Today’s ride was down to Echo Park for the fabled Fargo Street Hill Climb. Word on the street is that Fargo is the steepest hill in Los Angeles, and I’m inclined (so to speak) to believe it.
We started out going through San Marino, South Pasadena and Highland Park. We passed Flor y Canto, which is a little art gallery, bookstore and community center. We went there once to see Keith Knight, the creator of the K Chronicles.
When we got to Echo Park, there was already a big crowd at the bottom of the hill. Looking up at it I had my first “oh shit” moment. I’ve been practicing on Nolden St. in Eagle Rock, but Fargo really did look a lot steeper. I went and did a little practice run part-way up the street one block over just to see if I could turn the pedals and keep the bike moving.
When my turn came, I tried to just apply the same formula that’s worked for me many times before: just knuckle down and power straight up the hill. As programmers know, there’s often nothing better than sheer brute force to get something done. I got about half-way up the hill before the intensity of the effort caught up to me. That’s the problem with trying to apply brute strength at age 45. It was truly a struggle for survival just to turn the pedals. I knew there was no way to maintain that level of exertion, so I started to tack back and forth across the street. Then, on one of the turns, my back tire slipped. That was the end of that run. I didn’t fall, but I was forced to dismount. After a few minutes rest in someone’s driveway, I managed to get moving again and made it the rest of the way to the top. But I needed to make it non-stop to get the official patch.
After coming back down, I rested a bit and then tried again. This time I went a bit slower and tacked across the street from the start. This helped, and I made it a little farther than the first time. But still, when I was doing one of the turns, my front wheel came up off the pavement, and this time I did fall. Plop! Right down on the pavement.
I sat on the pavement for a couple minutes thinking about what a Revolting Development this was. I pulled out my camera and snapped a picture of the view from up there. It was clear, and I could see the Hollywood sign. Then I walked down, pausing for a moment to get a picture of John making his attempt at the hill. He made it about as far as I did before he slipped and fell too.
Wow. In over 30 years of riding my bike everywhere, I’ve met my match. Fargo St. is the only hill I’ve ever met that I couldn’t just grit my teeth and power up. It was humbling. On the way back, John and I were comparing notes and marveling at just how tired we were after just a few minutes of truly maximum effort. I think part of it also has to do with the ‘agony of defeat’ effect. When I used to race, whenever I won or placed highly in a race, I always felt good afterward. No matter how hard the race was, if I did well I had energy to do a little dance, spike the bike, or whatever. But defeat always left me exhausted.
So after the hill experience, we rode back by way of Griffith Park. We passed the Mulholland fountain just outside the park. A fountain seems the most fitting tribute to William Mulholland, since he brought water to L.A. and thereby made the Owens Valley what it is today. No problem of urban sprawl there, nope.
From there we went into Glendale, passing a man in a chicken suit outside El Pollo Loco. Then we went up the hill into La Crescenta. We sort of noodled around in the hills there a bit before heading into Montrose and stopping at a bakery there. Then we headed home up “Hospital Hill” and back down the hill into Pasadena.