Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design

10/05/2011

Kayaking the LA River

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

Almost two weeks ago, a wonderful experimental program to finally open the majestic LA river to Angelenos ran its course, its seven-week run drawing to a close. But not before I got the best two seats in the house to experience two miles of an under appreciated Los Angeles icon, the Los Angeles River.

Since I moved to Los Angeles, I've been seeing bright blue signs everywhere for the Los Angeles River. But I could not see it. It was as if the signs pointed to a magical world just outside my purview. I've seen it in the movies and everyone talks about it in Los Angeles, but I had no idea what I would find there.

Los Angeles River sign. CC licensed by claudette 12.
Sure, I talked to George Wolfe, one of the men behind the efforts to open the LA river to the public and I trawled the digital landscape for ideas, but I didn't really know what to expect. I wondered if I would find a poor excuse for a river, horrendous dumpsites, miles of concrete or any other sad sights. I found a bit of that yes, but I also saw so much more.

The Los Angeles Conservation Corps get ready to lead us to safety early in the morning. Photo by Carren Jao.
We began the ride bright and early on a Saturday morning. It was tough to wake up given the cloudy weather, but we made it. Underneath a concrete bridge on Balboa, rows of kayaks sat ready and waiting. The concrete bridge was an intimidating sight. It cast a dark shadow over the whole first stretch of the river. The slight fishy smell wafting from the river also didn't comfort me at all.

A worrisome first sight of the LA River.
A pair of kayaks ready for use. Photo by Carren Jao.
There was no easy access to river. Rows of kayaks were laid out on the riverbank and we had to duck under the bridge and gingerly make our way to the kayaks. (No, convenient staircase to the riverbank ala It's a Small World ride here!) Needless to say, I was worried. But I shouldn't have been.

Kayaking down the Los Angeles river (at least from Balboa Boulevard) was a bit like going into another world. Esconced within the crazy-hectic rush of cars on Burbank Boulevard was a lazy river overridden with greenery (and yes, the occasional wayward shopping cart).

Los Angeles river stretches ahead. Photo by Paddle the LA River.
I was amazed at the river's serenity. In a world that's just in a hurry all the time, the river's pace was a good reminder of life's little pleasures. I looked ahead of me and there was just water for as far as I can see. I looked above and there clouds that rolled gently past. There wasn't much sunshine, which was actually perfect weather for the kayak trip. It was cool, airy and breezy.

At one point, there were birds of all shapes and sizes everywhere. There were snowy egrets that stood out among the greenery, great blue herons that had amazing wingspans and mallards that simply stared at us down while we kayaked past.

Wildlife sightings. Photo by Paddle the LA River.
Lots and lots of wildlife. Photo by Paddle the LA River.
While softly humming the military "left, left, left, right left," I took in the little peace and quiet I inadvertently stepped into. Then, just as quickly as that, it ended. I spotted the familiar 101 North road and  the flurry of cars on it. Then, we passed right under a bridge on Burbank Boulevard complete with LA's signature graffiti. With a sigh, I let go of my paddle and wished that this first time on the LA river won't be the last as well.

Red kayak against the concrete Balboa bridge. Photo by Carren Jao.
Did you kayak? How was your experience? I'd love to swap stories.

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