• A small figure of a man walking on a fire road in the wilderness

      Can you see the little figure down there on the Mt Lukens fire road. At that point last Sunday, he was the closest person to me. (Photo – Reg Green)

      Like many other hikers and mountain bikers, I held back my criticism when the Angeles Forest Service, under pressure from the politicians in Sacramento, closed all the trails and forest roads in our area for six weeks, hundreds of solitary miles, some of them in places so remote that only a few people visit them in a year.

      By Reg Reen

      Denying these trails to people who take to the outdoors regularly and are much fitter than the average California, the authorities forced them instead to remain in one of the most densely populated regions in the US.

      We kept silent about all this so as not to make the rangers’ jobs more difficult at a time of great anxiety, although just about everyone I spoke to thought the ban was heavy-handed showmanship.

      But now that this extraordinary period is over, let’s prepare ourselves for the next time these officials propose something equally absurd. The grain of sense behind these restrictions is that some people are so blind to the risks to themselves and others that they will tolerate no restrictions at all on their freedoms. They pack themselves defiantly into a small space and dare the virus to do its worst.

      But they are the lunatic fringe. How the great majority of people act was on display this past Sunday, the first Sunday since the closure and a gorgeous day. On that day dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people hiked along the Mt. Lukens dirt road, the most popular road in the Angeles National Forest in our area. I was one of them and started at around nine o’clock, a favorite time before the sun is too hot. Two other small groups started at the same time. None of us wanted to be part of a herd, however, so within the first fifty yards the youngest and liveliest foursome strode ahead and I never saw them again.

      The other group, a family with the dog dropped behind, leaving me in the middle. In two hundred yards the emptiness had swallowed up all of them and I was left alone to wander at my own unhindered pace enjoying that glorious bowl of mountain as if I had it all to myself. After a mile and a half I reached the first of a series of overlooks that take in the whole Los Angeles Basin from the mountains of Orange County to the mountains of Ventura and after drinking it all in and remembering how much I’d missed it, I turned around and started down.

      On the way back, which takes 30 minutes, I saw the family with the dog and nine other groups. mostly couples. That’s a lot of people for this road but a mile and a half is eight thousand feet. On average then there was 800 feet between each group, too much for even the most industrious bug to cross.

      As I passed each pair, we all observed the new etiquette: they clung to one side of the 12-foot wide road, I to the other. Opinions differ on what’s safe but, unless the scientific consensus is wildly wrong, a separation of 12 feet for a bug would be like crossing the Sahara on foot. Nevertheless, almost all of us pulled our masks over our nose and mouth and smiled with our eyes, a little ashamed of being so fussy.

      Remember that this was a unique day: even most Sundays you pass others so infrequently that you always say ‘hi.’ On a normal weekday it is absolutely empty almost all the time. Can this be the threat that so unnerves the leaders of public opinion in California? Are they serious? They certainly are: if you were caught anywhere in this vast area you faced a fine of up to $5,000 or six months in gaol. Or both!

      Yes, they’re serious. Just not very subtle.

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