We slowly gathered in Penn Station Newark Sunday, May 2nd for our last planned practice walk of 20 miles before “The Big Walk
” just 3 weeks away. Igor and I carpooled after we both missed our morning trains. Maybe that was a sign that our timing was going to be off this unexpectedly hot and sunny day. Soon the rest of today’s walking gang were together and we were outdoors by 10:30 a.m. A little later than anticipated but it didn’t seem to matter until the end of a long day.
Igor’s stepdaughter, Irma Goldberg, who had helped us work with REI came up from Rutgers New Brunswick to walk more than half of our route. Igor Goldberg, Nancy Jonap and Tom Landes, two veteran walkers from our last practice walk a few weeks before, enjoyed the last one so much they wanted more! And their experience and company was very welcomed. Soon Nicole Smith and Jennifer Rivers, exploring new careers and graduate studies provided the youthful energy we would need. Then Steve and Jane Nix, a married couple from Denville appeared to complete our group. Steve and Jane had the look of experienced walkers/hikers to me, so it looked like we had another good group to walk our most challenging segment.
We began our walk through “The Ironbound
” (aka “Down Neck”) section of Newark. Our path led all the way down Ferry Street
, the heart of the commercial area in the East Ward. The Ironbound, geographically defined and insulated by its borders of water, rail and highway, is one of the closest ethnic communities in the whole metropolitan area. It’s well known for its Portuguese food and heritage - and lately Brazilian flavor. They speak “futebol” here and it looks like the Red Bulls understood that, as a new soccer stadium
has just been built only a couple miles away in Harrison.
While not a fancy modern area, business is lively and hardly a vacant store can be seen along the mile or two that we walk. The Ironbound was considered at one time to be the poorest section of Newark where it housed immigrants and laborers that worked in this low-lying, heavily industrialized area in the early 20th century. Today property values are high, commerce is active and it has become a solid anchor for Newark.
Our walk through a busy area gradually tapered off after a couple miles as we approached the end of Ferry Street, where it intersects Raymond Boulevard on the outskirts of Newark. Here, we passed large factories where Ballentine beer and Breyers ice cream were once churned out. There were some signs that this area has been somewhat recycled back to life again, but on this Sunday morning it was an industrial ghost town.
We stared at ominous signs for Routes 1 & 9 – which for New Jerseyans means a no-nonsense highway is approaching. You look up at this point with amazement at the gigantic gray and black overhead railway and highways shading you among the whirring sounds and the concrete and iron curves that disappeared into the horizon. Interstate 95 and the Pulaski Skyway (Route 1&9 for cars only) contrasted the old and new. Desolate in many ways, this was no country for old pedestrians. We were strangers in a strange land.
The Pulaski Skyway was opened in 1932 as amazing engineering solution to massive congestion created by the opening of the Holland Tunnel. The Skyway became an immediate success, drawing so much attention that traffic jams and traffic accidents became common. With no real standards to follow, the road was build with no median divider and narrow lanes which still provides a certain amount of thrill and fear to drivers. This congestion was relieved by banning trucks on the elevated road and diverting them to Communipaw Avenue – now called the “1&9 Truck Route” or Lincoln Highway. The lower road we pedestrians would follow to Jersey City.
Our immediate challenge was to get across a series of busy entrances and exits to the highways. To do that we had to trek under the interstates to the find the ramp that took us over the highway and then another to bring us up to Routes 1&9 heading east. This part of the trail is unmarked and literally and figuratively as hard as finding a four-leaf clover. Our maps had a picture of road spaghetti and clover leaves where it was almost impossible to tell where to walk and what ramp to follow. After a half-hour or so of trial and error, Igor found the right ramp and we were back on the trail hugging the guardrail along Routes 1 & 9.
We headed across a narrow walkway on a steel bridge looking down on the Passaic River and shipping port areas with industrial yards of gas tanks and cargo boxes. After crossing we walked along the inside of a highway guardrail along another patch of industrial land for a while until we found ourselves in a highway jungle.
Its early May and some prolific weed has already covered most of the path which we had to brush by, rather than face the wrath of highway traffic. One more long bridge to cross and we were in Jersey City heading toward Tonnelle Ave and Lincoln Park. That is until we realized we were fenced out on the shoulder. After finding a break in the chain link fence, we arrived in a new "green" – not gray – park environment.
A bathroom break was the first order of business. We found Lincoln Park was crowded and had nice facilities like new bathrooms, extensive tennis facilities, fields, fountains, and even picnic tables where we could take an extended break. We had gone through a pretty difficult stretch between the heat, walking environment, and getting lost a bit. But, no one was complaining as we headed out of the park. Old, well-kept apartment buildings border a nicely laid out grand entrance to the park along Belmont Avenue with a wide stepped sidewalk.
At the top of Belmont we turned on to JFK Boulevard into the heart of Jersey City. I was born in this town and many of our relatives were originally from Jersey City, I have still have a vague recollection and feeling for the city which has gone through some severe changes over the last 50 years. Today, most would agree that in spite of some chronic problems its on a major upswing and has even become a desirable place to live as it becomes gentrified - mostly for the better.
But food was what was our primary objective right now getting near 2:00 we found a Subway (which Tom had a craving for) and grabbed a sandwich, cold drinks, and some rest. At this point, we were heading on a down hill path to the lower waterfront area and toward Liberty State Park.
But first Nancy suggested a slight detour for some ice cream at the best homemade ice cream store in the area – Terico’s Ice Cream Parlour
, near Grove Street. Always a ton of different and weird flavors. The saying is really true here today. “It’s all good.” I think most of us stuck with classic flavors this time.
Yes, the walk was beginning to seem more like a series of breaks, but the weather and conditions called for different tactics to make this work. Igor and Irma had to leave and got picked up by Igor’s wife Rita at around 3 p.m. Soon after that Nicole and Jennifer left to catch a PATH train back home for some other commitments.
Our group had been reduced to Tom, Nancy, Steve, Jane and myself as we headed into Liberty State Park. The park is impressive in its size (1,122 acres) and open beauty. The area’s origin began as an extensive freight and passenger industrial waterfront serving the Central Railroad of New Jersey. I remembered as a child taking the train from my home in Roselle to the terminal, then boarding a ferry across the Hudson to NYC. The CRRNJ’s terminal remnants still exist and are being renewed. But other buildings on this land were flattened and a new park began to take shape beginning in 1976.
Accessible from the park, the Statue of Liberty is a mere 2,000 feet away, as is Ellis Island. There is an impressive two mile long promenade walkway that extends along the entire coastline from the CRRNJ Train Terminal to the Statue of Liberty allowing a long easy stroll and magnificent views of all these landmarks AND the New York City skyline! Our loop around Liberty Park was over 4 miles but was a pleasant surprise and made for some good photo ops.
The day went by fast and it was already 4:00 p.m. We had gone about 15 miles with no way to make Penn Station by our scheduled 5:00 p.m. arrival we had planned. The group was beginning to show some signs of fatigue. Tom was slowing down. Steve, a former elite runner, had increasing pain from his hip surgery recovery to deal with. While Steve’s wife Jane may have looked a little tired, she was holding up better than most of us.
Nancy was getting leg cramps and noticed a rash developing on her ankles. She had walked over 25 miles the day before at the Great Saunter
, a distance walk or 35 miles or so around the perimeter coast of Manhattan. Now, that sounds like an interesting walk I’d like to explore next year. So, after taking in the magnificent views we headed to the most expedient PATH station and hopped the train to the World Trade Center station to begin our final leg in Manhattan up Broadway.
Broadway, even downtown and in the late afternoon and early Sunday evening, is crowded with people from Chinatown, to the Village, to Union Square to Madison Square. It’s a fun change of venue but one we’d prefer if we were not already a couple hours behind schedule.
Finally, Nancy dropped off around Union Square and Tom, Jane, Steve and I walked the rest of the last mile or so into Penn Station and headed first for the train board and then for the nearest bar (TGIF's) as we had about a one-half hour to reminisce about our trip before the next train out. The beer went down like water and we all agreed we have to do something like this again – how about Sunday, May 23rd @ 5:00 a.m.?.