Tales from the Tarmac | Malibu Stick Up

Tales from the Tarmac is the weekly home of the stories, insights, opinions and occasional rants of Art’s Web Content Editor, Kevin Rouse. Read at your own risk, and please don’t ever take him seriously—it might just go to his head.

Topanga Canyon may seem peaceful, but as I found out, some of it's inhabitants certainly aren't.


In the back of my head, I could register the screaming man and the accompanying globules of spittle attacking my face with surprising force, but it was hard to pay them any heed, as my attention was monopolized by the unexpected leveling of a double-barreled shotgun in my direction. Something told me today wasn’t exactly going my way.

But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Why was I about to soil my chamois? Well, like most stories involving yours truly, it began with a battle against the snooze button that left me scrambling to make that Saturday’s group ride. On the docket: eighty or so miles of coastal bliss interspersed with some solid climbing efforts. The location: Malibu, home of the rich, famous and a helluva lot of Botox.

According to the Wikipedia, “Malibu (ˈmælɨbuː) is an affluent beach city in Los Angeles County, California, United States…Nicknamed “the ‘Bu” by surfers and locals, the community is famous for its warm, sandy beaches, and for being the home of many Hollywood movie stars and others associated with the entertainment industry.”

I’m sure we can agree that this picture of Malibu is one that is held by most, and that fateful Saturday, I must admit that it was the view I held as well. A late start and 7.a.m. Saturday traffic (this is LA, remember?) conspired against me, leaving me on my own for the day. I’d missed plenty of group rides before, so no matter, I’d simply be getting in some quality solo miles today.

With it's close proximity to Tinsel Town, Tuna Canyon sure knows how to turn on the charm.

After a nice spin up the coast from Santa Monica to the ‘Bu, it was time to head to the hills—in this case a run up Topanga Canyon. Feeling ambitious I hung a left onto Fernwood Pacific Drive, a steep, switchback-laden climb that would put me at the top of Tuna Canyon, home of one of the most sinuous descents in existence—hell, to be perfectly honest, it’s downright sensual.

Sure, the descent I was faced with should have been plenty fulfilling on its own, but at the summit, the sight of a winding dirt road (and boy do I love those) hugging the side of the mountain provided a temptation too strong to ignore. Plus, I was thoroughly convinced that the view from it would make for some amazing Instagram fodder. If only I knew what I was getting into.

Again, thanks to my cursory after-the-fact glance at Wikipedia I read that while “most Malibu residents live within a few hundred yards of Pacific Coast Highway (State Route 1), which traverses the city…some residents liv[e] up to a mile away from the beach up narrow canyons, and many more residents of the unincorporated canyon areas identifying Malibu as their hometown.”

Thinking the worst that could happen was a polite request from some millionaire’s butler to kindly turn around, I weighed my options. But, unknown to me, the residents of Malibu “away from the beach up narrow canyons” weren’t exactly all Hollywood-types, but an open gate sealed my fate. Tires crunching, I turned on to the dirt road, quickly amazed that such views were possible so close to the smog-shrouded metropolis of Los Angeles.

About a half-mile later, I was met with the sound of an engine coming towards me. Moving to the side of the road to allow for safe passage, I was a bit taken aback, when the two cars, a 1980’s Mercedes diesel sedan sans-hood and a Jeep Wrangler, rather than pass me, skidded to a stop and three disheveled-looking men jumped out.

Met with a fusillade of F-bombs and other indecipherable phrases I was startled to say the least. But then suddenly the situation got a bit more interesting. Standing behind the other two, I noticed one of the men raising a rather menacing looking shotgun up to a horizontal plane. Based on these men’s demeanor, I quickly surmised they weren’t out here for a friendly round of target shooting.

'X' marks the spot...of my first—and hopefully last—stick-up.

Within seconds, the ringleader of the trio was inches from my face, screaming at me to the best of his ability. More piercing than the man’s words, however, were his eyes, twitching apoplectically with every breath.

I was frozen in place, and somewhat uncharacteristically, had absolutely no idea what to do. Call me sheltered, but, I’d never been held at gunpoint before, and I’d never really planned on it either. And, to make matters worse, I sure as hell didn’t plan on it involving me clad from head to toe in Lycra, obviously intruding on some illicit business.

Who knew shaved legs and shotguns could make for a surprisingly hairy situation?

According to the snippets of this man’s tirade that I could actually comprehend, I wasn’t exactly supposed to be on this road, despite the invitingly open gate. Although, to be perfectly honest, I got that more from the contextual clues that included a leveled shotgun and a man who was obviously on one or more controlled substances more than anything else.

After a good five minutes of staccato screaming, complete with threats ranging from calling the police to shooting me right on the spot (which the man was quick to inform me was well within his legal rights) the man, finally exasperated, simply yelled at me to “get the hell out of here, and if I ever see you again you’ll be leaving with a load of buckshot.

Not needing any further urging, I managed a quick nod and bolted back down the road at a speed I didn’t know i was even capable of, drifting though loose corners, my exertion soon requiring me to fight back the urge to keel over and spew the contents of my stomach all over the road.

Finally, passing back through the gate, and back onto pavement, I stopped, trying my best to catch my breath. Despite wanting to stay longer, I thought better of it and plunged down Tuna Canyon, thankful it was a one-way descent, taking blind corners faster than I ever had before, trying put as much distance between myself and that shotgun as possible. Finally taking a deep breath once I was back on the PCH and back in the company of platinum blondes and BMW’s, it sunk in just how lucky I had been.

So folks, the moral of the story is this: never let Instagram dictate your ride—it might just leave you running for your life. But, however, if there’s a Strava segment nearby, it may be just the push you need to grab that KOM.

Kevin Rouse may have been a bit late to the bike-riding party, but he’s certainly making up for lost miles. Having discovered cycling while studying journalism at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, he enjoys long days in the saddle whenever—and however—he can get them. You can usually find him on two wheels, but if not, you’d be well served to check the nearest coffee shop. 

2014-03-24T22:00:17-08:00