching on the hinterlands
Civilization encroaching on the hinterlands
– This was the second of four planned once-monthly, weekend, daytime rides this fall/winter. The others will be on Jan. 10 and Feb. 7.

http://www.ThePassageRide.com

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