Thursday, October 31, 2013

L.A. Basin Urban Thru-Hike: Part I

Sea to Mountains, City to Wilderness

Over the intercom the flight attendent vocalized the arrival of the flight to LAX. It was mid-afternoon, and from my nooked window I could see peerless rays of sunshine glistening in the horizon towards the Pacific Ocean. People stood up from their seats and crowded into the aisle. Most reached up to their hand bags stowed in the compartment above. I stood up and slung my Kumo over my back and waited patiently for the line of people to exit the plane. I looked around; things seemed so complicated yet I had all that I needed on my back in my backpack.

Through the terminal I happened to follow an attractive woman from the same flight who wore a MontBell Down Jacket. I followed her insouciant gait that had an L.A. swagger. I could see the contrast of what I was about to embark on already. I was already seeking for the connection between the city and wilderness. The hustle and bustle of the airport moved in agitation with people moving faster than they usually do. Most trundled in hurky-jerky steps towing their roll-on luggage that lumbered clumsily behind. I followed a path of least resistance within the terminal, weaving in and out of the awkward walkers. I eluded bottlenecks of travellers along the escalators and eventually I found myself in an outside world of concrete. I headed the direction opposite of which the incoming cars were coming from. I followed a sidewalk figuring I would have to walk along side of a narrow shoulder of oncoming traffic. But the sidewalk just winded its way around the curve of the massive runway and dumped me down unto a staircase landing on Lincoln Blvd, otherwise known as the Pacific Coast Highway or Highway 1.

I hiked with an adrenaline rush I have never felt in thousands of miles of hiking. The roar of the city bellowed in a stentorian thunder. My heart pounded furiously through my chest. Cars, truck, motorcycles sped on by; buses coasted near curbside that left a pocket of wind to erupt in my face, and huge jumbo jets raced across the sky above the highway perpendicular to the flow of transporters only a few hundred feet above it all. The madness of the city presented itself to me as I now headed towards the city Santa Monica. I hiked tall with my shoulders wide and I felt myself breathing heavily, panting almost, from hiking with so much gusto.

I intended to make my way to Venice and the bike path along the beach, then through Santa Monica I would connect a series of staircases to Pacific Palisades, and hike my way up into the backbone of the Santa Monica Mountains and its wildlands for a stealth camp. And since it was mid to late afternoon I knew I had to make miles swiftly if I intended to camp by a reasonable hour. Lincoln Blvd., or PCH, was swarmed with the masses. Still feeling the rush of the city I mashed my way along the sidewalks, dodging throngs of pedestrians, bikes, and various obstacles such as newspaper stands and light posts. I moved efficiently and swiftly using street instincts to navigate such as jaywalking. I found side streets that were flooded with cars, not unlike the boulevards, but they moved more fluidly. Having been an auto parts driver in L.A. I knew that some of these side streets were other thoroughfares through the city that cut-off unnecessary mileage and 'rounded' my route rather than 'squared' my route. In some congested areas I actually out-hiked the slow moving vehicles.

In Venice, I found alley ways to move through. Ivies and other creeping vines, garlands, and a slew of exotic trees tunneled over the few allies I took. Some residents even took to painting murals on their garage doors. These alley ways were quite peaceful and attractive. Then a bike pedaler came towards me, seemingly out of place. Nearer and nearer, the cholo on a cruiser bike meandered in sweeping 'U's' as he passed me. He reminded me of a shark patrolling a feeding ground. He glanced at me through his 'loc's', as I did the same through my shades. We both flicked up our chin at each other and continued going in the direction we were headed. As I walked on, I increased my senses, especially my hearing, just in case something came up from behind me. One advantage I have over most people, especially from being in the woods for so long, is an heightened acuity in my senses.

A concern of mine in planning this hike was the state of certain neighborhoods I knew Snorkel had hiked through connecting the stairways. I gasped when she told me the non-threatening states of some of the neighborhoods because when I lived there almost a decade ago those exact neighborhoods were not so friendly. I asked Snorkel if she worried about what colors she wore, street taggings rather than murals, and gang presence on the stairways. It seemed L.A. had changed since the last time I resided there. So, I walked on realizing my behavior would matter most. I related that behavior as to walking in different territories: grizzly habitat, hot and dry weather, waterless stretches, night hiking and mountain lion threats. I began to read the city as I would read the mountains.

Along the Venice beach walk tourists, locals, and the seedy dwellers moved along in a current resembling a human river. Occasionally, I would hit some rapids and dudes would be yelling at each other, cursing and throwing down. Other times the water remained placid and serene as some of the street musicians would tantalize the ears with their entranced melodies. The sun shined brightly, and all walks of life were out and about. At the Santa Monica Pier, a mini-carnival of sorts jutting out into the sea, I climbed my first set of stairs. I went up and down between the beach walk and the park settled on top of the bluffs. Within these climbs I noticed the difference in culture and wealth, cleanliness and filth, as well as the fit and unfit.

Soon, I was scaling stairways interspersed through the swanky neighborhoods of Santa Monica. Some of the stairways were used as a workout and social spot where the plastic and chiseled would congregate. Down into Rustic Canyon I went and the sun seem to hide from me in a dimmed embarrassed state. Poison ivy cloaked the stairway, bamboo shoots sprouted up straightly, and the residents' yards juxtaposed the groomed landscape with the wild nature of some of the plants on the hillsides. The air was sea-misted and redolent of blossoms of a white flower I frequently saw.

Night enveloped the metropolis, and the tiny suburb of Pacific Palisades buzzed with activity. I hiked on to the Temescal Canyon trail head and night hiked up the ridge trail. From the ridge I could see the high school football came going on and the blue of the ocean turn to an abyss-black. Down the trail came about 20 Filipinos all carrying hand held flashlights. I let them pass me and continued up the ridge in the dark with the robust full moonlight guiding my way. On the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains I followed a fire road with a warm air blanketing my body. The city seemed so far away, the booming noise of the city now sounded like a quiet belch. I heard some popping noise and saw fireworks bursting from the Santa Monica Pier, many night owls hooted from the telephone wires above me, and the deep silence of the ocean protruded into my being as the deepest sound of all, as if the world was inhaling the miasmic air of the city.

I bedded down under a canopy used mainly by cyclists to escape the heat of the day. I looked down at the twinkling city lights rather than up at the fading stars in the night sky. I found this to be strange since my southwest Vagabond Loop held the glamour of beauty above me at night. My eyes slowly closed but not before noticing the difference in blackness and emptiness between the mountains and the ocean.  

I awoke before dawn and hiked in the cool, morning air. I followed the crest of Mulholland Dr. The road went from dirt to pavement and soon I was amid a cacophony of roaring cars zooming by me. At an overlook of the San Fernando Valley I read a kiosk explaining the corridors of wildlife through established neighborhoods. The kiosk explained the relationship and co-habitation of deer, people and their pets, birds, and coyotes. I pondered these wildlife corridors deeply since I seemed to be following a similar path through the city.

On to Highway 101 and the Hollywood Hills to meet my very good friend Zack. He picked me up at the Hollywood Bowl and we had about a 2 hour lunch together. I probably annoyed him with my excitement from the past day walking through the city. I was still pretty amped up.

After dropping me back off in the spot where my steps would connect, I proceeded up into the Hollywood Hills and found more stairways. The stairs connected old, swanky houses and streets with one another all within eyesight of the Hollywood sign. I flew through the area and soon enough I was in Los Feliz just under the Griffith Observatory. I plotted my route using maps from Snorkel's Google Map files that I printed out. I connected the stairways in the most efficient way possible by trying to find the most fluid and straightforward way though the neighborhoods. Eventually, I moved from street to street and into Franklin Heights. Since it was a Saturday, the neighborhoods were alive with action. Community Fall celebrations and Farmer's markets were underway, taco trucks lined boulevards. 
The hills in this area were surprisingly steep. In Silver Lake the streets and staircases went even steeper up. I hiked up and down stairways as if I was on a workout. In planning for this trip I worried about the condition my feet would be in after all the pounding on the concrete. Here I was, zeroing in on a 40m day, and I was practically running up the stairways. In Silver Lake I could envision the working class of the 1920s and 1930s taking these stairways down to the flatter and broader streets to catch trams and streetcars. The foundation of the proletariat, the working class matrix of the city, still held firm despite the fact the homes now settled on the hills were for the more wealthier. The stairways were trails bridging connections between communities. Secret gardens and canopies gave even a tiny moment to a citizen that Mother Nature was nearby. Walking up and down these old staircases symbolized a tie with the flow of the moving world. The concrete jungle seemed to be irrelevant as the clank of staired planks and the swish of brush and foliage took you away.

Dusk began to settle in on the end of my first full day in the city. I began to pick up the pace in order to meet my buddy Steve who was to pick me up. One of the last staircases I climbed I found a trio of hip-hop heads posting up with L.A. Dodger hats on.
"Whatdya got there? Mickey's or OE?"
"Shit, man, we got mineral water, " one of the dudes chuckled. I chuckled right back. Memories from my early 20s flooded back.
"Damn, y'all got some mota too! Livin' the good life, makin' me jealous," I casually told them. They all smiled, I am sure mostly because they realized I wasn't a Narc. At the top of the stairway I spilled out into a street and the air suddenly smelled of barbeque, a typical warm, sunny day smell in L.A. This was the right place, right now. I met Steve and he treated me out to the Golden Road Brewing Company near Atwater Village. We slugged away a few pale ales and felt the jumping vibe in the alehouse. My eyes almost jumped out of my head with all the excitement, as Steve and I spoke of the natural world, trails, and connections...

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