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Hooray for Urban Adventure: My Hike to Hollywood

This is the story of a nontraditional day hike, a roughly 22-mile trek that during a 7-hour span carried me over 2 mountain ranges and past a half-dozen tattoo shops. Maybe more.

MarilynI climbed ridgelines with impressive views (downtown L.A., I never knew ye could look so lovely), crossed over a river hemmed in by concrete sidewalls, walked over or under a trio of freeways, and moseyed down sidewalks that passed the curious and the kooky, from vintage locomotives and mushroom-shaped trees to wig shops, head shops, goth shops and fantasy shops. Even a pet hotel.

It all began as a fanciful thought bubble, and the goofy audacity of it all gradually transformed this daydream of mine into an urban adventure—conceived on a whim, undertaken as a lark and enjoyed more than I anticipated.

What's in it for you?

Here's my message to readers who have a similar sense of spunk: You can do it, too. For times when a backcountry trip is out of the question, an urban adventure is clearly within your reach. The key ingredients needed are imagination, gumption, a reasonable degree of fitness, and smarts. Got 'em? Then read on.

(Slideshow tips: Go full-screen by clicking the 4-arrow box in the lower-right corner; for captions, click "Show info" in the upper-right corner; click "Options" to alter the pace.)

When it comes to getting from Point A to Point B in a city, be willing to think unconventionally and you could set yourself up for some unexpected fun.

How It Started for Me

Last month I spent a few weeks in Southern California. Aiming to save some bucks while visiting friends (I'm a 4-star tightwad), I bypassed renting a car. 

Descending Mount ThomMost of the folks I wanted to see lived near my base camp—a good friend's house in the residental community of La Canada, north of Glendale and tight up against the San Gabriel Mountains. (That's the mountain range that gets lots of air time from the blimp during Rose Bowl telecasts.) So I figured if I could bum a few rides to grocery stores to resupply now and then, I'd be fine.

Then a buddy in Burbank invited me over to watch some sports on TV. Burbank and La Canada are separated by some significant topography—a compact clump of high-rise hills named the Verdugo Mountains. Their high point: Verdugo Peak at 3,126 feet; downtown Burbank is around 600 feet. That means it's at least a 20-minute drive between the 2 burgs.

I didn't want the guy to make a pair of round-trips just for the immeasurable pleasure of my company. "Steve," I told him in an email message, "I'll just hike there."

Crazy, he replied. Yes, I am, I conceded; it's common among us hiker types. I had been in the Verdugos only once before, a few years earlier, and did not know them well. But I figured a footpath must exist that would get me from my north (La Canada) side to his south (Burbank) side.

We both eyeballed Google's terrain maps and figured out a steep, twisting, dusty, 10-mile way to connect our dots. "Nutty," I admitted. "Double-nutty," Steve countered. Off I went.

The First Adventure

I make a beeline south down Ocean View Blvd. (map here), take a hard right near the Verdugos and climb residential streets until I find a fire road behind a locked gate with a hiker/biker walk-around. It's called the Beaudry Motorway, and I follow it up and over an antenna cluster situated atop a peak named Mount Thom (estimated elevation: 2,300 feet), sidestepping a sunning rattlesnake along the way.

Up there I meet a woman who says she sings on various television productions. I also meet a fellow who says he designs bikes and raps. He shows me the short way down to Glendale's Brand Park via a scramble route. Lots of nice folks sweating away up here on a beautiful day. I'm at Steve's in a little more than 3 hours; I make it home in via the same route in less than 3.

This, I realize, is the way to go when time is not a major concern. An urban hike costs nothing, it's pollution-free and it's a fun and pragmatic way to get in some exercise. So I make a couple more trips to Steve place, hike 8 miles to church one weekend, and make repeated walks up a local fire road to a 3,800-foot ridgeline just to take in a splendid 360-degree view—north to the inner San Gabes and south to the Pacific Ocean, gleaming in afternoon light. Urban adventure, I decide, is pretty cool.

Why Not Go for the Big Urban Prize?

I'm not much of a TV watcher, but I confess to being a total fan of what I think is the best example of brainy comedy the tube has to offer: The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (weeknights on CBS, 12:37 a.m.). Set your DVR for it sometime; highly recommended.

Above BurbankI'd seen episodes taped live in the past. I'm enough of a fan (pardon me; Mr. Ferguson thinks of us as hobos, members of his Robot Skeleton Army living in a hollowed-out volcano) that I decide I'll hike to a taping. How far would a devoted hobo have to trek to see his favorite show taped in person? In my case, about 22 miles, according to Google's map pedometer. Worth every step, I figure.

I foul up my first attempt. I confuse the dates of my taping (my ticket, I realize, is for Wednesday, not Thursday) and get a late start. I make good time but get confused while navigating through Griffith Park. (Note: A gorgeous night view of the park's observatory is shown during the opening sequence of each Late Late Show episode).

Deep in the park I'm told by police that my intended route is blocked due to crime-scene activity. I sigh deeply and detour up and over Mount Hollywood (1,640 feet). Now way off course, I ultimately beg for a ride to make up for lost time. I get a couple and make it to the taping with 11 minutes to spare. I estimate I walked just 16 of the 21-plus miles. I promise next time I'll do this better.

The Hollywood Hoofer, Take 2

I'm a far more efficient hobo hiker on my second try. It's not long after dawn high on the South Beaudry Motorway, and the entire Crescenta Valley (Sunland, Montrose, La Crescenta, north Glendale) looks lovely in morning light. From Mount Thom, downtown Glendale looks reachable with a 6-iron. By now I'm a veteran of inching down the steep rut that connects the peak to Brand Park. The sun has warmed up, and I'm cruising.

Mount LeeI zoom along flat, smooth sidewalks through Burbank, still in the habit of saying Hi to solitary passersby the way I do on a trail. Equestrians tell me of a pavement-free way to ascend Griffith Park's terraced landfill (it's capped now; nice and green) and cross the park's crest. I'm now over the eastern flank of the Santa Monica Mountains.

I exit the park via one of its west-side paths, just below Mount Lee whose south-facing slope holds the iconic HOLLYWOOD sign. Back on pavement (Beachwood Dr.) I call ahead to tell a buddy who lives on the street to c'mon out and say Hi as I zip by. We enjoy a brief but giddy reunion; Jim finds it reassuring to see that I'm still a hiking fiend, still a bit of a societal loon.

Hollywood and VineI cross under the Hollywood Freeway on Gower St. and sigh as I find the bridge serves as the roof of 3 homeless campsites. It's a new world now as I turn west on Hollywood Blvd., watching people in various states of consciousness march, mostly indifferently, over the sidewalk stars of Hollywood luminaries on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. One sequence of stars east of La Brea includes an amusing mix, to me at least, of Little Richard, Snow White, Tom Cruise and The Lone Ranger.

After checking out some cast-in-concrete footprints at Grauman's Chinese Theater, from John Wayne to Johnny Depp, and fending off a horde of hawkers who were hell-bent to sell me a guided tour, I sashay south on La Brea. I soon pass coin-op laundries, fast-food joints, even a cement plant going full-bore, its 3-stories-high conveyor belt churning furiously. In some places, there's not much tinsel on this town.

I turn west on Melrose (the line at Pink's famous hot dog stand, also seen during Late Late Show intros, is 15 people deep; unsure of how much time I need, I regrettably pass), marvel at the jet-black Mohawk/mascara combo of the woman tending the Doc Martens shop, hang a left at Fairfax High School (alumni include Jermaine Jackson, Warren Zevon, Demi Moore, Ricardo Montalban, David Arquette and Phil Spector) and sense the finish line is near.

starletsI arrive at CBS Television City at Fairfax and Beverly, home of the "damp basement" where Craig Ferguson tapes his wee-hours show, with more than an hour to spare. I mention to someone in line that I just walked 20 miles-plus to get here. He wonders how soon I'll be returning to the hollowed-out volcano.

Map: This Google Pedometer-generated map shows the path I followed from La Canada to Glendale's Brand Park. (I recommend the Hybrid view.) It couldn't detect my route's final descent through thick tree cover, so the final 14 miles of my trek are indicated on a separate map.

A few words about Craig Ferguson and The Late Late Show: Like John Muir, Craig Ferguson is native Scotsman (and in Ferguson's case, a proudly naturalized American) known for their contributions to the United States. Muir, of course, was a revered wilderness conservationist; the self-effacing Ferguson describes himself as "a vulgar lounge entertainer."

Fans recognize that as just code for a savvy social observer who has a skill for impishly mixing innuendo and academia into a refreshing comedic point of view. Recent @CraigyFerg tweet: "I just read a tweet where Khloe Kardashian quoted George Bernard Shaw. Looking forward to a Joycean rebuttal from Snooki."

So, like attaining the summit of Half Dome or some other lofty goal, the appeal of experiencing Ferguson and his robotic sidekick, Geoff Peterson (the most entertaining appliance on television), in person supplied me with ample motivation to take on a 22-mile walk—twice. As a measure of how cool the show and its people are, the voice and animator of Geoff, Josh Robert Thompson, took the time to come out and say Hi to me, a fellow Ohio native, after the taping. Pretty neat. It made the long bus ride back to base camp much more agreeable.

HollywoodA Challenge for You

Dream up your own urban adventure: Seek out a goal or destination that gets you similarly fired up to take on an urban challenge. Got a friend across town you've been meaning to visit? Know of a museum worth exploring but you never seem to make the time to get there? Turn it into an adventure. Hike, or bike, an unusual or scenic route to get there. String together a series of parks and green spaces you find on a map and chart your course through them.

Find a goal, make a plan. It's healthy, constructive and fun. What could be better?

Long-Term Benefits

This suggestion to increase your appetite for urban activity and adventure is not just the idle musing of some addled REI blogger. Consider:

• A recent New York Times article cites experts who believe urban-planning practices of the past few decades have created "creating vehicle-dependent environments that foster obesity, poor health, social isolation, excessive stress and depression." A healthy environment, one expert says, is where "people who are young, elderly, sick or poor can meet their life needs without getting in a car."

• Last month Los Angeles County supervisors approved an ordinance that requires new developments to have wider sidewalks, bicycle parking and other changes to promote exercise and reduce obesity.

• Walkability audits of American cities, such as one recently completed in San Diego, are gaining momentum as important considerations for boosting physical and social activity in communities.

• How walkable is your town or neighborhood? The website Walk Score offers a walkability rating for just about any U.S. location. My starting point (La Canada, about 0.8 of a mile north of a major arterial) gets a score of 34 and is rated "car-dependent." Montrose, the next town, is considered "somewhat walkable" (68). Same for Glendale (69), though my route through Burbank (Sonora Ave.) with its broad sidewalks is rated "very walkable" (78). Funny; since basic services and amenities are so far away, the site gives Griffith Park and its trail system a "car-dependent" score of 14 while Hollywood earns a 95, a "walker's paradise."

Here I'm just a hiker who was just looking for little outdoor fun in a city, and it appears I might have caught the wave of a walkability movement. I suddenly feel so cutting-edge. So what's your game plan to make yourself more active in urban environments? Maybe step outside, take a walk, catch some sunshine and mull it over.

Posted on at 2:45 PM

Tagged: Hollywood, urban adventure, urbanism and walking

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Good on you. Walking in LA, you are a true subversive!

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This is so great, T.D. Thanks for sharing. :)


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