By Vernon Felton
Poo Park—it wasn't exactly what you'd call a mountain biking "Mecca.” It lacked, for instance, Sun Valley's hundreds of miles of singletrack. It couldn't boast Moab's rusty lunar landscape. The remote, big-mountain feel that you'd experience in, say, Crested Butte or the Kootenays? Yeah, it didn't have that either. But it did have this—the most awesome combination homeless camp/dual slalom course in existence. But I'm zooming to the finish before I've properly described the start.
We called the place Poo Park. The official name is actually Runyon Canyon Park, but city dwellers have to walk their dogs somewhere and this couple hundred acres of scrub and rock perched above Los Angeles crawled with canines of every persuasion. Pitbulls, poodles, pugs… Lots of dogs. Not a lot of people employing those little plastic bags for cleaning up after their dog. Hence the name. You practically needed a Hazmat suit to ride the place.
If this doesn't strike you as an irresistible recipe for two-wheeled awesomeness, that's because it wasn't. There were far better places to ride in the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains, but none that we could pedal to from our office on Wilshire Boulevard. So, if we didn't feel like battling traffic on the 10 or counting license plates on the 405, Poo Park it was.
The ride began with an asphalt climb—a crumbling bike path that eventually spat you out atop Mulholland Drive, but not before it had also forced you to bang elbows with all manner of LA denizen. We rode this place two or three times a week and soon got to know the regulars: a mix of tattooed gangbangers, yoga-posing celebrities, elderly birdwatchers, incredibly fit housewives and "Dalmatian Guy,” a bodybuilder who—and I'm not making this up—wore nothing but red and white, candy-striped tights and a couple handfuls of baby oil, which, I presume, lent his nipples the proper sheen. This hulk of a man would stride imperiously up the trail, towed behind a pack of straining Dalmatians. It was hard not to laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all, but then you'd envision your head getting twisted off in one of Dalmatian Guy's meaty paws and you'd wipe that smirk right off your face and pedal on.
The best part of any ride, of course, is the descent. That was true here as well. We'd gain elevation until we were about level with the police helicopters that float above LA's high-rises and then we'd drop down a crumbling rock face that’s still clearly etched in my mind after all these years. It was steep, there was no traction whatsoever and there was always the prospect of eating shit atop the geological equivalent of a cheese grater while wearing nothing more protective than a Lycra body condom. I lost pints of blood on that descent over the years while testing some of the most ungainly, knock-kneed and bucktoothed bikes of the late `90s. It was terrifying. And awesome.
Once you'd cleaned that first hairy bit, the trail morphed into a blisteringly fast slalom course that wound through clumps of Manzanita. I probably rode it a dozen times before I noticed the odd poncho or tarp blanketing a bush and the person living beneath it. During the warmer months, our high-speed slalom course was also a makeshift homeless camp.
It was horrible, it was filthy, and we loved it. Whenever my old co-workers and I get together, the conversations invariably wander back to the great times we had at Poo Park, which is kind of crazy. After all, we worked at a magazine that enabled us to roam the globe. We'd tasted the best trails the world had to offer, yet invariably, we return to lowly Poo Park. There's a beauty in that.
When you're eyeball deep in mountain bike porn—watching some rider rip their way down an unbelievably beautiful trail in, say, the south of France, the Scottish Highlands or the cedar forests of British Columbia, it's easy to envy those riders, to wish you could ditch your hometown and live their exploits in some far-flung mountain biking Mecca. It's easy, but it misses the point.
If you spend your life thinking about how great things will be when you get that perfect job, find that perfect somebody or live and ride in that perfect place, you miss the perfection that's already within your reach. Even an overrun, fecal-filled playground like Poo Park is perfect in its own way. True, the place barely had a trail network to speak of, it wasn't part of anyone's "scene,” heck, it wasn't even pretty, but it was the place where I forged friendships, conquered demons and had some of the best times of my life.
The perfect place to ride isn't some exotic locale, loaded with hundreds of miles of singletrack. Don't get me wrong—we all wish we could live in Whistler or Moab or Finale Ligure, but most of us don't and never will. The best place, then, is the place you ride most often. The place that soaks up your blood and sweat. The place where you suffer defeat one day and come back swinging the next. The perfect place to ride is the place that's always there for you, when you're ready to escape work, family or school. It doesn't matter if that place is an abandoned lot full of hobbled-together dirt jumps, or a mess of fireroads in the foothills or some barely scrubbed-in singletrack above Los Angeles.
The perfect place is, quite simply, the place you actually ride the most.