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June 2004

I Climbed Los Angeles

One small step for our stair-obsessed man, one giant leap for fitness freaks everywhere.

Sure, I had stepped over the edge. Maybe it was because the walks were so local–I wanted to turn them into adventures. But I don’t think that’s entirely it. Since I was living inside the growing obsession, I couldn’t exactly explain the specifics. But I know a bit about single-minded pursuits; my dad is one of the world’s top birdwatchers, having seen more than 7,000 species, something only a dozen or so other folks have done. But his compulsion, like mine, isn’t just defined by focus on a specific activity. The heart of the chase is revealed when you see how many facets the activity can be broken into. Dad lists birds by year, country, and genus; he lists birds in his backyard, on his street, by specific days and times of year.

My first GPS-aided stair climb was a big success. The hike yielded 2,175 feet of elevation gain in 5.6 miles. It climbed and descended 1,678 stairs, along a total of 14 staircases. It took exactly 72 minutes. Except for the short stretch between my house and the Music Box Steps, I never repeated a single staircase or street.

It was time to move on to the next neighborhood. Echo Park is one of the loveliest communities in Los Angeles. Craftsman-style houses–most built from kits in the early 20th century–dot streets narrower than modern codes allow, and there’s a charming idiosyncrasy that, in this most suburban American metropolis, seems positively anti-development. The neighborhood undulates along three hillsides, finally ending in a steep palisade overlooking the Los Angeles River and I-5, the state’s major north-south freeway.

Both Echo Park and Silverlake are oddball communities, filled with artists and musicians, movie industry folk and writers, along with large Hispanic and gay populations. The neighborhoods literally stratify economically–the higher you go uphill, the higher the cost of entry. Silverlake is more gentrified than Echo Park; the latter community retains the avant-garde touches that earned it the nickname “Red Valley” in the 1930s.

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