The Airport In The Sky to Avalon Ride

(With enough embellishment, even an easy ride can sound heroic)

OK, let’s get it out of the way right up front…..We “cheated”. We took a damn shuttle to the airport and rode our bikes back to Avalon from there. Why? We ain’t stupid, that’s why.

When we were young, fit (and possibly stupid), and doing a lot of Catalina riding, the ride to the airport from Avalon was one we never did. We weren’t that stupid, even then (And THAT, I find hard to believe). It’s not the distance so much, as it’s only about 10 miles. It’s the damn climb. Avalon is, naturally enough, at sea level. The airport is at 1,602′ (so says the big sign at the airport). It would be fine if the climb takes place over the span of the entire length, but it doesn’t. It all happens in the first 2.5 miles or so.

And it’s a nasty, nasty climb. I speak from experience as we did it, once, doing a loop ride short of the airport. We thought, it’s a stinkin’ paved road….how hard could it be??? Hah! We swore we’d never do THAT damn climb again!

Now that we are older and less fit, we’ve learned to compensate with cleverness and getting others to do the work for us. Even if it costs money! So I noted with some interest that the Wilderness Express Service now exists to cart lazy asses such as ourselves around the island. And for only $21 each these wonderful people would haul us and our bikes all the way from Avalon to the Airport. I can spend more than that on a lunch. Sign me up.

So on the morning of Thursday September 25, 2014 we caught the Catalina Flyer out of Newport and headed for Avalon. I thought I was being rather clever having found an online schedule of when all the cruise ship locusts would be descending on Avalon. I was pretty certain Avalon would be quiet for a change and we’d enjoy the place more. Umm, not so much. Not only was the boat full of luggage-laden tourists planning to stay on the island for several days, the town was packed too. Don’t people work anymore??! No wonder our economy sucks. I guess Avalon has become quite the place these days.

Anyway, we met our driver and shuttle at the Avalon Plaza at 11 AM and headed off to the airport not under our own power. yes, it was wonderful.  In 35 minutes we were there, and the first thing we noticed was it was a LOT warmer up at the airport than in Avalon, being out of the marine layer.

While some may view that white boxy thing in the foreground as cheating, I prefer to think of it as a good investment.

While some may view that white boxy thing in the foreground as cheating, I prefer to think of it as a good investment.

The airport has a very cool tile map of the entire island as a decorative feature. With each tile one of a kind, that's more work than I'd want to do.

The airport has a very cool tile map of the entire island as a decorative feature. With each tile one of a kind, that’s more work than I’d want to do.

Hmmmm.....Does that mean we can ride our bikes up and down the runway? Um, probably not. But being used to the standard Homeland Security hysteria about airports and fences, the lack of one was charming and refreshing.

Hmmmm…..Does that mean we can ride our bikes up and down the runway? Um, probably not. But being used to the standard Homeland Security hysteria about airports and fences, the lack of one was charming and refreshing.

My original, well thought out plan was to have a quick look around the airport, then hop on the bikes for the ride back to town, which I figured on being maybe an hour and a half, with lots of time to stop and gawk at the views. We’d have a leisurely lunch in Avalon, and wander around the uncrowded town before catching the 4:30 boat back to Newport. But then we poked our heads into the restaurant….

Well, hey….wow….this was really nice. It was cool, and empty except for one other couple who had flown in. It’s been a long time since my piloty days when I did the “lunch at the Catalina Airport” thing, but I didn’t remember the place as being so nice. And the menu looked pretty good too. “Are you hungry enough to eat?”….”Why yes I am!”, so that was settled. Plans now officially changed.

It being Catalina, Bison (AKA Buffalo) is on the menu, so we decided to try the Buffalo Tacos. Sort of a cliché, but why not. OMG, they were good! And I’m not just saying that because it was keeping us from starting a hot ride, although that certainly helped.

We managed to kill a considerable amount of time in that restaurant while in ride avoidance mode. While we malingered maybe another half dozen groups came in who had flown over from the mainland. They of course passed by our table where we had our bike helmets and Camelbaks spread out. I can’t be responsible if any of them got the idea we had ridden to the airport. Hey, we just look tough, ya know?

Eventually all good things must come to an end and we started off for Avalon. Right out of the airport is a nice downhill that goes for maybe a mile. This gave us the time to consider the wisdom of doing a hot ride with stomachs full of buffalo tacos. After that, the road leveled pretty much and even had some short, and not too steep, climbs. The road between Avalon and the Airport in the Sky is officially a paved road. Pretty much. Kinda. Maybe. It probably was at one time. But now a lot of it is just an imaginative collection of patches, which looks sort of like paving if one squints their eyes enough.  But it’s better than having to dodge rocks on a dirt road as in our earlier Catalina rides.

This is what passes for a paved road on Catalina Island. What the picture fails to convey is the scorching, soul-searing heat. Fortunately this was one of only a few uphills.

This is what passes for a paved road on Catalina Island. What the picture fails to convey is the scorching, soul-searing heat. Fortunately this was one of only a few uphills.

We both wondered aloud (and Jeri with some interesting language) at our amazing luck in that every time we had visited this stupid island over a number of months, surrounded by the cold Pacific Ocean, it’s always been lousy hot. Surely, it must get cold here sometime? But, apparently, not at the end of September. We both had had an assload of the heat.

"Hey, your relatives were really tasty!!" A reminder that we are all just meat to something.

“Hey, your relatives were really tasty!!” A reminder that we are all just meat to something.

The reward of the ride was the constant view toward the mainland. The road generally stays very high until the screaming descent into Avalon. And traffic is virtually nil, only vehicles with official business at the airport or Two Harbors. So despite our grumping about the heat, it was an embarrassingly easy ride.

Then again, views like this are continuous along the road. That's the Palos Verde Peninsula in the center background, a very clear day.

Then again, views like this are continuous along the road. That’s the Palos Verde Peninsula in the center background, a very clear day.

And looking in the other direction, with Avalon just starting to peek into view at the very far right. Just to the left of Avalon is part of the road we'll be descending on. Way. Down. Below. Us.

And looking in the other direction, with Avalon just starting to peek into view at the very far right. Just to the left of Avalon is part of the road we’ll be descending on. Way. Down. Below. Us.

All too quickly we came to the big drop into Avalon, the one we had gone down earlier on our Circle of Death ride. This time we weren’t rushed (or out of water) so stopped along the way to look at the view and let our brakes cool. And it may or may not have actually happened that at one stop my pedal quick release failed to let loose and I may or may not have done a graceful side fall into a bed of crushed bark. Since no pictures exist of such an event, it’s unlikely to have occurred. If it did, I’m sure Jeri would have been amused.

Are we there yet????  I need an iced tea. The largest boat anchored at the upper left is the Catalina Flyer, our ride outta here.

Are we there yet???? I need an iced tea. The largest boat anchored at the upper left is the Catalina Flyer, our ride outta here.

We blew into town with a long wait before we could board our ride home. On our way in through town I spotted a “Hatch Green Chile Festival” banner on an otherwise generic Mexican restaurant. Having lived in New Mexico a while, this unlikely sight, on an island in the Pacific, was worth a look. It also gave us a place to camp out and chug ice teas. We decided to split a green Chile Carne Asada plate which we called our “second lunch” in honor of our friends the bicycling Grays. As feared, any Chile exported out of New Mexico seems to always be the low heat variety, perhaps in the fear it might otherwise hurt someone. Or New Mexicans just keep the good stuff for themselves. SoCal hot Chile is considered mild, baby food Chile in New Mexico. But the iced tea was good!

And after a hot wait in the sun, yet again, we got on the boat and headed home. This may have been complicated by one of us losing his a ticket and having to have a reissue, but again, it’s unlikely to have occurred.

We have a different idea for our next trip back for bicycle nonsense, but it ain’t going to happen until it gets stinkin’ cold on that island!