A varied and challenging New Year’s Eve in LA

12/31/21

Welp, by the time you read this, it will be 2022. May it be less horrifying than the last two years. (I’m not holding my breath.)

I don’t wish to sound ungrateful. I’m living my dreams in many ways. I know I’m very lucky and privileged to be having this adventure.

And I’m nearly a third of the way through it. Wow. I’ve had an amazing fall season, an amazing end to 2021, and an exciting beginning to this leap into the beautiful unknown I’ve undertaken.

But I’m not gonna lie, this time in LA (and parts of the time before it) has been challenging. The near-constant rain for days on end over the past two weeks. The mystery inner-tube problem a couple of days ago. The near-absolute lack of in-person human contact for two weeks, amid a pandemic that encroaches ever more closely into my social circles. And heck, Betty White just died. Damn.

I’m planning to head south day after tomorrow, on the 2nd.

Today I decided to scope out the light rail network here in LA. It’s actually a pretty impressive network, and yet it can seem nearly invisible if one is biking or driving here.

On the 2nd, I’m planning to cycle to Long Beach. But I want to have a backup plan in place, in case of mechanical troubles or running short on time for any reason, so I thought I’d try bicycling today to the Washington Street Station, where I could catch the train to Long Beach if need be. I wanted to see what the station looked like, how fares are paid, what the trains were like (easy to board with my rig?) and do a dry run of biking there.

It turned out to be quite a journey, more than an hour by bike each way.

I thought I would stop off first at a neighborhood bike shop, to check and see if my tire pump was working OK. After running into trouble inflating my tire the other day, and then having the bike-shop folks find nothing wrong with the tube, it later occurred to me to wonder whether the pump might be damaged in some way. How ironic would that be: that the very act of attempting to top off the pressure in my tires might be what caused them to lose all their remaining pressure?

Argh.

So I hitched up the trailer, pump inside, and headed over to Raffi’s Bicycles in Highland Park. Someone—who I’m guessing may have been Raffi himself—greeted me warmly and asked what I needed. I explained my concern, and said I just wanted to test my pump in a bike shop, so that if it ended up deflating the tire, I’d have another pump nearby to use (and purchase to replace this one.)

As it turned out, though, my pump seemed fine. He examined it visually, and said it looked OK. Then I attached it to one of the trailer wheels (figuring that would be easier for a non-Brompton-shop guy to replace than the rear wheel of the bike, in case there was a problem) and it worked just fine. Finally, he attached my pump to a tube he had sitting around in the shop, and found that it worked fine on that too.

So… I guess my mind was laid to rest, even though I’m still perplexed as to what went wrong the other day, and therefore mildly uneasy to think that the problem might recur. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t.

I spent the next hour or so cycling down to the Metro station.

I went through China Town. I passed City Hall. I went through Little Tokyo, and found a festival of some sort in progress. I overheard the music while I went to an all vegan doughnut shop (Donatsu) and got a black sesame doughnut and a churro one. Then I meandered over and happened upon a small Japanese garden! Very cool, although it didn’t appear to have an entrance; it was only for viewing from outside, apparently, at least for today.

I pressed on. The rain was gone today and the sun was out, with a high in the low 60s, but I did find that the temp seemed to vary frequently from too cold to too hot, and back again. I appreciated my layers.

I cycled through some areas of extreme poverty, with people living in tents on the street. Several of them were yelling “Happy New Year!” to each other or, in one case, to me. It felt bittersweet and sad. I wasn’t really feeling a holiday spirit.

Eventually I arrived at the light rail stop. It was above ground; I hadn’t been sure whether it might be a subway. The fares seemed reasonable, and pretty easy to get at the machine, although like so many other major cities, they require you to first pay for a plastic card, onto which you can add fare going forward. I didn’t get one, but made a note that maybe I would get one tomorrow, if I needed it.

The frequency seemed good; it seemed like trains were arriving in each direction about every ten minutes. And the boarding seemed very bike-friendly, with the floor of the cars almost exactly flush with the platform. Nice!

Having scoped it out, I turned to head back home, since the sun was starting to drop and I knew I had about an hour and a half—including some uphill—to get back.

I did decide to make a stop at a vegan restaurant on the way back, to pick up some dinner to go. I found it strangely labyrinthine and surreal to make my way to The Vegan Joint. (The naked mannequins nearby seemed both disturbing and apt as a reflection of my inner state.) When I did arrive, the street seemed weirdly deserted—as if in a post-apocalyptic filmscape—and the restaurant appeared closed. Upon closer inspection, though, I discovered it was open. The young employee inside seemed very friendly, and after poring for some time over their very extensive menu, I decided on a pumpkin curry and a slice of chocolate cake.

I was glad to have the trailer with me, to make toting this meal easy on the return trip.

Before too long, I happened past LA’s Union Station, which was a fun surprise. I did wonder if the indoor flooding from yesterday’s heavy rains had been ameliorated. That photo I saw from someone’s Twitter feed had been surreal and sobering, with passengers wading through a couple of inches of water to get to their trains. I was so glad I hadn’t been trying to push my rig through that.

I was about to encounter some weather-aftermath problems of my own, though.

As I neared the Highland Park neighborhood, Google Maps directed me down into the Arroyo Seco bike path. I hesitated a bit before descending into it; I suspected that the arroyo might not be so seco after all the rain, and I worried about getting stuck in a puddle or mucky path.

The stream running down the middle of the canal actually seemed quite manageable, though, as I joined the path, so I felt cautiously optimistic.

But before too long, I did encounter some mud that stretched across the whole path.

Great.

Deciding to proceed rather than take my chances turning around in the waning light, I pedaled through the mud. It coated all four of my tires. Ugh. I took solace in the fact that at least it wasn’t deep enough to hit the bottom of the trailer.

I pressed on, admiring the lowering sun’s rays along the path.

I suddenly had an idea: what if I could wash off all the tires in the stream? I wanted to clean them off before heading into the condo building, and I couldn’t think of another way to do it.

Right before the “exit ramp” up to the street from the path, I did exactly that. I removed each trailer wheel in turn, and walked it down to the shallow but fast-moving water, which looked pretty clear, not muddy. Each tire did indeed get pretty well cleaned this way, and I was pleased to have accomplished this. Next, I walked the bike down, and dipped each tire into the stream enough for the water to spin it around and wash off the mud.

Yes! Good! Weather, infrastructure, and ingenuity had all collaborated to solve a problem.

But then.

I don’t know if you can see it in the photo, but I biked up that exit ramp (which was sandy, and therefore undid some of my cleaning right away as the sand stuck in the grooves of the tires) and found the gates locked at the top.

What?

How could this be a thing? You can’t lock people into a bike path, can you? Was I supposed to just be stuck in that concrete canyon all night?

Argh.

Doing my best to stay calm, I looked at the map. Should I turn back? If I did, I’d lose all my progress, as well as have to go through all that mud again.

I decided to continue onward instead, even though it didn’t look like there was another exit for some time. Worst-case scenario, I figured, I would indeed just turn back and go back to the entrance I had joined the path from.

Before too long, though, I noticed a staircase.

This was not my preferred method for exiting the pathway… but I wanted to get out ASAP. Luckily the trailer was quite lightweight, with only the bike pump and my dinner inside it. I detached it and carried it up the stairs. Then I carried the bike up.

Once I got to the top, I saw that my problems were not over. If I were to go back to the place where the gate had been locked, I could see that there was another gate stretched across the path.

And I could see why: mud and rock slides. I had been a bit wary, biking in the canyon, to look up at the high walls of bare dirt and rocks. What if they came avalanching down onto me, in a rain-induced landslide??

And now, looking to the right—the direction I needed to go—I did see mud stretching along the path, as well as rocks that had indeed fallen from above.

So then I understood why the path had been blocked.

But that didn’t solve my problem; I needed to get out of there, and back home!

I decided to turn left rather than right on this upper path, hoping that eventually I could exit to a street and turn back.

But after maybe a quarter mile, I found another locked gate. No way around it.

Great.

The light was really dimming by now, too.

I turned back. I figured I would carry the rig piecemeal back down those steps again, and keep going in the canyon until I could find some way to exit.

But I passed a young couple out walking, going the opposite direction from me.

How did they get there? Where had they come from?

I asked them, and they indicated they had come from the area where I had been locked out. We went back and forth a few times, with me insisting that there was no way for me to get through, and them assuring me that there was.

I walked back to the staircase, and assessed my options.

I really wanted to get back, sooner rather than later. Reluctantly, instead of descending, I headed toward the gate, crossing my fingers that no rocks would come tumbling down the cliffs onto me. I navigated the fallen ones on the path.

Then I reached that mud.

Ohhhhh, that mud.

I didn’t want to ride the bike and trailer through it. Way too messy. (I had just cleaned the wheels!!)

I took the rig apart again, and carried first the trailer, then the bike, through it.

It was such a mess. My shoes got completely caked in the squishy mire. And then when I started biking again, there was enough mud left on the path ahead to get it all over the tires again anyway.

I ended up having to walk it around the gate, through more mud.

What a mess. My filthy shoes were now tracking it onto the pedals, too.

I exited the path onto the freeway off ramp. A car soon came up behind me, which was stressful since there was no room to pass. I hoped they weren’t drunk and/or impatient because of the holiday. Fortunately, they gave me the time to get to the end of the ramp, and onto Avenue 60.

Then I needed to stop at the grocery store again. I locked up the rig as best I could, and then tried to figure out how to navigate entering the store with my shoes caked with still-wet mud.

I wiped them on the thick rubber mat outside the store, adding brown goo to its relatively pristine blackness. I noticed that all the other customers had driven to the store. They weren’t muddy. They just walked right in. I felt like such a ragamuffin.

I took some napkins out of my backpack, and did what I could to wipe off my feet. I was having limited success, and now my hands were getting mucky too.

As I leaned into the door to throw the napkins into the trash, I noticed the container of hand-sanitizing wipes just to the right of the garbage can. Aha! This was what I needed.

I proceeded to use about a dozen of these wipes to clean off the uppers and outer soles, and then started digging into the deep grooves on the bottom, which were filled with mud.

Eventually, having removed maybe 80% of the offending material, I decided I was in good enough shape to shop. I wiped my feet again on the black rubber mat, then on the red rug-like mat inside the door. I grabbed another couple of sanitizing wipes to clean off my hands, trying to clear the black muck from under my fingernails.

I got my groceries and stood in line, hoping that my cloth mask was protecting me from the omicron that seems to be seeping around and through everyone’s masks these days.

Good lord. What a day.

I then pedaled the 200 feet up the hill. Arriving inside the lobby doors and onto the mud mat, I eyed all the tires again.

Still messy.

Ugh. I didn’t want to stain the common-area carpets. I dug out a few more napkins from my pack, and did my best to remove the worst of it. When I exited the elevator onto the carpet, I checked carefully and was pleased to see no trail of mud behind me as I wheeled the rig down the corridor.

Inside the condo, I carefully removed my shoes and the trailer, and set about enjoying the pumpkin curry and cake. Doom-scrolled Facebook for a bit, then sat around in a bit of a funk.

Yeah. Not the best New Year’s Eve, if I’m honest.

I think I’m about ready to move on to the next part of my adventure. I’m nervous about it, though, after this long and surreal rest. What does this new year hold for me? What will the road bring to me? I hope it’s good.

And I wish a not-totally-terrible 2022 to all of you.

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