Tuesday, November 1, 2005

Big Bear Lake, CA

Friends: I arrived in LA via Topanga Canyon, a ten-mile climb up from the ocean. I turned on to Ventura Blvd. It was fifteen miles to Burbank. It was a surprisingly pleasant ride with a minimum of traffic. The yellow-brown pall over the vast valley was thin enough to see through.

Leaving the city Monday morning was a different story. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper, as I made my exit via Sunset Blvd. I was hoping Sunset would go on at least as long as Ventura had, especially when it presented me with a bike lane for a spell, but it turned into Ceasar Chavez Blvd in downtown LA. I stopped to ask an LAPD officer on a motorcycle if Chavez was the best route east out of the city. He couldn't offer me anything better, but warned it would take me through East LA. "Be careful, it isn't the safest place in the universe," he said. Nothing along the way gave me any pause or any alarm. The only gangs I saw were clusters of workers hanging out in front of a couple of Home Depots looking for work. Some were straddling bicycles, ready to pedal to a work site if it weren't too distant. Since I had been comped my two days in LA by my friend who works for Warner Brothers, even put up at the company hotel, I had no need to join their ranks.

It was 72 miles of urban sprawl to San Bernardino, where I could finally start my climb out of the valley. About halfway there after Ceasar Chavez Blvd had changed names several times, it suddenly became "Historic Route 66." There was a glut of stores along the way with the road sign on their facades, trying to attract attention. The only place I stopped was at a 99 cent grocery story, the latest chain throughout California, where everything is 99 cents. I was able to restock my peanut butter, honey and bread for a quarter the price of the typical grocery store. Yogurt was 3 for 99 cents, baked beans 2 for 99 cents. Even batteries came in packs for 99
cents and boxes of cereal and 64-ounces of Hawaiian punch.

I set out at 9:30 Monday morning, after a 90-minute tour of the Warner Brothers lot. My friend Lance, who oversees the sign department and was one of my Telluride roommates this year, was just going to give me a quick look, but we both lost track of the time as we meandered from one site to another. Work starts at six a.m. for most of the people on the lot, so there was plenty of production going on already. We ducked into a giant warehouse with a 1.2 million gallon tank of water where the "Perfect Storm" was filmed and the "Poseidon Adventure" was presently being filmed. We walked through the "West Wing" set including the Oval Office, where a cluster of writers and producers were watching footage on a monitor.

We walked down side streets emulating suburbia where countless shows have been shot. We glanced in Clint Eastwood's office, a private cottage right next door to that of Stephen Soderbergh and George Clooney. Ron Silver's was nearby. Lance knew it well, as he had slipped a manuscript into his in box several years ago. When ten days later he had a message to meet him at one p.m. that afternoon Lance was certain that he was about to be fired for violating the company's policy of taking advantage of his position. There were six executives at a big conference table and they asked him to pitch his movie. Lance was totally unprepared to do that, but they were sold on it enough to give him $20,000 on the spot. He was staggered. That was three years ago. He has received a $20,000 check every year since as they continue to re-option it. If it ever gets made, Lance could have another script in the making.

Warner Brothers employs 7,000 people at this location, more people than most of the towns I have passed through in the 2,000 miles I have come so far. There is a Starbucks on the premises. There were bicycles all over the place, but no motorcycles, as they are too noisy.

I was lucky I didn't stick around for the official tour as I just made it to San Bernardino by dark. I had been hoping to climb up into the national forest, but ended up camping on a construction site.

It was a 5,000 foot climb in 14 miles to The Rim of the World Road and then another 1,000 feet up to a vantage overlooking Big Bear Lake at 6,700 feet. It was grueling enough that there was a sign at the start of the climb advising motorists to turn off their air-conditioning for the next 14 miles to avoid over-heating. That's not necessary this time of the year, but I'd like to see the cops enforce that if it were made into a law. They do enforce the seat belt law here.

Among the many things I like about cycling in California are the elevation signs in the mountains. Besides the summit elevation, there are occasional signs at 1,000 foot intervals reminding people where they are at. The first one here came at 4,000 feet.

From here I'll descend to the Mojave Desert. It has been relatively flat for ten miles along this dam made lake. But I am ready for a good descent and the emptiness of the desert once again.

Later, George

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