Friday, July 16, 2010

The Los Angeles Aqueduct

June 2: I left Hiker Town a bit later than I should have. The weather forecast kept calling for hotter and hotter days, and today the temperatures were supposed to rise into the 90s. At lower elevations, maybe even hit the 100 degree mark, but it looked as if summer had finally arrived after all those weeks of winter. Some hikers were talking about doing more night hiking to beat the heat. I wasn't ready to do that--not yet, at least--but hiking earlier and earlier in the mornings, taking longer and longer lunch breaks, and hiking later and later into the evening started becoming a regular event for me.

But the comforts of Hiker Town sucked me in longer than I should have stayed, and even though I still left by 9:00 in the morning, it was already very toasty outside.

The trail went a mile or two, before hitting an aqueduct. I was told that the aqueduct walk would be brutal--the next 17 miles would have absolutely no water and no shade. It would be flat, at least, but it was a boring walk with no water or shade available, for what was turning out to be, yet again, the hottest day of the year. An early morning start would have been prudent.

When I hit the aqueduct, I was surprised to see that it was open. I heard that the water from the aqueduct wasn't accessible, hidden away underground, so the fact I could see the water took me by surprise and I thought maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all. I got my hopes up for nothing, however. A mile or two later, the trail turned off the open aqueduct and started following the Los Angeles Aqueduct--which was hidden away in a giant, mostly-buried tube. The top couple of feet of the tube protruded above the ground, and most of it was covered by an additional layer of dirt, following alongside a dirt road.

The tube looked easier for me to walk on than the loose dirt on the road, so I scrambled up to the aqueduct and walked directly over it. Endless water flowing under my feet, and not a drop to drink.

It was interesting to hike on, and a stiff breeze helped keep me cool. Some areas, where the layer of dirt had worn off, were a bit more challenging to walk on because enormous rivets held the tube together right where I wanted to put my feet. It hurt to walk directly on the rivets, so I'd try to walk around them as best I could.

I got off at one point when the tube crossed over a dry creek bed. From the top of the tube where I was walking to the bottom of the creek bed was probably a good 20 or more foot drop, and one slip and fall could have had tragic consequences. No, better safe than sorry. I walked down to the road bed, crossed the dry creek, then clambered back up on the aqueduct.

The aqueduct went for a few miles, and I could see a hiker far in the distance in front of me. A lone dot on the dirt road, slowly moving. I couldn't tell who it was from that distance, but there was at least one hiker relatively close by.

The aqueduct then changed, to a type that involved lots of concrete in piles and lumps that made walking over it progressively more difficult, and I finally went back down to the dirt road to walk the rest of it.

That part didn't last long, however, before the aqueduct made a sharp right turn, and changed form again. This time, to go under a what looked like a road of concrete. An occasional access panel would allow workers to get into the aqueduct, but the enormous concrete blocks would have been impossible for hikers to lift. Other access panels that were smaller were locked with padlocks.

This part of the aqueduct looked a lot newer than the other parts I walked on, and I spent most of the afternoon wondering how much water was flowing beneath my feet. Where was it headed? When was the aqueduct built? I couldn't get answers to any of my questions, but I found myself very curious about the politics, the construction, and the story of the aqueduct.

But the hike was brutal. It was boring and flat. I first walked on the concrete layer covering the aqueduct, enjoying the clicking of my shoes against the hard concrete. (Lest you've forgotten, the soles of my shoes were wearing out and metal strips were sticking out of them, which made a nice clicking sound whenever I took a step on a hard surface such as concrete or solid rock.)

But walking on concrete for long periods started hurting my feet, so I finally veered off onto the dirt road next to it. Shade was non-existent. Perhaps one could make do under the shade of a small Joshua tree if it were necessary, but there was nothing around to create shade. The aqueduct would pass by the occasional house, and I wondered who would find themselves living out there.

Then I saw it. Movement. An animal ahead, in distance. A wolf? A dog? Yes, a dog. Running lose. Damn. I hate dogs that are running loose. Then I saw another one. And another. In all, four dogs running loose. They didn't seem to notice me--not yet, at least, and I stopped to watch. They looked like they were moving across the aqueduct, not along the aqueduct, and maybe if I waited a few minutes, they'll move off and I can sneak by.

So I stood, and waited, and the dogs moseyed off the aqueduct, but not terribly far from it. Not as far as I wanted. Hmm.... I looked around, checking for fences I could jump on or over if the dogs should decide to attack. I started looking for rocks I could throw at them to defend myself if it were necessary. Ready, I started walking. I walked on the dirt road so the clicking of my shoes wouldn't alert the dogs to my presence. I picked up my trekking pole, so it would clatter on the ground as well. And I sneaked past the dogs.

I saw one of them jump from a small ledge--or maybe it was pushed by another dog--and fell into a little drainage ditch with a plume of dirt rising where I lost view of the dog. Interesting..... But I managed to get by without drawing their attention. Whew.

Lest you think I'm a little paranoid, and honestly, I probably am a little overly sensitive to dogs running loose after my experiences on the Florida and Alabama Trails, but later I heard that one hiker was attacked by a dog running loose along the aqueduct walk. One of the same dogs I saw? I don't know, but maybe.... Fortunately, the hiker got away without any serious injuries, but dogs running loose like that--I don't like them.

My guidebook described a "concrete bridge" ahead that's a landmark for where the trail gets off the aqueduct for a few miles. It didn't say anything about there being shade at the bridge, but I felt that was my best shot at finding a shady place to stop for lunch. Where there are large volumes of concrete formed into a bridge, there's usually shade nearby. I hoped it was true.

About a half mile from the concrete bridge, however, I saw a pile of--what appeared to be--trash on the side of the road. Looked like a white tarp wrapped around something. As I got closer, I started thinking it looked vaguely like the shape of a human torso, but surely there's not half a dead body laying out here. A whole dead body, perhaps, but only half of one? No.... I got closer, and finally recognized it as a backpack, even noting a trekking pole coming out of it. Hmm.... That's a strange place for someone to abandon their pack, I thought. I continued to close in, and finally saw a little under the tarp to see Go-Go hunkering down in a crack caused by erosion, using his groundsheet over the top of the crack to provide shade.

"Hey, down there!" I called. "How's it going?"

Go-Go seemed surprised by my arrival, not realizing I was so close behind him. He was the person I'd seen walking up the dirt road while I walked on the tube part of the aqueduct. He said he only set up his little shade protection about five minutes earlier, but that I was welcome to squeeze in and make myself at home.

I climbed down into the crevice, but told him that I was holding out hope for a "concrete bridge" that should be located a short ways ahead. He didn't know about the concrete bridge, though, but thought it sounded a lot more comfortable than his little setup. "I might join you there shortly."

Which I didn't have a problem with, but I did warn him that I couldn't be certain that there was usable shade or what the situation at the bridge would be like. My book just said there was a concrete bridge, not that there was actually shade. I was making some huge assumptions that there might be shade.

Go-Go looked so cute hidden under his tarp there, and I told him so. "I need a picture of this," I said as I pulled out my camera.

Go-Go laughed at me. "Cute? That's funny as hell!" Then he took out his camera. "Can you get a picture of me with my own camera too?" Sure.... So I took pictures, then continued along the aqueduct.

Technically, it was concrete. And technically, it was a bridge. What I did not know, however, was that the bridge was only one or two feet high over the aqueduct. I could lay down under the bridge, but I wouldn't be able to sit up in the shade. Hmm.... Less than ideal, but technically, it was shade. Even if I had to lay down on the aqueduct to get at it.

I decided to set up my tarp adjacent to the bridge, using the bridge to anchor down one side and giving me a small bit of shade that I could actually sit up in. I was putting in the last stake when Go-Go walked up, laughing, "That's funny as hell! What are you doing?"

"I'm turning lemons into lemonade," I told him. "Come on and join me. It's the best shade you're going to find."

Go-Go ended up scooting under the bridge, while I spent my time resting under the shade my tarp provided. The shade under the bridge was a bit cooler, but I liked being able to sit up. Twice, a strong wind gust blew out one of the stakes anchoring down one corner of my tarp and I had to go out to fix it. "Damn wind," I grumbled.

Go-Go reported that his little pocket thermometer reported that it was 96 degrees. In the shade. Ugh.

I pulled out a 15-ounce can of sliced peaches I had bought in Agua Dulce. "You see this?" I asked Go-Go. "I'm having this for lunch. Yum!"

Go-Go seemed astonished that I would carry such a heavy food item, and laughed again about it being as "Funny as hell." The peaches were absolutely delicious. An absolute delicacy in our current situation. I ate them up, along with some other snacks and washed it down with water. I figured my pack weight would be over a pound lighter when I left the concrete bridge than when I arrived, and that's awesome!

We stopped for a couple of hours before I broke down the tarp and we continued along at our own pace. The trail left the aqueduct for a few miles. I didn't know the reason for the 'detour,' but I followed it anyhow. Later, seeing where the aqueduct passed through from a distance, the ground looked all tore up from off-road vehicles, and I suspect the reason for getting off the aqueduct was to avoid the off-road playground for motorized vehicles.

After a few miles, the trail rejoined the aqueduct, and a few miles later, we finally reached the Cottonwood Bridge, a paradise of shade and water, 17 miles beyond Hiker Town. A faucet provided water from the aqueduct, with a stern warning the water should be treated before being used. This bridge provided plenty of shade where the aqueduct crossed a small, usually dry creek (though it wasn't dry when I visited). I set up behind a shade screen, which also acted as a wind break against the increasingly strong winds.

I decided to cook dinner there, where water was plentiful and I had such an excellent wind break. A few hikers arrived, but they sat out in the sun on the other side of the creek. Fools! Hahaha!

Originally, I wanted to hike a few more miles, but I decided that the wind break was wonderful, and I'd be very unlikely to find better wind protection further along the trail. It was whipping, ripping through the trees with a ferocity of a wild dog, and the weather forecast called for a wind advisory. Yes, I liked my little wind break. I'd spend the night there.

No other hikers stopped there for the night, but I did meet a couple of local kids who drove out to this remote location to smoke pot. They offered some, which I declined, but I encourage them to sit down and tell me about themselves. It's lonely hiking out by oneself, and I'd be more than happy to chat up the potheads for lack of anything better to do. =)

They finished their pot, though, and left. I watched the sun set, then went to sleep.


Grumpy Grinch said...

Wasn't the Los Angeles Aquaduct the point of political contention in the movie "Chinatown"?

Greg said...

Mmmmmmmm. Bug porn.

Okie Dog said...

Surely you didn't carry that 5 gallon bucket with you the whole trip? What is it, a pot bucket? ;-)

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Gotta be pretty desperate for company to settle for the potheads.

I miss Charmin...

Hike On!
~Twinville Trekkers