The Old Ridge Road
by Moi Medina
Much has been written about how Los Angeles ranges, like the Santa Monica Mountains, socio-politically delineate the LA Basin and San Fernando Valley. In a broader scale this geographical delineation extends beyond the Los Angeles megalopolis north towards the San Joaquin Valley, and its southernmost agribusiness node, Bakersfield. These two seemingly disparate cities, one a cultural producer, the other a soft goods manufacturer, have for years been symbiotically intertwined. Be it by a producer-client relationship, in terms of food/cultural consumption, or shared water resources via the California Aqueduct. Ironically these two cities are bifurcated by the San Andreas Fault no less, a tectonic Prometheus/Golem that has scarred a series of mountains collectively known as the Traverse Ranges. Early attempts at providing a navigable road through this country struggled but eventually resulted in the construction of the Ridge Route; a road that at the time connected the small ranch communities north of Los Angeles, to Fort Tejon and later Bakersfield.
Time and technology however has found the route abandoned as Interstate 5 relegated the Ridge Route to a historical fetish, a reverberation of a romanticized past that truly existed only as much as it was imagined. On what remains of the Ridge Route the initiated can hear echoes manifesting themselves in the visual, sonic, and transcendent senses. The faint hum of the Interstate 5 sirens one up Serpentine Road only to be met by man’s hubris, Swede’s Cut.33The largest cut on the Old Ridge Route, Swede’s Cut is a 110 ft. excavation into a hillside creating a narrow rockfall-prone notch, completed in 1915. Cycling through I try not to forget that in its final years roads such as this embraced John Steinbeck’s Tom Joad and countless other real or imagined travelers searching for something that their point of departure did not afford.
In Los Angeles a truism for cycling is that given enough time and distance one will chance upon a golf course and an affluent home. Ride even longer and farther, however, and one will stumble upon history.