John Marsland


Coffee by day, Sriracha by night

Paprika--one of my favorite mobile apps--makes it easy to save and update my favorite recipes from the web. See my top recipes below, roughly ordered by deliciousness.

Bakes 🥖

Meals 🍽

Mains catered especially for lovers of garlic, butter, and gluttony

Cocktails 🍸

I love complex cocktails, and err toward those that are citrusy, bitter, and a bit spirit forward

Caffeine ☕

Reading the Weather


The views are the appeal of LA trails. This guide shows you how to experience an ideal sunrise given your mood, weather, and time of year.



Just above the inversion in Angeles National Forest


First a geography lesson. There are three mountain ranges within 10-15 minutes from Eagle Rock: Griffith Park, The Verdugos, and Angeles National Forecast. Griffith peaks top off at just under 2k, the Verdugos at 3k, and Angeles National Forest can reach up to 10k+.



Ascend above the fogline in Griffith Park, occassionally over low clouds in Verdugos, and both in Angeles


MOOD

Griffith Park is my go to destination when I'm in the mood for a shorter hike, but because it's popular, trails are generally more crowded. When guests are in town, I'll bring them to Griffith for sunrise shots of the hollywood sign, griffith observatory, and nearby downtown LA. Angeles National Park is better for longer hikes, more altitude, and solitude. Those trails wind through pine and oak forests, meander alongside creeks, and reach higher vistas. The Verdugos are a middle ground with mid-length trails, moderate climbs, and occassional crowds


WEATHER

In the summer, I lookup tomorrow's weather via the National Weather Forecast (NWF), which details cloud cover and fog predictions. I'm most excited when I see fog, followed by low clouds, and lastly clear skies. The first two might surprise you. Overcast LA summers (aka may gray and june gloom) might cloud out beach goers, but hikers know that the right trail will take them above it. The technical definition of low clouds is a layer below 6.5k, but in LA low clouds typically form between 3k and 4k. You can reliably ascent above them in Angeles National Forest and occassionally in the Verdugos. I've never been able to hike above low clouds in Griffith Park, but if the forecast only includes fog (especially thick fog), there's no better view of the city of angels than from behind Griffith's famed hollywood sign.



National Weather Forecast from forecast.weather.gov


TIME OF YEAR

In the summer, the sun rises around 5am. I regularly wake up early, but not thaaattt early--getting to the top of the trail would require a 3am alarm. In the winter and shoulder seasons, the sun rises closer to 7a, which means reaching a peak for perfect morning colors is acheivable along with a good night's sleep. I refer to the sunrise quality forecast app a href=https://alpenglowapp.com/>Alpenglow, which will predict the likelihood of a great sunrise (or sunset) based on the conditions. Anything above 50% should mean beautiful skies, above 75% will be spectacular. The app is less reliable when fog and low clouds because it assumes you'll be below both, which is why checking both that app and the NWF is important, especially in the summer.



Good sunrise forecast as predicted by the mobile app Alpenglow


For a few weeks around the new year, snow will fall in Angeles National Forest and typically remain around 5k feet for a month, but accessible at 3k during cold spells. When that happens, I pack my microspikes and head to Angeles. Where else can you be in the snow in the morning and 70 degree beach weather in the afternoon?


ALL TOGETHER



Trails near North East Los Angeles


It took me a few years to appreciate LA trails, which outside of instagrammable landmarks don't have the typical hiking destination draw. Like in the movies, set and timing are everything. What LA lacks in lushness it more than makes up with cloud-free skies, frequent fog, and towering mountains. The views are the appeal, best experienced at dawn for the sunrise. Bonus: avoiding the heat and crowds.



North East LA hiking, most hikes within a 10-20 minute drive from Eagle Rock


Despite the lack of traditional seasons in Southern California, LA hiking experiences change throughout the year. Trails are at their greenest in the spring, bringing superblooms, fragrant california sage, and towering + flowering yucca. June gloom is a misnomer. The summer's thick fog and low cloud cover is ascendable, opening up celestial views of the city of angels. The late rising sun and the earth's ideal tilt make for spectacular sunrise colors in the fall. For a few weeks in the winter, snow will top trails in Angeles National forest, making for fun microspike execursions. Where else can you be in the snow in the morning and 70 degree beach weather in the afternoon?


Below are my goto NELA hikes in nearby Griffith Park, Verdugo Mountains, Angeles National Forest, as well as a a few further favorites


Griffith Park

The go to destination for out of towners for views of the Observatory and famed Hollywood sign, Griffith Park has it all, but gets crowded quickly. If you start your hikes earlier or on the northern part of the park, you’ll run into smaller crowds. Peaks top off at just under 2k feet.


Hollywood Sign via Canyon Drive

6.0mi, 1.2k ft elevation gain | FIRETRAIL - RUNNING - LIMITED SHADE - VIEWS - CROWDED

The view behind the sign and the easy firetrail are the main draw here. This is the go to hike I take out of towners on. Early starters will be rewarded with solitude, fantastic for an intermediate trail run.


Stereotypical but not less beautiful view from behind the hollywood sign


Mount Hollywood via Amir’s Garden

4.0mi, 1.1k ft elevation gain | MOSTLY FIRETRAIL - SOME SHADE - VIEWS

One of my favorite Griffith Park trails to avoid the crowds (at the trailhead) but still take in the views. Always folks at the top, though, no matter when you start.


Southwestern sunrise from Mt. Hollywood


Hollywood Sign and The Wisdom Tree

7.6mi, 2.0k ft elevation gain | SOME SHADE - VIEWS - FIRE TRAIL / SINGLE TRACK

Great trail that hits celebrated Griffith Park destinations (view of the hollywood sign and the Wisdom Tree) but generally avoids the crowds. The single track ridge in the last mile on the way to the wisdom tree has some scrambling, but less frequented and one of the best ways to see the famed Italian stone pine in Griffith during the pandemic.



Verdugos+

With views from up to 3k peaks of Griffith Park, DTLA, and the Angeles National Forest, the Verdugos are a 10-20 minute drive from Eagle Rock, have well maintained firetrails, and plenty of spots to take in the view and have a picnic. My typical togo destination on days with thicker fog and low-lying inversions


Mount Thom via Las Flores Motorway+

4.6mi, 1.2k ft elevation gain | FIRETRAIL - RUNNING - NOSHADE - VIEWS

Less than 10 min drive from my homebase in Eagle Rock, this is my goto sunrise and trail running hike. Limited shade but also fewer crowds. Great 270 degree views, especially great on foggy mornings or sunset. Trailhead starts in a neighborhood, be considerate if you're starting early.

Chandler Motorway

6.1mi, 1.5k elevation gain | FIRETRAIL - RUNNING - NOSHADE - VIEWS

Similar to Mount Thom, this hike ends at a subpeak with a youngish italian stone pine and picnic tables. The perfect destination to do a picnic or trail beers with friends. Firetrail all the way up, great for trail running.


Picnic table and Italian Stone Pine at the end of the motorway



La Tuna Canyon Out and Back

7.5mi, 1.4k elevation gain | FIRETRAIL - RUNNING - NOSHADE - VIEWS

This is a simple firetrail that has a gentler grade and is great for sunrise runs. Follow the recording from the link above (instead of the loop) to avoid the scrambling.

Cherry Canyon Park and Lookout Tower

4.6mi, 900 ft elevation gain | LIMITED SHADE - SOME VIEWS - FIRETRAIL - RUNNING

Technically not in the Verdugos but in nearby rolling hills, this is an easy, somewhat rocky trail that’s easy to access and has good (lower altitude) views of NELA / DTLA / etc. Perfect for those lower key hiking days.



Angeles National Forest

With visible peaks towering 5k feet and hidden ones above 10k, Angeles National Forest is relatively unknown by most but loved by many. This is my destination when I want solitude, elevation, and distance. Fortunately, there are plenty of accessible trailheads just a short drive away--these are some of my favorites within 20 minutes:


Earl Canyon Mountainway

6.7mi, 2.0k ft elevation gain | FIRETRAIL/SINGLE TRACK - RUNNING - NO SHADE - NOT CROWDED

Starts off on a steepish firetrail that transitions to a single track. I’ve done this hike a half a dozen times and have never seen a person on the way up. Trail ends at a helicopter landing pad along with 270 degree views of LA and Angeles mountains. Perfect for solitude and amazing on a foggy day.


Just above the fog layer at the end of the trailhead


Tee Pee Trail

5.1mi, 1.0k elevation gain | FIRETRAIL/SINGLE TRACK - RUNNING - NO SHADE - NOT CROWDED

The first trail up the 2 into Angeles, this is a great fire trail for running relative to others since it's only an 8% grade. Limited views until a mile in, but then opens up to views of LA. Trail ends at a Tee Pee, but you can continue all the way to Lukens

Crescenta View Trail

6.3mi, 2.2k ft elevation gain | SINGLE TRACK - LIMITED SHADE - NOT CROWDED - VIEWS

Rocky trail that follows a dried river bed and then meanders up. Great views post 1.5mi as well as rock circles and other random hiker vantage points. My favorite nearby trial the day after it snows--can often see snow at around 3k! Surreal to experience that in LA. Also the starter trail on the way to Mt Lukens

Echo Mountain via Sam Merrill Trail

5.4mi, 1.4k elevation gain | MOSTLY SINGLE TRACK - NO SHADE - CROWDED

A popular trail that brings you to echo mountain, once a popular 1900s destination that has since turned to ruins in the mountains. Great hike to take in a view and have a picnic at the peak.

Fern Truck, Brown Mountain and El Prieto Trail Loop

7.6mi, 1.4k elevation gain | MOSTLY SINGLE TRACK - MUCH SHADE - CROWDED

Great easy trail to do if you’re looking for trees and shade.

El Prieto Loop

2.7mi, 600ft elevation gain | MOSTLY SINGLE TRACK - MUCH SHADE - CROWDED

Similar to Fern truck, but not as long

Henninger Flats Trail

5.5mi, 1.4k ft elevation gain | FIRE TRAIL - NO SHADE - VIEWS

Henninger Flats is first come, first serve walk in campground and one of LA’s best known secrets. Hot and steep until you reach the campground, which is beautifully shaded with lots of great history.


Perfect day above the inversion


Eaton Canyon Trail

4.4mi, 520ft elevation gain | SOME SHADE - WATERFALL - CROWDED

Flattish trail that parallels a river. Rocky and scrambly at places. Get’s especially crowded and popular with families.


Waterfall at the end of Eaton Canyon



Further Favorites

10mi+ trails in Angeles National Forest and San Gabriels, many of which make LA hiking aficionado bucket lists. Up to an hour's drive away.


Inspiration Point Loop

10mi, 2.8k elevation gain | SHADE - VIEWS - SOMEWHAT CROWDED

This is a beautiful primarily single-track trail that travels through crests, a shaded canyon with oak/bay/pine trees, and occasional tree cover that ends at a viewpoint. Mountain bikers often barrel down the back part of the trail so be alert. The first part of the trail gets crowded so you'll have to pass a lot of folks on the way down no matter when you start. But the trail is worth it


Easy to see why they call it inspiration point


Mt Baldy Notch Trail

11mi, 3.9k elevation gain | SOME SHADE - VIEWS - CHALLENGING

This is an LA bucket list hike just an hour drive from NELA. Starts off rocky and forested and then transitions to rocky and bare. The back half of the hike is along a ridge and stopovers at a Ski lodge, perfect for lunch and a beer. You can shorten the hike by taking the trail lift down. Best done around the summertime when the snow is absent/minimal.

Mount Wilson Toll Road Climb

16.9mi, 4.2k elevation gain | ALMOST ALL FIRETRAIL SOME SHADE - VIEWS - CHALLENGING

An LA bucket list hike. Limited crowds and decent views on the way up. I hiked it during the pandemic and the observatory was closed, but when it’s open there’s a restaurant on the top, a welcome reward after a mile of vertical gain.


​​Lucked out on my way to Mt Wilson and got this perfect inversion layer


Mount Lukens Via Dunsmore Canyon

9.9mi, 2.8k elevation gain | SOME SHADE - VIEWS

Mt Lukens and Mt Wilson are the two famed viewable peaks from NELA. This hike is a continuation of the Crescenta view trail, and a ton of fun in microspikes if you're lucky enough to get snow.


​​Mt Lukens post snow in December


Strawberry Peak Trail via Redbox Canyon

7.2mi, 1.8k elevation gain | NOSHADE - VIEWS

Beautiful hike. Last two miles get more challenging with some bouldering and many false peaks. But the views at the end make it worthwhile


​​Made it just in time for the sunrise on a snowy december


Josephine Peak Trail

8.3mi, 1.8k ft elevation gain | FIRETRAIL - NOSHADE - VIEWS - RUNNING

The pure firetrail version of Strawberry peak, this hike offers similar view payoffs but has less scrambling. Great in the winter when it snows as well as in the summer when you want to rise above the low cloud cover, as seen below


About 500ft above the summer inversion


Diminishing returns

Renting a shared apartment in San Francisco 2004 begins with the housing wanted section on Craigslist. Posting about why you'd make a good roommate was less about you and more about filtering for whom you want to live with. Most couples spend years getting to know each other; SF transplants get a paragraph and a meetup before signing a year long lease. These cosigners became my city companions, jointly discovering a umami-laden bite of a great street eat, hiking to a hidden gem, or dancing till dusk at a city festival. The fun seemed like it wouldn't end.




That is, until the engineer in me began trying to maximize these experiences, beginning with an obsession to find the best bay area dishes. I sought out then broke down the features of what made everyday eats great. I went on a best banh mi binge, a coffee craze, and a super quesadilla quest, the last of which should have been paired with exercise (instead, with chips). The tri-folded SF super quesadilla is commonly mistaken for a burrito, snubbing traditional fillers for more of the good stuff. Paired best with late nights, the perfect one is seared on both sides, elects avocado over guacamole, balances fillings fused with gooey cheese, contains deeply seasoned protein accompanied by at least one intensely flavorful (and not runny) side salsa, and is too much for one sitting for but too good to save for later. Have each of these and you have me hooked.


The problem is that most miss the mark. Experience satisfaction follows a log-normal distribution, the joy is front loaded before slowing diminishing. The newness of enjoying a different super quesadilla is eventually subsumed by the snobbiness of (higher) standards. Setting expectations meant setting myself up for disappointment.


While I took food finding to an extreme, the same diminishing returns principal can be applied more broadly. Filling your life with material possessions might leave you feeling empty, but so can filling it with solely with experiences.


Fast forward years later, my partner and I decided to have kids. Before doing so we took time off from work to travel--we didn't want kids to hold us back. We worried that becoming parents would be a step-function back to banality: a move to suburbia, breakfast routines over brunch runs, and no no reservations dinners.


All of those worries came true, but less freedom didn't mean less fulfillment. What surprised me is how much joy I began to experience through the eyes of our twin daughters. No longer is it about me having the best quesadilla, but watching their eyes light up after tasting one for the first time. Today I watched them jump head first into incoming waves, giggling all the while. First words and big milestones are brought up often, but it's the little things, a spontaneous scribble or song, that bring smiles to their faces and mine. When that happens, my partner and I lock eyes, hands clasped tight, thankful for those moments that we get to experience through our girls.


Perhaps the joy I feel now will fade when they turn into teenage monsters. I may just be on the early upward slope of the distribution. Or maybe parents become happier over time because of the shared experiences they have with their children. Kids do mean more routine and less freedom, but not less happiness. After a while, you spend less time seeking experiences for yourself, and instead through those you love.


A morning addiction

Since moving from SF to LA and having kids, I've become an early morning person. There are many reasons why I prefer the early AM over the late PM, the most important that I can control my free time in the morning better than at night.


A ritual helps me stay consistent, starting with an awakening buzz from my watch. Water boiled, beans weighed then ground, a second buzz steaming post five measured pours. Nearly run ready. Exercise later in the day means more energy, but it also means more of life's distractions. Before sunrise, the only thing interrupting me from lacing up is myself.


Most of all, I look forward to trail mornings. The draw is more than just exercise. The outdoors is awakening. Scents of california sage in the spring and the sharpness of bay leaves in the fall. Flickering lights amongst the morning chill of the sleeping city. Collectively, they temper thoughts of dread from the hill ahead, which soon fade behind the rhythm of the run. Each step requires just enough focus to keep my thoughts on a single tract, helped by the lack of daytime distractions.


My attention first wanders then focuses. Pausing to jot down an epiphany happens more frequently than breaks to catch my breath. I can't pinpoint why I think more creatively outside. Maybe it's the change of scenery. Or adrenaline peaking with caffeine. I don't run to think unhindered but love that byproduct.


LA's lesser known celebrities are its rolling hills and towering mountains, spotlighted in the morning. Headlamp on, careful with each step. Then dawn takes the baton. Switchbacks later the opposing sky is pasteled purpled, clouds accented by pink tracers. Trail mornings are an insta' filter, slowly shaping brightness, intensity, and hue until picture perfect, roughly 30 minutes before the sun actually rises. I time each summit for exactly then. The views are breathtaking on their own, combined with actual breathlessness produce a runner's high synesthesia. Chasing that feeling keeps me from hitting snooze.



My morning LA sunrise timing calculator


On a trail morning, the first thing I do is peak out the window. Fog is notoriously hard to forecast in Los Angeles, seeing it on the occasional morning is a welcome surprise. On a few lucky days, Santa Monica's fog meets mountain peaks in Angeles National forest, blanketing the skyline canvas. The city of angels:


I turn into a pumpkin around 9pm. I'm okay with that. At nearly 40, I've gained more from 5am than lost from 11pm. I sleep about 30 minutes less than I did before developing this routine, but don't feel less tired. Some studies show that exercise helps with sleep interia, helping athletes settle into regenerative deep sleep faster despite less overall sleep duration. Seizing the mornings means having more of the day.




Addendum
Will is part of the story. The trail wouldn't be possible without the support of my partner, who is the first line of defense when our sleeply twins stomp their way out of bed. She is backed up by my in-laws, who manage our weekday morning routine. Thank you for being there!

Two under two

My experience as a father of premature twins

The first thing you learn as a parent is that the kids set the family agenda. Our girls took over early. Zara, and her twin Luna, came wiggling into this world the afternoon of January 9th, 2018 three months before their expected due date.


Full term is 39 weeks. Twin moms generally give birth at 35 weeks, so while we were expecting early arrivals, little could have prepared us for our girls to say hello world at 27 weeks, each weighing in just under 2lbs:



The first thing expecting parents listen for is their newborn’s cry. After a long wait, from behind the operating curtain, we heard Luna cry ever so briefly after delivery. We never heard from Zara. Both babies had Apgar scores close to 0, and had to be intubated immediately. While Luna only had the breathing tube for 24 hours, Zara cycled through different ventilators for nearly six weeks. One of them—the oscillator—pulsed oxygen-enhanced microbreathes 500 times a minute to help her still developing lungs get her the air she needed. Because their caretakers had to carefully position the oscillator, we were only able to touch Zara through her incubator. The first time we held her was six weeks after she was born. Between the two of them they had over a hundred blood draws, half a dozen blood transfusions, brain bleeds, a collapsed lung, slowly closing holes in their hearts, and generally a really tough start in life.


Fast forward nine months—our little ladies just recently celebrated their first Halloween as baby sharks (doo do doo do do). And while our days post the hospital were filled with appointments and normal newborn problems (sleeplessness, sickness, and spit up), in general our twins emerged unscathed. You would have never known that they spent their first three months on life support:


Luna and Zara beat the odds, and we believe the care they received at the hospital as well as the time we were able to spend with them are the primary reasons they are thriving.


The attendings, nurses, and respiratory therapists at Good Samaritan hospital near DTLA became our second family those three months we spent with our newborns in the NICU. They helped our family through every development milestone, from breathing unassisted to nursing from mom. The hospital also allows parents with children in the NICU to “room-in” free of charge so that they can spend more time with their newborns. For mothers of multiples, parents who live far away, or any new parent, a place to spend the night / rest privately was a true blessing. It allowed us to spend more quality time with Luna and Zara when we were emotionally and physically exhausted.


We were fortunate not only to have amazing medical staff but also understanding employers and colleagues. Netflix, where I work, has a generous full-pay parental leave policy, which allowed me to be with our girls both when they were in the hospital as well as for over half a year once they came home. With twins it’s all hands on deck. In the hospital twins are separated on opposite sides of the NICU to to reduce the potential for medical errors. Having both parents present meant we could spend more quality time with our girls.


It’s a shame that the vast majority of US working parents are not able to spend much time with their new arrivals. While some states have enacted paid parental leave programs, the US has not enacted a national program that would extend to all parents. We’re one of the few developed countries in the world that doesn’t have a comprehensive paid leave program. While companies and states are improving their paid leave programs, spending time with your newborns shouldn’t be based on where you live or where you work.


We’re convinced that the extra parental care that Luna and Zara received helped them thrive. Studies show that infants in the NICU who spend time with their parents gain weight faster than infants who don’t. Babies recognize and respond to their parents voices in the womb prior to birth, and being soothed by ours helped them cope with the constant barrage of medical testing. Despite being two of the sickest babies in the hospital, our caretakers told us they were also some of the most calm, and we’d like to think that because they knew their parents were near.

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