Trip Report: Dirt Mulholland
This past weekend, Laura and I did a ride that I had been really curious about for the last few months, ever since I heard about “dirt Mulholland.” There is a stretch of this famous road that crosses the Hollywood hills and Santa Monica mountains that is closed from vehicular traffic. The pavement ends and Mulholland becomes a fire road that leads up to an old Nike Missile site from the Cold War days.
Of course, living in Long Beach, getting to the beginning of the ride was a little of a technical challenge. We hopped the Metro Blue line to the Red Line and detrained right smack in the middle of Hollywood.
I took the obligatory photo in front of the Chinese Mann Theater (the first ever tourist photo with a Bilenky cargo bike in front of the Mann)! Then we hit the road. Hollywood Blvd. was closed for some movie silliness so it made for some nice riding to La Brea. Once we turned North into the hills via La Brea the climbing began in earnest. After a turn or two we were on Outpost, a small street that goes all the way to Mulholland. It was short, probably 1.7 miles, but it was steep and was a gut buster with the touring load. Funny enough, Outpost would turn out to be the steepest bit of riding we would do for the two days.
Once we were actually on Mulholland proper, the riding was rather nice. We appeared to be on a ridge for a while and we undulated above Los Angeles, stopping at scenic “views.” It was hot and the city was socked in with some man made fog. Mulholland during this early stretch was a smallish two lane road with a little bit of shoulder. Despite that, it was very pleasant to ride on. The traffic was light and polite. Everyone passed courteously for the most part and we didn’t get a single honk while we were on Mulholland.
There were a few scenic outlooks that had benches and one had a water fountain (which was a good thing on such a hot day). We stopped a few times to have a snack of some jamon serrano and parmesian reggiano on a tortilla.
When we finally crossed the 405, Mulholland became a bit more interesting. It climbed for a stretch and finally turned into “dirt.” We were at the top of a hill and at a fork in the road.
Going left led to the Nike missile site and going straight was dirt Mulholland. We took a quick rest stop at the missile site, which had a bathroom, water fountain and much welcomed shaded picnic area. We hung out there for about a half hour trying to cool off. In that time a half dozen or so mountain bikers came and left. It was a popular spot. We got the incredulous looks that we were now use to. First people were surprised that anyone would want to ride through that area on loaded bikes (without any suspension nonetheless), then they were doubly aghast when they realized I was riding a strange looking cargo bike.
Dirt Mulholland was pretty hard packed that day with only a few stretches of sketchy gravel. There were medium size ruts running perpendicular to the road that we had to negotiate, but nothing too crazy. I had the interesting predicament of riding through the stuff without being able to see my front wheel (it was obscured with my duffle), so I had to channel The Force.
At one point, there was a great view of Burbank. If I tried hard enough I could pick out my old high school. I remember when I went there, I always wondered what was up in the hills!
Perhaps too soon, the beautiful carless stretch of Mulholland gave way to the loud paved stretch of Mulholland. West of the dirt stretch, the nature of Mulholland changed. It was still rather nice to ride on, but there was noticeably more traffic. The lanes were wider and in some stretches it had four lanes. There was a good shoulder and even bike lanes in parts. Riding through Calabasas with all the small private schools was perhaps the most annoying because of the young and entitled driving 70 mph. Some things never change.
We stopped at a Gelson’s in Calabasas to have lunch and restock on food and water. It was crunch time. We started late and didn’t cover as much mileage as we thought we could. It was about 3pm and we still had about 30 hilly miles before Leo Carrillo. After some discussion and map looking, we had three options 1) push on to Leo 2) ride as far as we could and free camp 3) go to the campsite we saw marked on our map about 10 miles away.
We opted for the site 10 miles away. There was a good little climb between Gelson’s and the turn off to Las Virgines that really sucked out our remaining energy. When we got to Malibu Creek State Park, they had the “campground full” sign out. Our hearts sank but after talking with the Rangers and telling them we really couldn’t go any further, they were nice enough to let us camp at a remote-ish picnic area. This turned out to be rather fortuitous since we would be far far away from any other campers.
We set up camp quickly and fired up the stoves and shoved as much food as we could into our mouths. Dinner consisted of some jamon serrano and cheese, lentil soup, beef jerky, Honey Dijon Kettle Chips and curry flavored couscous. Can you tell that we were hungry?
While we were setting up camp we saw quite a few animals. A few hares and some deer prancing by our campsite. Since there was no one else around and it promised to be a clear night, we set up the tent without the rainfly. I think this is the first time we had ever done that.
Laying in the tent, I would wake up periodically and watch the night sky through the mesh of the tent. More and more stars became visible. I saw the moon make its arc across the sky. There was the sounds of crickets and frogs and the howling of coyotes in the distance. In a word. Beautiful.
It was truly hard to imagine that we had started out our day in Long Beach that was full of the buzzing of the Grand Prix and that we had ridden through Hollywood and over a dirt road from which we could see the San Fernando Valley. I think that is the magic of bike touring. You soak in every moment and every inch of road that time becomes elastic and what you experience in a day feels like a week.
When we woke, there was frost on our bags. We dressed up, took down camp and made coffee. Our route today looked pretty easy. We were going to continue along Las Virgines that eventually turned into Malibu Canyon road that would run into PCH. From there, it just a matter of keeping the ocean on your right side.
The riding was pleasant. We were still deep into the hills and the scenery was amazing. We were following a verdant gorge all the way to the ocean. At one point we encountered a tunnel and put our lights on. There was a bit more traffic than we would have preferred, but it was still manageable.
Once we got to the coast we had a snack at Pepperdine University. From there, it was the Pacific Ocean on the right and buzzing traffic on our left. We got some honks, but again the traffic was relatively well behaved. The ride south was more or less uneventful until Manhattan Beach.
I heard a terrible screeching sound from my front disc brake. We pulled over and after an hour of monkeying around, I had to pull the brake pads out. The spring was rubbing terribly on the rotor and couldn’t be fixed. Fortunately, there was an REI a few miles away.
I completely disabled the front brake and soft pedaled to the REI, which made for an interesting experience on a loaded cargo bike. There, Brian, the shop mechanic installed some new pads and we talked about bicycle touring. I highly recommend the bike staff at the Manhattan Beach REI, they were friendly and super helpful!
From REI, we rode the Metro Green Line stop to the Blue and back to Long Beach, which was hotter than hell and still buzzing from the Grand Prix. At that point I was so tired I hardly noticed and although we were only gone for the weekend it felt as if we had been traveling all week.