They must be just around the bend. I should catch up to them soon. At least, that’s what I thought as I ran across the Manhattan Bridge. The last time I tried running across the Manhattan Bridge was during high school when I went to New York City with two friends as part of a class project. Within a few minutes, we’d both lost sight of our fast runner friend Vincent and our resolve to keep running. We walked the remainder of the bridge, ending up in Chinatown. We had a fun day but the most memorable part of that experience was how impossibly long the bridge seemed to stretch, like a great arch into a future we couldn’t see and could never reach.
Well, here I was in that very future, bolting across this massive steel horizontal skyscraper between 6 miles per hour on the climb and 9 miles per hour on the other side. International-travel-worthy views of the Hudson River and Brooklyn Bridge teased my eyes to the left as the rumble of bridge traffic filled my ears from the right. I should have caught up to them by now. But no one was responding to my texts or calls so I pushed on ahead. Little did I know at the time that I was chasing an imaginary group and that by running I was quickening the destruction of my worn insoles within my shoes. But I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself.
That morning, Saturday June 18, 2016, my parents and I took the PATH train into the ever-expanding World Trade Center Terminal. We walked ten minutes to our starting location near City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge. Walter Wright, our leader, was there conversing with the walkers. Soon enough several of my parents’ friends showed up as well, and I said hi to the various other walkers I knew. We were just getting ready to start when I was asked to stay behind. Temporarily, that is! At least one person was running late, and Walt hoped that I would wait an extra five or ten minutes for that person before catching up to the rest of the group. I obliged.
Ten minutes later, there was no sign of any other walkers, at least none for the bridge walk. I decided to cut my losses, and speed-walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, that epic structure as magnificent as ever and still widely considered the most beautiful bridge in the world. But when I reached the Brooklyn side, the rest of the group was nowhere in sight. I headed towards the next bridge on our route — the Manhattan Bridge — where I spotted an acquaintance of mine from previous walks. We chatted for a minute — turns out he was biking towards an event, but, feeling lost, had stopped to get his bearings. I told him I had people to catch and he sent me on my way. The pressure mounting, I began to run, stopping only to try calling people in the group. In no time I’d re-entered Manhattan, but the borough brought no relief, and I continued on. By the time I got in contact with Walt, I was near the Williamsburg Bridge and realized I was way ahead of the main group! I must have just missed them back in Brooklyn, on a different route between the two bridges. Well, I took the time to rest. I ate some hash browns and used the restrooms at Dunkin Donuts. Twenty minutes later, they arrived. I had started ten minutes behind and ended up twenty minutes ahead. Facepalm.
The Williamsburg Bridge is always a pleasure. The suicide-prevention fences mean little chance of a good photo of the view and sure the subways are loud, but the road is smooth and only gradually inclined, with separate paths for cyclists and pedestrians. I love it. Walt asked me if I was interested in someday taking over leading the Bridge Walk. I was flattered. We agreed to have dinner sometime to talk about it. I also dropped back to chat with my parents who would drop out from the walk after this bridge but walk a grand total of fourteen miles that day.
After the Williamsburg Bridge, we split into two groups: the larger group led by Walt and a faster no-public-transit group led by Allen, Som, and me. We human-powered travelers pushed on, trying to beat the main group on the bus across the four mile stretch to the midtown Manhattan Bed Bath and Beyond, a rest stop well-known among endurance walkers. Delayed by traffic lights, stragglers, a brief coffee/bathroom break, and blister first-aid, we didn’t beat them, but we were close. We arrived just in time to see Walt’s group readying to leave.
We took a twenty-minute break at BBB before continuing. We lost Allen and another person to a coffee shop. Meanwhile the rest of my group walked on, ascending our first real stairs of the day through Carl Schurz Park to the riverfront, where the East River greeted us with a sparkling water. A mile later, we reached the blue bridge onto Randall’s Island. We were so close I could see Walt’s group across the river. I learned that Allen and the other member had ran after us after leaving the coffee shop but, repeating my mistake, somehow ended up ahead of us instead!
We crossed over onto the island and took a quick break to refill water bottles followed by a tour of this beautiful island that used to be Moses’ Kingdom. Surrounded by a moat, guarded by toll booths, the island was complete with its own stadium for plays and events for Moses to reward his loyal followers as well as for stranding his dissenters. That was back when Robert Moses ruled New York like a king, subjugating the mayor, governor and even the US president. Walking from the bathrooms near the running track, we lost our way and ended up slinking through a police station rife with Do Not Enter signs and cop cars. Eventually, it would seem, we broke enough laws to guarantee safe passage back across the Triborough Bridge, and so returned to dear old Manhattan.
From there we walked across the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx, where we caught up to Walt’s group and everyone took a munching break at a McDonald’s conveniently located and always a welcome respite during the bridge walk. Walt’s group had been losing people, and we nabbed a few more from him when we moved on. The Third Avenue Bridge into Manhattan and the Madison Avenue Bridge back into the Bronx followed in quick succession. My feet were really hurting by this point as I slowly realized the overused insoles were practically rubbing my skin like sandpaper and causing blisters. The 145th St. Bridge brought us back into Manhattan, followed shortly by the Macomb’s Dam Bridge to Yankee Stadium. We discovered we’d lost Jennifer somewhere along the way. I’d rather have lost my insoles earlier in the day instead, because my feet were really in pain now. Som lent me his insoles though they were a tad too big and two others gave me moleskin. Allen also tied my shoes in a different way to put fit the shoe tighter around my heel. I grit my teeth and pushed on.
We finally arrived at the High Bridge, also known as the Croton Aqueduct Bridge, which was once used to bring water into Manhattan. It’s also been recently renovated, thereby gaining the rather unique honor of being Manhattan’s newest bridge and oldest pedestrian bridge simultaneously. We were taking yet another bathroom break, when Jennifer reappeared. She shared an amusing tale of a cellphone lost during a routine application of sunscreen, of her triumph in rescuing the poor creature, and of her valiant fight to return to us. Jokes aside, we were delighted to have her back. Stairs carried us from the High Bridge and north for only about half a mile before we swung across the Washington Bridge back into the Bronx.
The trudge to the University Heights Bridge was tough for me, I’ll admit, but I could feel how close we were to the end. I finally caught a view of the well-known sculptures gracing the Hall of Fame for Great Americans that I’d previously heard such tales about. With no small sense of relief, I got some fresh orange juice, and we took a break at a gas station just after the bridge.
After a few minutes of rest, we were off towards the Henry Hudson Bridge. Saying goodbye both to the sun and to the Bronx, we re-entered Manhattan, for some of us the last time. By the time we’d passed through Inwood Hill Park onto the greenway, the blisters had reduced me to walking quite slowly near the back of the pack. The people with me took a few minutes bathroom break at the George Washington Bus Terminal while others began making their way across the last bridge, our sweet 17. On my way across I said goodbye to the others walking back. My new friends Ed and Nivea cheered us on as Jerry, Sarah, and I finished the crossing. They had been waiting for us. Sarah walked to her car as the four of us remained to wait for an Uber to take us home. During the ride, it was a pleasure to introduce our Uber driver Ray to the pleasures of city walking. He got really excited about future walks. I was pretty dead though by the time I got home and knew I would need a massage and some healing from Carrie Swim at Knead the next day.It was an absolute pleasure leading and hanging with such a fine crowd of diverse people.
For more information and photos about Jack Shi, please go to his blog Live, Learn, Dream, Do