As Portland slipped back into its cyclical exit and re-entry to winter, Joel and I found ourselves prepared for spring training in Oregon, bare arms and legs donned, only to be thwarted back into sub-freezing temperatures. Our bags hastily packed, we headed to Los Angeles to seek sunny refuge from the type of cold that leaves you with not enough feeling in your hands to even clasp a zipper. While most of our riding in Southern California consisted of coastal miles and seemingly endless climbs, we took a day to explore the LA Arts district by bike.
"Choosing the LA Arts District for one of these exploratory rides proved more insightful to the city's character than expected."
Facilitating exploration as part of a recovery ride is one of my favorite parts of riding in a new city. It gives you the chance to look at your surroundings from a new lens, where normally I'm trying to get the most out of every opportune training road in the area, acutely aware of exactly how many minutes of rest I have before my next interval starts, and at times transfixed at the numbers ticking away on my computer. On recovery rides, however, I leave my ride computer at home, bring cash for a coffee stop or lunch, and ride a more relaxed pace to look around and get the feel of the neighborhood. Not to mention seeing how many Ford Broncos years 82-88 I can count.
Choosing the LA Arts District for one of these exploratory rides proved more insightful to the city's character than expected. We chose this area with intent, to take a look at an area so widely known for its uniquely beautiful murals, but noticed that something which made the artwork even more compelling was the disparity in aesthetics of the area. On one block, the entire side of a three story brick building is dressed in portraits, intricate graffiti, and complete geometric patterns. Directly across the street, men slowly pick their way through a demolished car salvage lot. A building with numerous loading docks, transformed into lively business fronts and plastered with original murals and even sculpture, sits across the alley from a similar freight building, condemned and fully boarded up. The stark contrast between visuals that reflected growth, rejuvenation, and intent against the neglected and disheveled landscape make the LA Arts District distinctly unique from any other neighborhood in Los Angeles.
Not only does it make this area unique, but it revealed to me something I hadn't identified in cycling itself: our ability to find and create beauty in the broken. We set out on artistically created machines, gracefully sweeping through the terrain and riding the ebbs and flows of the roads to seek solitude, all the while navigating demolished roads an dodging traffic to engage in the gritty, ugly act of self induced suffering on the bike. Much like the immaculate works of art peppered amongst the decrepit industrial warehouses in the LA Arts District, we ride through, and away from, the oppressions of traffic and construction as beacons of freedom and expression.
As we head back North for what will inevitably be fairly colder weather, we take with us this new perspective of the ways in which cycling contributes to the dynamics around us, and we're reminded to take a day to slow down and ride with a more critical eye every once in a while. Next stop: the mountains!
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