I’m bored. COVID-19 has shut everything down, and we are nearing our 11th month of stay at home orders and I am desperate for adventures–prolonged ones. Restaurants and bars are closed, air travel is not recommended, and it’s cold as hell outside. I’ve been relying on short walks daily to keep me moving forward and looking ahead to each day, but I admit–it’s tough. Walking. Hiking. That’s been my saving grace.
I love hiking–I love it. There’s something really special about going out into the woods, meeting a mountain, perhaps standing on the top of the world, navigating the forest, or what have you: but I only really do it ever as one offs. Some people call what I do peak bagging cause I go out with a “peak” in mind, and hope to attain that peak. That’s definitely what someone could say I was doing with Half Dome and with Angel’s Landing. But this year, while I do have some peaks in mind, I’ve looked toward a different challenge: I’m hiking to Albany….well, kind of. I’m section hiking: which isn’t quite the same as thru hiking. Thru hiking, as I understand is doing a hike from one place to another–in one go. Think about people who thru hike the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail—their stops are for sleep and refueling. I guess what I’m doing could be a thru hike if you count weeks between treks as appropriate “refuels.” But I think the more appropriate term here is section hiking and it’s not something I’ve done before.
To be blunt: I’ve found a trail: The Empire State Trail, and I’m working my way from one end of one part, to the other end of one part, in sections.
The Empire State Trail is a 750 mile trail network through the state of New York. It was only recently completed which is probably why I only recently came across it in the news. There’s three large swaths of the Trail to navigate: There’s Buffalo to Albany. Albany to Canada. AND New York City to Albany. You can bike the trail or walk/hike the trail, whatever you please, and in some areas the bikers and the walkers are separate. Overall the 750 miles of trail take people through some of New York’s biggest cities (Manhattan) and along some of its most picturesque landscapes–like the Erie Canalway. Each of the three swaths is then broken down into smaller sections.
The route from New York City to Albany is a 201-mile paved journey that alternates between protected walkways and sidewalks on city streets (Hello Riverdale, Bronx). And it’s broken down into 20 sections that range from 1 mile sections to almost 20 mile section.
The journey to Albany from the Big Apple begins at Battery Park which is located on the southern tip of the island of Manhattan. The beginning of the route is outlined by the Hudson River to the west, the harbor to the south (and Lady Liberty), and the financial district to the east. But when you’re starting at the Battery, you aren’t heading west, east or south–you’re heading north and the start of the route is marked and defined by just one thing: an awe inspiring gaze at the World Trade Center which towers 1792 feet overhead.
That’s where I am when I start: I’m gawking at the World Trade Center. Being that I live in New York, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen the tower: In fact, I used to be able to see the lights at night from my apartment in Greenpoint and when I’d get off the train for my freelance gig in the Seaport, it was always there to welcome me each morning. But this view feels different, maybe it’s because it’s truly the only thing I can hold my attention on, or because, for me, it’s my first memory of this trail: And for the first few miles, I can’t take my eyes off of it.
It’s cold out: It’s January, January 18, 2021 to be exact and for some reason I’ve decided that hiking from New York to Albany is a great idea in the winter. I’ve layered up–dri fit bottom, fleece, and have a bubble shell for wind and rain protection. I’ve got gloves and a hat, and I’ve got a pack. I’ve set my sights on accomplishing the first section of the NYC to Albany trail–which runs an estimated 12.5 miles from the Battery to Inwood in upper Manhattan. After passing the World Trade Center the trail continues up the west side along the Hudson River: Make your way past the midtown piers and soon another astonishing landmark becomes the foresight of the section: The George Washington Bridge which continues to get bigger the closer one gets to it.
Overall, it’s a pretty crowded piece of the trail where people congregate to hang in the summer months or walk bike or run as they please at all times of the year. Being that COVID-19 is still well…you know…here…people are wearing masks and distancing: only one or two randoms pass by without their face covered.
I’m proud of myself for getting out here today and tackling these miles, but I am struggling. I have just come off an injury–a sprained ankle on a job in October and will only be graduating PT soon, and overall I’m pretty low: Thankfully my obsessive compulsive disorder has mostly been at bay as of recent, but my depression has been peaking: it’s dark out longer, it’s cold, and at the moment I’m unemployed. The combination of these things is making it hard to settle into this 12.5 mile hike I’ve set out on. THAT and the added solid concrete that my feet are pounding on is making this jaunt feel that much more taxing. I’m only 3 miles in and I’m wondering if I’ll hit a “walker’s high” cause part of me is just plain bored, and the other is counting down the blocks repeatedly to remind myself just how much is left. I’m not present–I’m just trying to get it done–get anything done, while this year repeats feeling like last year felt. I’m inside my head–my meditation instructors would be so disappointed. I look at my GPS and I think 9 more miles—that’s not too bad–but do I really want to do it?
Around mile 5 and 6 I start negotiating with myself. “Well If I stop now, then I technically did half, and I’ll just have 6 more to do next time.” I push myself further. I push myself until I reach an image of a woman on the side of a building to my right. The caption says: Women are New York’s Strongest. The mural is by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and is on the outside of the NYC Department of Sanitation building.
DSNY’s slogan as I haven learned is “New York’s Strongest.” Tatyana has gone a step further with this. I like it. This inspires me. I push a little bit harder and further. I reach the start of mile 8. The GW Bridge is now in view and I’m comfortable in my stride, but my legs are starting to feel it. I’ve hiked 20 miles in a day before, but not on 0 training: so I call it: This will be my last mile. Knowing this will be it, I start strategizing about what that means for what’s next: how will I catch up on the miles….and I realize….I don’t need to strategize, I’m not competing, I’m on a journey—and it’s time to just enjoy it, no matter how long that takes or how far I make it each day I go out there.
The first day ends for me right around 96th street. I turn off my GPS and vow to return. And I do—right to this spot 4 days later.
Like the trail—- To be continued.