July 08, 2012

Photo Essay: The Bridge to Nowhere, and Back

The day I decided to hike to the Bridge to Nowhere in the Angeles National Forest was not a good day.

I set my alarm for 6 a.m., an ungodly hour.

I arrived at the carpool meeting spot at 7:30 a.m., still an ungodly hour.

I found some carpool buddies easily, but we missed our exit and got lost on the way to the trailhead.

We arrived to the general area early, but we waited a long time in the wrong spot, on the wrong side of the white bridge. Which wasn't the bridge we were looking for anyway.

It took us a while to figure out that we had to cross it, and by the time we reached the Meetup meeting point, our group had already left.

Once we knew we were on track, we hustled to catch up with our group. We hiked at a good clip. We didn't take breaks.

Even early on, I lagged behind.

It was relatively shady at the beginning, but still, I couldn't keep up.

I was quite fascinated by the hike, which would take us to a bridge built in the 1930s, whose access roads on either side were washed out by flood soon thereafter. I was delighted to find some old foundations, bridge footings and other vestiges along the way...

...but although I knew we would get a bit wet on this hike, I was unprepared for how many times we would cross the San Gabriel River...

...which slowed us down tremendously. Although I'd changed from my hiking boots to my river shoes, the wet river crossings still turned out to be a challenge, especially when I couldn't see the bottom of the river or the rocks I was stepping on (having given up on rock-hopping across the river and instead sloshing my way through). Additionally, I was weighed down by my hiking boots, now tied together and slung through the strap on my pack, to boot.

The terrain along the East Fork Trail is extremely variant, turning from forest to beach to buckwheat fields in a matter of minutes...

...and back to river.

Though the crossings were cool and shady...

...ultimately it still felt like we were in the desert, and the sun really got to me.

A couple of miles in, we crossed another wooden bridge, but that wasn't the bridge we were looking for, either.

We still had more river to cross.

We passed plenty of fan palms and sprouting agave plants...

...and teetered along sandy ridges...

...occasionally encountering parts of the trail that resembled the old, washed-out road.

My river shoes weren't strong enough for the rocky terrain beneath that, although alongside the river, felt like a creekbed to my tender, hiking feet.

We trudged on, never seeing our group, but encountering a bunch of would-be bungee-jumpers...

...whose only access to their jumping-off point was the same five-mile hike we had taken upon ourselves.

When we finally reached the bridge, we could see how washed-out the access roads on either side really were, a veritable rock slide of granite particles, even today, 80 years later.

Much to my dismay, the bridge isn't entirely abandoned or creepy.

In fact, the entire area is privately owned by purveyors of bungee jumping, which means that upon our arrival, the bridge was littered with tourists hooting and hollering in support of the few brave enough to leap to their uncertain fortunes.

Parts of the bridge show some signs of neglect, but the view from it is stunning...

...though we didn't linger long - we were eager to meet up with our group down below for lunch.

Those first five miles were very hard on me. Upon our arrival, the only thing I could think of was sitting in the shade and eating lunch. I wasn't sure how I would make it back - over another five miles, another dozen river crossings, another handful of rock scrambles, breath-holding bouldering and perceptible mutters of "oh boy" and "shit" and "fuck."

At the lunch spot, I lost my carpool group. Upon spotting them and briefly reuniting with them, I lost them again. And when it looked like our Meetup group was departing, I left early, knowing I would be slow and that my carpool would easily catch up with me.

What I didn't anticipate was that, on a group hike, eventually, I would end up all alone on the trail.

This was a hike I'd been terrified to do myself, because it was so far, so remote, and seemed so difficult. But emboldened by the idea of accomplishing it with a group, I attempted it, not knowing that ultimately, I would be doing it alone.

I was too slow for everyone else.

No one cared to wait for me.

On the way back, my feet hurt so badly in my river shoes that I had to stop and sit on a log to change them into my hiking boots, which would surely retain the river water uncomfortably during and after the crossings, but would at least protect me from rock-slipping toe damage and misstepping arch-crushes. A pair of rangers atop horses clopped past me, grunting, "They left you behind? That's not very nice."

I burst into tears.

I cried behind my sunglasses for nearly a mile. Maybe more.

I'd overestimated my ability to accomplish this hike. I had far exceeded my level of expertise. And, as the ranger told one injured woman I'd passed on the way back, "There's only one way in and one way out of this canyon: walking."

So I had to keep going.

I was exhausted from the emotional trauma I'd put myself through, afraid of falling off a cliff, of slipping down a steep slope, of plummeting to my untimely demise into water or canyon floor or rock bed. Vertigo ravaged me. My feet gave out. I had nothing left to rely on, no one to encourage me, nothing pushing me forth other than the desire to get it over with as soon as possible.

The entire hike - advertised as 9 miles, but actually over 11 miles from where we parked - took me about six hours to complete, including a nearly hour-long break for lunch. It wasn't the farthest I'd ever walked. It wasn't the highest I'd ever climbed. It wasn't the hottest I'd ever hiked. But it really got to me.

On my way home, the tire pressure indicator light went on while I was barreling down the 2 freeway. I exited in Echo Park, turned right on Alvarado, and heard something strange. I felt the car rumble, just as a muscle car pulled out from behind me. I turned right on Sunset, and felt something dragging. At a red light, I popped my door open to check the driver's side tires, which were fine. But within a block, I had to pull over and illegally park to check the passenger side tires, the front of which was flat as a pancake.

It was not a good day.

But I survived it.

Does that make me strong? Or just stupid? Resilient? A masochist?

I don't know, but I need a brief break from hiking. I just don't have to push myself so far. It's just not that necessary.

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  1. Wow. I feel your pain. I know those hikes that become nothing but a quest for survival. No fun or enjoyment in them. For me it has everything to do with how hot and miserable the sun makes it. I'm glad you survived this one!

  2. sorry about your experience at the bridge to nowhere. something similar happened to me the first time i went but not that bad. i have never gone with any hiking groups i have seen them they always seem to be in a rush. this hike is to take it easy been there many times i have take pain pills next time they really do help. i have never wore any hiking or river shoes but im almost never in a rush. enjoy the scenery. good luck next time.