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The Big Parade: Hiking Los Angeles

My hike, like a million other trips each day in Los Angeles, starts with a ride on a rumbling bus.In the heart of Los Angeles, a band of hikers starts a local-trails revolution--one step at a time.

We leave downtown and pick up a dozen newcomers at Vista Hermosa Park. I’d designed the route as a series of loops, making it easier for participants to join and depart. I’d also arranged stopovers specific to the communities we’d be walking through. In the Temple-Beaudry district, a diverse neighborhood of longtime residents and recent immigrants, we’ll visit a children’s art center. In Silverlake, where I live, we’ll stop at an off-the-grid homestead.

In Los Angeles, public stairways are actually considered streets, harking back to their prefreeway function as connectors for dozens of private trolley lines that ran along what were, essentially, the paved floors of deep canyons. At the bottom of the longest stairways, I point out where the old “Red Car” tracks (the last and most famous of those lines) had been.
Between the talks and stops, I fret about wrong turns and sticking to the timetable. We fall behind schedule almost immediately, and keep sliding. Though I’d rehearsed each segment of the route, I deliberately chose to never actually walk the entire distance at once. I wanted the passage to be the asphalt equivalent of a first ascent. Now, of course, I’m encountering the surprises of a virgin climb. For example, it takes 50 people a lot longer to use a single coffee-shop restroom than I’d expected.

Nevertheless, by noon on Saturday we’ve established a rhythm. When we cross streets, parade members hold traffic at intersections with a cyclists’ technique called “corking”–stopping vehicular movement in all directions. Not a single driver honks, though a few press their faces to the windows, baffled.

At the start of each mini loop, an influx of new walkers swells the group to 70 or more. After about five miles (the length of each micro tour), there’s more coming and going, save for a couple of dozen loyalists who appear determined to finish the whole thing. On Saturday’s most formidable ascent, 237 zigzag steps leading to a ridge above Dodger Stadium, I watch from above as the group spreads out along the incline. Each person climbs patiently. No rabbits, no turtles. It looks just like I’d hoped: a big parade.

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