Posted by: GeekHiker | July 16, 2007

Bad Trip

It’s rare that I have a bad hike. Really rare. So rare as to call it practically non-existent for me.

Things that might ruin a hike for others don’t faze me in the least. Cold? No problem, I’m sweating from the exercise anyway. Hot? The breeze will feel just that much better when I reach the top of the ridge. Pouring Rain? Meh, water never hurt anybody, and I’ll just stop at Malibu Seafood for some clam chowder afterwards. Wind? Uh… okay, high wind is just a pain in the butt.

But to actually ruin a hike takes an awful lot. Sunday just happened to be the day.

Starting off with a closed road is never a good way to begin a hike day, but even though it happened yesterday, I can deal with that. They shoot a ton of movies around my place, so Sunday detours are pretty common.

Heavy traffic on the way out to the Santa Monica Mountains? I just take a deep breath and deal. It’s summer, there’s tourists and a heat wave, so big crowds heading to the beach are to be expected.

No parking at The Secret Spot? Not a big shocker since I’m already late. I wait a few, take a leisurely spin up the road to an overlook, drive back down and lo and behold, there’s a spot.

So I clamber out of my car, race up the trail, get off the trail and head to the one place I don’t tell people about. It’s public, so anybody can get there, but it’s special, so I don’t sell it.

I sit down, change into my Teva’s, settle in for a relaxing day. Today’s not a ten miler day: the sun is just right, the breeze is just right; today is a day just to relax in the woods. Just sit under the trees, read, nap, breathe the clean air and listen to the birds.

I’m just settling into my nap when I hear a boy yelling, just down and around the corner in the canyon. There’s a splash in the water. Kids playing in the creek.

Then I realize, he’s not just yelling, he’s howling.

At the top of his lungs.

I think “Is someone in trouble? No, they’d be yelling ‘help’ or something similar.”

Then other voices join in. All yelling and howling, at the top of their lungs.

Well, this isn’t quite what I signed up for.

Needless to say, every chirping bird in the area is long gone.

A pair of hikers come up the canyon and describe for me the scene below: about 10 people, naked, all sitting around yelling at the top of their lungs, evidently all tripping on acid.

Okay, fine. I mean, it’s a public park, and who the hell am I to tell anybody what else to do. Although… it is annoying as all hell.

I grab my stuff, move to another boulder, putting a little more distance (and a little more rock) between me and them. I lay down in the shade, the rock warm from being in the sun earlier, and relax.

About an hour later, the yelling stops and it’s quiet again. “Cool,” I think, “they’ve headed out.” I doze off.

30 minutes later, I’m awakened by the noise. They’ve all come into my area. “Crap,” I think.

I peek at them from under my hat. Apparently they think I’m still asleep. If they’re even aware of my presence, that is.

Some are half-naked. Some are crawling around on all fours attempting, apparently, to do their best imitation of a ground sloth. Most are laughing at, well, nothing in particular as far as I can tell.

They look for all the world like a bunch of wanna-be hippies. Although at the end of the day I didn’t see the requisite brightly painted VW bus in the parking lot. Pretty much all mid to high end cars. Ah, hippies with cash.

After a couple of minutes, they settled down and all started laying out in the sun. Okay, fine, whatever, I can share, just leave me the hell alone.

All was fine until one started yelping again. Something of a cross between a hyena cry and a yelping puppy.

I grabbed my stuff and was out of there.

Geez, didn’t I see this in a movie somewhere?

It occurred to me as I headed up canyon that this group seemed like one of those odd “connect to nature” groups I’ve seen before. Although, admittedly, this one was a little on the extreme side for my taste.

When you think about it, the human voice is the oddest thing to hear in nature. It just doesn’t fit in. In many ways, we removed ourselves from nature thousands of years ago. Closest we get is when drunk frat boys at the bars make monkey sounds, and you have to admit, that still isn’t quite “natural”.

The other sounds of the forest tend to blend together: the wind in the trees, the birds, the sounds of water running down the creek, the gentle buzz of dragonflies patrolling the banks. When two humans loudly talking come upon such a scene, it’s out of place.

Which is exactly why when those two loudly talking humans mosey down the trail, most every other living thing keeps their distance.

Which is why I’ve never quite understood how a group of people can be out to “get back to nature” by yelling at the tops of their lungs in the middle of it.

You really want to get to know nature? Shut the hell up and listen.

Hence my extreme annoyance at this particular group of folks. On the one hand, I want to be open and say “yeah sure, come out and experience nature however you like.” On the other hand, if I’d wanted to listen to the sounds of people, I would have stayed in the city for the day.

I mean, we all have to share these lands. Can’t we share the sound of them too? Without interruption? Without fooling ourselves into believing we’re adding to what’s already there?

This isn’t to say that the occasional quiet whisper isn’t okay. Or even if it had been kids down there splashing about, laughing, giggling, at play. Oddly, that wouldn’t have bugged me.

But howling/yelling/screaming? Please.

Late in the afternoon, as I proceeded back down-canyon, I passed a number them heading up canyon. They were dressed and walking like, well, people now. As they headed up the boulders I couldn’t help but think to myself “Break a leg. No, really, I mean it.”

Hm. Not my normal fuzzy post-hike mood.

When I hit the trail out of the canyon, I could hear the rest of the group below me. And smell a mixture of cigarettes and pot. And I thought to myself “If you burn down this place, so help me God, I will Hunt. You. Down.

Well, this is not the effect I usually get from hiking, as you might imagine.

So when I hit the main trail, I veered off and headed to the creek bottom. There, I stood on the bank, closed my eyes, and listened to the sound of wind and water. Slowly I took several deep breaths.

The longer I stood, the more I heard. The different sounds of water at different points in the creek. Wrens in the trees. A raven in the distance. A dragonfly buzzing along his territory.

I let my annoyance at the wanna-be hippies seep out of me.

I let the rhythm of the canyon take it’s place.

I’m no zen master or anything, just a geek who likes to hike. But at that moment, I felt balanced again.

So the day wasn’t quite ruined. But it came a lot closer than I like.

Good thing I listened to my own advice: just shut up. And listen.



  1. Um, earplugs? ;p


    It has to be annoying to make an effort to escape from the noise, only to have inconsiderate people spoil nature with their attempts at coolness and/or getting back to nature.

    I’m glad you were finally able to shut up and just relax.

  2. Oh I knew it was going to be people that ruined it, stupid people! Sorry it was a bad hike but I’m glad you got to have a moment to yourself, in nature, without aggravation.

  3. Charming – hmmmm, earplugs…

    Yeah, I had an urge to go to them and say “don’t you understand? I’m here to get AWAY from you people!” But they just would’a yelled at me.

    Ruby – Sometimes, you really can’t get away from it all. And the fact that you commented while traveling is very cool!

  4. “You really want to get to know nature? Shut the hell up and listen.”


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