Day 1: Santa Monica, CA to Rialto, CA
Distance: 78.46 miles
Total climbing:2,795 feet
I believe this first day of the tour is almost entirely urban cycling, which makes it unique on this tour. We rode from one end of the Los Angeles basin to the other. That it was Easter Sunday, I think, made the trip a lot more pleasant than it would have been on most days. The route we took for the first 15 miles or so, along Santa Monica and then Sunset Boulevard, would have been next to impossible on a normal weekday.
Breakfast was at a donut shop across the street from our hotel, and people were tapping on the door at 5:28 am. Anurang and I didn’t eat a lot there because we knew that we would want to stop after about 25 miles for a proper breakfast in Pasadena. We actually started riding at 6:30 – first heading down to Ocean Avenue on Arizona Street, which is one block north of Santa Monica Boulevard (Route 66) but a lot nicer for bicycles (although traffic throughout L.A. was unusually light).
After messing about with photos at the Will Rogers Highway plaque, we headed east on Santa Monica Boulevard to begin the journey to Chicago in earnest. Of course, I forgot to reset my odometer like I was supposed to do.
We got as far as West L.A. before I insisted that we detour for a couple of blocks so that I could see whether the apartments I lived in during the 80’s were still there (they were, largely unchanged, although the neighborhood seemed to have a few more big ugly buildings in it). I wonder if people who live in L.A. are as aware of how much the place has changed in the past couple of decades as I am when I make my rare visits. Then again, I’ve changed a fair amount in that time as well.
Lon and some other folks caught up to us before we reached Beverly Hills. A few things that struck me about Santa Monica Boulevard: The pavement is in terrible condition for most of the way through Santa Monica and West L.A. It’s by and large an ugly stretch of town. As you near the Mormon Temple and Century City, there’s a lot of roadwork going on. It seems like they’re re-configuring the street – seemingly to make it more car-friendly.
Santa Monica Boulevard doesn’t exactly give a great impression of Beverly Hills, either. You do get to see City Hall and the Police Station, but most of the ch-chi stores are one block south on Wilshire.
Sooner than I expected, we reached La Cienega for our big left turn and a short but significant climb up to Sunset Boulevard. I got to watch Lon tackle what was probably a 15% grade on his Rivendell Quickbeam singlespeed. He seemed to take it in stride. I was regretting the 70 miles and 7,000 feet of climbing I had done the day before. That may be the single steepest block on this whole trip.
I don’t want to give the impression that there wasn’t any traffic at all – there was, but it was really light compared to what you’d normally find, so we were able to travel along Sunset in a relaxed manner. Someone had asked the night before whether we would see the Hollywood sign. I kept an eye out for it, and I knew that it would be visible from Gower Avenue if from anywhere, but the clouds were too low and obscured it completely. We did see Griffith Park Observatory, though. Although we were watching for it, we missed Barney’s Beanery.
Sunset eventually curves south toward downtown L.A. as it travels through Echo Park and past Dodger Stadium. We skirted east of downtown L.A. and Union Station before turning east again toward Pasadena. Somewhere in this next stretch, we had a rest stop at a local park and also passed the Santa Anita racetrack. No one seemed to want to stop, so I tried without much success to take a picture of it while holding my camera over my head (it was behind an ivy-covered fence).
When we got to South Fair Oaks Blvd, in South Pasadena, we started a long, very gradual climb toward Colorado Boulevard, which I believe is the street they have the Rose Parade on. Although today’s route was sort of “flat,” meaning there were no big climbs, there were enough stretches like this one to give us almost 2,800 feet of elevation gain. It probably feels flat if you have a tailwind (which is typical), but we actually had a slight headwind and crosswind during the early part of the day. The tailwind didn’t really kick in until the last hour or so.
Anyway, one block past Colorado Ave. (where Route 66 turns right) on Fair Oaks is a restaurant called Russell’s that my friend Eric introduced us to during this same ride five years ago. Lon, Anurang, myself and a couple of other folks decided to stop for a proper breakfast. What sold Lon on the idea, I think, is that the place opened in 1930. We’re big on history during this Pac Tour.
Nice breakfast of blueberry pancakes.
From there, it was basically back onto Colorado Boulevard for many miles of Pasadena. For the rest of the day, we were going east toward San Bernardino, but staying just a few miles south of the San Gabriel Mountains that so effectively trap the smog in the L.A. basin during the warmer months. Today was not particularly warm, but it was muggy and overcast. Arm warmers came on and off, as did my new Route 66 windbreaker.
Eventually, we wound up on Foothill Boulevard as we passed through town after town. Through most of L.A., there is very little roadside mention that one is traveling on Historic Route 66. I think I saw two signs – one of which was outside our hotel in Santa Monica. But as you travel through these foothill towns – Rancho Cucamonga, Monrovia, Azusa, Duarte, Fontana, etc., you start to see more and more signs referring to Route 66. More than one Route 66 car wash and Route 66 real estate office. I took pictures of a few representative Route 66 businesses, including the notorious “Fantasy 66 Adult Book and Video,” which is not far from our final destination today – the Wigwam Motel in Rialto. Well, they say they’re in Rialto, but they are definitely just past the city limits sign for San Bernardino.
I remember passing this place five years ago, but it was rundown at that time, and it wasn’t recommended as a place to actually stay. That year, we actually detoured five miles off the route to stay at a modern motel in San Bernardino. This Wigwam (there’s another one in Arizona that we’ll be staying in, too) is under new management, however, and it’s really quite wonderful. My only complaint: I couldn’t get the high-speed Internet access to work for more than a few moments. Not sure whether that was my fault or theirs.