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Bus Hiking: Don’t Pay at the Pump

Gas prices are soaring. Glaciers are melting. What's a conscientious hiker to do? Take the bus, says Dan Koeppel, who did just that to escape downtown L.A.

“Not the smartest time of year to be doing this,” he said.

But route dork knows that sometimes it’s good to have a few empty spaces in your carefully laid plan–because that’s where fun and discovery happen. I also figured we’d have just enough water to get us to the pavement. The map showed a spring, and we’d checked a PCT thru-hiker’s message board, which confirmed it had recently been running. I guessed we could camp there, too. Now we just had to find it.

For the next two hours, we drop steadily. The view is astonishing. The only thing I can compare it to is staring down from the top of the Italian Alps, where you can see roads descending in toothpaste-squiggle switchbacks. One turn stacks atop another, and so on. But these roads are unpaved, curving into changing terrain. Halfway down, the chaparral vanishes and trees rise from a shallow canyon: the spring. Thirty minutes later, after ducking off the fire road, we pitch our tents in a pocket meadow by a tiny, gurgling creek. On a trip where planning was paramount, it feels nice to find something that wasn’t guaranteed.

THE LAST DAY OF A CAMPING TRIP ALWAYS FEELS A BIT rushed. You’re ready for a shower, a meal, a change of shoes. We want these, and we are also commuters headed for the Park & Ride. I try to resist rushing, but it’s futile. You can’t deprogram a lifetime of Monday mornings in one weekend.

By 10 a.m., we pass our first structure: an abandoned trailer home. Then comes an unpaved, empty grid of subdivisions, followed by noisy dog kennels, a lilac nursery, and a near-empty RV resort.

But our real return to the city comes when we arrive in Acton’s bustling downtown–”bustling” meaning a parking lot, “downtown” a grocery store.

There are two trains back to Los Angeles on Monday. We have a five-mile walk to the station, and just two hours until the first train.

But our march to the train is delayed by an unplanned grocery feeding frenzy: bean dip, chips, three quarts of sports drink, two iced coffees, avocados (I lost count), a turkey sandwich, a box of animal crackers, and a giant bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale–and the 30 minutes it takes to devour it all. Five miles? A little swift marching, and we’ll have a good shot. If not, we’ll wait three hours with bean dip in our guts.

Then I see it: a minibus marked “Antelope Valley Transit Authority.” I’ve never heard of this agency.

Would it be cheating to ride to the station? In one sense, the route won’t be completed as planned. But we’ll still be using mass transit.

“Are you going to the Metrolink?” we ask.

“Yes,” the driver answers.

“What’s the fare?”

She scowls. “You can’t ride this bus.”

Huh?

“We don’t take passengers,” she snaps, levering the door closed.

I’m baffled. Then the clerk at the grocery store, out smoking a cigarette, explains that the minibus service is reservation-only.
Yes, some enlightened mass-transit systems provide access to those who would like to hike, by scheduling stops close to recreational areas. This one has taken the opposite approach: You walk even if you don’t want to.
We make the train with five minutes to spare.

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