A few years ago, I lived in Hollywood — close to the base of a hike in the Hollywood Hills called Runyon Canyon. The trails are insanely busy, perpetually crowded with LA-strivers, tourists, and celebs. Also, dogs. So many dogs. The park gets about 1.8 million human visitors a year and three-hundred-thousand canine ones.
Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time hiking through Runyon Canyon. There was a phase of my life in which I would go there every day. I love hiking as an exercise, and while Runyon is not the place you go to feel like you’re by yourself in the wilderness, it does have beautiful sweeping views of Los Angeles. On clear days, you can see from the Hollywood sign/Griffith Park all the way downtown and then out to the ocean.
It’s is a special place, is my point. One that has meant a lot to me. I’ve had dozens of great conversations on the trail, brought every family member and out of town guest to hike it with me, and listened to about 12 billion This American Life’s while sweating my way up to the Hollywood sign. And since I’ve been thinking about the little ways we can give back to the world while also enjoying fun experiences, I decided to head there over the weekend for a hike while picking up trash.
Here’s what I learned and observed along the way.
1. Okay, I’ve parked in the neighborhood south of the park. And you know, I have some grievances. Why did that old man just scream at me so forcefully? I mean look, parallel parking isn’t always easy, sir. I’m doing my best. WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY.
I need this hike now, to clear my head.
2. I’m walking uphill, passing several tired dogs. Ugh. The part before you even get to the hike might just be the hardest part. I can’t breathe at all. I am out of shape. I’ve wasted my life. More dogs.
Dogs aside, I find myself moving slowly. Watching everything. Eyes peeled for… peels. Wrappers. Plastic.
3. At the gate. I drain about half my water bottle and consider my options, do I go the easy route up or the hard one? Well, if I’m here to pick up trash, shouldn’t I go the more trafficked way which JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE EASIER?
I mean… I’m not picking the easy way out — I am trying to pick up trash, guys. Guess, I’ll sacrifice all those burned calories and not breathing for an hour. I am a hero.
4. I begin my walk, eagle eying for any trash that might be on the ground. I am going to make such a big difference!
5. Okay, two minutes in and have made zero difference. I haven’t seen any trash and I’m… disappointed? Are people better than I thought? Have people gotten better?
6. I mean good for them. I guess humanity is perfect and….YES, A WATER BOTTLE! I swoop down and delightedly pick up the used water bottle someone tossed on the path. THAT MONSTER. Luckily, I’m here to save the day.
Next, I see a Doritos bag. This is kinda cool, slowing down in this way and studying the sides of the path. Scanning my environment rather than just living in my own little world.
7. A cap, a granola bar wrapper, a gum wrapper, I pick up things up here and there as I continue my ascent. I’m moving slowly, but not bothered by that.
8. A dog leaps in front of me to growl at another dog, I jump back. It’s a small dog, leaping at a German Shepard. The owners pull back leashes, and do that thing where they say, “Sorry! He never does this!” I weave between them because there’s a straw on the ground and risking having my face bitten off is nessasary to leave this hike impecably clean.
9. I wonder if I’ll see any celebrities (and then they’ll see what I’m doing and invite me to cool parties and decide that I should be the next Joan Didion).
I’m so terrible at recognizing celebrities that once on Runyon a celeb recognized me instead of the other way around. A bulldog rushed up to me during a hike and I crouched to greet it.
“Who’s a cute puppy, who’s a cute puppy?” I said.
“Hey, I know you right?” the dog’s handsome owner remarked with a gleaming smile.
“I don’t think so,” I responded, returning my focus to his canine friend.
I frowned, then realized the dog was a client at the animal hospital where I worked and the man was a famous TV actor. It was embarrassing for us all. Except for the dog.
10. It’s hot.
11. How does everyone have matching yoga pant/ half shirt combos? Do they not shop at the same athleisure store I do, which is called: “t-shirts you were given in middle school as the worst member of the swim team and hand-me-down pants from your friend who used to work at Soul Cycle that you’ve gotten paint on”?
12. I pick up some dog poop. It’s been dried out by the sun. I do not enjoy this bit but it’s part of the gig.
13. I grab two wrappers that are slick and silver but have been sun-beaten so I can’t tell what gas station food they once held. I wonder if it was Gardetto’s Special Request Rye Chips. Those things are delicious.
14. I pick up another gum wrapper. My throat is dry as the sun beats down and I think, “What sociopath chews gum near the top of a hike?” This may be the least peaceful, guru-ish part of my otherwise enlightened hike.
15. Nearing the top, I approach a water fountain with relief. A woman, also approaching, accidentally steps into a full dog bowl, trips, catches herself and then looks around quickly to see if anyone noticed. I did, friend, I did. But you handled it well.
She asks if I’m picking up trash and we chat about it for a few seconds. Another reason to collect garbage on hikes: new (slightly clumsy) friends!
16. I spot another empty water bottle and literally rush to pick it up before anyone else can. It’s like I’m on a weird episode of Supermarket Sweep. Has the heat caused me to imagine others are up here fighting over trash with me? I was genuinely worried someone might get it first. I’m mildly concerned by this reaction.
17. At the top, I find myself snapping pictures of the Hollywood sign even though I’ve taken this exact picture in this exact spot, conservatively, a hundred times.
I also draw a few long breaths and pick up whatever trash I can find at the summit. I grab a swizzle straw that might just be a twig and two cigarette butts. It’s not a ton, but it’s something. Which is as good a motto as someone trying to do good while having adventures could hope for.
18. I wonder why no one has high fived me for picking up trash. Feels rude.
19. Still hot, even going downhill. But because I’m moving slowly to hunt for every single gum wrapper or matchstick, I find myself noticing the land and the movement of the grass and the faces of others in a new way. This is #SlowTravel to the extreme and I like how it’s affected my POV.
20. I pick up a napkin, a brown one like you’d get with takeout. It makes me wonder, Why did they have a napkin up here? Did they bring like a hot meal up here? Why would anyone do that? Was it ribs? WHO BROUGHT A PLATE FULL OF BABY BACK RIBS ON A HOT HIKE? WHY DIDN’T THEY SAVE ME SOME?
21. I round my way down the stairs, and I go 100 times slower than everyone else out of fear of falling, past the cement slab that was going to be turned into a basketball court before public outcry demanded it never get built. Before I know it, I’m headed back to car having discarded my trash.
22. Overall, it was pretty clean on the hike, but I feel good knowing that when I saw garbage, I picked it up. I’m going to do that on more hikes I think. More than that, I liked how it made me slow down and look at the world as something to be protected and cherished. Even if no one praised me for it besides a lady who’d almost completely biffed it in a dog bowl.