Straight out my door, across Figueroa and a few blocks down, past old cars and even older houses, and I hit the bottom of the Arroyo Seco, or, if I turn the other direction, Debs Park. A few miles away is Griffith Park. There’s also Elysian Park, right by Dodger Stadium. The first times I was in any of these, not yet spending every spare hour I could in the mountains, they seemed incredibly rustic and sometimes almost wild.
Deer, Griffith Park
Now, a few years later, they seem very, well, urban. Even so, these urban, dusty, dirty green spaces are still green spaces, and in them live coyote, bobcats, rattlesnakes, deer, rabbits, and even (in Griffith Park) a mountain lion, sharing space with joggers, hikers, equestrians, dog walkers, homeless people, cyclists, golfers, tourists, and, in the middle of the night I would imagine, people illegally dumping trash.
There is a bridle trail that runs most of the way around Griffith Park, alongside the road. It’s a nice run, wide, soft, sometimes a bit too sandy, tree covered for about half of it. When I stopped running roads, I’d run this trail; it was basically alongside the route I’d been doing.
The first time I got off the bridle trail I took a trail that quickly narrowed to double-track, and took me up and over a hill to a place that was out-of-view from below. It was an autumn day that threatened a storm. There were dark clouds and a wind that was blowing the stalks of grass along my legs. I had no idea where I was. I had a good idea how to get back down (just follow the route I’d taken up, a common sense a lot of hikers in Griffith Park don’t seem to have). I felt very much like I was in the middle of serious nature. Out of sight, the city felt far, far away. I felt very free, and a little frightened. After not much more than an unnerving mile up this trail, I turned around and headed back down.
I went into AC100 injured, with achilles and plantars problems. Unable to get much going on the climbs, I compensated by running harder on the descents, and came out of the race in even worse shape, with IT band injury and basically trashed upper legs, and this was after dropping at mile 75.
In the aftermath of AC, hill running has been out of the question. I didn’t want to rest altogether, though, ’cause I wanted to get back out there and get a 100 miler done, and soon. So I started running flat trails to keep the miles in while rehabbing the the climbing muscles. Kista Cook decided she was ready for a redemption run at Javelina Jundred, since she dropped down to the 100K after getting caught unprepared in a monsoon rainstorm in 2011. She hadn’t grabbed a waterproof jacket when she last visited her crew, and when it hit, at night, she (and dozens of others) ended up getting hypothermic. This after a strong first 70 miles. Javelina seemed like a good race to try, since I want to work out some of the bugs in the 100 mile system, even though it is decidedly not a mountain race. For me, Javelina actually poses challenges that it doesn’t for Kista because I have grown completely unused to sustained running. My mountain training has all been hike up, run down, hike up, run down, and there’s seldom a stretch of more than 10 – 15 miles of continuous run. Javelina, I understand, is 100 miles of runnable.
And so I’m out of the mountains, back to running the urban trails I started on. We are blessed in Los Angeles to have hundreds of miles of these trails. There’s the Arroyo Seco, almost right out my door, or Deb Park. Not far away at all are Elysian Park, or Griffith Park, which is one of the largest Municipal Parks in the country. On the other side of town is Topanga State Park, which is the largest park in the United States contained entirely within a city. There are little stretches of trail throughout Mt. Washington, a mile south of my front door, and to make the climb up, I can take Eldred, the steepest street in California (no, it is not in San Francisco). Cherry Canyon in the San Rafael Hills just west of Pasadena is another great hilly park, and on the other side of the 2 freeway (which runs through the Verdugo Wash) are the Verdugo Mountains, and an old favorite I haven’t run in a few years: Hostetter, as well as Beaudry and the various trails that come up from Brand Park in Glendale. These I’ve named are the areas I run in, and not an exhaustive list. Aside from Topanga, they are all pretty much within my immediate area – North East LA.
Perhaps because it doesn’t seem like a trail runner’s paradise, Los Angeles never comes up on any of the lists in, say, Outside Magazine. New York City does, just because of Central Park, even though Griffith Park alone is 6 times the size and much more untamed and rugged. The popular perception of Los Angeles as flat, stucco, movie star, beach and surfer obsessed combines a fairly accurate assessment of much of the population with an inaccurate assessment of the geography. Yes, this is a beach, movie star and surfer obsessed population, but significant chunks of the city are in steep rolling hills. The elevation change between the lowest point in LA (sea level) and the highest (5,066 feet, just shy of the elevation of Denver) gives Los Angeles the highest elevation change of any city in the United States.
Maybe the land down here is too harsh. This is desert. The San Gabriels are hard, rocky, rough. They don’t have the extraordinary majesty of the Sierras, or the well watered green of the east coast. There are rattlesnakes and mountain lions and coyotes. Chilao was once a bandit hangout, and looks something out of a spaghetti western. It’s the dusty Southwest, and Pancho Villa and his dwindling forces would not look out of place in the boulders. On the other side of the mountains is the Mohave Desert.
Nature is in abundance, but it’s a messy, uncurated nature, not meant for tourists. Coyotes are common on the trails, on rare occasions with fresh kill in their mouths. People get worked up about this sort of thing. Coyotes being carnivores is an affront to the touristic sense of decency (and I count almost all of us as tourists). They are still horrified about it as they bite into their hamburgers back in the human part of the city, completely oblivious to their hypocrisy. There are wild parrots all through South Pasadena, Eagle Rock and Highland Park, which is where I live. I’ve been dive bombed by them on the Arroyo. They are loud and mean. Rattlesnakes are in abundance, especially at dusk, when visibility is poor and the trails are the warmest place for them to hang out. There are bobcats throughout the parks. Wise old owls are nasty predators. The reality of nature is harsh. In the Southern California desert, the harsh seems to be magnified. It’s no less beautiful for it.
These pictures were not taken on the edge of Los Angeles but in the middle of it. Most are just a few miles from downtown. Fittingly for something urban and ephemeral, they are all instagram shots and can be seen on instagram and/or facebook photography pages.