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Day 5 — Goodbye Hippies

Map of this day’s hike

Route I Hiked This Day

My last day in California, departing two days ahead of schedule and with an extra $100 charge on my credit card. Not exactly the grandiose scheme I envision for this trip. But with the weather forgetting that Southern California is sunny and dry, my options were severely constrained. I could have been stubborn (or more likely cheap) and stayed the last two days, but with everything (including my food) being either wet or wetter it would have only prolonged a miserable ending to my trip. Sometimes you just have to cry uncle, trying to salvage some pride, all the while preparing for the next fight.

My final night sleeping under California’s cloudy sky again brought rain (although thankfully no major storms) which remembered to mostly stop as the sun rose. After breaking camp for the last time and again throwing my supplies upon my shoulders, I began the last leg of my abbreviated journey. My final destination was a red dot on my map, which I had marked as a bus stop based on pre-trip internet intelligence. Whether this corresponded to a real life one was to be determined. It was near the ocean, about five miles by roads. At least as a nice contrast, I would be losing elevation the entire time. I followed a trail through Malibu Creek State Park which passed near a correctional facility (it sure seems safe camping less than a mile from a prison), and shortly thereafter led me to Malibu Canyon Road, which I had trekked up the previous day while seeking refuge at Malibu Creek State Park.

After once again admiring the overly filled Malibu Creek (which had actually receded a couple of feet since my last gaze) I continued my own personal March to the Sea. Although following a paved road and not involving the destruction of the South, I encountered plenty of enemies along the way. The road was precariously balanced on narrow, man-made shelf cut into the rocky side of cliff. On one side of this tight rope, was a precipice which normally contained a peaceful brook, but after the downpours now raged with enough white water to challenge any other rapids (too bad I left my raft at home). On the other side was a towering rock wall, whose stability was called into question after the thorough drenching it endured.

Turn on Headlights

An overly dramatic description of my only route to civilization was not my only pitfall. My feet’s blisters did not fancy the hard pavement and burned with every step. Also, my escape route was designed for cars, not wayward hikers. It had what some would consider a shoulder, but in more than a couple of spots it dwindled to almost nothing. The entire time I was never more than five feet from oncoming traffic. Although the roadway was not very friendly to pedestrians, it contained an even greater foe…a tunnel.

Now let me explain something to those of you who just go zipping through tunnels and never give them a second thought: moving earth costs money and a lot of it. Blasting, digging, and otherwise clawing through rock is not a cheap way to build a road, so the less dirt that crews must remove the cheaper the project is. Since no one in their right mind would expect someone to traverse this road on foot and politicians have wasted all the tax money on other worry projects, little if any space was added to the tunnel for non-motorized traffic. All that was provided was about a foot wide strip of concrete raised a couple of inches from the road surface which seemed more like a buffer for cars rather than a walkway. Now the tunnel was not all the long, maybe 200 yards, but navigating a narrow strip of concrete with trucks racing by at 50 mph mere feet away would make it an extremely dangerous and unpleasant jaunt. With no feasible alternate route and an ever approaching departure time, I had little choice but to push through, trying to recall if I had signed my life insurance papers correctly.

An overflowing river

A Bridge Over Troubled Waters

After waiting for a relatively large break in traffic, I darted into the tunnel’s eerily glowing mouth, discolored from the nonstop orange glow emitted from the sodium bulbs above, all the while my pack gleefully bouncing side to side like an excited dog waiting for its master to throw the stick. As soon as traffic returned though, I had to slow my pace and carefully tread along the slender shoulder. The ledge was narrow enough that whenever any cars (or worse trucks) approached, I had to stop and press myself against the wall to prevent getting sucked into their wake. Luckily, no semis passed me in the tunnel. Another nice “feature” of my ever-too-small passageway was stripped reflector signs every twenty yards, reminding drivers not to smack the big concrete wall next to them. Since the tunnel was straight, I would assume this should not be too difficult for drivers, but some conniving civil engineering (or lawyer) had them installed to thwart any pedestrians who dared to venture inside their creation. Or maybe women operating their oversized SUVs, yapping on their cell phones just do not know how to drive. Whatever the reason for their existence, these hindrances were just wide enough to block my entire walkway, but not interfere with traffic. So in order to pass this stage of my quest, I had to wait for traffic to clear and then quickly step into the road, around the conveniently placed signs, and back onto my refuge. Rise, wash, and repeat every twenty yards.

Despite being a little nerve racking and probably more than a couple drivers cursing me as they passed, I emerged from the tunnel a bit dirty, but all in one piece. Of course, I had no idea if more tunnels lay waiting in ambush, or if I had endured the worst of it. I was way past the point of no return though, so I continued on.

Remember to Check Headlights

Despite my luck the past couple of days, the worst the road threw at me was behind me. It did not contain any more tunnels, bridges, or pits of lava protected by Pterodactyls to cross. Just a couple more miles of pavement to drag my feet across. During this final day’s arduous journey, I also spotted plenty of cops. No secret stash was discovered, but still at least a dozen police cars must have passed me along Malibu Canyon Road. Maybe Malibu Pier has a morning special on coffee and doughnuts. None of the police seemed to concerned that a dirty, weary roustabout was walking along the road, considering they all drove past without slowing. It sure would have helped to support conspiracy theories and paranoia if they had hassled me though. Oh well.

Besides the Man, several snow plows also overtook me. Now being from Northern Indiana and currently living in Iowa, I have seen plenty of snow plows, especially in December. But what right did they have to invade Los Angeles? These mountains were not tall enough to offset the warmth in their southern latitudes, so to a Midwesterner it just seemed like more pork barrel spending. As more passed, however, I realized this was not just nepotism, but served an actual function. The torrential downpours had dislodged enough soil to cause quite a few mini rock slides. They were small enough not to cause any damage but large enough to slightly interfere with traffic. So instead of removing snow, these trucks used their plows to clear the roads of fallen rocks and mud. I guess it doesn’t take much to amaze a person from a part of the county where Mt. Trashmore is the largest “hill” around.

In spite of snow plows which plowed no snow and cops rushing to get their morning sugar fix, I continued down the road without anymore incidents. And to my shock and delight, their was an actual bus stop exactly where I had marked on my map (the Pepperdine University stop). Considering I basically guestimated using MapQuest and my past track record for not being able to read a map, I was pleased with myself. I was not quite out of the woods yet…err actually I was out of the woods…but I stilled need to get to the airport. The 434 arrived within ten minutes of my arrival though (the same bus I had expected to ride back in two days, only picking it up at a stop much further down the coast). With some help from the bus driver and a woman who did not speak English, I once again successfully exploited the capabilities of L.A.’s bus system and arrived at LAX. My backcountry skills were quite humbled, considering that I used all the city services without a hitch, but just about everything on the trails backfired.

The Airport

With my pride a little hurt I stumbled into the airport a couple of hours before my plane was scheduled to depart, plenty of time for check in and security. My bad luck was left in the mountains though, since I was able to get to my gate with ample time remaining. On my return flight I sat next to a young couple traveling with an infant, something which could have made for an extremely long flight. The child though, was very well behaved, barely making a sound in its mother’s arms. I think the in flight movie, for which I luckily did not have headphones, was far more annoying. I may have even been more bothersome to them, considering I packed around thirty miles and had not showered in three days. No one passed out or asked for clothes pins, so either I was not too horrible, they were too polite, or airplanes do not carry clothes pins.

Despite departing a few minutes late, a strong tail wind enabled the plane to land early. As I left the terminal, my own waiting mother did not even recognize me after being ravage by the elements. After she did finally see me though, I gave her a big hug and began recounting to her the adventure I shared here.


Before I left on this trip, I was more concerned with actually getting back and forth to the Santa Monica Mountains and navigating L.A. than the backpacking itself. Once I actually arrived at the trails, I figured I would not have any problems. If you actually bothered to read this far though, you know that almost the exact opposite happened. I was able to survive the city but not the mountains.

Although my rain gear was admittedly, basically non-existent, there is not much any backpacker, no matter how well prepared, can do when five inches of rain falls overnight and the weather does not let up much afterwards. At least there were not any earthquakes while I was there. Surprisingly, the weather actually stayed bad, even after California and I parted ways. I figured that once I left, it would once again become sunny and warm. Instead, there were deadly mudslides and floods. So for about the second time in my life, I made the right choice to give up and get back early.

I would definitely be willing to attempt hiking the complete Backbone Trail again, but next time I do not think it will be during the rainy season. Hopefully I learned something from this entire ordeal so that I am better prepared next time I venture out — but probably not.