When we first chug-chugged over the Tehachapi mountains on the I-5 and into Los Angeles that wintery day in 2010, I full expected to find the city as I had always seen it portrayed in the movies: white hot, limned with a skyline of frowzy headed palms, with every human in sight slicked down with suntan lotion, neon blue shades, and a coat of cherry red lip gloss. In my mind, LA was flat as a pancake (hoho, says the calves as one struggles, unsuccessfully to climb up Sunset Boulevard on a bike) and impossible to traverse other than by car.

I'll be honest: I took the job at the museum because I had discovered during my most recent visit for an in-person interview, that a train line had just opened across the street on Alameda Street, and it sure looked and sounded, and felt a whole lot like BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) that I was so fond of back home. No way was I gonna do a murderous commute to and from work in LA.

So I took the Metro to and from work gleefully, although with three transfers and four trains twice a day, it was a bit wearying. Plus my husband still had to pick me up at night in the grim parking lot in Norwalk at 8:30 or so every night, since I worked ten hour days. Once we moved into our own place in LA, nearly every apartment we investigated began and ended with a Metro train station search: how far, how crummy of a walk, what could I walk to in particular neighborhoods, where were the cheap grocery stores stocked with cilantro and nori, or the quarter laundromats, huffing toxic puffs of perfumed steam? I made a few feeble attempts in subsequent months to rejuvenate my hiking habits of the Bay Area, but was discouraged by the long drives, the slow-roasted ascents with no overhead coverage on exposed desert hills and wondered if I would ever learn to appreciate the city outside of a motorized vehicle.

In early 2011, I took the Metro one morning into Chinatown to join the Big Parade LA, a two-day community walking tour, usually held in May, that starts in downtown and ending at the Hollywood sign.Nearly a thousand stairs and a staggering sixteen miles later, I was calling it quits and looking back in awe at what these people are doing. The Big Parade is run by a map and chaos freak by the name of Dan Koeppel (and a runner, and cyclist, and incidentally a really great writer. In fact, he's penned a best-selling book on the history of the banana, I kid you not.) The Big Parade covers roughly 40 miles of urban hiking through the streets of Los Angeles, meandering through secret public walkways, hidden staircases, freeway medians, and spiraling ramps. Not only is it meant to destroy the idea that nobody walks in L.A.; the Big Parade slows us to the pace of pedestrians moving at the rate our bodies can take us, one step at a time. It is just as much an exercise for the eyes as it is for the exercise, and along the route, we met "sixth-generation shopkeepers, local historians homeowners, artists, and even a few Trail Angels who provided us with free cookies, water, and lemonade" (from Modern Hiker's blog post, 2011.)

The Big Parade opened me to a whole bevy of folks who burned with the desire to get to know the city intimately, by exploring the mosaics and community gardens, the groves of wild elderberry bushes best for harvesting flowers for wine, to explore the many iterations and layers of the L.A. River, the remnants of the extinct streetcar lines, and to climb a zillion stairways while we're at it. I quickly understood as we approached the Silverlake and Echo Park portion of the walk that Dan is a zealot for simply ascending and descending, and the quickest route from point A to Z was not what he intended to lead us on. We did strange switchbacks on curvy roads, trudged up a set of stairs, trickled down another flight, crossed Sunset, and did it again. There were stairs tucked into shaded groves of purple-hued jacarandas and ivy, and stairs that corkscrewed delightfully around freeway pillars. Some stairs were mere hiccups in sets of five or six, while others were epic, to the tune of some classic Led Zepplin ditty.

All along the way, baffled folks poked out of their houses and stood on their lawns (at times clutching their pets) and asked what the hell was going on. "Its the Big Parade! Anyone can join!" we would crow.

Here are a few other intriguing websites about LA urban walks worth lacing up your hiking boots up for, which I myself have yet to explore: http://www.secretstairs-la.com/welcome.html http://www.walkinginla.com/ http://www.losangeleswalks.org/ http://greatlawalk.blogspot.com/

I've also joined LA Common's neighborhood walks two years in a row during their annual festival: Found LA.