Monday, December 18, 2006

Because most Angelenos are confined to their cars as they drive solo all over this spread-out city, they value word-of-mouth about cool places to go. Just as the rare opportunity to use the carpool lane is a major commodity, so is finding out about the best bar scene, a super surfing spot, or where to get cheap Botox.

Even running routes are in demand. In LA, a picturesque park with unpaved paths can be paradise -- anywhere one can get in a little exercise, away from Schmuck Q. Escalade paying more attention to his Blackberry and Bluetooth than the red light he’s running.

Runyan Canyon was supposedly the place to be. Miles of dirt roads in the heart of Hollywood. Great for hiking, running, and spotting celebrities who look exhausted except for in the unflinching face. Obviously, they sprang for the expensive Botox.

So why did I hesitate to check out Runyan Canyon? Partially because I’m a creature of habit. I’m well-acquainted with my beach routes -- where to find clean water fountains, to see tall ships in the Marina, to ogle women volleyball players, to clothesline passing skateboard punks…

When I finally tried this new midtown mecca-for-the-fitness-minded for the first time, I couldn’t yet become a true convert. The whole trek was more of a scouting expedition, to get the lay of the land. I was transfixed on traversing this treacherous terrain. Only when I reached the top could take in the sights. And yes, the view of the LA landscape, from the Hollywood sign to Santa Monica, was a scenic smoggy spectacle.

Yesterday, I went back, and Runyan Canyon was much more fun. And I barely broke a sweat on the way up. Probably because it was later in the day and colder out than last time, but I prefer to believe that I was no longer intimidated; I had conquered the mountain.

On the way back, I could appreciate one of the major assets of the trail -- it's a dog park, where people can let their pets run loose, off the leash. Everywhere were cute schnauzers strolling, hounds hurrying, retrievers rambling … While I was carefully climbing down the steep part, a woman asked me if I noticed a little yellow dog looking lost back there. “Well, yeah,” I said with a shrug. “There were lots of yellow dogs.” I was sorry I couldn’t help, but did she mean the one digging in the bushes, the one wearing a frilly pooch poncho, or the one caught in a three-way circular train of butt-sniffing?

As the path safely leveled out, I broke into a jog. It was exhilarating and easy, trotting downhill and passing the hikers fighting gravity by going the other direction. We’d get out each others’ way, stepping to the right. I was wondering if we were in England we’d all go to the left, when I noticed a dog galloping toward me with a ball in its slobbery jowls. Perhaps it was an English bulldog. Whatever the breed, pooches are even less polite than people, so I moved even further aside. At the last second the canine lost its toothy grip on the ball, dropped it, and dashed in front of me to get it.

There was no way to avoid the dog. “Whoa!” I tripped over the damn thing and if I hadn’t put my hands out in front of me, I would’ve landed face first in the dirt. I slid on my palms and got a good look at ants on the ground up close.

Everyone on the trail saw my pratfall, but only the owner of the dog said, “Omigod. Are you okay?”

I immediately rose to my feet, annoyed. “Yeah, I’m okay.” I took off running again. My quick recovery wasn’t because I was embarrassed. When I took that tumble, my ankle must’ve caught that dog -- I heard it yelp as I hit the ground, and didn’t want to give the panicked pooch a chance to go berserk and bite me. That’s all I needed. Roaming roadblock rabies.

At the bottom of the hill, I saw that my hands were pretty scuffed up. At least that was my only injury, even if it’s not the way I prefer to get calluses.

Next time I go, I’ll be more careful. And I still might even tell my fellow LA runners about that mountain trail. Usually tips about hotspots in this town come with a caveat: “…it gets too crowded on weekends.” Or: “…but parking is a bitch.”

Recommending Runyan Canyon will come with the warning: “Beware of dog.”


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