The San Gabriel River Trail stretches 37 miles from the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains to Seal Beach, California. On a clear morning, I decided to explore the northern portion of the trail, which can be accessed easily from the Santa Ana Dam Recreation Area.
The park is a thirteen minute drive from Claremont, which means it takes an hour by Foothill Transit. I realized that riding my bike, which was strapped to the front of my slow-moving bus, probably would have gotten me there sooner. But I am not a savvy road cyclist—my bike is a rusty Green Bike, after all—so I stuck to the relative safety of a bus to bring me to the trail.
The Santa Ana Dam itself is not quite a destination; when I arrived on a Saturday, the park was host to church group gatherings and old men flying remote-controlled planes over the water. The park does, however, maintain a nicely paved, raised bikeway around the lake with mile markers every so often. I followed the northbound route past the lake. I emerged from the brush behind an ugly industrial building to a vista of hills covered in yellow wildflowers. I could only see green and flowers and the San Gabriels shrouded in haze. It was a different world entirely from the highways and strip malls around school.
The illusion is shattered a mile or so up the path with the appearance of the 210 freeway and a mining operation to the east of the trail. Here, the trail is noisy and dirty. The side of the trail shimmers with broken glass. Boulders bear graffiti tags. After leaving the freeway, though, the scene was quiet and still. Cyclists in bright riding gear and people walking dogs pass by. When I went, couples would turn off of the path and picnic along the canyon created by the river, which was quite dry that morning. There was no shade along the trail and, at least in early March, no flowing water to be seen in the canyon, which was filled instead with cobbles and dust.
Still, the trail provides spectacular views of the edge of the Angeles National Forest. The most exciting part of the northern portion of the trail snakes behind a section of the mountains. To enter the San Gabriel Canyon is to forget that the 210 and sprawling suburbs of Southern California even exist. The residents of the gated community, tucked away in the canyon, must have found this appealing. Beautiful two-story homes, guarded by the canyon, crept up the face of the mountains.
The trail comes to an abrupt end just beyond the neighborhood. The road it followed twists and disappears behind the hills.
On my journey, other bikers on the trail continued north, though riding uphill on a narrow, winding road seemed too risky for me. Unknown to me, a few miles up the road was the Morris Reservoir, but that would be a journey for another day.
I began my trek south at about 2 p.m. The weather had stayed warm and clear. My exposed arms and shoulders were burning, though I hadn’t noticed. The essential companion to my bike ride was a two-liter water bladder with a bite valve so I could drink without stopping. For safety, I also wore a helmet and fluorescent clothing, though I was usually not close enough to cars to be in danger.
I could have explored the trail to the south, but I decided to exit the trail before riding all the way to the dam. I took a path toward a road and arrived at Encanto Park in Duarte. The Google Maps app on my smartphone told me there was a bus stop nearby that would take me to Claremont. So, I pulled into the 7-Eleven on the busy street for a snack and perched myself, along with my bike, at the bus stop. And I waited.
Google Maps told me the bus would arrive at 2:47, so at 2:45, I hoped that it had not been early. At 3:17, when the next bus was supposed to have arrived, I was still there. The corner of Huntington Drive and Las Lomas Road was not the most interesting place to spend an hour, but eventually the bus came. It took me another 45 minutes to arrive in Claremont. The entire day lasted from 11 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., though I was only on my bike for about two-and-a-half hours. I appreciated the change from biking because I was in a hurry or because I needed to go to class. Riding along the San Gabriels, rather than squinting to see them across campus through the haze, was also fantastic. But next time, I will bring a friend with a car.