June 05, 2011

Taking the First Chance I Get: Angeles Crest (Sorta) Reopens

Last summer when I was housesitting in Highland Park, one of the adventures I tried to take was to drive all the way up the Angeles Crest Highway to Wrightwood, a boyhood road trip for which one of my friends was nostalgic.

I didn't get very far. Little did I know, a good portion of this epic highway had been closed as a result of the 2009 station fire.

Nearly a year later, now that I actually live in LA, I kept hearing rumors about the reopening of the Angeles Crest Highway, but there had already been a few false alarms, so I was doubtful. Then, when I went hiking in the Angeles National Forest, I actually drove on a section of it, but I had to take a roundabout way to get there, rather than the direct access via La Cañada Flintridge.

But on Friday, the Angeles Crest Highway reportedly was going to open, all the way, from La Cañada to Wrightwood, giving me a second chance at my adventure.

Shortly before 10 a.m.I arrived at the entrance, the spot where I'd reached a blockade a year before, and was greeted again by workers, trucks, barricades, signs, cones, etc. I joined a horde of bikers and cyclists, waiting to gain entry, as the workers began slowly removing sandbags and sweeping up their spilled contents.

And then they flagged me down, and waved me in.

"Go slow," they warned. "There are a lot of bicycles. Don't pass nobody."

The drive started out at a crawl's pace, congested with other looky-loo's taking their sweet time to gawk at the mountains, the landscape, the scenery, to allow themselves to be distracted by the beauty.

I don't know where they went. Maybe they turned around. Maybe they slowed down. Maybe they drove off the shoulder. But soon, I was all alone out there, the reckless speeding bikers having passed me by.

I sped along the new blacktop, shiny and slippery, my wheels squeaking sidelong as I rounded each bend, going close enough to the speed limit but feeling so much faster, slithering to and fro like a sidewinder in the sand.

I reached an unrestored section of the Crest, its well-weathered pavement rumbling deep like the many other California highways familiar to me...

...past Newcomb's Ranch, a biker stop where I bought my annual Adventure Pass... the road continued to turn and turn...

...and as the elevation passed 4000 ft, 50000 ft, 6000 ft, the trees became sparser...

...and sparser...

...until once again, I was halted.

Just past Snow Crest, west of Big Pine - and not walking distance to Wrightwood, my ultimate destination - I reached another barricade: a silent, lone truck manned by a silent, lone worker, head hanging over some work or some light reading on the hood of his vehicle.

I sat in my car for a minute, incredulous that I'd made it this far only to have my trip thwarted again.

I got out of my car and approached.

"Hi there," I said.

He looked up. A long pause. "...Hi....?"

"So what's up?"


"It's closed??!"

"Yeah, it's closed."

Aghast, I lit into him. "But all the signs say it's open all the way to Wrightwood!"

"What signs?"

"ALL of them, from the beginning of the highway. All the ones that tell you which routes are open or closed!"

"Well, it seems like we must have a little breakdown in communication, because we're still working on this part, and it's closed. Might be this afternoon, I don't know."

I looked at my watch, and at 11:30a - having left the house at 9 and waited 20 minutes for the opening ceremony - I couldn't imagine waiting around (how many?) hours just in case it might open.

So, defeated, I turned around and went back.

Granted, I got to see a lot of the Angeles Crest, and experience the glory that thrill-seekers revel in. And for much of my ride, I was alone, after passing Pacific Crest Trail hikers with their walking sticks, out there in the mountains, distracted by the beauty of the scenery.

If you're really paying attention, you'll be reminded of what happened there two years ago...

...and what could easily happen again...

...which is why I had to go on Friday, on Opening Day, even though there was a chance (and the reality) that the entire highway wasn't ready to be opened.

Better that, than not get there before another wildfire or another storm destroys the Crest again.

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