Q&A: The POST Talks with Tom Carroll, the Guy Who Just Walked the Entire LA River

Photo by Stephanie Rivera. All other photos by Tom Carroll.

While thousands of runners began their trek through Long Beach for the annual JetBlue Marathon early Sunday morning, Whittier native Tom Carroll began a slower, and longer, trek of his own—a walk beginning at the top of the LA River, eventually ending in Long Beach Monday evening.

Carroll, who is the host of the YouTube tour show Tom Explores Los Angeles, said he decided to travel the length of the 50-plus mile long river in an effort to better understand the waterway, after learning about its history—a history that includes a series of devastating floods that caused the river to be channelized in the 30s and 40s.

“Now, I can visualize pretty much every part of the river and understand it, at least physically, a lot better,” Carroll said. “It’s a fun challenge and another way to understand Los Angeles and Southern California.”

Probably just as important, the 30-year-old, who usually gets around by bike and occasionally runs, said he wanted to try it while he is able-bodied. Though he’s traversed parts of the river on bike, the current North East LA resident said he’s never fully walked it.

“I didn't know how much longer in my life I'd be physically capable of doing it so I said ‘I guess now’s the time,” Carroll noted.

The Post sat down with Carroll on Monday evening to discuss his recent adventure.

Editor’s note: Interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Long Beach Post: Where did you begin your journey?

Tom Carroll: I started at the headwaters in Canoga Park, where Arroyo Creek and Calabasas come together. My dad dropped me off there at 6:45AM yesterday. It was just me alone.

What did you pack?

I brought a gallon of water and like 10 Clif bars, tuna fish sandwich, couple bananas. Then today, a couple of Clif bars and an egg sandwich. I walked from 6:45AM to 6:30PM yesterday, watched the debate and fell asleep. Woke up at 5:00 this morning and walked out of the house [he slept at a friend’s home in Atwater Village, where he also saw Sunday evening’s presidential debate] at 6:45AM and now it’s 5:22PM. I only wanted to walk during daylight. There is a lot of homeless—and they’re all friendly homeless people that I ran into today—but there’s too many homeless people in the river.

Have you ever done anything similar before?

I walked all of Wilshire, which is 17 miles. Nothing compared to this. Luckily I miscalculated. It turned out being 28 miles yesterday and 28 miles today. If I had known that I am not sure if I would have done it.

What are some of the differences you noticed throughout the river?

Well, it’s all very different. Canoga Park, through the Valley, it’s smaller obviously. All concrete, channelized and then once you get to the Sepulveda Basin near Reseda, that’s very lush with lots of big trees. They do kayaking there too. The Sepulveda Basin was the hardest part—the walls went from 45 to 90 degrees and there is no cut down the center so there is all water, about four inches. So for about five to seven miles I walking through four inches of water. I brought an extra pair of shoes with me so I just put on those shoes and tried to walk, which seemed like forever. Finally when the Tujunga Wash hits the LA River, right beside CBS Studios, there is a cut down the center so it dries out. That goes on for a while and then it opens up again and I had to put the wet shoes back on.

Did anything surprise you? The people or things you saw?

There is a fair amount of problem-solving trying to figure out routes and things. The thing that was more disheartening, unfortunately, was just the amount of trash near homeless encampments. I understand there is no garbage system for homeless people, but there was just so much trash. Because they are above the river and underneath the bridge, they just dump the trash out. I noticed that probably about 10 times through the whole run of the river. Now I understand how much trash actually ends up in Long Beach.

Anything crazy you saw in the river?

I saw surprisingly a lot of dead animals. I saw dead squirrels and seagulls. I saw so many pairs of shoes. If you ever lose a shoe just go to the LA River. The weirdest thing was near Forest Lawn in Burbank there were all these chunks of asphalt and pieces of a car so the car had crashed into the river but the fence was still intact. Then on the ground there was this shoe box and it had someone’s yearbook and all these love letters and a graduation hat, a skateboard. It was really weird intimate conversations between this guy and this girl.

Did you talk to anyone while you walked?

A couple of people asked me if I was a cop. One guy I talked to asked if I was a bird watcher. I didn't talk to too many people. I got a ‘howdy camper’ from somebody.

So it was a solitary type of journey?

I guess so. I was in such a weird place of trying to push myself that i wouldn't even say I was bored at any point but the only reason I did it by myself was I didn’t want to subject anyone else to this punishment and selfishly, I wanted to be able to do it in two days and I knew it would be kind of hard and the only way I can really ensure getting it done in two days was if I did it by myself.

You walked like two marathons.

Yeah, but I think running a marathon is way harder than walking a marathon. You just kind of shuffle along. I know towards the end, my feet felt like bloated bags of raw chicken. All my toes are wrapped with bandages. I was getting a couple of blisters but even those aren't too bad.

What was your favorite part of the experience?

It was all great for different reasons. I liked being in the valley and seeing a part of the river I probably won't see again for a while because there’s no pedestrian access and because it's all wet and not fun, that was exciting. Being south of downtown, around Compton and Paramount was really exciting because it's just so wide and empty there. And then just realizing that I could do it. I think that was most exciting.

When you were getting toward the end, seeing Long Beach, what were you thinking?

The tricky thing is you can see those cranes seven miles back. Because they are so massive I thought they were closer than they were, but it still felt good. When I first saw them I was like, ‘Yes, almost there. The end is close.’

What are you going to do when you get home?

Smoke a cigarette... I don't know, I just want to maybe take a bath and watch a movie or something.


While Carroll usually creates videos of his adventures, he hopes in this case to do a Power Point-led public presentation. For more information on Tom Explores Los Angeles, click here.

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Chris AlexakisL.A. River