Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Primal Wilderness Rambling From Temescal Canyon

I used to live in Venice. No, not the grand Venice of Italy. The little Venice of southern California, a beach town in Los Angeles where developer and conservationist Abbott Kinney once envisioned creating an exact replica of the Italian city. Yet, this article isn't about Venice. It's about the time I decided to run in the Santa Monica Mountains on the summer solstice. Since that day is again rapidly approaching, I thought my cautionary tale about over-estimating daylight would be appropriate.

Temescal Canyon is nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains, 15 minutes North of Venice. Instead of imitating locals who constantly tan and surf, I stuck with my Pacific Northwest roots and spent most of my free time running there. As an avid trail runner, Temescal Canyon is my favorite loop: fours miles of uphill/downhill action with a climb of 1000 feet.

On the evening of the summer solstice, I left my job at 7. I'd missed my usual morning run that day, so I was eager to get outside and do something physical. With the solstice, I figured there was plenty of daylight to work with. So, I jumped on my beat-up trail bike then rode seven miles along the Venice Beach bike path, until I reached Temescal Canyon Road. I could've taken my car, but why when the sun was still out?

I locked my bike against a wooden sign post in the park below the mountain path. I started down the trail and entered the tree-sheltered bliss of my nature escape. Four miles of evening splendor lay ahead of me. The first mile was a gradual climb through the hills. I ran it at a moderate pace, breathing in the salty ocean air. The light was fading fast. A few lizards made their last crossings over the trail as I passed and rabbits huddled in the bushes along the way.

Upon summiting the trail's highest peak, a panorama of the Pacific Ocean was visible to the West and the canyon lay below me to the East. Looking down into the ravine, I could see darkness gathering quickly. I didn’t have a head lamp. I was wearing Vibrams, which are the almost-barefoot running-shoe equivalent of a garden glove. In a moment of rationality, I decided to turn around and go back over the first section of mountainous trail, instead of completing the four mile loop through the canyon. I could be back at my bike before night really sank in. I hoped.

The light was disappearing faster than I could run. Soon, I could barely see one foot in front of the other. I relied on the feel of my feet grasping the earth more than sight. My heartbeat began to thump in my ears as I felt a flight instinct kick in. Bushes started to look like animals. From the corner of my eye, I thought I saw movement.

Going downhill rapidly, I stepped on some rocks that I normally would've avoided. Pain flooded the balls of my feet, but I kept going, somehow managing not to stumble. When I reached the canyon floor, the darkness was complete. Feeling grateful, I approached my bike, fumbled my lock off and rode the seven miles back home on a pitch black beach path. Along the way, I nearly crashed several times, thanks to a perpetually loose bicycle chain and patches of sand that blotted the pavement.

Back home in the light, I took a hot shower. Afterwards, I walked up the street to my regular hangout The Canal Club. Their happy hour menu sports things like tacos, fries, sushi and miso soup all under five dollars. With my usual glass of wine in hand, I sat at the bar, laughing about my nocturnal adventure. Safe in the light and warmth of the Canal Club, being scared of the dark seemed silly.

What was I so afraid of? Mountain lions and other wild creatures don't frighten me, thanks to my upbringing in the backcountry of central Oregon. Tripping and falling hadn't even crossed my mind as I hurried down the slope. To be completely honest with myself, I have to admit that my true fear was a basic one. Aimee Conner is still afraid of the boogeyman. Are you?

Aimee Conner crawled out of a cave in a remote part of central Oregon. She can play the old-time fiddle and work the ancient magic of baking. She has now joined "civilized" society in Los Angeles, where you can't shoot the animals, but the animals sometimes shoot at you. She's the author of the psychological thriller Scrapbook.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a beautiful spot! I think I'd like it there a lot.