I followed the highway down to the foothill town of Maricopa for gas, one of the few open establishments in the tumbleweed town decaying into the past. From here I climbed over 3000 ft back up toward the Los Padres National forest savoring the dry air and clear 60 mile views of the Carrizo Plain stretching behind me.
Twisting ever higher into the mountains, the grasslands slowly gave way to pine forests with sandy floors. The cold breezes on the exposed mountains lead me lower to Lebec for gas and the decision to drop into the greater LA area or continue skirting it through the mountains to the north...I'll let you decide which route I took! By 4:45, the sun began to set and I pulled in to an abandoned driveway of hummocked sand leading to an old foundation with 30+ year old trees growing through it. This offered a quiet and secluded spot to hang my hammock for what would wind up being my last night in the Hennessy hammock this year. I woke before dawn to temps in the low 40's where I could see my breath while packing and making coffee in the quiet of morning. The sun began to poke over the mountain ahead so I rode down to Lake Hughes, an alkaline lakebed of white rime where a vacation destination once thrived. The drought stricken regions of southern California are swiftly adjusting property values and the "worth" of certain locations that once hosted tourism or a vacation draw, since replaced by sand and dying vegetation. Turning into the canyon, I follow the beautifully carved road around a fire-scorched landscape of blackened scrub oak and recovering shrubs and cacti slowly reclaiming the land. I am amazed at how extensive the wildfire damage is throughout the area where much of the recreation in the forest remains closed as a result. In Lake Castiac, Santa Clarita's aquifer, docks sit on the sand as the receding water levels plunge lower into the manmade basin. I can't imagine the fish in there are edible or the water quality sufficient to support an ecosystem.
The smell of diesel fuel and combustion greets me at the interstate. So sharp and pungent are the smells of society when one has been sequestered in nature. The scent of leather interior and cologne wafts from a shiny new SUV at the stoplight, just before the driver chirps the wheels at the first hint of green. I too am in a hurry, to escape the trappings of this city! I plug in the REI store over the mountain then follow a series of residential streets to my destination. I go grocery shopping until they open at 10 then purchase a new REI Passage I tent using a discount I have. The small sub 4lb one man tent should serve me well over the next few months of camping in places without trees. I mail home my hammock and 12ft tarp then immediately head for the hills through stoplight traffic, buses and smartphone distracted drivers.
I soon find myself chugging up the Tujunga Canyon north of town. I climb from the low and dry riverbed high into the brown and tan mountains. Forest fires have left no trees in sight from my vantage point as I survey the 4-5000ft ridges overhead. Erosion and deforestation on account of the fires and drought have stripped the valleys of much of their natural grandeur and balance. Concrete dams erected every few miles along the riverbed below are designed to help abate the mudflow and flash floods common during the wet season. Select sensitive species of fish and aquatic plant struggle to call this area home as a result of man's intervention in the landscape.
Reaching Highway 2, I turn left onto the Angeles Crest Hwy, a scenic ridgeline parkway running generally SW to NE across the Angeles National Forest. There is little to no traffic on this weekday afternoon, allowing me to slowly climb the mountains higher and tackle the downhill grades with centerstand dragging ease. The smog of the city obscures any chance of a glimpse of LA, not that I cared to see it anyway. Gone is the parking lot heat of the city, a cool breeze blows on my neck raising goosebumps on the skin. At 4000ft, I still have a long way to climb.
Miles of twisty scenic ridgeline roads remind me of the Blue Ridge Parkway without deciduous trees. The ravages of forest fires slowly dissipate as my elevation climbs to 5000ft...then 6000, 7000 and finally up to 7900 ft at Dawson Saddle. Snow blankets the northern facing hills between 7500-8000 ft and ice lines the deeply cut roadside ditches. Bundled up against the cold, I chuckle at the extreme change in temperature from my morning in the city to my afternoon on the mountain. The sharp cutting wind and approaching cloudfront socks me in while I finish my slowly cooked dinner of chicken soup at 7000 ft. Small scale ski resorts line the roadway offering winter recreation for the sunkissed masses of SoCal. Lifts sway in the breeze and tracked vehicles wait for the short winter season to arrive. Ski runs of sand and dirt offer a different kind a powder during this time of year. Simultaneously, the elevation, temperature and sun plummet lower on their respective scales. "I've got to get off this mountain", I comment to nobody in particular, secretly wanting to stay for a storm and test the new tent.
Twisting down through log cabin resort towns and getaway destinations, I reach the high desert town of Phelan where Joshua Trees and cacti common to this Mojave Desert environment greet me. The extremes in landscape and microclimate during my single day of travel have been mesmerizing. Out on the highway, a line of headlights stretches in my mirror into oblivion. I pull off on a small sandy lane to pull in behind a shipping container, behind a Lutheran Church. With the engine off, the sound of wind against my helmet draws my head around to take in the glorious sunset behind me. Orange and pink clouds float through a purple sky contrasting sharply above the darkened mountains from which I came. The wild bark of a dog reaches my ears from an adjacent parcel to disappear on the wind, into the darkness of a high desert night.
In May 2014 I quit my job to ride a Honda Ruckus over 69'000 mi and counting. Wild camping most nights and cooking most of my own meals, I keep the costs low and the landscape changing.