SeaTac & LAX to San Bernardino

I had a great 2 summer months in Washington and Oregon, but I had a feeling the rest of September would be cold and wet, so adios. I made a reservation to fly back to the Southwest after Labor Day, and got myself in the vicinity of the airport the evening before the flight.

9/8/10, Wednesday - I woke early with a day of racing ahead. The first leg was 6 miles in steady rain getting to SeaTac airport in time for a 10 a.m. flight to LA.

I was making good time on the first mile until I rode over a patch of vintage auto glass shards - the kind of windshield glass that used to cut people to ribbons before it was outlawed decades ago. PFFF!

I stopped and pumped up the front tire hoping the Slime™ tube would seal the puncture. I cut my finger picking out a razor-sharp shard with a needle tip, realizing too late it was bad, old glass. The tube seemed to hold, but when I mounted up, PFFF! Time for a new tube. In the process, a nice steel tire lever with me for decades sprung loose and went flying over a 6-foot barbwire freeway fence. That's racing.

I biked into SeaTac from the east on 518 and Air Cargo Road - heavy, high-speed traffic, but with good shoulders and spaces for waiting out ramp traffic.

I made it by 9 - I thought on time - but Alaska Air's check-in was comically inefficient. To top that, they gave me a roll of packing tape that came off in 3-inch bits. To top that, when I exchanged it, they put the bad roll right back in a drawer telling me they'd find some use for it. It must be some kind of joke. With that, I missed the 10 o'clock flight, and the 11, and wound up flying out at noon. By then I just felt lucky to get out of there.

I picked Alaska Air because flying out of Portland last year they were quick and efficient, and gave me a bike box like it was the most natural thing. This year was very different, and I was told several times they'll no longer be stocking boxes. I supposedly got "the last one" there.

The jet got into LAX at 14:30. Amtrak's Southwest Chief was due to leave Union Station with me aboard at 1855.

It took me an hour to retrieve my bike and gear, get it assembled, and start finding my way out of LAX. I rode east, slipping fast through slow terminal traffic. I took a right and wound up on a surface freeway that ran into a long underpass - a tunnel. Luckily it had a foot-wide sidewalk for graffiti artists and other kooks.

Got through there alive, crossed a couple of extremely dangerous curved ramps, and I was on surface streets southeast of the airport.

Google's cycling directions over the 16 miles between airport and train station were so complicated it would take a day to read them. I just worked my way north and east, steering by the afternoon sun, and using the traffic techniques bike messengers call "low-level flying". It was fun.

I passed so many hot chicks I lost count, but I had a train to catch. I made Union Station by 1730 - 2 hours of fast cross-town riding. I had it made - I'd be home by noon tomorrow.

Only one problem. At the ticket window I was told the train doesn't open the baggage car between LA and Flagstaff. Everybody along that 565-mile stretch of track is limited to carry-on luggage. No bikes.

I got a refund, but I was marooned! In downtown LA!

There are worse places to get stuck. I got a cappuccino and a couple of bagels - the day's first chow - and went outside by the bike rack for a council of war. I immediately became part of the homeless family out there, and got plenty of info on the local flops and getovers - and cheap transportation.

I found out I could get a MetroLink train east to San Bernardino, cutting out about 50 miles of riding endless toxic megapolitan sprawl. $12 - bikes no problem - and from Berdoo I could ride over the Cajon Pass and across the Mojave Desert to my trailer in Fort Mojave - a mere 300 sunstruck miles away. After dealing with the mentality at Alaska Air and Amtrak, it sounded great.

It took 90 minutes to reach the east end of the line. I got in at 2130, and admired the old Santa Fe Railway station. These were built along the line back in the glorious golden age of rail travel. They're commonly called "Harvey Houses", after Fred Harvey, a hospitality legend who catered to the Santa Fe's travellers in grand style. Several survive, in varying states of repair from gorgeous to gutted. This one's a jewel.

I hit a nearby Mexican supermarket, then rode off in the dark looking for a place to camp.

What I found was a town locked up tighter than Ft. Knox. After roaming around in the dark for 2 hours, I settled for Apache cover - a shallow depression in a big vacant lot by the 215 freeway. With my head down I was invisible.


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