08 May 2017


The Great Saunter, organized by Shorewalkers, is a 32-mile walk (mostly) on the shores of Manhattan Island.  The schedule set forth by Shorewalkers has the walk start at 7:30 AM from Fraunces Tavern near the southern tip of the island.  Walkers would go along the Hudson River up to the northern tip then return to the south (mostly) along the East River.  Most should finish back at the Tavern by 7 PM the same day.

I don't know what I was thinking but I figured that if I can finish a marathon, distance = 26.2 miles, in 5.5 hours, another 6 miles maybe requires one more hour, so I should be able to finish the Saunter in 7 hours, 8 top.  The only trouble is I won't be running, more like a leisurely walk.  Yes, in the beginning I wished to catch up to the front of the group so I walked a bit faster than others, but then I also stopped to remove outer layers or to take photos of the surrounding.  That was part of the reasons for the walk, to enjoy the scenery.  Five hours or so I only finished half the walk, somewhere past the George Washington Bridge.  It was kinda like getting off the last exit of the Long Island Expressway, it was the end of the highway but there is actually lots more road to drive on.  Lately work has me in the southern end of Staten Island and to me it looks countryside.  Houses far apart, no sidewalks in some places.  Except in the Inwood area it felt like walking in a forest.  The big bridges here and there reminded me I wasn't outside of civilization, then there were also the baseball fields as well as buildings in the Bronx just across the water.

Henry Hudson Bridge, it goes on and on.
Before we exit Inwood Hill Park, there was a rest area where Shorewalkers staff provided snacks and drinks.  Some experience walkers brought along sandwiches and such.  I figured we would not be far from civilization and could always stop by a deli to get a sandwich or something to munch.  I was lucky the rest area had a green market just across the street from it.  I was tempted to have a big lunch but with about 16 more miles to go I had just half a sandwich.  And a nice cold apple cider, plus a chocolate chip cookie.

After the break, the route got a little more challenging.  So far, it was a matter of having the water of the Hudson River to our left to stay on course.  After Inwood Hill Park, we were back in the urban jungle with buildings and traffic in all directions.  Unlike those long stretch of shores with few people around, where you can easily spot the walkers far ahead of you, usually with the white Shorewalkers caps, on the crowded city street it wasn't so easy.  The organizer prepared a nice map for us but I figured I could find my way to the East River, or to be exact the Harlem River.  I got toward the correct general direction but to be safe I asked a trio of fellow walkers waiting to cross the street.  It was a fortunate move because even though I was able to walk alone the whole time by then I was getting tired and could use some chit-chat to make the trek more bearable.  The trio turned out to be husband-and-wife team P. and T., the other person being a seasoned Shorewalker, C.  We stayed together for the rest of the walk, down Harlem River Drive, briefly onto the streets of Harlem, passed over part of the Percy Sutton 5K, then finally along 111th Street to get to the East River waterfront.  My favorite part of the walk was in Inwood because I never visited the area before.  Even though I haven't been to the waterfront of the Upper East Side in a while, it was familiar territory so it was a bit boring.  Still nice and there were surprises, like Gracie Mansion, which I thought was some huge complex with fences and guards, far away from the common folks, but it seemed more approachable than I would, and smaller too, but it may be just from one view.

Among the four of us we share stories about travel, food, walking, CityStrides.com, NYC sights, etc.  It helped to pass the time and slowly we whittle down the miles.  We had to take restroom breaks here and there and our pace got slower and slower but we soldiered on.  It didn't help that the sky became overcast and cooler.  At last we saw the Williamsburg Bridge from far away.  The home stretch!  First Williamsburg, then the Manhattan Bridge, and then not that far away, the Brooklyn Bridge.  Unbelievable, all that walking for a paper certificate and bragging right!  But it was a lot of fun, much to see in the city no matter how long you live here.

Just as we arrived back at the Tavern to collect our certificates, it started to rain, not heavily, just enough to get the paper certificates wet if we stayed outside.  Inside the Tavern it was crowded but we managed to find a table, where they only serve drinks.  If I had known ahead I would make some friends, I would make reservations.  We had a celebratory drink, took a group photo or two, then parted ways, with contact info exchanged.  Just as I stepped back outside, the wind was really strong and I shook uncontrollably!  Maybe my body finally reached its limit?  Luckily the shaking went away as I kept walking.  I even recovered enough to find a Chipotle to have dinner.  The subway ride home wasn't so bad, the waiting didn't seem that long.

Oh the agony of the feet!  Unlike a marathon where muscles in different parts of the body ache, for me with the Great Saunter, it's mostly with the feet.  The smalls of the back hurt a little too.  Lucky for me, by Sunday evening, some 24 hours later, I was able to walk normally, mostly.  I actually walked over 3 miles to complete a few more Brooklyn streets for CityStrides.  The Great Saunter got my Manhattan coverage jumped from 10% to 12%, I should focus some more energy on Brooklyn.

Would I do it again?  Probably not, only because I don't like to do things years after years.  Maybe in x years when the East Side becomes more continuous I will re-consider it.  Shore walkers have many other walks throughout the year, some over short distance like 5 miles but others as long as 10 miles, excellent chances to cover more streets for CityStrides.  Should the average, able-bodied New Yorker do it?  Definitely!  It is a great way to see the City, to visit parts of the City you may never visit!  Just be prepared for it, be physically active some time before the big day.

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