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No matter how dedicated a weekend warrior you might be, if you live in a city long enough, the daily grind is bound to take its toll. The stress of big crowds and a long commute is enough to make anyone a little crazy, especially when paired with limited vacation days.
But what if it were possible to get from your front door to a little slice of camping paradise in less than two hours? After too many weeks of feeling trapped in the Los Angeles sprawl, and no sizable chunk of time to spare for an extended trip, I decided to find out. My first microadventure awaited me.
The concept of a microadventure – a rejuvenating mini-getaway from your normal surroundings – has been blowing up lately. Popularized by author Alastair Humphreys, microadventures are especially gaining traction among adventuresome urban dwellers looking for a quick way to hit the refresh button on the doldrums of routine.
I planned my own trip with a goal in mind: to spend less than 90 minutes getting from my front door to my fully set-up campsite – a seemingly daunting task in a city known mostly for its traffic. After surveying friends and scouring the internet for suggestions, I finally chose Horse Flats Campground, nestled in the San Gabriel Mountains about an hour away from LA (and apparently has some pretty rad bouldering nearby). There were ample sites with fire rings scattered among tall pines, and a promising trailhead starting at the campground.
Photo from Hipcamper Jorge Camil
My expedition was slated for a Friday afternoon, but I did a bit of preparation during the week to minimize my day-of busywork. I loaded up my backpack with the basics – sleeping bag, tent, headlamp, etc. – and stowed it in the corner of my room, ready to be tossed in the car with any last-minute additions. On my weekly grocery run earlier that week, I stocked up for my night away. Since I planned to camp alone, I sent out a message the night before with my intended whereabouts and return date.
Friday was finally upon me. I was ready to hit the road when 3 p.m. rolled around, purposely staying ahead of rush hour. Nearing the windy mountain road leading into Angeles National Forest, I realized that something major had slipped my mind: firewood. No fire meant no dinner, so I backtracked to the nearest town. To my dismay, the first two markets had zero firewood; I finally found a gas station with a few bundles on sale.
With only two or three other scattered groups at the campground, I reveled in the quiet as I set up camp, hanging my hammock between two perfectly spaced trees. Checking my watch, I’d made it door to door just under the wire; even with the detour for unneeded kindling, the journey took me about 90 minutes.
Photo from Hipcamper Amanda Proudfit
As darkness approached, the campground began to fill, and not all of my neighbors were considerate. One big group played loud music late into the night, lighting a bonfire in spite of the cautionary notices. Though I no longer felt quite as far from Los Angeles as I’d hoped, I packed earplugs for situations like this one, and popped them in before drifting off to sleep.
The next morning, I ate a leisurely breakfast before packing up camp and heading to the trailhead. The Hillyer Trail is a short but rewarding hike to the summit of Mt. Hillyer, weaving among boulders that beg to be climbed. The views are pleasant and the grade is consistently mellow, making it a worthwhile and low-commitment activity for hikers with limited time.
On my way back down the highway, I was surprised by the number of cars packed with eager campers headed in the opposite direction, and made a mental note: weekend nights are probably not the best bet if solitude is the goal. All things considered, my microadventure turned out to be incredibly manageable, and I can’t wait for my next mini-escape from town.
With a little bit of planning, you can make microadventures a regular part of your routine, too. Use my lessons learned, listed below, to make your experience as smooth and stress-free as possible.
Jennifer Kotlewski is a Los Angeles based writer, humanitarian, and wildflower junkie. You can see what kind of trouble she’s currently getting into via instagram @jenkotlewski.
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