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My Hike to Hollywood—the Sequel. A Reminder That Urban Adventure Can Be So Cool

If you had a free day in Southern California, but no car, what would you do?

Start early and be nimble, I’d suggest. It seemed to work for me. Here’s what I crammed into 17 hours on Wednesday:

A 22-mile hike to Hollywood: I tromped over 2 mountain ranges, crossed 4 freeways and passed punks, pirates and Elvis. Supergirl, too.

A little live television: I rested up at CBS Television City inside the new, not-so-damp basement of TV’s Craig Ferguson (The Late Late Show), who engaged Susan Sarandon in an unscripted conversation that ranged from the essence of the human soul to the comedic value of the human anatomy.

A Bach bacchanalia: While searching for a bus stop later that night in downtown Los Angeles, I wound up with a ticket to a concert by pianist Andras Schiff, a classical heavyweight who performed the second book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier at tony Disney Hall. Sitting among 2,000-plus high-brow patrons, I noticed I was the only one wearing cargo shorts, a moisture-wicking tee and dusty Merrell Moab Ventilators.


The famed Hollywood sign near the summit of Mount Lee. Notice the paint crew above the drop cloth at the bottom of the first letter O. (T.D. Wood photo)

These are the rewards inherent in urban adventure—the application of outdoor skills in a metropolitan environment. Meandering through a city with backpacker’s sense of "what-next?" anticipation can be great fun if you’re equipped with sufficient fitness, imagination and an agile sense of whimsy.

An urban adventure, as I was reminded, is the only kind of excursion where I might experience all of the following:

• A couple of skeletons, one on a motorcycle (a Halloween decoration), another wearing a suit and yukking it up with celebrities.

• A neighborhood so densely packed that the narrow footpaths and stairways forming a maze in between all the arty hillside residences have been assigned official street names.

• A route that leads me beneath the HOLLYWOOD sign (currently getting a paint job) and the sidewalk stars of luminaries ranging from Tom Hanks to Tinkerbell.

I’ve traveled this basic route before, back in January: I start at my friend’s house in the foothills above the Crescenta Valley (north of Glendale, which is north of downtown L.A.), and figure out a way to make it to Hollywood.


View from the Verdugo Mountains of morning clouds receding from the Crescenta Valley. (T.D. Wood photo)

My trail’s-end objective is to take in a taping of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, which I regard as television’s finest resource for brainy humor (embellished with Ferguson’s flair for impish innuendo.) This time I throw in some route variations for fun. Here’s a timeline:

Before dawn (6:30 a.m.): On what will be a 75-degree day, I march south from my friend’s home in La Canada, cross the Foothill Freeway (I-210) on Ocean View Blvd., hike though Montrose, across a wedge of Glendale and onto a steep fire road in the Verdugo Mountains. The sun is up, and the adventure is on.

About 9 a.m.: A little below an antenna complex atop a Verdugo high point (Mount Thom, around 2,400 feet), I cross paths with a woman wearing a Supergirl outfit. I wondered if she would simply fly back to the trailhead to spare her knees the steep downhill trudge. That’s a superpower any hiker would love to have.


On a trail above Burbank's Brand Park, I ponder Supergirl's flight pattern. Note that Supergirl wears Vibram Five Fingers, by the way.

11:30 a.m.: In the highlands of L.A.'s Griffith Park, I spontaneously decide to sashay up an unfamiliar side path, thinking/hoping it might lead to the base of the Hollywood sign on Mount Lee. Oops. It’s a one-way route to a water tower with great views of the San Fernando Valley. But the side trip just cost me 40 minutes, and I need to be at CBS by 3 p.m. Time to pick up the pace.


A fellow hiker clicks a pic of the iconic Hollywood sign. (T.D. Wood photo)

12:45 p.m.: I hike below the Hollywood sign on a dirt path designated as Mulholland Way. Workers on scaffolding are slapping a new coat of white paint on the first letter O as I walk by.

1:40 p.m.: I wander the steps and paths wedged into a neighborhood just south of the Hollywood Bowl known to some as Hollywood Heights. Bob Dylan will be playing up the street at the Bowl tonight. It includes High Tower (shown in photo on the right), an elegant private elevator built in the 1920s and accessible only to a handful of residents. What a place to live. I got the idea to explore it from the guidebooks Walking L.A. by Erin Mahoney Harris (click for a free hike description of the High Tower route) and Secret Stairs by Charles Fleming. Something different and fun for a backpacker to explore.

2:15 p.m.: I’m hoofing west on Hollywood Blvd. past hundreds of sidewalk stars, from Betty White to Snow White, on the Walk of Fame. I wonder: Are the people I’m passing dressed as pirates and Elvis and spacemen just getting warmed up for Halloween, or is this kind of a daily event here? Not sure, and not far from the star of Don Rickles, I turn south on La Brea.

3 p.m.: I’m just getting to Fairfax High School, alma mater of a couple of guys in the Red Hot Chili Peppers and other entertainment big shots. School is just out, the sidewalks are jammed and I’m still 6 major blocks from CBS. My Merrells are smokin’.

3:25 p.m.: I zoom into the check-in station at CBS. The security crew marvels at the notion that to get here someone would walk, period, let alone 22 miles. I am able to join the audience for the taping. I am stoked, and I get to sit down.

5 p.m.: The Susan Sarandon taping concludes, and I learn that the crew is taping a future episode tonight as well, this one with Amanda Peet as the primary guest. A Craig Ferguson doubleheader! I fairly swoon. Bonus frivolity ensues with Craig interacting with his wisecracking robotic sidekick, the skeleton in a suit, Geoff Peterson (voiced by fellow Ohio native Josh Robert Thompson).

7:30 p.m.: I have opted to take buses back to La Canada (hiking 20-plus miles at night is not so appealing), and bus No. 1 has dropped me off in front of the swooping exterior of Frank Gehry-designed Disney Hall. People are milling around. Must be a show tonight, I think; I’ll go press my face against the window and see what it looks like inside. A couple walks past, lamenting that one of their tickets will go to waste that night. Me, Mr. Eavesdropper, volunteers to put that ticket to use. They kindly agree, and suddenly I’m in Row B of the hall’s Orchestra West section digging on some Bach played by one of classical music’s major dudes. If I had a lighter, I might have held a flame over my head.


My view from Row B as the audience awaits the start of Andras Schiff's performance.

11:10 p.m.: I’m off my second bus and climbing a mile-plus back to my starting point; 20 minutes later the 17-hour loop will be complete.

11:30 p.m.: Back at base camp. Just enough time to grab a snack and wait an hour to watch The Late Late Show episode I had seen taped get aired on CBS. Just can't get enough Craigy Ferg. Overall, more than 24 miles walked; 2 comedic talk shows enjoyed; one evening of baroque music absorbed; many curious and interesting humanoids observed.

A fine and splendid day. Urban adventure is, to my quirky way of thinking, really cool and within the grasp of most imaginative people. Who needs a car? Pick a goal, carry some maps, keep your options open and step outside. The possibilities are wide open.

Posted on at 2:15 PM

Tagged: Craig Ferguson, Hollywood, Walking LA and urban adventure

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You are amazing, Terry Wood. Your sense of adventure is inspiring!!

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