New York Times

Not Master and Commander


Charlie LeDuff of the New York Times tries to kayak the Los Angeles River and gets past downtown, only to be "discovered and expelled before reaching the ocean."

The river is where shopping carts go to die. It collects dead animals along its banks. It accumulates light bulbs, motors, couches and other effluence of affluence. The Los Angeles County Department of Watershed Management says it is also full of invisible detritus: ammonia, a number of metals, petroleum, coliform, chlorpyrifos as well as other pesticides and volatile organics. The water makes one itch in odd places...


It is a dreary paddle down river. Miles of graffiti. Kids drinking malt liquor. Men waving from the weeds.

It had been a few years, I think, since the last journalist tried that story. Now Charlie has it out of his system. In his 1995 book Sagebrush and Cappucino: Confessions of an L.A. Naturalist, I thought David Wicinas found a more creative device. In one chapter he hiked Sepulveda Pass over land - staying off streets, keeping to the canyons and yards. In a later chapter he slogged down Topanga Canyon creek to the ocean and came across a few, uh, interesting things you don't see from the road.

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