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Backpacker Magazine – September 2008

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.

by: Dan Koeppel, Photos by Michael Darter

On the way to the trailhead, hikers wait for Starbucks.
On the way to the trailhead, hikers wait for Starbucks.
Hiking Mt. Gleason Avenue.
Hiking Mt. Gleason Avenue.
Margarita-bound on Sunset Boulevard.
Margarita-bound on Sunset Boulevard.
Blooming yucca in trail canyon.
Blooming yucca in trail canyon.
Primetime in Colorado's Indian Peaks.
Primetime in Colorado's Indian Peaks.
Seattle bus hikers can reach Olympic National Forest.
Seattle bus hikers can reach Olympic National Forest.

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More Mass Transit Hikes
Download more hikes, all accesssible by bus, right here. 

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More Photos
See more of photographer MIchael Darter's photos from this assignment.

 

"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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READERS COMMENTS

Boarddog
Mar 16, 2012

Yep. been there done something like that. Different area.
Take the Mammoth Lakes bus to Lake Mary/Coldwater Campground to trailhead. Hike up over Duck Lake pass, down the othere side, along Cascade Valley/Fish Creek. End up at Red Meadows. Catch the Devils Postpile shuttle bus back to Mammoth Mountain ski lodge parking lot. Then bus back to town.
Getting to Mammoth Lakes, fly from LA, Orange COunty, San Jose, to Mammoth/Yosemite airport. Short cab ride to Mammoth Lakes.
Or there is a bus From Mojave to Mammoth Lakes, too.

James
Mar 15, 2012

WOW! This article was written in 2008. I feel like a jerk.

James
Mar 15, 2012

WOW! This seems like a great idea. As a matter of fact this seems like the exact same idea I emailed to Backpacker several months ago as a story to do. I've been busing it to the mtn's for over 20 years now. I don't know how it is where you all live but for me having a major hub by it gives me the ability to start on one end of the park and finish a couple to a few days later on another end of the park. This hub also reaches a few different parks. The bus doesn't go near every trailhead therefore at times I will get off in a town and get a cab to the trail. On occasion I was fortunate to meet a local willing to give me the ride in exchange for their opportunity to tell some childhood experience about the mtn's or some special spot to explore which I always enjoy. Locals usually refuse to take money so I secretly put it next to them when their not looking. When I started doing this it had nothing to do with being environmentally friendly sorry to say. It was more about never having to backtrack the same trail to the car. Keeping the journey fresh for end to end was always my goal.

Bill
Aug 03, 2011

Nice Article! Trying to plan a trip for this month.
You all might find this interesting:
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION TO LOCAL NATIONAL FORESTS
University of Southern California
http://www.cityprojectca.org/pdf/usctransitstudy-forests.pdf

The Gorbs
Nov 28, 2008

Bay Area to Yosemite. This takes some planning and layovers, but I think is a good option. AMTrack to Yosemite. The Train stattion is in Emeryville across th ebay but AMTrack includes a bus ride over. Take the train to Merced and then a bus to The Valley or t Toulomne Meadows (summer only). I have flown into other cities and rented a car to then visit National Parks. The biggest hassle is yo ucan't carry fuel so you have to plan exacly where you can buy and when. Fuel bottles must be washed with soap and water and air dry to bring on plane. One option is to donate the fuel and bottle to other hikers at the end of the trip.

The Gorbs
Nov 28, 2008

Two trips I'm Planning using Mass tranist. Pt Reyes Backpacking overnight. Make a reservation first and check bus schedules for Golden Gate Transit. There are only 4 legal overnight campgrounds, all starting from the Visitor center. From downtown San Rafael Transit Hub GGB Transit $2 one way to visitor center. About one hour 20 miles through Samuel P Taylor State Park. You can also spend a night here or in Olema at a private campground. Non weekend days you will likely have the palce to yourself. Summer may be very foggy all day along the coast here. A tent is mandatory (in my opinion) year round due to fog and mist. I've been to Wildcat 6 times and Coast 1. Glen and Sky are short hikes and you can day hike several miles to ocean from here. From SF you can also catch GGB to San Rafael, ferry to larkspur and hike 3 miles to downtown, or Greyhound from SF. Also, if you are coming from SFO, Marin Transporter. From East Bay, Bart to Richmond then GGB to San Rafael. Southbay, Take Caltrains to SF. (As far south as Gilroy and San Jose).

mystic waters
Nov 18, 2008

in the philippines, we do it most of the time. it's quite useful especially when traversing a mountain, wherein the jump off town is different from the nearest town where we descend.

Amanda Silvestri
Nov 14, 2008

I have only taken the bus to a trailhead once, in Vancuver to the Grouse Grind Trail. Having lived in LA from 1977, I have spent much time in the trails of the Algeles. I read your artical with pleasure tracing your rote in my mind. I would have liked a few more waypoints. From Condor Peak, did to head out toward Messenger Flats and the PCT over Mt. Gleason? If so, you must have desended down either 4N32 or 4N24 at the Fire Camp to reach Acton?

Silv
Nov 06, 2008

I definitely read your staircase article and loved it! This one is great too. Thanks. I live in VT. There's no bus to the trailhead!

Buster
Oct 26, 2008

Dan - thanks for the good article. You are certainly part of the solution. Hopefully, more than a few people heed your wise words. If so, the planet will be that much greener.

Robert
Oct 21, 2008

Hey Dan its nice to meet someone who likes to figure out public transportation as much as I do. I can spend hours plotting a trip in LA to the beach or Dodgers stadium using busses and trains; then when I share this info with someone they think I'm crazy. Everyones response is just drive there!

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