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The Mountains Are Calling, and I Let It Go to Voicemail

Getting outside has required a little more creativity lately.

By: Aaron Rickel Jones + Save to a List

I’ve probably spent more time on my couch in the last 4 weeks than in the previous 4 months combined. My hard-earned rock climbing calluses have disappeared, my tent is sitting unused in the basement, and my Bedrock Sandals tan line is nowhere to be seen. I want nothing more than to escape the monotony of my 600-square-foot apartment and get out in the backcountry.

The mountains are calling and, for now, I’m reluctantly staying put.   

Getting outdoors has required a little more creativity lately. First, it was heading out on local trails instead of driving up into the mountains. I discovered some pretty fantastic hikes that were essentially in my backyard. But then, California started closing its parks, trails, and public spaces. Now, the small patch of cement I call a backyard is my most accessible outdoor space and, instead of hiking, I’ve taken to running laps up and down my street.

A far cry from the wide open expanse of Joshua Tree or the misty coastline of Big Sur, but it’ll have to do for now.

Even so, a few things have actually changed for the better. With the reduced traffic, my girlfriend and I have been going on bike rides all over East LA. We’ve roamed the streets of Highland Park, rolled up to Pasadena, down to Atwater Village and along the LA River. We climbed up Stadium Way—usually jam packed with traffic, but now car free—to look down on Dodger Stadium and downtown. The air is clear and crisp with the reduced emissions and recent rain. Most of these rides only begin with a loose plan, and then we spur off down new streets and into enticing neighborhoods.

It’s disappointing not to be able to go bikepacking right now, but this new form of urban exploration scratches the itch a little bit.

While I’ve been working, Nicole has been taking long walks through the neighborhoods. When I get off, she’ll show me her favorite parts: hidden staircases, front yard gardens, and surprising views of downtown. She thinks it would’ve taken many more months of living where we do to discover all these nooks and crannies of the neighborhood.

At the top of our street there is a cluster of undeveloped lots on a steep hillside. We’ve taken to carrying our camping chairs and a couple beers up the hill to watch the sunset over LA. With the rainclouds and clear air, they have been pretty spectacular.

We’re all forced to live a little more simply right now—to "adventure in place"—and I’ve been learning to try and appreciate it. Cooking from home, being creative with groceries to avoid going back to the store, and scrounging through the recesses of the pantry to figure out what to mix with tequila to make an acceptable cocktail. (Answer: honey, soda water, and lime juice.)

This time is teaching me about improvisation.

I used to think that the real outdoors were out there somewhere. Out past the end of my street, beyond the edges of my city, and definitely out of cell service. While, yes, I would love to be in the backcountry of the Sierra or bouldering in Joshua Tree, I’m learning that the real outdoors can be as close as the uncharted streets of my neighborhood, the hilltop sunsets close to home, and quite literally in my own backyard.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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