VIA: On the Trail with Paul Haddad
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Wednesday, March 02, 2016
By Paul Haddad
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Hello Travelers!

Right off the bat, I need to apologize. On February 17, I promised an interview from Paul Haddad would be up on the site the following day. I've been plagued with an ongoing migraine this month that has hit me in waves. Happily, I finally made my way to the acupuncturist and am feeling much better. Which means... more hikes to train for Via Francigena! A recent one from Paul Haddad's book will be featured on the site soon. In the meantime, here's inspiration from the author of 10,000 Steps A Day in LA himself! -- Bekah


Photo courtesy of Paul Haddad

 

What made you decide to write 10,000 Steps A Day in LA?

My friends call me an L.A. apologist.  I take that as a compliment.  I like to say that living here, you must “choose your reality.”  Find those aspects of the city you really like, and then exploit them to the n-th degree. 

Our (generally) mild climate and terrain provide ready excuses venture out in nature.  Our culture, architecture and culinary diversity lure us to explore its urban side.  This dichotomy is unique among the world’s cities, and I feel it’s almost our duty to take advantage of it. 

It’s why I’m splitting proceeds from the book to two organizations that spearhead preservation of our natural (TreePeople) and urban (L.A. Conservancy) resources. 

Also, in the last few years, I became obsessed with obtaining 10,000 steps a day.  Add it all up, and I felt compelled to write a book that celebrates and heightens our appreciation for the City of Angels, with the added health bonus of allowing us to feel better, mentally and physically.  Basically, you get to increase your L.A. IQ one step at a time!  

 

 

Which is your favorite hike in the book and why?

On really clear days, especially when there’s snow on the distant mountains, I can’t resist the urge to do Walk #16 – the service road that takes you to the back of the Hollywood Sign

The view from Mt. Lee is 360 degrees – for my money, the best in the Santa Monica Mountains.  You also meet some really interesting people up there. German tourists, hard-core hikers, families with kids, loners who just want to daydream. 


Image by Thomas Wolf, www.foto-tw.de [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Every time I’m on top of that mountain, I can’t help but enter a contemplative state as well.  I find myself looking back at my younger Horatio Alger self, when I used to hike up there to get inspired to make my mark, somehow, someway. 

And then, of course, I’m quickly brought back to earth when I regard the 45-foot-high letters, which lured a suicidal, out-of-work actress named Peg Entwistle in 1932.  She leapt to her death off the “H.”  Many claim her ghost haunts that hillside.  The divide between success and failure can be stark in Hollywood, and you have both represented in that one spot.

 

Has there been a hike that has stuck in your memory for one reason or another, be it inspiration, frustration, friends met along the path, etc.?

I was a child of the ‘70s who grew up in Crestview, which is the “Beverly Hills Adjacent” area off Coldwater Canyon Drive.  Back then, the DWP owned Upper Franklin Canyon Lake, which was then a functioning reservoir closed to the public.

Image by National Park Service (U.S. National Park Service) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

I was obsessed with the idea of hiking over the hills behind our backyard, scaling the lake’s barbed-wire fence, and walking its forbidden shoreline.  I could see it shimmering from Mulholland Drive in the distance, but like a mirage, I could never touch its waters.  It was frustrating. 



Image by Zigzig20s (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Then, in 1987, the Parks Department took over and opened the entire grounds to the public.  Now, it’s one of the most popular hiking spots in all of Los Angeles.  My siblings and I take my mom there every Mother’s Day.  Inner-city students visit its Sooky Goldman Nature Center, and disabled kids can hike along Heavenly Pond. 

Franklin Canyon Lake is one of my book’s walks, and it represents everything L.A. can be with a little cooperation, willpower, and out-of-the-box thinking.  I’m so happy my kids get to enjoy something I was not able to.


Image by Howcheng


On the flip side, as an adult, I’m obsessed with Marina Del Rey (MDR).  I found trying to map out 10,000s steps at its harbor a maddening process.  Despite being right on the water, the community is not geared for pedestrians.  Even its bike path starts and stops in fits and starts – good luck trying to find it half the time. 

When MDR was designed in the 1950s and ‘60s, county engineers had one thing in mind – two, actually – cars and boats.  Walkers and cyclists weren’t even on their radar.  That’s changing.  The county is planning a multi-million-dollar makeover that will hopefully bring the country’s largest manmade private boat harbor into the 21st Century by making it more integrated into the landscape.  So I guess my obsession with it is to see if they can succeed in making it more accessible.  If we could do it with Franklin Canyon, we can do it with the marina.

 

Image from http://www.paulhaddadbooks.com

Is there a hike that's a fave of your dog, Porter?

We did a DNA test on Porter, and he is a true mutt in every sense of the word.  At least seven different breeds, mostly terrier, even some poodle, which probably accounts for his love of water and going for dips in Griffith Park’s horse troughs.  As such, his favorite hikes involve any trail where water’s involved. For example, Walk #10 along the L.A. River, or Walk #49 along Manhattan Beach’s boardwalk.
  Porter loves tromping in the ocean.

 


Image from http://www.paulhaddadbooks.com

 

But I think Porter's all-time favorite is a hike that’s not in my book.  It’s a trail in Debs Park in Highland Park. There’s a little lake amongst the trees there called Peanut Lake. He loves to fetch sticks thrown in the water, and he’s been known to swim clear across to the other side.  If you have a dog who loves water, I can’t recommend this hidden gem enough. 

 


Image from http://www.debspark.org/

 
Any general tips you'd give hikers when undertaking LA-based hikes?

Leave yourself open to spontaneity, take the route “less traveled by.”  My book’s routes are merely road maps to get you started.  Sure, you could always follow them to a tee, but I always find life is more interesting when you go off the beaten track.  That’s when I’ve stumbled on discoveries I could only get by walking into unfamiliar territory. 

Also, I like to walk early and finish up around noon.  The weather is cooler in the morning, you have more energy to tackle 10,000 steps, and you can reward yourself at the end with a great lunch or picnic.  (And then still have the rest of the day to catch a movie and put all those calories back on with popcorn and candy!)

No holds barred, if you could choose another hike anywhere on the planet, where would it be?

This is probably going to sound uncreative, but for years I’ve wanted to hike the highlands of Machu Picchu, the famous Incan settlement in Peru. 

 


Image by Martin St-Amant (S23678) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


A more immediate goal is hiking to the summit of Mt. Whitney.  I’m going to be celebrating my 50th Birthday soon, and I want to mark it by doing something that communes with nature but also has a destination or uplifting “ending” to it.

 


Image by Justin.Johnsen [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Ultimately, though, I may just end up riding my bike down the Los Angeles River to Long Beach

 

Image by Junkyardsparkle (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The whole river is 51 miles – so, one for every year, plus one for good luck!

 

We've loved seeing LA through Paul's eyes. So much so, we're following 10,000 Steps a Day in LA as part of our training for the upcoming Via Francigena hike.


Definitely check out the book's website. Here, and here, you'll find additional information and photos from Paul.

As for the man himself, here's a little more insight into Paul Haddad and why we're so astounded he's able to fit 10,000 steps into his daily life:


I was born in Hollywood in a building that is now the Scientology headquarters.  I grew up on L.A.'s Westside in Beverly Crest, a redheaded-stepchild community that shares Beverly Hills' 90210 zip code... without enjoying the fine schools that come with it. 

Some of my earliest memories involve books -- not just reading them, but writing them.  They totaled well over a hundred.  Story books, comic books, maze books, even a world atlas about countries that existed only in my head, in that same space where I imagined a wide audience of fawning readers beyond my mom.  Inspired by Charles Schulz' Peanuts, I considered devoting my life to drawing comics as I entered my teen years. 

Then my dad came home with a video camera -- a crude, Betamax camcorder.  Suddenly, storytelling took on another dimension for me, one with real-life sound and pictures.  After high school, I graduated with a B.A. in Communication/Media from UC San Diego, where I continued to hone my storytelling skills under a great documentary faculty.  I enrolled in USC's School of Cinema-TV, where I earned an MFA and won a student Emmy for my documentary thesis film, Taxi Dancer. 

After film school, I wrote several bad screenplays and directed a marginal feature (it sold in Slovakia and got into four festivals you never heard of) that left me heavily in debt.  Realizing I needed a career, but unwilling to give up my dream of writing and directing, I turned to television.  It was the smartest career move I ever made.  I was able to rekindle my passion for telling stories and this time actually get paid for it.  My TV career has taken me on some amazing journeys around the world for networks like A&E, National Geographic, Discovery  Channel, Fox Sports, VH1, Spike, Travel Channel, Science Channel, Cooking Channel and E!

With TV as my "day job," I never lost sight of my dream to become an author, and found that my TV writing helped inform my other creative pursuits.  I began to write freelance articles for the Los Angeles Times, various magazines, and a regular L.A. column for the Huffington Post.  In 2012, my first book was published: High Fives, Pennant Drives, and Fernandomania: A Fan’s History of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Glory Years, 1977-1981 (Santa Monica Press).  Based on audio tapes I recorded of Dodger games from my youth, it looks back at the Dodgers' last glory era through the radio calls of Hall of Fame announcer Vin Scully.  It was chosen as one of the top baseball books of 2012 by the Daily News and earned praise from the LA Times, ESPN Radio, Fox Sports, NBC News, CBS Radio, American Public Media, Grantland and Yahoo!  It also led to my appearance in the ESPN Films' documentary 30 for 30: Fernando Nation.     

In 2013, Perseus Books / Argo Navis published my first book of fiction: Skinny White Freak, a "coming of rage" Young Adult novel set in 1970s Malibu about a teenager working up the courage to confront a camp bully.  The book’s story was inspired by my childhood.  Like the protagonist Adam, I was a gangly, pasty-skinned kid, making me an easy target for ridicule, especially in the uber-tan, surfer-dude culture that defined the SoCal of my youth.  Tapping my drawing background, I also created the 65 illustrations in Skinny White Freak. 

My latest book, 10,000 Steps A Day In L.A.: 52 Walking Adventures (Santa Monica Press), was inspired by my obsession to obtain 10,000 daily steps on my pedometer -- a goal I noticed was shared by a lot of Fitbit-wearing friends.  It occurred to me that, while there have been books written about 10,000 steps as a healthy lifestyle, no one had penned a book that mapped out 10,000-step itineraries in Los Angeles -- or any city, for that matter.  This was the perfect excuse for me to fill this void, as it would also scratch my longtime itch to write a book about my favorite walks in my hometown while debunking the notion that Los Angeles is a city hostile to pedestrians.

I still live in Los Angeles, now joined by my wife, two children, and a rambunctious dog named Porter, who is the unofficial mascot of 10,000 Steps a Day in L.A., appearing in many of the photos.

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