Every Wednesday night in Los Angeles, a gaggle of misfits and cycling nerds gathers at 9pm outside a nondescript donut emporium nestled deep inside the dingy side streets of Koreatown. They are not sugar-gluttons or drunken party cruisers. Rather, they come together each week for the simple task of a bike ride.
The Passage of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Moment in Time is a weekly bike ride for the urban adventurers, the jock poets, and the surrealists who cycle. Most rides clock in at over 20 miles, with off-trail elements, cobblestone alleyways, and narrow staircases to add to the fun. Passage sets out to lure participants into the unknown and forgotten bits of the city of angels’ sprawling metropolis.
There’s an emphasis on the abandoned and the industrial, the places time has forgotten and overwritten with sleek architecture and $5 coffees. The routes are always a surprise, circuitous pathways winding through unfamiliar neighborhoods in search of whatever the evening’s final destination may be.
My first ride involved spinning my way through Echo Park, curving around its lake, and huffing my bicycle up several flights of stairs. Next, we cut across a series of nature trails, traversing the edges of Elysian Park until we arrived at the bottom of a large hill. We picked up our bicycles and carried them the final 200 rocky feet to the top of a peak that overlooked the confluence of three major freeways, just north of downtown. To my left was a wooden swing beneath a towering oak tree like an unexpected portal to the world of Huck Finn.
We stopped, ate cookies, and swung. My feet kicked out across the cityscape, lost in the brilliant constellation of innumerable streetlights. It was quiet with a faint swish of freeway, the way the ocean sounds when you peek your head over a seaside cliff. I knew I was coming back for more.
The next ride nearly broke my poor quads. Aptly named “Hollyweird,” the route did as promised and circled up the dusty fire roads that coil around the infamous Hollywood Hills. After a lung-destroying ascent of over 1,000 vertical feet, the group came to a halt, most of us frazzled, and stared through a chain link fence towards the colossal letters below. H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D. They looked cartoonish and thin when viewed from behind, like a megalomaniac’s wet dream built atop a massive movie backdrop. The ride culminated by meandering downhill along a gravel-encrusted roadway hidden deep within Griffith Park, dodging potholes in the cool, night air.
My first ever 30+ mile day on a bike was a Passage ride dedicated to the concept of “chill.” Mind you, we were not going to chill, but rather, we were going to dedicate one of the longer bike rides in recent Passage memory to the idea of chilling. The neighborhoods in which one might, at some point, wish to chill.
The ride started, as always, under the fluorescent lights of a familiar K-Town donut shop, making a quick shift west as we barreled towards the sea. After cycling across an ambiguous maze of nondescript neighborhoods and Playa Del Rey back-roads, our group at last arrived at the tail end of a dock overlooking the Pacific Ocean as nearby airplanes ripped through the darkened skyline, landing just out of sight. We sat on the rocks and rested as waves lapped at our sneakers with a familiar splash. Maybe that was the point of it all along – to push the athletic boundaries of the physical so that the mind could finally know peace. We sped the remaining 15 miles home on cutaways and surface streets.
When you’ve lived in a single city for nearly half your life, it can be easy to fall into a daze of visiting the same neighborhoods and seeing the same rotation of friends. I’ve started to wonder if the principal tenets of a Wednesday night Passage can be applied to other days of the week as well.
A modern city is a universe made up of ideas. A car is a series of complicated ideas layered on top of each other. A ramshackle building is an idea hiding beneath a story and a second idea of a failure. Passage takes those ideas and turns them on their heads by forcing riders to engage with environments they don’t know and weren’t expecting to see. The ride whisks participants through their home city in near-silence, allowing new thoughts and observations to emerge about places they’ve never been that lay right beneath their noses.
How can you breathe the excitement of the unknown into your day-to-day, humdrum existence?
Taking the road less traveled (literally) can be an excellent place to start. Hike with your dog down a trail you’ve never traversed. Turn left into a strange, new neighborhood along your ordinary commute to work. Eat at the new, Ethiopian restaurant that just opened around the corner from your apartment. Memorize your lover’s newest freckles. When you invite the new to tango with your old synapses, you’re making a lasting impression by consciously changing the way your mind looks at the world around you.
Passage gives me hope in a city that can often feel like a grimy sprawl with too many dingy office buildings. It turns Wednesday evenings into an urban adventure reminiscent of my burly Saturdays spent huffing a pack over high mountain passes, and, like backpacking, it leaves me sore and grateful. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for over 14 years, and I’ve never before seen it in this light. It’s funny that only now, in my mind-numbing familiarity with her angular grid, I’m beginning to unearth LA’s richer and far more interesting enigmas.
Sometimes, you don’t need to go too far to uncover secret treasures. The hidden familiar can be a grand adventure too.
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