Some Saturday morning, fate might find you in Ventura County traveling through lowlands empty and silent except for mingled strings of cyclists who call out "On your left" as they pass each other on the road. These riders will look as weary and depleted as the afterthought of a marine weather layer deposited over their heads or the distant sun behind it, but they'll move with a sure sense of heading. They'll know they are close to the end.
For a couple more hours, these cyclists will still pause at a handful of stops just off the road, each announced one mile ahead on a folding white sign like you'd see on a Hollywood sidewalk. (The AIDS/LifeCycle rest-stop sandwich board is letter A in a private alphabet of pointers and warnings posted on stop signs and exit signs from the San Francisco peninsula to Westwood. You probably wouldn't notice unless you're supposed to.) They'll park their bikes and drink electrolyte drinks, or water, or electrolyte drinks mixed with water. They'll stretch sore necks and upper backs and they'll reapply their sunblock. They'll snack on pretzels, Goldfish crackers, bananas, oranges, ClifBars, cereal bars, granola bars, graham cracker sandwiches, peanuts, sunflower seeds, trail mixes, raisins, fruit snacks and Oreos. They'll take pictures.
They will not, tonight, arrive in a fairgrounds or a park to raise their tents and shower in trucks. They will not swarm mystically to the one working electrical outlet in camp, at the foot of a gazebo, to form a chain of power strips and plug in their cellphones. They will not show their wristband in the dinner line. Non-vegetarians will not try -- in vain -- to sneak vegetarian meals. The head of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, Lorri Jean, will not bound onto the stage to warble "HELLO RIDERS!" and then "HELLO ROADIES!" into the microphone during the dinner program. "Glee" cast members will not appear on video in a message of support. The riders will not prepare their headdresses, or regular dresses, or full-size E.T. dolls, for the next day's ride. They will not fall asleep in a blooming midnight garden of eccentric snores.
And tomorrow they will not attack some upward feature of the terrain whose name -- Quadbuster, the Evil Twins -- is always pronounced with sorrow and dread. They will not curse a brutal headwind on a back road between vineyards. They'll spend no more after-lunch hours in a desaturated landscape of California golds: neon-blond carpet flowing under willows and cypress, swarthy fleece blanket over soft-focus hills, pasture in which green tea might just have steeped for 15 seconds, fallow field. They will not dance mid-afternoon in the courtyard of Mission San Miguel. They will not ride past black cattle grazing under a white sun.
Among this pack, pedaling the Ventura road, your thoughts may wander. To a hamburger, normally, or a bed -- but no, this is Day 7, and as you bicycle your thoughts will wander to other sites of bicycling, to favored routes and memorable skies. To 50 hours later, when your stomach has settled and the day is bright and you get on your bike and ride, up past Dodger Stadium and down along the concrete channel of the Los Angeles River to the north side of Griffith Park. The observatory calls. Stroll the flats, wind the curve. Cross the gate, and climb.
-- Michael Owen
Top: Cyclists proceed Saturday from the finish line in Westwood to the closing ceremony. Left: A steep curve in Griffith Park. Credit: Michael Owen