LA CON­FI­DEN­TIAL

Tim Rob­son finds a trea­sure trove of moun­tain bike trails just 20 min­utes – and a life­time – away from down­town LA.

Australian Geographic Outdoor - - Outdoor Bike Lane - Words & Pho­tos TIM ROB­SON

WE ALL deal with the stress and pres­sure of time. We’ve all got the same amount in a day, but there’s an ever-in­creas­ing de­mand on it in our fast-paced world.

And de­spite the ad­vent of tools like email and video con­fer­enc­ing, work travel lev­els con­tinue to climb – more than eight mil­lion Aussies, for ex­am­ple, trav­elled over­seas in 2015 for work, as op­posed to just over four mil­lion in 2005.

Of course, work life isn’t the be all and end all of our ex­is­tence, but it’s of­ten a nec­es­sary evil that cuts into other as­pects of our lives, like look­ing af­ter fam­ily and look­ing af­ter our­selves.

As a fre­quent busi­ness trav­eller, a life of air­port lounges and ho­tel buf­fet break­fasts is do­ing the nec­es­sary things for our fa­mil­ial in­come, but does noth­ing for my waist­line or my metal state. And my love of moun­tain bikes has also suf­fered – in the strug­gle be­tween work and fam­ily, rid­ing loses ev­ery time.

I fig­ured there has to be a bet­ter way; I fly to these great places all the time, so why can’t I take ad­van­tage of it?

Well, of­ten the trips are too short; a re­cent trip to Tokyo con­sisted of ar­riv­ing at 9pm Sun­day night and de­part­ing at 10pm Mon­day; 18 hours of fly­ing and eight hours of coach travel, in­ter­spersed with six hours of sleep, in a 36-hour pe­riod. Ex­er­cise? Grab­bing more ra­men noo­dles from the air­port lounge buf­fet, or walk­ing to the other end of the ter­mi­nal.

But re­cently I man­aged to wran­gle an ex­tra day out of a trip to the US, and I de­cided to use it wisely.

Cal­i­for­nia is widely re­garded as the birth­place of moun­tain bik­ing, with tales of mo­tor­bike riders con-

…with over 500m of climb­ing in 22km, the Out­post Trail starts go­ing ver­ti­cal, and just keeps go­ing.

vert­ing old Sch­winn beach cruis­ers into off-road ma­chines in the 1970s and tack­ling the long fire road de­scents scat­tered around the hills of the state.

One of the names I’ve read about was a place called Topanga, which lies only 30 min­utes out­side of the bustling hub of down­town Los An­ge­les. A quick web search re­vealed there was a net­work of state parks in the re­gion – in­clud­ing Topanga State Park, billed as the largest park within a city lim­its any­where in the US – along with a shop called the Topanga Creek Out­post that rented bikes out.

Now usu­ally I’d al­ways opt for my own bike over a rental… but in all hon­estly, the butt-ache of pack­ing and lug­ging a bike across the other side of the world for a sin­gle jaunt, then hav­ing to look af­ter it for another week while I did my day job, just wasn’t go­ing to work this time.

I ex­changed emails with Out­post owner Chris Kelly about rent­ing a de­cent rig and ex­plor­ing the sur­rounds, and he bounced me back a cou­ple of op­tions, in­clud­ing the chance to grab a new dual sus­pen­sion car­bon Salsa Red­point from his fleet. All I needed was my kit and some ped­als, and I was there.

Los An­ge­les is as busy and gritty as you can imag­ine a large city to be – but Topanga, just 20 min­utes from the down­town area, couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. Nes­tled in the shal­low hills around the town, houses are built right into the moun­tain­sides, and al­most un­be­liev­ably for the US, there is vir­tu­ally no signs of com­mer­cial­ism. If you’re look­ing for a Dunkin Donuts next to a Wal­mart, you’re in the wrong place.

It’s hard to equate it to a place in Aus­tralia, but if

you think Sun­shine Coast or Coffs Har­bour, you’re close. Lit­tle hip­pie shops line the wind­ing Topanga Canyon Boule­vard that turns off the fa­mous Pa­cific Coast High­way be­fore you hit Topanga Creek Out­post.

And the store it­self also de­fies all no­tions of your typ­i­cal bike shop. Me­chanic Jay Barre has a stand set up in what’s es­sen­tially a front yard, while bikes of all vin­tages and types are scat­tered around. The re­tail store it­self is based in a small cot­tage, with sev­eral rooms rammed full of an eclec­tic mix of bike bits and in-house leather works. Ec­cen­tric and eclec­tic, it’s also in­stantly re­lax­ing and invit­ing. It’s fan­tas­tic.

Chris greets me with a smile and an of­fer of cof­fee. “I’ll have some ba­nana bread done by the time you get back,” he smiles, ges­tur­ing to a beat-up lounge so I can fill in the pa­per­work to rent the Salsa. He also has a set of pho­to­copied in­struc­tions that di­rects me to the Out­post Loop, a 22km sam­ple of what the area has to of­fer. One side has writ­ten di­rec­tions, with photo mark­ers on the other. It’s a sim­ple, clever idea. Chris sends me on my way with a friendly warn­ing; “there’s a bit of climb­ing!”

He’s not wrong… with over 500m of climb­ing in 22km, the Out­post Trail starts go­ing ver­ti­cal, and just keeps go­ing up. And up. And up some more. The tem­per­ate LA au­tumn weather means it’s not overly hot, but a com­plete lack of shade up here means it would be bak­ing in the sum­mer.

It’s pre­dom­i­nantly a fire trail loop, but there are verges most of the way where riders have cut in sin­gle­track al­ter­na­tives to fol­low. Be­sides, fast, sweep­ing fire road de­scents are part and par­cel of the Cal­i­for­nian moun­tain bike ex­pe­ri­ence.

The views, too, across Sum­mit Val­ley and Westridge Canyon are im­mense, and a great place to ac­tu­ally stop and smell the roses. I’d man­aged to carve out a morn­ing to my­self to ride in a new place, and it feels ab­so­lutely lib­er­at­ing.

Af­ter a few self­ies, I’m back on the Salsa – an ex­cel­lent rig with pre­dictable man­ners and plenty of speed – for the run home. From the top of the loop, it’s pos­si­ble to fol­low sin­gle­track all the way down to the Pa­cific Ocean, but un­for­tu­nately the long climb back to the store falls out­side my avail­able time, so I opt for the steep, rut­ted Yed­varts trail, 2km of black di­a­mond down­hill that more than makes up for the fireroad climb. By the time I get to the bot­tom, my eyes – and my fore­arms – are bulging from ping­ing off huge boul­ders and surf­ing through giant ruts. It’s awe­some fun.

From here, it’s a road roll back to the store, more cof­fee and the fresh ba­nana bread. Jay’s in the shop’s kitchen mak­ing a fan­tas­tic look­ing curry for lunch and asks if I’d like to hang around, but the real world is call­ing me back. Hand­shakes all round, and I’m soon back on the fiendishly busy Pa­cific Coast High­way for the run back into LA. My col­leagues cast cu­ri­ous – and slightly en­vi­ous – glances as I pile back into the ho­tel foyer with a thin film of dirt on my legs and a mas­sive grin on my mug, and the rest of the work trip seems to go a lot eas­ier.

We all have to work for a liv­ing, but there is al­ways a way to get out there amongst it. With a bit of re­search and a ‘take it as it comes’ at­ti­tude, you too can find that way.

Trails as far as the eye can see.

Clock­wise from

above The Topanga Out­post looks al­most noth­ing like a bike shop; the car­bon Salsa du­ally is a great rental; pho­tos of nav points were amaz­ingly help­ful; trails as far as the eye can see.

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