A special thanks to Paul Kiczek for recommending this walk. It proved to be another worthy event in the great sport of adventure walking.
The Great Manhattan Bridge Walk
Last week my friend Jeff and I tackled The Great Manhattan Bridge Walk, a thirty some mile adventure that zigzagged it's way to and from Manhattan across sixteen or so bridges. The walk started at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, in Manhattan, sponsored by a group called the Shore Walkers.
(A public service announcement - we got to the start in downtown Manhattan, from New Jersey, via the most affordable and best kept secret going, the FREE Staten Island Ferry. One need only drive to the Ferry and pay the eight dollar parking rate).
At the start of the walk a woman named Bella addressed the 20 participants to announce that she would lead a low impact group through the course, and that they would even take a bus or two to lessen the distance. The more hardened lot was encouraged to follow Maurice, a veteran bridge walker from Brooklyn. Jeff and I joined Maurice, but were amazed at the extra burden he put on himself - he was clad in long black pants and a black shirt, with no sunglasses or head cover, a veritable walking Johnny Cash. Maurice proved capable, yet throughout this extremely hot day he continually provided us with a reminder of how hot we really could be, every time we started to complain.
Bella provided in her preamble a most valuable warning, to address a situation that would repeat itself throughout the day, that we heed caution to the crazy bikers on the bridges, who could kill us when they flew through at lightening speeds. We got the day off to a great start crossing the iconic landmark Brooklyn Bridge, and all but touched down in the trendy area on the Brooklyn side when we found ourselves pointed back over the Manhattan Bridge.
Despite his solar inducing get-up, Maurice advised us to stay in the shade, which was often accomplished by crossing a street, to gain protection from the shielding buildings. He described a group who once did the opposite, and termed them heat dyslexic. I'm not going to say anymore, Maurice was a good guide!
Back in Manhattan we found ourselves in Chinatown. We descended into a park where approximately fifty people were doing Tai Chi, my first encounter of the day with unlikely sports, which would compare to the cricket we saw on the last walk. There was a great water park, a soccer field and basketball courts, each area filled to the brim with activity. You could see and feel the extra pulse that Linsanity gave to the hoopsters.
The next area in this lower East Side was of famed Jewish commerce, and as we crossed over Delancy Street on our way to the Williamsburg Bridge I, and then Jeff, within twenty feet of each other, found our first pennies of the day. The curse of the coin was now upon us again as our eyes periodically averted from the vestige of sights above to see what we were missing underfoot.
The trains and cars on the Williamsburg Bridge made it very, very noisy. There was a building that buttressed the bridge, with an occupant sleeping on his porch, in full sun, on a hard bench, noise be damned. What you don't get used to.
Maurice pointed out the classic Williamsburg Bank structure at the foot of the bridge. Soon after I got a little deja vu, when he told us we were walking on the marathon course. He pointed out the old Eberhard Pencil Factory, that had pencils fashioned in the facade of the building. A great disappointment came at 11:30, outside the Great Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, when we saw the sign that said they wouldn't open until 1 pm.
We walked over our fourth bridge, the Pulaski Bridge, from Brooklyn to Queens. The purist in Maurice came out when he told us we couldn't count the bridge, because it didn't attach to Manhattan.
The Queensboro or 59th Street Bridge led us back into Manhattan, where we walked up to 103rd Street, to take a foot bridge over to Wards Island. Our exclamation at the foot of the bridge was, "That doesn't look like a soccer ball or football, have we just encountered our second uncommon sport of the day?" Sure enough, the guys here were playing rugby.
On over the Triboro Bridge, whose official name is the Robert F Kennedy Bridge. Two guys in front of us (not with our group) were smoking pot. The choking smell did not outweigh the medicinal benefits we got from helping our glaucoma.
Only the Willis Avenue Bridge stood between us and a McDonald's, that stood at its foot, and when there we rehydrated with ice water and chocolate milkshakes. Big problem here - after the refreshments and cold air we were shocked at how hot it was when we got back outside. It must have been 100 degrees. How much of that weed had we inhaled? Maurice must have self combusted, leaving just a pile of black!
Actually, we found Maurice cool and in good spirits at the Bruckner Bar up the street. He and others were calling it a day, but was kind enough to write out some directions for us for the rest of the trip.
Back over the 3rd Avenue Bridge to Harlem. The area we walked in had the most Newark-like feel of the day, known for its objection to "curbing your dog" - causing us to navigate some formidable course obstacles. Bella, let's add that to the biker risk.
After a to and fro with the Madison Avenue Bridge and the 145 Street Bridge we eventually headed back toward the Bronx via the McCombs Dam Bridge, which takes you right to Yankee Stadium, which was emptying after the Yanks 4-0 victory over the White Sox. As we were crossing this last bridge Jeff first saw smoke near the area, and expressed concern that the Bronx was on fire. Not hard to believe in the inferno the day had turned into. Just beyond the Stadium we saw what was going on - the John Mullaly Park had taken on a scene reminiscent of a Civil War encampment, with picnickers and grill fires everywhere. Signs on the fences read "No Fires Allowed."
Down the street I asked someone wearing a Masters shirt if he had been to Augusta. He said "yes" that he did the trip with help from his ticket business. He offered us his card, and impressed Jeff with his Chief Executive Officer and King title. He explained to Jeff that when you produce these cards you put on them whatever you like. Like the fires down the street, I suspect there's more of a tolerance for these things in the Bronx.
In this part of the Bronx the street elevation starts to take on a San Francisco quality. After climbing a pretty tough hill I asked a local inhabitant where the hills had come from, and he smiled and asked us where we were from and where we were going. (Once again I failed the "blend like a local test.") When we told him we were taking the next bridge over to Manhattan he rolled his eyes and told us that they were crazy over there, in Spanish Harlem, and that he would advise against it. I repeat, a guy from the Bronx was advising us against a threatening area!
We saw our first open hydrant in Spanish Harlem. Jeff reminded me that you see this all the time in the movies, and said it would be great if we got wet. We did, with a great cooling effect, the first of many throughout the day. (Jeff said he wanted to video me brushing my teeth in a hydrant. (See "The Big Walk" for reference)).
The city heat brings everyone out to the streets. Ladies sit in 95 degree chairs trying to escape their 105 degree apartments. Guys are seated around domino games. Others are washing their cars. Some are playing guitars and drums. There was more activity on those streets that afternoon than cumulatively ever in my hometown.
We passed a store filled with cages of chickens and doves and pigeons. Jeff said, a little too loudly,” That’s where they get the birds for their cockfights." Did we just hit the trifecta for our third uncommon sport? I got my picture taken in front of a cage labeled "Especial Paloma Blanca," with one eye on the camera and the other on a chicken pecking around at my feet.
We decided to tackle the University Heights Bridge, our 13th of the day, with a cross and return, putting us in good position to do the same with the next, the Broadway Bridge. I wonder if Maurice would count this as legitimate. We went into a Pathmark Store in search of a bathroom and refreshments. The store police officer (no comment here) told us the bathroom was through some doors and a hallway, and then down some stairs to the basement. As we were halfway down the stairs Jeff did his "officer talking on his radio" voice - "Breaker one nine, we have two unsuspecting heading to the kill zone."
We walked some more, finally making it to the last bridge - The George Washington. We ran into Bella as we were making our way over the span. We finally stood on the bridge and stretched our eyes as far as we could to the buildings in downtown Manhattan, some thirty winding miles away.
We took the subway 150 blocks south to 33rd Street, and walked over to the High Line, the old elevated train tracks that have been turned into a wonderful, green, garden boardwalk. We walked the Line south for two miles, got off at the end, and found our way to Ray's Famous Pizza. This is where we went after 45 miles on the last walk and now after 35 miles on this adventure. Jeff said I should work on this story, that it would look good hanging on the wall in Rays.
So there you have it, and here you have it, Rays. I think my friend Lisa summed it all up best, when she said “You out walked your guide, navigated through poop, used Pathmark restrooms, encountered pecking chix, and all of this in a HEAT wave. You are crazy "mon."”