Recently, I've been using the phrase 'my new weird life' to tag the various ways my life has changed since having bariatric surgery, losing a ton of weight, and losing most of my depression. Today was a more physical reminder of how my life has changed. I've started walking what for me is 'quite a bit.' I live at the north end of Manhattan (in Inwood) and I work at the south end (a block from Canal Street). As a fitness regiment, I've started leaving work in the evening and walking north, getting on the subway when I either get tired, achey, or it's just too late at night and I need to get home. I started out walking to 14th street and 8th avenue, and then switched to walking up to Penn Station. These days, if I have the time, I tend to make it at least to the American Museum of Natural History stop at 81st street or 125th Street and St. Nicholas ave. That takes around 2.5 hours from my office at my walking pace.
Anyway, that means I"m walking an average of perhaps 5 miles a day. Which is, holy crap, a week's worth of old-fat-me walking. Recently, while in Olde London, I ended up walking over 50 miles over the course of a Mon-Fri work week. So when an old friend mentioned that she had been wanting to participate in this organized walk for over fifteen years (she had kids in the interim, so) and asked if I'd be interested, I said 'Sure!' without really asking what it was.
What it was, after I'd registered, was The Great Saunter. This is a walk run by the Shorewalkers Organization in New York City, and this year was the 32nd straight year it has been held. What it is is an organized group walk around the entire shoreline of Manhattan Island. In one day. That's thirty-two miles.
Gulp. Bear in mind I hadn't walked more than 12 miles in a day in the past 25 years, at least.
Well, I figured, I could always tap out at any point, having learned my limits. Also, the first half of it would essentially be me walking home; from Battery Park, the route ran straight up the West Side, with the lunch break meeting point two blocks from my apartment. So an easy get-out.
I'm a nerd, so of course the first thing I did was hit up REI to buy gear. Although I'd been walking 5-10 miles in regular old work clothing, I typically would arrive home with damp shirts, damp socks, occasional blisters, and some minor chafing. Time to take advantage of technology. I bought techno-trousers - North Face shorts made of some super wicking UV-blocking lightweight fabric, with a brief liner. I also got a long sleeve shirt of the same super light material. I bought two pairs of Darn Tough Vermont wool socks on the recommendation of a colleague who is an avid outdoors person. Then, finally, I bought a roll-on of Bodyglide which, despite its name, is not a naughtiness enhancer. Rather, it's a roll-on stick - like deodorant - which instead claims to minimize or eliminate chafing. I also bought a smaller stick of their anti-blister formulation.
Friday night I spent at my friend's house, since she and her husband and kids live within a couple of miles of the start point whereas I live at the other end of Manhattan. We woke up at oh-dark-thirty; took a shower, applied Bodyglide and anti-blister, then dressed and grabbed our bags we'd packed the night before. I was carrying a light shoulder sack with the following in it:
- Bodyglide anti-blister
- 5 meat-based protein bars (Turkey/Cranberry/Almond and Beef/Bacon/Apple)
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- Sandwich bag of gorp
- USB power brick for our phones
- Money clip
- Spare pair of Darn Tough socks
- Spare cotton undervest ('wife-beater'?)
- bottle of Ibuprofen
- Emergency 'get-home' cheat - prescription IC Amphetamine (yes, prescribed to me).
- Printed map of route
TL;DR - Didn't just make it home - we both finished. The schedule laid out was for a 12-hour saunter (it's not competitive, hence the name). My friend and I left the Fraunces Tavern on Pearl Street - the start/stop point - at 7:15am in the fog and chill. We walked south a couple of blocks to 'tag' the South Ferry and the railing at the south end of the island, and then we set off.
We walked the West Side, along the Hudson in one shot, stopping only to use bathrooms, eating our eggs for breakfast as we went (my friend was carrying the vacuum flask of coffee). The lower end is very new parkline, with recreational biking/jogging paths along the water, and new promenades and park belt up to approximately 57th st. After that, where the highway rises up to an elevated setup, used to be utter wasteland - what were once old trainyards but in the 1980s were ripped out into a sheer gravel and rock lot. If you've ever seen The Bone Collector, the scene of the first murder is there. Also, if you've seen F/X, the area where Rollie torments the guy in the trunk of the car. Now, however, it's nice park, with sculpture art throughout. There is a nod to the railroad history - the last railroad pier is still there, sort of; it burned way back in the day and turned into a collapsed iron skeleton. That skeleton was left in place. In addition, the last switching locomotive of the New York Central railroad that used to work the yard has been left on a short stub of track, preserved as an exhibit. There's a nice cafe there as well, with high-quality bathrooms, whoohoo.
Moving north, we traversed Riverside Park and made it to the George Washington Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse that sits at its foot. Afterwards, we climbed the hill to walk alongside the Henry Hudson Parkway up to Dyckman Street. From there, we entered Inwood Hill Park - the only part of Manhattan which has remained woodland forever and is not reclaimed from urban or agricultural development. Walking to the north end of that park, we reached the Amtrak railroad bridge which crosses the Harlem Ship Canal - the northern end of Manhattan! Curling around to the east, we climbed into the main area of Inwood Hill park where the Shorewalkers organization had set up tables with water, gatorade, chips, protein bars, and Profoot Moleskin blister pads all for the taking.
Our original plan had been to stop by my apartment, two blocks from the halfway rally point, for 'home bathrooms' and so I could feed my cat. But I realized that going home would seriously lower the chances of us continuing, and I felt surprisingly spry. So we sat on some church steps, changed our socks and applied blister pads where they might be necessary. I removed my now very damp wifebeater and realized it was stupid to wear a cotton undershirt under technofabric, so didn't replace it. We ate protein bars and gatorade and in ten minutes were ready to move on!
Walking over to Tenth Avenue, we turned south until we reached Dyckman Street (the other end of it) and turned east to the top of the Harlem River Drive. This took us south along the Harlem River. Around this point, right at the halfway mark by distance, we met a group of people wearing familiar looking number sheets. "Hey, are you guys doing the Great Saunter? Why are you heading north?"
We were quickly educated that the original route of the Great Saunter, 32 years previous, had gone northward up the east side. A group of rebels who have named themselves the Retrograde Legacy Saunterers (and made snazzy shirts) were undertaking the trek in that direction. They said the advantage was that you got sun all the way - morning sun up the east side, and then glorious sunsets over the Hudson down the west. We waved and continued.
The greenway and promenade is not complete on the East side. There are stretches where, due to the FDR drive being right up against the water and due to the complex bridge and highway snarls, there is no walkway available. As a result, at 155th street we turned inland, walking up to the top of the Washington Heights ridge, crossing to Edgecombe Ave. From there, we could see Yankee Stadium across the Harlem River as we continued. At 145th, we turned inland again for a block, reaching St. Nicholas Avenue, and turned left, downtown. We followed this to 111th street (street of my birth!) and then turned back East, one block north of the northern end of Central Park. It had been mostly cloudy and foggy in the morning, with blue sky patches showing as we walked up the West side; now the clouds closed in again and there was a very brief sprinkling of rain, quite light. The temperatures remained, fortuitously, in the high 50s and low 60s, perfect for walking.
The trip east was a long one, made longer because we had become used to using street numbers to count progress - but here, we walked over a mile east on 111th street. Finally reaching the FDR, we crossed over a footbridge and headed south to the next and last rally spot in Carl Schurz Park, location of Gracie Mansion.
Reaching Carl Schurz, we found the promenade path blocked and guarded by a uniformed police officer - apparently the torrential rains the day before had caused the railing and edge of the promenade to collapse into the East River. We diverted to the interior of the park, found the water fountain, and had a ten minute break sitting on a bench. We snacked, refilled the Camelbak in my friend's backpack, and finished off the coffee.
Continuing, we stopped at a Starbucks to use the bathroom since the route took us inland to York Avenue to get around the hospitals along the river (these are the ones that Jason Bourne jumped off of in the end of the third movie; there is no walkway along the water there, and the FDR runs under the buildings). We bought "sous vide red pepper egg white bites" at Starbucks - currently my favorite fast food - which were perfect as they were protein, super low carb and most importantly soft and quite warm. I also had my diet cheat - a medium black coffee in a large cup with the cup filled with whipped cream. This isn't nearly as bad as it sounds; I measured it, and that's about 45 calories of whipped cream, most of it fat calories - which I'm allowed. So hooray!
Jogging back over to the FDR and promenade for a bit, we were forced back in at the 59th street bridge and took 1st Ave past the front of the United Nations. At 34th street we cut back over, as the FDR and shoreline began to curve east out around Stuyvesant Town and Alphabet City. At this point, we were both getting into 'get-there-itis' - the finish became our focused goal. Our feet hurt, although not terribly so; but we realized that not only were we going to actually finish this - holy cow - but we were going to do it within the 12-hour window.
The last few miles of the route are the most boring. At 34th, you are shoved under the FDR drive elevated, which is a boring/ugly walk. Some sections of promenade remain, but once you reach Canal Street, we were pretty much stuck walking the FDR service road, avoiding the Bicycle Expo traffic at the Fulton St. Market center. Dodging tourists, we made it under the Williamsburg bridge (hooray!) and then, turning the corner, beautiful sight - the Manhattan Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge and off beyond them, the Statue of Liberty, which we had last seen around 7:30am!
The last few blocks we trooped onward, turning inland at Gouvernor's Lane and following surface streets until we approached the Fraunces Tavern from the opposite direction we'd left it. LOOP CLOSED! We arrived at 6:40 pm, having left at 7:15 am and having spent perhaps 35 minutes stopped on breaks over the course of the day. 11 hours of walking, basically; my iPhone claimed we had traveled 33.5 miles, and I'd taken 68,000 steps while climbing 23 flights of elevation.
Holy cow, we made it!
This is my new weird life. The next day, I had hip soreness on the outside of my legs - pure muscle aches - and *one toe* had either a pinched nerve or a slow-forming blister on its front face. That was it. No chafing, no hip joint soreness - nothing. Didn't even have to use my get-home cheat.
We walked 3 miles on Sunday, just to keep our bodies stretched. On Monday, I walked 10 miles.
My new life kicks ass.