Thursday, October 31, 2013

L.A. Basin Urban Thru-Hike: Part II

Sea to Mountains, City to Wilderness

On Sunday morning, a quiet calm enveloped the Silver Lake area. The streets and stairways were empty, though I could feel the reverberation of the night before, as if the still morning was hungover. My legs ached going up and down more stairways. The day before I scaled close to 50 staircases and attained close to 40 'city' miles and although my muscles felt great I had a new type of soreness in the balls of my feet and my butt. The hills of Echo Park went straight up and harkened a tough day ahead of me. But, I tell you, the hidden stairways held a tranquility that soothed my body and spirit, as if I was staring out at some grand vista in some Southwestern canyon.

I reached Sunset Blvd and noticed crowds of spruced-up yupsters, bleary-eyed hipsters, and messy-haired artists, all enjoying their morning coffee or sweet cake at funky and hip diners. Homeless crept along the sidewalks with their shopping carts, and the elderly were out walking their dogs, most of them the small and annoying type, the ones that bark at everything. Suddenly, a pang welled up inside of me. I had to take a piss. I looked frantically for a place to go. I held it in with all my mustered might. Instantly, I realized I wasn't in the wilderness and I just couldn't go any where I wanted. I had to be sly about my public urination, as no gas stations, public restrooms, and cafes were now in the vicinity. I squirmed as I walked as I tried to move faster. Dribbles leaked out, then I saw a full hedge near a closed business. I wiggled my way over quickly and ducked behind the hedge and let it rip. The area reeked of piss and feces and I knew I had found a spot that others have used before. While streaming I thought: 'Have I ever urinated in the city while not under the cover of night or a curtain of drunkenness?'

The situation brought up a notion in my head. Are our needs in the city so convenient that we forget how to attain those needs in the city the natural way? For months on end I find my own water, my own bathroom, my own bed, granted I don't hunt for my own food. I scanned the neighborhood thinking about where I could possibly find any natural water source. None. Unless I considered the concrete L.A. River a source!

I got over this paradox, of sorts and hiked towards Echo Lake. I remember when I lived in L.A., and as far back as I could remember, Echo Lake was a murderous battleground, a violent and troubled area. Moving through the stairways and across major boulevards back up into Echo Park I could see the gentrification of these parts. I once felt unsafe to even drive through the area, however, now I felt completely comfortable walking through it. Art galleries, music clubs, hip restaurants, not-so dank dives, and upstart businesses straddled the major avenues. Houses looked clean and landscaped. Subaru's and VW's jutted out of driveways. Frankly, I saw more white people now residing here. Then, towards Interstate 5 and the L.A. River I entered 'The Hill' territory. Menacingly tagged onto walls and sidewalks, the gang of the area had communicated warning signs for any particular haphazard wayfarer, like a pile of fresh grizzly scat in Glacier National Park leaving its mark on its turf. I hiked quickly while still getting in as many staircases as I could.

From the top of Elysian Park I could see the broad humps of the San Gabriel Mountains and the Angeles Crest. I felt the pull of the mountains, just like I did when I was a young adult. Only now I didn't have any fear associated with my 'calling.'

More neighborhoods: Atwater Village, Angeles Heights, Glassell Park, Washington Park, Highland Park and Eagle Rock. In Glassell Park along Fletcher Dr. I encountered the friendliest neighborhood, though it may have been one of the poorest. Mexicans, Salvadoreans, and other Latinos played soccer in the ball fields, they hooted and hollered at one another, and raspado and helote carts wheeled around with a little 'ting ting.' I waved and smiled at many. I shimmied little dance steps as I hiked. In Highland Park, I trekked through a rough neighborhood. Big cholos posted up on porches, pit bulls barked ferociously, and roosters crowd. I walked quickly hardly getting any notice. I found myself blending into my environment as I do in the mountains or desert. Notorious for being a quiet hiker, I innocuously and inconspicuously hiked through the city blocks. I guess I am sort of a chameleon.

Hours lately, I found myself in Pasadena having tramped close to another 40m and 80 staircases. One of my best friends, someone who I have known the longest, other than family, Sobek, picked me up. We spent the evening together at our buddy Ben's house in Atwater Village. I was happy, drunk, and tired, yet when Ben put on the movie 'End of Watch' I could not help but think: "How in Hell did I just walk across L.A.?!"
The next late morning, 5,000ft and 10m later, I stood atop the flat summit of Mt. Wilson with an aerial antennae farm and an observatory overlooking the entire L.A. Basin. Mt. Wilson is another historic icon, in particular the former toll road leading to its crest. On the way up, I could feel the gasp of the city leaving its heaving breath down in the valleys below. The sky opened up all around me in a pearly blue inviting me upward to its thinner and cleaner air. Once from Mt. Wilson I used a series of canyons and shortcut trails to get to the Pacific Crest Trail some 20m away. I encountered heavily burned areas, the canyons, chaparral, and massive pines, walnuts and oaks ravaged by the inferno of the 2009 Station Fire. It saddened me to think while most of the city of L.A. has cleaned up its act its wildlands lay in devastation in which most of the Angelinos may never see an old growth forest there again. It is all related to each other: over-crowding, drought, lack of drinking water, fire, urban sprawl, dirty and clean air.

That night, I meditated looking up at the stars reflecting on my tramp through L.A., and not of my past. I felt an insane feeling of self-understanding, as if I embraced the feeling of loving L.A. as I would love myself. I also felt an insane 'sense of place' I have never felt before other than being immersed in the wilderness for an extended period of time. I pondered: Can a city instill a wilderness-type feeling or philosophy? I feel 'yes, it sure as hell can,' especially if you are thru-hiking it. There is a flow in this world that doesn't matter where you are at, and that flow is oblivious to its environment and humans, even unexplainable. By simply walking for an extended period of time I attain that flow on such a regular basis I look for it in anything, including the concrete megalopolis of Los Angeles.

Pre-dawn I hit the PCT practically running. I felt like I was released from some hold, some self-restraint. My stride opened up amid craggy stone summits lined with a thin forest of Douglas Fir, White Fir, and Coulter Pines. Manzanita made an appearance with its beautiful smooth and deep dark red bark, twisting and gnarled branches, and stiff, green leaves. Along the Kratka Ridge I could eye the true summit of the Angeles Crest, Mt. Baden Powell. Below me Angeles Forest Highway laid dormant with little usage from vehicular traffic. At Windy Gap, a chilly gust iced through my sweaty clothes. The cold mountain air refreshed my spirit. Finally, at the top of the 9,399ft Baden Powell I could fathom the overcast engulfing the Pacific Ocean coastline, the haze sheathing the valleys like a sheep's thick wool, and the basin mountain ranges poking above it all as if floating islands. I soaked it all in, tying everything together.

Night came on my last full day and along a ridge overlooking the Apple Valley in the High Desert I watched the streamline of vehicle lights meandering their way along yawning curves. I laid on a bed of pine needles and disheveled puzzle-pieced bark from a Jeffrey Pine and slept a well-deserved slumber. In the morning, I ran the 20m to Interstate 15. Another one of my best friends picked me up there, Hando.
Overall, my L.A. Basin Urban Thru-Hike amassed roughly 175m in about 5 full days. I went either up or down approximately 135 staircases. I adapted to what was in front of me, hiked efficiently, and gauged a sense of self from a city I once called home and the wilderness now affecting my self. I connected a route in the megalopolis of L.A. using alley ways, streets, boulevards, dirt roads, stairways, bike paths, sidewalks, lawns, bridges, and trails through wildlands, city, wilderness, beaches, neighborhoods, and parks. 


  1. We drove back via way of Vegas. I've never been to Vegas, but your urban thru made me wonder what it would be like to move on foot from the Strip to Death Valley, and up to Whitney. Could you get the same rooted sense of place? Catching up on your writings now that I'm off trail-Chinchilla

  2. Very interesting idea. I find myself looking for connections between vastly different stark landscapes. I think there is something there: neon lit, bustling city to the utter tranquility and harshness of Death Valley, lowest to the highest, and many more. I think you could find 'sense of place.' It is something intangible that is palpable at the sametime. It is everywhere at all times.

    Thankx for following Chinchilla! I really enjoyed reading yours and Pyrite's CDT journal. What a great team you both make!

  3. Well it is great that you got in so many of our stairs and I am sorry I missed you. As I told Snorkel, when I finish my book in a month the end section treats the idea of cross city recreational walking in LA and I want to mention your achievement. Good pix part 1 &2 both. Nice to read your observations vis a vie what you expected to find from living here in the past. Stairs ahead! Bob

  4. Bob
    I super-bummed we missed each other. After the thru-hike, I didn't spend as much time as I wanted to in LA. Work for the winter calls! However, I want to thank you on supporting and exploring that wonderful city of LA. I find it utterly refreshing that there is a group of people who truly love the city, its history, its people, and wild places. What a beautiful place it is! And those staircases are portals to wilderness within the surrounding concrete. Looking forward to your book. And the next time I am in LA we will walk some stairs together...