Fight on and Hike on USC! Students with Trailmaster John McKinney (far R) show the school colors atop Echo Mountain.

In my mind and heart, USC will always be linked to hiking.

To what?! People often associate the University of Southern California with sports, particularly football. And increasingly with its top academics and highly ranked  grad and professional schools. And, uh, lately, with a couple of cringeworthy scandals.

Fight on and Hike on USC! Students with Trailmaster John McKinney (far R) show the school colors atop Echo Mountain.
Fight on and Hike on USC! Students with Trailmaster John McKinney (far R) show the school colors atop Echo Mountain.

But let me explain the hiking connection–why The Trailmaster remembers his college days at USC as a series of hikes interrupted by academics…

No doubt my studies in American Literature and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Southern California did prove to be somewhat useful to my life’s work; more so were my collegiate extracurricular activities. I helped found and lead hikes for what we informally called the USC Hiking Club or Trojan Hikers.

We loved exploring the nearby trails, enjoying nature and getting to know each other—on the trail and off. The post-hike gatherings with my fellow hikers, when we talked about our next hikes and where our life paths may lead, I remember even now. Some of those friendships endure to this day.

The opportunities to get off campus and into the great outdoors are many and varied and much better today than they were for 20th century USC students: more parklands, closer nature preserves, better and more intriguing trails.

(And it must be said, opportunities abound for UCLA students and staff to get off campus and get on the trail, too: the many paths and pleasures of the Santa Monica Mountains are nearby. I’ve enjoyed hiking with many a Bruin. In fact, some of my best friends are…uh, hikers who went to that school in Westwood…what was its name again?)

 John McKinney created a pocket guide for the USC community and beyond, "Hiking 101: Great Trails & Beach Walks Surprisingly Close to USC." Hike on!
John McKinney created a pocket guide for the USC community and beyond, “Hiking 101: Great Trails & Beach Walks Surprisingly Close to USC.” Hike on!

When the LA Times Book Festival migrated across town from UCLA to USC, I was thrilled. I wrote a pocket guide, “Hiking 101: Great Trails and Beach Walks Surprisingly Close to USC” that my printer-partner Kathy Said (a USC alum) and I gave away as a promotional item to festival-goers.The guide includes a trek to the HOLLYWOOD Sign, a walk along Malibu Beach, hikes to waterfalls and wildflowers, and climbs of local peaks such as Echo Mountain in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. The USC community and LA hikers loved it!

I’ve enjoyed leading USC students on hikes and giving the occasional talk on campus about the value of re-connecting with nature.  What bright, energetic young people! I hope to do more walks and talks with the USC community in the future.

The USC fight song “Fight on!” was the inspiration for “Hike On,” my signature line. I’ve been blessed to make a career out of telling stories about hiking and urging my audience to “Hike On!” and it all began at USC.

Hike On!

John McKinney