Archive for the ‘west coast’ Category

west coast freight

In leaving, portland, san fran, travelling, west coast on December 9, 2010 at 1:09 pm

The 18hr train journey to Portland doesn’t start auspiciously. After hopping onto the bus from the ferry building in downtown San Francisco and traveling across the bay bridge to Emeryville (home of Pixar) we get to the station and are informed there has been an incident with a trespasser and the train at San Luis obispo, where I’d stopped earlier in the month, on the drive up to san francisco to have coffee and cake with Alex who I’d met in Bariloche.

The train was going to be two hours late, it was already ten o’clock at night. But what can you do, I sigh and look around at the other passengers waiting to board and I pull out the very large book that I’d snagged from the hostel in Los Angeles, which I’m close to finishing and glad to be so as I have another three books in the bag which needed to be read, which I’d actually bought and needed to be read so I could lighten the load.

Amtrak trains are on two levels, seating at the top and various things on the bottom, restrooms (don’t call them toilets, it upsets the average American) baggage, spaces for decades old arcade machines, played by young children, little shops for snacks and sundries. The seats are big, but old and cranky, they don’t recline all the way back and the pillows are slow in coming and there’s no blanky but the air-conditioning is set at an acceptable level, not too hot and not too cold.

But the views out of the wide window make up for it, tall green trees, acres of land with sprinklers flicking water across them, wide lakes stretching to a partially snow capped mountain on the horizon. Verdantly green triangular hills which remind me of volcanoes slumbering, ready to erupt again. Swathes of crushed, jagged rocks, across which the tracks of our train are raised, long dark tunnels through which your ears throb and pop.

Spindly trees line the course of the journey, thick and seemingly impenetrable, stretching away into the distance that you cannot see. Dappled sunlight seeps through cascading through the carriage dancing across flesh and foam, reflecting off the metal surfaces it alights on. The tracks follow the course of rivers and creeks, occasionally we cross and recross them, the sparkling water spilling out over rocks and fallen trees, as the day slowly awakens as the unblanketed occupants awaken, the red/purple sky strip of light swollen in the darkness.

Listen to the endless requests for reservations for the dining car, the reiteration of rules and regulations, the 2nd call for those who haven’t made their way to breakfast, lunch and if there are any other untoward stops, dinner. If I had my way the voice behind the calls would be crushed like a tin can beneath the thumb of a giant.

Trains in the states are slow, lumbering beasts, freight trains as I find out in Portland, are miles long, the railway lines in fact generally belong to freight companies and freight trains have priority. And standing at a railway crossing waiting for a freight train to pass can take a very long time. Time to break out the book or portable games unit. So the train rolls slowly, the old rolling stock not making it any faster, but its fun in a honey way, you give up on your own time constraints, and desires. The train will get there when it gets there and there’s nothing you can do about it, apart from quiet your buzz and sit in your chair. Which is what I do.

Sit and watch the time pass slowly through the ever changing view offered me by the windows either side.

America feels on that grand level now, like Argentina did as I swooped along the roads on the luxury buses. Big and vast and awe-inspiring, as you wonder what it must have been like way back when, when all you had was a horse-drawn cart and weeks and weeks to travel down a non-existent trail from one part of the state to the other. Now we can move so easily across states it makes a mockery of the hard work and effort and sacrifice that others made to make it possible.

I take a couple of photo’s and wander down the length of the train, try not to think about the rumbling in my stomach and hope that Nicole is there to meet me when I get to Portland.

PS fingers crossed the bike makes it in one piece. I’m pretty sure it will, but you never know, would be just my luck to have the bike get fucked as I travel through america rather than Argentina and Brazil.

San Francisco vol3

In eat drink man woman, out and about, san fran, stateside, west coast on December 9, 2010 at 12:46 pm

My stay in Berkeley will forever be linked to the mournful note of the train horns, as they passed along the tracks to the station close by, late at night, they would flower out, and I’d lie and try to hear the chitterclatter of the trucks rolling across the railings.

That and the sound of skateboards doing their own imitation of trains as they chased their shadows across the creases in the sidewalk. Nothing to remind you that you’re not in Blighty, but the sight and sound of some fresh-faced youths, or not so fresh-faced men pushing themselves along, before the glide begins, hips pushed forwards even as they lean back and bend their knees. Ah California’s love affair with the skateboard, for brief envious moments as I watch them slide past, I want to regress back to my childhood so I could put the hours in getting to a level of competence well above where I am now, which is rolling for a couple of steps before falling off.

Late nights by the water, with the lights reflected in the Bay, lovers whisper of a breeze, fluttering over your flesh. Getting a bit nippy, but just a thin merino jumper (thank you uniqlo) suffices to keep the chill away.

Enjoy a couple of drunken nights out in San Francisco, one when I’m still staying in Berkeley and the BART finishes running at about midnight I think. And I’m immensely glad that I got the number of the bus that runs back from town. Only when I put my bike in the rack on the front and settle back into my seat, drowsy with the alcohol, do I realise I have no idea which way this bus is going to get back to Berkeley and on top of that I have no idea whether I’ll be able to recognise where I’m staying once I get there. 

Bus takes me over the Bay Bridge, so far so good, then heads down the freeway and before you know it we’re in Oakland and apart from my daylight jaunt to Bakesale Betty’s none of this looks familiar, bus is on the fuller side with people sleeping, listening to iPods, chatting amongst themselves, and I’m staring out the window trying to figure out where I am, who knew the bus would roll through Oakland first.

Cue a good half an hour of fretting, and nervous neck twisting,  and finally sight is caught of a landmark I know and I’m sighing withe relief and looking for whatever I have to pull to get this bus to stop.

2nd, I get a call from Sacha, friend of a friend whose out with some friends in the Mission District, and I’m now staying in the Tenderloin, right in the heart of town and its no big leap to head out to see him and drink a couple. Once again I’m seduced by the simple act of riding a bike through the darkened streets. Loving the wide roads, the reminder to look out for the tram lines, and just the general feeling of those late night runs to someplace new, to drink and carouse, and just have fun. Also the knowledge that I won’t have to do anything but ride back to the hostel makes it a whole load more inviting.

So end up in this bar in the Mission, drinking cider, making small talk with the barmaid, over something that seemed really interesting at the time, but which I can’t quite put my finger on. Knocking back shots of rum, and defending the going out side of London from the table of Americans. My only point on that is DO NOT GO OUT DRINKING IN SOHO! Do Not Want! Just go to Shoreditch and Brick Lane and get twisted there, cheaper – relatively – and it’ll go on for longer, and if you want to be a dirty stop out in hopes of performing the walk of shame there are places where you can continue drinking into the wee hours.

After the drinking, I expected to ride straight back to the hostel but got the rumbletums, saw some bright lights and what do you know ended up in the Californian equivalent of the kebab shop, filled with as many drowsily drunken people as you could swing a stick out, as I leant across the counter, and ordered a couple of burritos’ before sitting and waiting like everyone else for the foil wrapped food present to make its way to me. I’m pretty sure I ate it when I got back to the hostel. Ahhh yes I remember now, everyone was in the downstairs kitchen, well six or seven people and drinking games were ensuing, and I just wanted to devour my burritos in peace, though I did drink a beer that someone offered me. Good Times!

On close to my last day in town I decided to ride the cable car, the bike was all bagged up, and where I was staying if you walked up the hill you got to a cable car stop, which then proceeded to take you down the steep ass hill, with a rattle and clank of chains as us tourists hung on the side, taking photo’s and being told not to stand in the entrance/exitway. For such an archaic piece of machinery, it does the job, and its nice to just stand on there and watch the slow descent down to the water, down past the edge of Chinatown, and into the more professional business section, skyscrapers ahoy.. It just feels like one of those things I have to do, and having missed out on the Alcatraz tour, those mothers get booked up early, it makes me feel as if I actually spent time in San Francisco and got a glimpse of how living here on the regular would feel.

Round the corner from me, hey that’s what happens when your hostel is located right slap bang in the center of town, is a pretty good Diner that has been recommended in my guide-book, so I’m in there like swimwear and eating, the scrambled eggs, bacon and home fries like there’s no tomorrow, sat right up at the counter with the short order cook, working right in front of me. It’s a cosy place and there’s a queue outside, which takes ten/fifteen mins to negotiate as eaters finally relinquish their space. The foods great, you can’t really mess with the all american diner experience and it’s always good to watch your cook sweat over a hot stove, right there in front of you, see the skill with which he works the skillet, and the custom of the never let it run out coffee refills, is manna from heaven for the coffee addict.

7 heaven

In san fran, stateside, tunnnneeeee!, west coast on December 6, 2010 at 11:57 am

This is for the crate diggers with the dusty fingers. The ones who scrabble around charity shops, and haunt record shops, hunched over fingers flicking, trawling, looking for the perfect circle of vinyl.

I’m an interloper, a faker, I gave all my records away and I never paid for any of them anyway. Back when I was young and didn’t have writers block and I interviewed all those Drum and Bass boys, and briefly thought that being a music journalist was the way to go, but not really, because the pay was abysmal and I was always happier faking, creating illusions, fictions, than having to transcribe the thoughts of those who made music but couldn’t talk about it.

So I haunt record shops, my collection of music all digital, streamed and downloaded, ripped and playlisted. But record shops draw me back, the atmosphere, the reverence, the alphabetizing, the genre’s the flyers, the posters, the t-shirts, the music that drives all of them. Never buying a record but enjoying inhaling the musk of desire, the male passion for completion, for discovery, for searching for searchings sake, just in case.

And the record stores out here are ripe for it, small nooks, that will capture a certain collector/curator’s heart and have them coming back again and again. The neat rows, the extra boxes on the lower shelves, the sheer mass of vinyl contained therein. The independence of each one, a space all its own, like the local bike shops we so adore, and patronise on the regular.

Ah record stores how we love thee… 

San Francisco vol2

In all about the ride, eat drink man woman, out and about, san fran, stateside, travelling, west coast on December 6, 2010 at 11:34 am

So I’m in Berkeley and its nice, got a real laid back charm, probably from it being a university town, the campus itself isn’t far from where I’m staying, right before some hills stop your forward path, all cut lawns and open space, with big old stone buildings.

Berkeley’s more constant inclines than steep ascents, and what you think is just a leisurely rise, soon turns into something a bit more teeth grinding, but the traffic is well-trained and I’m enjoying just tooling around. I get the BART into San Francisco on more than one occasion and let it whisk me into the heart of the city. And as with most buses on the west coast they come rigged with bike racks on the front which you can shove your bike onto and sit back and relax as it takes you back to the wherever you need to be.

Kyle from Trackasaurus Rex/Orange 20, back in LA has told me about this place out in Oakland, called Bakesale Betty’s which does the greatest fried chicken sandwich. Kyle does not stint on his praise of this sandwich and told me that I would be remiss if I didn’t try it. So come the weekend, cometh the jaunt down into Oakland, google directions, written onto a slip of paper, as I try to remember which straight road I’m supposed to ride down.

Crisply, affluent Berkeley slides into more down at heel Oakland, and the road seems to go on forever and I’m counting crossroads, trying to make sure I get the right turning. The sun for once has come out. Its been grey in Berkeley and its been getting to me, the dreariness, just sitting there in a washed out sky, it hasn’t been as warm as LA and I’ve been pondering wearing more than my regulation t-shirts and shorts.  But the sun comes out and it is glorious, pitched against a picture perfect blue sky and soft tremulous fluffy white clouds.

After a small detour round a bit of strip mall, it shouldn’t even be described as a strip mall, it’s on a junction, big car park, set of businesses arranged along the junction. It looks kind of like a smaller version of an industrial estate, just businesses backing onto a shared car park. I ride round it, and see the queue before I see Bakesale Betty’s.

Motherfucker is down the block, and it’s not just long, its two/three/four people deep. There’s a stretch of ironing boards set up as tables, which are all in use as people scoff their sandwiches, and I’m starving just looking at them.

I’m not even going to try and pretend, or extend the suspense, the sandwich was better than advertised with a lovely citrus dressing on the masses of lettuce salad that comes with. It takes a good half an hour to eat, and every bite is glorious. The cookies that I purchase at the same time are something special as well..

The Haight:

To get upto Golden Gate Bridge, I ride upto Haight Ashbury, and the drag of shops and bars and diners and restaurants along that thoroughfare is crowded whenever I make the journey. But I come to like this part of town not for that drag, but the neighbourhood that leads upto it, the lazy Bohemianism, the casual slightly sleazy charm, the record shops that spring up, specialising in funk and soul, and other things, but who cares about those. They are the quintessential record shops of your dreams, and I don’t even collect records. Quiet, crate digging affairs, with quality vintage posters and charisma by the wall load. Just being there made me want to spend money on vinyl that I would never play.

And the bars and the murals that dot the wall along that side of town just add to the feeling of creativity and social rebellion.


One morning I wake up and decide its time to go to the cinema. Toy Story 3’s been out for a while and I’m going to see it, morning screenings are cheapest and I’m donning a pair of 3d glasses in a deliriously empty cinema. It’s as if I’m a VIP and they’ve cleared the room for me.

Now some of you may know I am a big Pixar fan, from way back in the day with Luxo Jr, and Red’s Dream, and where I’m staying in Berkeley is just down the road from Pixar (obviously this is America and just down the road means an entirely new town, but what the hey). But I don’t make the pilgrimage, I’ll tell you the Roni Size fanboy moment that still fills me with embarassment another time, to explain why I don’t.

But Toy Story is a joy, and I’m enraptured immediately, just the whole coming of age thing, and the evilness of the pink bear, and the passing on from one generation the next. Just plain flawless, I’m still not sure whether they’ll ever be able to top the first dialogueless opening to UP, but there isn’t a week film in the Toy Story Trilogy and how often can you say that about a movie trilogy. toy story 3 empty cinema.

Coast road:

So to get to Golden Gate Bridge, I’m riding through Golden Gate Park, where deep in the center is a  fine art gallery/museum, a rusting hulk of deep brown metal and glass atria, with a spectacular view-point at the top of a tower, more about that later, and opposite it San Francisco’s natural history museum, this lovingly crafted steel construction, topped with a green eco roof, attempting to make sure it has a tiny, tiny carbon footprint. you ride past both of these and then take a road which curves and dips, away to the left which brings you out by the water’s edge finally. The road that winds along, though relatively not that windy, runs along the high bluff, with a drop to the blustery beach, to the left and across the road, a slice of greenery snakes along, with a bike path running its length. The further along the road you ride, the further out the green tufted dunes spread, sending a fine then heavier deposit of sand across the road. The breeze isn’t too strong and I’m not trying to pull too hard, and as usual its just nice to roll along, no particular destination in mind, just follow the road for as far as it goes. Attempting to look over the dunes to the ocean that is ever constant on my right side.

When I get to the end of the road, which takes a turn inland, at a boarded off junction, where some road works are being completed. I sit, drink some water and just watch the people walking along on the sand. It’s another grey day in San Francisco and looking out across the waves it feels like the sun’s never going to shine again.

The ride back I make along the bike path, which is higher up than I’d at first thought and allows me a better view of the ocean and a chance to commune with and avoid fellow cyclists, and joggers. To my right, hidden previously from me by the cycle path and the greenery growing on it is a long row of two storey houses, that sit along a smaller arterial road. Each one looks like it’s been drawn by a child, sloped roof, windows and doors making a face. I wonder what its like to live so close to the sea, to smell it and feel it and hear it, but not be able to see it over the dunes. How frustrating would that be? Would it frustrate me.

I eat one of the biggest wrapped sandwiches I’ve ever ordered, several different types of meat, twisted around cheese slices, and sip on a coffee as reward for the ride I’ve just made…

san fran bike shops

In all about the ride, bike, san fran, stateside, west coast on December 6, 2010 at 9:38 am

San francisco is a single speed/geared kind of town and when you see the hills which rear up into view you can understand why.

But more than being a type of bike kind of town, it is a bike town, small enough to be easily navigable and with a vocal enough bike lobby to have made the bike voice heard loudly and clearly. The bike is in the ascendency here, bike lanes, bike racks on buses, spaces on metro’s, more bike shops than you can shake a stick at, and all kinds of bikes circulating across town, day and night.

San Francisco is a city at peace with its cycling inhabitants and the car gives way to the bike at every intersection, and the bike lanes are many and wide. It’s easy to ride here, so I do, over the slight inclines and declines, trying to avoid the steep spikes which hem in certain parts of the city. Down long thoroughfares, boulevards, avenues. Enjoying being part of the multitudes, enjoying being anonymous, just another cyclist. No stares, no doubletakes, no jeers, or ironic cheers, just people making space for the cyclist.

The bike shops are myriad and varied, from designed and curated spaces, to overflowing bits shoved into as many corners as possible. But what each of them has is that American desire to please, greeted on entry, and knowledgeable staff who put you at your ease when asking questions. And despite the disparity in size and stock, each and every one feels like a local bike shop, this is the equivalent of going looking for a bar in Berlin, where everyone is a one-off down some alley or under an arch, the same is true of the bike shops in San Francisco.

Everyone rides everything here and though I’m sure it’s there, I don’t get any sense of snobbery, or disdain for what people ride. Everyone’s still got to get over the peaks, that split San Francisco.

I spend afternoons, tooling around, looking at the fixed bikes rolling past, and heading over to Haight Ashbury, picking a route that avoids the steep bits, only to take a turn and there jutting upwards is the type of hill, I’d been trying to avoid, and its a red-faced surge to try to get up it.

Don’t buy into the hype, the hills in San Fran are steep, and don’t get me wrong they do feel scary when you approach them and they loom ominously in front of you, but every block they plateau so the impartial grid, that was so unceremoniously dumped onto the uneven, lumpy landscape, provides an escape a level section to catch the breath before charging on, out of the saddle, stomping hard, heaving from side to side. Making the journey to Haight Ashbury was one of the most rewarding rides of my journey, because you knew as soon as you got to the top, that on the way back it’d be all downhill, riding the brake obviously, as those crossroads that had provided such eager release and sanctuary, now provided the opportunity to be sideswiped by oncoming traffic if you didn’t get the lights right, as you spent all attention to the spinning of your legs…

Bike wise San Francisco felt pretty unique, in that so many people were riding bikes, of all different shapes and sizes on a regular basis. No fanfare, no look we’re riding bikes, just riding them to go to the shops, to go to work, to go to school, to go out drinking. Just riding. And the range of bike shops had grown to accommodate that as well. Wish we had such a diverse range of bike shops in London, rather than the hegemony of the Evans and Cycle Surgeries, that dot the landscape.


In leaving, los angelenos, san fran, stateside, west coast on December 6, 2010 at 8:39 am

So I decided early on in the planning stages to make the west coast part of the journey include a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway, the 1, which imaginatively runs along the Pacific Coast, from LA to San Francisco.

It had been recommended by a couple of friends and it was something I felt I had to do. Obviously I’d have loved to have done it in an open-topped convertible, big muscle car engine, wind across my bald scalp, big beats spilling out of the ride. But needs must and funds were drawing tight. So I opted for a ford focus, nice engine, air-conditioned, lots of boot space, and the pre requisite of a cable to connect iPod to the stereo.

Drove down with a friend, who’d travelled over from New York to join the road trip from LA to San Fran, where’d we be spending some time with long-lost west coast friends, and spent the first part of the day, listening to the first of the world cup quarter finals, as we made the slightly torturous way out of Venice Beach to get to the PCH proper.

The drive was going to be split, across two days, as we were booked into a hotel in wonderfully wooded Big Sur. My only plan for the following day was to be in a town with a TV showing Spain vs Germany in the morning, grabbing breakfast during the game and finishing off the drive to San Francisco by the early afternoon.

So lets not pussy foot about, LA was still swathed in the grey june gloom, making everything look flat and tepid. But you know what it didn’t make a difference. The PCH winds around some of the most beautiful coastline, ups and downs, moving from a dual carriageway, into a single lane either way as you clawed up the cliff side, with vegetation brushing the passenger door as a lane away the ground dropped away tumbling into the ocean, whose waters were a roilingboiling grey.

The Focus was an automatic and all I had to do was step on the gas and then on the break, piss easy. But the steep climbs and descents and following drivers who were constantly riding the brake, when their was no need, meant you had to be more alert than I initially thought I’d needed to be. And the ever present cliff side sliding away to the left was enough to concentrate the mind.

The whole drive reminded me of the drive I’d done previously in New Zealand, down the west coast of the south island. New Zealand was more jaw droppingly beautiful and savagely vibrant, than this one, the greens, blues and grays punishingly pure and clean, even through the rains that swelled and slapped on the roof, the windscreen, the bonnet. Here on this west coast the vertical challenges of the route were just as interesting, just as visually fulfilling, even if the landscape wasn’t as saturated with colour.

Pulled into Big Sur, fairly drained, without actually realising how draining it had been, took a shower, managed to grab something to eat, even though pretty much everything in the vicinity of the hotel closed at ten, and slept the sleep of the just.

Woke up bright and early and set out to find a Carmel, Clint Eastwood’s old fiefdom, which was an hour or so down the road, and driving round the picturesque place for a couple of minutes, searching for parking whilst simultaneously trying to see if I could spy a sign heralding the world cup being shown somewhere. Found a car park without too much trouble and then headed off to find the TV and food, giving me a chance to have a quick look at Carmel.

Carmel is one of those sleepy, quaint towns, one of those places which has some sort of heritage committee to keep it clean and pretty, and everyplace up to spec. Walking round it and the signs for the shops and eateries, made me aware of how constricting growing up in a place like this could be. Obviously I was just roaming through the pretty shopping district that made up its heart, where the tourists who’d travelled down the PCH would stop off and water and buy artifacts of their time on the road, and enjoy the prettiness of it, the cultured manneredness of it. I on the other hand found it a mite artificial.

But I wasn’t looking for a home away from home, I was looking for the football. Stopped into a place and was pointed up the road in the direction of a couple more establishments. Didn’t find the ones I was told about, but found a diner/restaurant with a big HD screen and an American owner who was rooting for Germany. I was for Spain, as I’d stuck my neck out and predicted them pre tournament even when faced with the scepticism of a west ham fan in new Zealand who’d said this would be Carlo Tevez’s tournament to shine, my faith in Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Torres, Alonso, Fabregas and the rest didn’t falter.

I then proceeded to live and die with the team, the only one apart from two german girls who arrived after half time who had any appreciation or interest in the football.  On a side note it’d been easy enough throughout my time in the states to find somewhere to watch the world cup matches, most bars and diners came equipped with a big screen showing some sort of sport, and I’d been converted in LA to the joys of watching sports in HD, making a nonsense of the inbuilt fear I’d have to spend ages tracking down a small bastion of football fever in the land of gridiron.

So with me yelling, stifling yells, and being alternately stared at, or ignored by the patrons, I managed to get through the match without swearing too much or antagonizing too many disinterested parties, though I like to think that my enthusiasm swayed some of them to see football as an interesting/exciting sport.

So it’s back on the road and we’re heading swiftly onto San Francisco, we’re staying with a friend out in Berkeley and we deviate quickly from the PCH , get a bit lost trying to hit a freeway despite some good directions and then hit proper Freeway madness on the way into the Bay Area. The solitude and singlepath of the PCH is left behind and even though we’re making swifter time, the ducking in and out of traffic around me, reminds me of why I don’t generally enjoy travelling on the shortest routes between places by car.

We slip off the six lanes of highway and into a quieter neighbourhood, the Freeway a high concrete embankment away. And just like that we’re in Berkeley

critical mass west coast style

In all about the ride, los angelenos, travelling, west coast on December 2, 2010 at 1:27 pm

People are starting to arrive, the trix boys are first, pulling wheelies and keo spins, the crowd as it grows seems to me to be defiantly young. Fixed, single speed is for the young, the flexible, most of the kids are rocking conversions with one piece cranks and rattlecan paintjobs, or a sprawl of stickers. More people come, rocking gears, old school racers, new school racers, girls on mountain bikes. There’s a man with a booming voice from channel 4 news whose interviewing cyclists and the police. He’s older, grey hair, a badly fitting suit, and a female cameraman whose eyes dart over the crowd looking for cutaways and nice shots to fill the spaces of the interviews.

There aren’t many of us when Newsman arrives and he asks me for an interview, I politely decline, then change my mind, as much as I don’t like being in front of camera, having worked in TV for as long as I have, I’m generally not down with being edited and shortened and soundbites cut out of longer responses. But what the hey, I’m on the otherside of the world, whose going to see it that I know. So I answer his fairly mundane questions, the sort of questions that non cyclists generally ask, about danger and risk, and why you want to ride in the first place. All I’m trying to tell him, that riding a bike brings me joy, and I wouldn’t be taking a bike around the world with me if I didn’t. And in all honesty the traffic in LA isn’t that bad, the roads, now thats another matter, but the traffic, nah..

Did I not tell you about the police this is the first mass with police outriders, there are fifteen/twenty of them standing waiting for the mass to start. More people turn up, on bikeboom, a local cycling website, the ride was down as between 6-8, and I mistakenly thought that was the time of the ride, but as I sit here and more and more cyclists appear I realise that actually this is the meet window and the ride will start after 8.

Listening to conversations it seems that people are expecting upwards of two hundred people, do we get that many at mass in London? More/less. The mass isn’t for me in London, to slow, too many people, too much anti car, eco rhetoric. So many different ideologies stuffed into the bulging sock that is critical mass, a bike ride to raise the profile of cycling, which nowadays only seems to be there to provide group dutch courage to those who have issues with cars and drivers and an arena to vent spleen on them.

My attention is diverted by a chubby red headed policeman having a go on a tall bike, cheers and whistles ring out. After riding round in a stately circle he safely dismounts.

I take a quick walk round, the amount of people feels like four hundred to five hundred. As we ride we stretch down the long boulevards taking up the road to the horizon. With this many people I thought the pace would be slow, but it’s not, it’s consistently swift, think a bridges ride without the sprints from every light or over the bridges, it’s nice I can stretch the legs, feel like I’m putting in the miles, just sitting in the saddle turning the pedals, pushing uphill, spinning downhill.

The rides full of all sorts of bikes, there’s a couple with a full suspension tandem mountain bike. Lots of fixed conversions, a dolan track champion, a tt lo pro, some kids on bikes a size or two too big for them, seatpost pushed all the way down and their crotch is still banging the top tube when they get out of the saddle to hoof it. The group is big and the police provide a loud and efficient outriding unit, blocking off traffic and allowing us to jump reds with impunity. But the young riders are restless, constantly crossing into oncoming traffic, rushing the kerb and skidding like a babies nappy. The level of group riding competence and awareness is all over the shop and i’m just looking out for number one, keeping my mouth closed and my eyes open.

There are several accidents which I don’t see, but I do see the aftermath, bodies lying on the floor, bikes twisted and bent. The most serious is supposedly the result of a hit and run. I rubberneck as the train passes by and then I’m heading off to some new part of Los Angeles. We ride far and wide, through Beverly hills, passing big shiny bright malls, bars with the friday night crowd outside dressed up as if they were going to a wedding. Everywhere we go, whoops and yells follow, horns are tooted and ulations chorus from throats, hands raised high. For tonight we are superstars, as we roll down Hollywood boulevard, the flashes going off are capturing our image, rather than the latest starlet, shouts of “what is this? What are you doing?” are flung at us. But no one replies “having fun” for that is what we are doing, riding our bikes, a cycling anaconda, weaving left and right, buoyed with the joy of cycling with others, even if most of them are a danger to themselves and anyone else around them.

We stop at a big park, the grove i think it’s called, the first rest stop of the night, we are splayed across two sidewalks, the road and the parkland verges. Drivers lean on their horns in annoyance as the police hold them back.

As we ride, I squeeze myself to the front, making up ground on those who choose our course. Not wanting to be stranded in a splinter group at the back and having to figure out exactly where I am after the disorientating journey i’ve been on. So I stick doggedly with the front, threading myself through the riders around me, the talkers and the skidders, the sprinters and the no handed merchants. We pass streets that I know and have ridden down, but these roads look different, I am at strange ends of them, in different parts of town, western av, Melrose, wilshire, hollywood.

The police disappear for a while, and we are left free to choose our own course with no police interference, it seems there is some jurisdictional politics going on and the police won’t follow us into this part of town. I have a quick chat with a young guy on a tall bike, who rides serenely alongside me, yelling at others in front of him as the river of bikes becomes an accordion being pushed together, as everytime we slow and come to a halt he has to make preparations to leap down. I ride with an older english pilot, in his fifties, who carries a loud hailer and uses the crispness of his english accent to yell “wanker” at some of the younger riders. He is witty and articulate and we share the road for a pace before a sprint starts and there is confusion over which way we should be going, the peloton splits and loudhailer manb goes straight ahead and I plunge to my left to head with the main pack.

We roll on and on through the night and I wonder whether it will ever stop, whether the ride continues till its last rider pedalling. But eventually we pull over into a carpark of a strip mall in a part of town that i recognise. And I bail, because I can see this ride going on for a long time and my map only stretches so far…