Southern California's "Inland Empire" is not known for its variety. It is a sun-baked, strip-mall-saturated hellscape, populated by monster trucks and car-choked freeways. I've only lived here for six months and I can't stand it. The weather is perfect for cycling year round, but I rarely see other riders out on the streets.
When I lived in Denver I didn't consider it that bike-friendly, but by comparison it was a bike mecca. Riding a bicycle here is a great way to find out what strangers think about your sexual orientation. Sitting on my ass sulking wasn't doing me (or my thinning legs) any good, so I decided to explore the area a little more thoroughly.
On my first ride I decided to head east to Loma Linda, also known as Hospital Town. It's a tiny area full of hospitals and Seventh Day Adventists, so all the hospital food is vegetarian. I rode north through Riverside's ugly industrial district (is there such a thing as a beautiful industrial district?), following the curve of the 215 highway. I kept off of the main drag, since I know it's a rutted, potholed, mess. I'm glad I did. Soon I was in a very, very poor area, sort of a little Mexico, with literal shanties and roaming stray dogs. Suddenly there was a shaded valley full of junk--which included two very large dinosaur sculptures! I think they were Brontosauruses.
As I continued on on, the terrain grew quite hilly, and I marveled at the speed I was reaching while flying down a very long, curvy hill. Only at the bottom did I realize I would shortly be pedaling back up that very hill. This worried me, as my 9-speed has a 53 front ring. I've never had to walk my bike uphill, and hoped today wouldn't be the first time.
Fortunately, it wasn't. After a brief water stop in Loma Linda I headed back, gathering as much speed as possible before hitting the hill. It was a long grind, but it felt great at the top.
The next day I decided to explore Riverside's Santa Ana bike trail; a two-lane bike highway that runs from San Bernardino to Norco. Neither destination is attractive, but hey, that's where the road leads.
I caught the highway at Mount Roubidoux and headed north, along the dry Santa Ana riverbed. Very quickly I was out of Riverside and in the middle of nowhere. I had the sandy riverbed on my left, dry hills on my right. The bike highway doesn't follow any roads, so you really have a sensation of being out in the open.
As I added mile after mile, I realized how very isolated I really was. I hadn't packed a tube or pump, so if I got a flat I would be walking for a very long time. I approached an overpass and saw silhouetted figures scurry up into the shadows.
This was a world of desert people, who lived in scrappy tent camps in the dry riverbed, who rode cobbled bikes loaded with gear and trailers. The few people I encountered treated me with suspicion, which surprised me. I guess the bike highway doesn't get much recreational use.
The desert was beautiful, and it was nice just pounding out a ride without any traffic or stops. I didn't find the end of the highway, because in addition to tube and pump, I had neglected to bring water with me.
I ran into my bike buddy Johnny D the next day and told him about my rides, and he said he'd be down to go on the next one. So the following day we hit the bike highway again, this time heading south.
It was a beautiful Sunday to ride, cool and misty--I actually wore gloves, it was so chilly. Johnny was setting the pace pretty fast, and I warmed up quickly. We zipped through traffic and picked up the highway at Mount Roubidoux again.
In stark contrast to the northern path, the southern path was lush with plants, trees and--gasp!--water in the river! The river churned beside us as we hauled ass through some fun curves and over some tiny hills. One hillside looked as if it were exploding in tentacle plants, reaching out for the river water.
The ride took us into a more rural area, full of very green pastures among low rolling hills dotted with boulders. When we stopped for water, Johnny remarked that it resembled Ireland or Scotland, and it really did, although there were palm trees silhouetted on distant hills. A sort of tropical Ireland, maybe.
Johnny informed me that soon this path would connect from San Bernadino all the way to the beach, which will be awesome. As it is, now the path ends in Norco, and you have to pick it up again a few miles down the highway.
Around 90 miles over three days, and the variety was stunning. From the shanty town, to the post-apocalyptic desert, to a picturesque United Kingdom countryside, I was amazed by what a person could find just by getting off the boring main roads and riding somewhere. Even in the Inland Empire.