Riley Walz

Perimeter

Last weekend, I walked 36 miles around the entire perimeter of Manhattan, all in one day. It took nearly 12 hours, 65,000 steps, and over 5,000 calories.

In September 2020, I biked 85 miles along the Hudson River to New Hamburg, a small hamlet upstate. This was a spontaneous decision and a tough challenge. My phone died at mile 75, and there were multiple times where I took a wrong turn only to realize my mistake a mile or two later. I didn't stop enough to get water either and felt off the week after. It was a very beautiful ride, especially with the fall foliage!

I wanted to do another physical challenge this fall. I was playing around with measurements in Google Maps. My initial ideas were biking the perimeter of New York City or biking from Queens to Montauk. Walking the 32-mile perimeter of Manhattan caught my attention when I realized it was already a semi-formal event each year called The Great Saunter. Upwards of a thousand people usually walk the perimeter together in May, but I didn't want to wait until then. I planned to saunter the second weekend in November, as my cross country running season ended and gave me some time to recover ahead of the walk from running.

One blog post from Jeff Fleishman made me up for the challenge even more:

Was it a good experience? Sure. Was it cool to see the city from so many different angles? Yeah, I guess. But, I’m not going to sit here and claim that despite the pain, the whole thing was worth it. It wasn’t! It really wasn’t!

Don’t ever do this. Your body will hate you. Your feet will want to secede from your legs. Your spirit will be drained. You will probably get lost. STAY AWAY AND DON’T EVER THINK ABOUT DOING THIS. Manahattan is a big, biiiiig island, and we’re not supposed to walk around it.

Saturday morning

I took the subway to Lexington Avenue and 125th Street and started there at 10:15 a.m. I decided to walk counter-clockwise. The first 10 or so miles were a breeze alongside the Harlem River and under The High Bridge.

High

I reached Inwood. I hadn't been there before. I only knew it from seeing it at the top of maps as the northern-most neighborhood of Manhattan. It's like the Montauk or Svalbard of the borough. Along the route, there was a convenient farmer's market, where I stopped to get an apple. I then entered Inwood Hill Park. It didn't feel like I was in the city anymore. I was brought onto a hiking path along a cliff, with a view out into The Bronx. I could see a train approaching the Spuyten Duyvil Metro-North station from the other side of the creek.

I was now heading south along the western coast. I should have turned at Dyckman Street away from the water to avoid a dead-end. I only realized my mistake when I hit the end of that path an odd 1.5 miles later. The path I needed to be on was only a few hundred meters away, but a highway, cliff, and active railroad were separating me. I was forced to back-track and walked 3 miles more than I needed to.

Once I was on the right path, I was perched high up alongside the Henry Hudson Parkway. I took a beat at Inspiration Point, a neoclassical resting point with a view of the George Washington Bridge. (The highway is 20 yards away, so it's not as peaceful as it looks.)

This was around where I reached 15 miles. My feet felt relatively good, except for a burning blister on my pinky toe. I changed socks twice throughout the walk to prevent blisters, and this helped.

As I got closer to the bridge, I snapped this great picture.

Now I was alongside the Hudson, and the wind was starting to pick up. I didn't see many other people. A severe thunderstorm warning was in effect for the afternoon. I wasn't too worried. I could see the occasional lightning strike across the river in New Jersey every few minutes. The storm began when I passed by Riverbank State Park. I luckily only had to duck under a highway underpass for 20 minutes to wait the storm out. There were about 10 or so cyclists and fellow walkers taking cover with me.

I was feeling pretty good. I had assumed I could fill my water bottle at park fountains, but all had been turned off already for the season.

This part of the walk is a blur to me. I passed 130th Street and was at 34th Street before I knew it. I turned inland and stopped at Hudson Yards to get water, use the restroom and get Shake Shack. New York is one of those cool cities where I can stuff my mouth with a chicken sandwich while standing in front of Dior.

I continued and realized how cold it was getting. It reached 45 degrees, and I had to throw on all of my layers. Along the way, I listened to many podcasts, songs, and caught up with friends and family on the phone. One friend even joined me near The Battery for a mile.

I reached South Ferry, a good milestone. I rarely take the ferry to Staten Island, but the number of times the bathroom in the ferry terminal has saved me is astronomical at this point. There aren't many public restrooms in Lower Manhattan, especially in the COVID age.

I've heard some people describe their marathons or other extreme adventures as it becoming hard to put one foot in front of the other. They have to actively think about physically picking up one foot and moving it past the other. I never reached that point, although my feet definitely felt it. My body was asking, "Why are you doing this? What is the reason?"

The rest of the walk is even more of a blur. The second half went by much faster. I hunkered down and just walked. What mildly annoyed me was as I was on my 32nd mile, all I could think about was how if I hadn't taken the wrong turn, I would be done by now.

By the time I finished, it was just about 10 p.m. 12 hours later, and I was done. This walk wasn't an emotional experience, like you or even I may have expected. I saw Manhattan and learned that even 36 miles of walking won't break me. While it was insightful, I didn't come away with a life-changing revelation. I didn't even stop to take it all in. I jogged to catch the next subway, so I could get home (and into bed) faster.

At the end of the walk, my feet felt OK all things considered. I sat down for a few minutes when I got home, the first time I wasn't standing in 12 hours. When I stood up, OH NO, my feet felt awful. They were screaming. The walk four flights up to my bed were agonizing. I slept for 12 hours and felt much better in the morning. It's 48 hours later as I write this, and my feet feel fine (except for a few mild blisters, but I'm used to that as a distance runner).

I certainly don't have any regrets, and I'm glad I was able to check this off my bucket list. If this is the kind of thing that excites you, you should walk the perimeter!

- 1 toast