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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.

THE RIDE HOME IS CROWDED. Our car is filled with teenage boys flashing gang signs. A sheriff’s deputy stands by the door. “They’re just out of detention,” he tells me. “They release them on Mondays so they’ll have five days to settle before they can make trouble on the weekend.”

After a half-hour, the Metrolink slips through Newhall Pass, entering the San Fernando Valley–the birthplace of modern sprawl.

Twenty minutes later, we pass the four-fast-foods corner, and 10 minutes after that we’re at Union Station, heading for the Sunset Boulevard bus.

We’re not quite done.

We have questions.

The big one is this: What part of this hike was the hike? Did it start with the planning? At the bus stop? At the trailhead? What about the typical take-the-car hike? Where does the hiking part of that one start?

I had felt like I was getting into new territory the second I leaned my backpack against that bus shelter on Saturday morning.

I wish transportation was easy in L.A. We’re building trains and trolleys, but we have decades to go before the guy at the other end of the commuter info line can direct us toward the mountains rather than Shamu. More of us live in sprawling places than not, and the conventional wisdom is that you need a car to get to the backcountry.

But maybe, just maybe, even if you’re not a route dork or transit geek, you can try something revolutionary: Turn your front door into the front range.

WHEN TRIPS END AT A Trailhead, there’s a perfunctory dispersal: halting conversation, a fanning out of cars. But we’re crowded onto one last bus, so when we see the sign at 1449 Sunset Boulevard, we’re able to make a quick group decision, signal the driver, and elbow our way onto the street. The sign says: “MARIACHIS – HAPPY HOUR MARGARITAS – $2.00.”

The mariachis are due to start a little later than the drinks, but that’s fine; we lean our packs against the stage. The staff doesn’t seem at all shocked at the sight of five dirty, sweaty, sunburned, gear-laden hikers flopping into one of the red vinyl booths on a Monday afternoon, and I don’t think it’s because we look like we’re homeless.
I think it’s because we look happy.

Dan Koeppel is actively searching for his next route to dork.

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