I was a bit late to the start. Shane was already waiting for me at the Purple Line station at Wilshire and Western, mental math took us a little too long before we realized that the $5 day pass would be the cheaper option for the 4 rides we would end up taking. We then portaged our bikes down to the platform where a train was already waiting. I had brought my relatively modern Fuji Touring and Shane had his 80s Shogun tourer. I had fitted the front with 35mm knobby and had attempted to convince Shane to do the same.
I had no idea of the conditions of the road except that it was dirt beyond mile 8 and single track down to Echo Mt's prominence, the whole climb had an average grade of 9% and definitely pitched much higher than that at parts.
The Purple Line was quick and had ample room for our steeds. With a bit of searching we were able to transfer, to wade through the Thursday morning commute and find a spot on the Gold Line. I'm always happy to see how busy the train station has been getting. The gold line was cramped and had no special place to put our bikes but we were able to find a spot and only get yelled at (actually shamed by an old lady) once.
We exited the train at Lake Ave. and knew that the alluvial climb up to the base of the San Gabriel Mts. would get us warmed up for the task we faced. When we got to Cheney Trail (actually a drive-able road, just called trail) we took a short breath and decided that we would be content with turning around at Echo Mt. and not reaching Inspiration Pt. as we had (a bit too optimistically) hoped because of our Noon deadline. After a few rollers and a stag crossing our path Cheney rapidly pitches up. We noted the many sharp turns without any sort of banking and the rails that would ensure our bikes stayed on the road as we soared over them if we didn't slow enough for them. The gradient relents briefly as we round the top, a right turn and slipping around a gate would put us on Mt. Lowe Railroad Echo Mt. Road (gasp). While it is paved, the lower stretches of this road are effectively covered in dirt. After a long left turn the road quickly pitches back up to the 9%+ climb and the pavement reappears. A row of trees on the left show evidence last year's station fire, fortunately green is again starting to show on them. Around the next bend we are able to spot a road far above us and finally get and idea of what we've gotten ourselves in to. The sun was out and it was getting warm fast. We decided it would be best to take breaks whenever adequate shade was found. As we racked up altitude were were able to see the Jet Propulsion Laboratory through a thick haze of smog. The gradient is constant and grueling yet much focus has to be spent on avoiding the sharp flotsam in our path.
At about mile 6 or so we see a turnout on the left with a small building at the end, Shane hopes this is a bathroom but we decide it must be a trail maintenance shed or something. Later I find out this is a place once called The Cape of Good Hope by the tourists. I check our position on my cell phone while Shane scouts up ahead. He reports back that the pavement ends just up a bit and and I confirm on my cell phone that we had missed our turnout for Echo Mt. we should be forgiven for missing the turnout as it is nothing more than a thin line of dirt carved out of the brush. This turns into a ledge along a steep slope at points much less than a meter wide. this is the remnants of the right of way fort the Mt. Lowe Railroad's narrow guage train. Around the turn of the last century this train took thousands of sight seers from Echo Mt. resort to the Alpine Lodge several thousand feet above. Evidence of its railed past is abundant, at some points you encounter rail ties, you see the carved boulders that had stood in its path and the ruins of the trestles that had lead it over deep gorges.
After stopping for a few pictures Shane and I decided to attempt staying on our bikes down this narrow bumpy path. we had to stay on the brakes to keep from descending too fast and only carry our bikes over a few obstacles. The ledge turned into a shaded flat area and we came upon a massive gearing system. this was the pulley mechanism for the funicular that took people 2000' straight up to the priminence of Echo Mt. from the valley below. Further out we found a group of shaded picnic tables on our left. As the trail opened up we came upon the rusted chassis of the train sitting on the only remaining feet of rail. Around a bend stairs appear that take us up to the foundation of the resort. Much of the foundation remains as well as a big cylinder where water was stored but no buildings remain standing.
The view from this point is amazing (would be more-so without the smog). Shane recognizes a coworker below and we were able to compare the merits of hiking or riding to this point. I would have loved to spend more time exploring this area or even continuing up the path but Shane had to be at work later and we had set a hard turn-around time of Noon.
Climbing back up the narrow path to the main trail proved much more difficult that descending it! Our rear tires were reluctant to grip anything until we had gotten up to speed, as soon as we had speed we'd have to stop to get around an obstacle. We ended up matching pace with the two hikers we ran into earlier.
Once we met the main trail it was nothing but descending back to the start. Most of this was spent quickly rolling over the dirt areas and hitting the brakes hard whenever a clear bit of pavement gave my tires purchase. All the while we were attempting to avoid fallen rocks and branches. Apparently I wasn't so good at this dodging bit as I would soon find out that a branch had punctured my sidewalls. Luckily Shane had a tire boot and spare tube handy so I was able to get running again quickly. I had known that my particular tires had thin sidewalls and that this could be a problem the choice had been a compromise because the softer sidewalls also offered a smoother ride. These tires had survived many thousands of miles and I won't think twice about getting them again. Though I should now know to find a more rugged model for this kind of riding and I'll definitely be buying myself a boot kit. After this Shane somehow convinces me to ride to Highland Park station instead of going back to Lake. I can't wait for the chance to do more exploring in this area, next time I think I will go with knobby tires on both the front and rear and hopefully start the ride earlier.