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Small Wonders: Taking it three feet at a time

There is a hill in Griffith Park, a meandering two-lane asphalt scar cut into the brown and green, that takes you away from the busier arteries through the park. It’s a short hill; a way to get from A to B no faster, perhaps, than any other route. But it is my nemesis.

It starts at Travel Town and ends at the playground called Shane’s Inspiration. You could go the reverse way, of course — from Shane’s to trains. Nothing wrong with that. But I find that only when one starts with travels do they find their inspiration.

When I’m feeling good about myself, I ride my bike up that hill. And when I’m not feeling good about myself, I ride my bike up that hill. Not because I want to, mind you. Not because I enjoy it or because it gives me pleasure. I hate it.

It’s exhausting. It’s trying, humbling and torturous. And I don’t always make it.


But it is my choice to try.

This hill is where I search for answers — for columns, for insights and, yes, inspiration. A place to physically manifest an invisible obstacle; to make real that which can’t be comprehended by our limited cerebral and spiritual capacities. Like communion.

The temperature drops when you enter the glen, as it always does when you find yourself within the fray. People speak of the heat of battle, of trials by fire. But when it is you alone with the goblins of your mind and the world is a vacuum of time and space, it’s cold.

I start up its slope in high gear, grinding and determined. But quickly, at the first sign of steeper grade, I switch to a lower, easier gear. I immediately regret my decision and consider turning around, wanting to let the natural forces of the world take me back into their welcoming, non-combative embrace. And sometimes I do turn back. But when I don’t …


My eyes wander about the shaded canyon, taking in the oak, sumac and scrub brush that is the background of our Southern California life. Alone with my thoughts and my aching, winded body, my frightened mind begs me to look up. Look up and see how much farther there is to go.

It’s a fool’s choice.

Why? Because you see just how much farther you have to go, of course. Or worse yet, you won’t even see the top of the hill.

There is only one place to look. And it is the hardest place to stay focused.

Three feet ahead.

Focus your gaze on the pavement where tire meets road, where you and the world intersect. And pedal. And don’t stop pedaling. Let the voices say what they will, tell you how easy it would be to return the way you came and feel the wind briefly in your face. Let them howl. But don’t engage them.

Look three feet ahead.

Maybe you’re out of work and feeling worthless; a new parent and feeling sleepless. Maybe a deadline is looming and you don’t have the slightest idea what to write. Maybe your marriage is in trouble, your son is poking needles full of filth into his arms or your daughter hasn’t sold any Girl Scout cookies yet. Maybe you’re losing your home, your mind or control of your body.


Look three feet ahead.

I admit, that’s a pithy thing to say to someone battling cancer, the IRS or foreclosure. But looking three feet ahead gets me over that hill. Usually.

I want to give up. I want to turn around, let gravity and complacency take control again. But I know if I make it to the top, I’ll feel the wind on my face for a much longer ride as I go down the other side to the inspiration that Shane knew. I’ll have the struggle and the reward, not just the struggle. And the defeat.

Three feet ahead.

It’s not a miracle cure; not a slogan for a self-help campaign or a public speaking tour. It’s just something I thought of while riding my bike up a hill. It’s been said in thousands of ways over thousands of years by people far more articulate and credible than me. I haven’t figured out anything more than you have.

We could go around the hills, stay on level ground where the pedaling is easy, constant and uncomplicated. Let inertia anchor us to our circumstances. I do that more than I am proud to admit. But sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we are alive; engage our demons and our conditions, bring them out of the ether and give them names. Struggle. Trial. Obstacle. Pain. Life. Hill.

Then look three feet ahead.

So many hills. So many choices. And only one way to get over them.


PATRICK CANEDAY is author of the upcoming book “Crooked Little Birdhouse: Random Thoughts on Being Human.” Check it out at He may be reached on Facebook and at