Saturday, August 27, 2011

Exploring Palisades Park

Running the GW bridge in the rain has got to be one of my most favorite things to do ever. Actually, running in any kind of inclement weather is easily one of my favorite things in the world. Almost no one else is around. You have the road entirely to yourself and the solitude is completely unmatched. I was pretty much by myself the entire run - I passed a few runners and a couple bicyclists, and a father taking his three young boys out for a walk, but other than that the world was deserted.

As I started out along Riverside, I did pass a few runners wearing bib numbers heading in the opposite direction. Later on the bridge, I passed another runner with a bib number that was so mangled and unrecognizable, it looked like he'd been out in the elements for at least the past 12 hours. Like the first few runners I passed, he was wearing a baseball cap and plastic sheet protecting the back of his neck. I could only guess that some sort of ultra was happening this morning. This was intriguing, and slightly annoying. Darn NYRR cancelled a measly little 5K in Harlem at 8:30am, long before the wind or rain had even become remotely dangerous, and here were these runners, who looked like they're been out braving the elements all morning (and possibly all night). Someday... someday... I will be one of them. But I digress.

At the end of the GW bridge, I contemplated venturing into NJ. Mind you, I always turn around and head back home once reaching the end of the bridge. NJ is completely new and unchartered territory for me. My friend Dave once told me about these amazing trails that run along the NJ cliffside, overlooking Manhattan, and I had yet to find the start of said trails. Figured today could be the day. I didn't have anywhere to be in a hurry, so I made a left and went exploring. Immediately on the other side of the bridge overpass, I came across a gigantic staircase that went up so high into the trees that I couldn't see the top of it. Without hesitation, I forged up the stairs. The staircase was pretty nifty; it had a special ramp for bikes that looked like a trough running down the entire length of the stairs. Halfway up, I found the enterance to the GW bridge north walk (which was closed - of course! I don't think I've EVER seen the north walk open in the entire time I've lived in Manhattan). However the stairs didn't stop there. The uphill climb continued and I finally ended up smack dab in the middle of the woods! There were trails! There were even signs with trail distances on them! I was so thrilled, I literally jumped for joy and squealed out of glee. I was completely beside myself with excitement - I love trails! They are so much fun! The ground was muddy and mucky, which is to be expected after all the rain we've been having. I pranced along through the soft, mucky ground, until I found a lookout point on the cliffside, where I paused and contemplated the view. I didn't venture too far into the trail, because I was only wearing my Vibrams and didn't want to risk hurting myself. After all, I was already planning to do 6 miles and had already gone farther than that - the longest run I've EVER done in those shoes - and I knew I was going to pay for it the next day.

One sign mentioned that most visitors find the park trails surprisingly rustic, probably due to the proximity to NYC, no one ever expects to find something so rustic so close to the city. One sign warned against poisin ivy and ticks - yikes!!! They also warned against rattlesnakes. I spent a good amount of time studying the trail maps and then headed back out of the park. I was positively elated.

I left Pallisades Park with a renewed sense of purpose and by the time I got back on the GW, I really fell into a groove, just cruising right along. I felt fantastic. I had energy to spare. I was refreshed, renewed, rejuvenated. The air was damp and cool. I was soooo thrilled to finally discover these trails! I can't wait to go back and explore. Exploration totally would have happened right then and there, but again, I didn't want to push it with my Vibrams, and didn't know how the minimalist shoes would handle the "surprisingly rustic" trails. At one point there was an acorn stuck between my toes and even that was painful! My poor left middle toe was throbbing by this point and only got worse as the run progressed.

After crossing the bridge, I made my way to the Hudson River Greenway to finish up this awesome run. I bounded down the ramp at 178th street, followed the pedestrian tunnel underneath the highway exit, emerged in the woods on the other side, veered to the left at a fork in the trail, went around a turn and under yet another pedestrian tunnel, past a creepy guy crouched on the ground who called out to me, emerged on a walkway that went over the railroad tracks, and finally down the staircase to the waterway. (Reaching the Hudson River Greenway uptown is no easy feat.)

When I finally got to the waterway, the sky opened up and it started to rain. This couldn't have been more perfect. (That's not sarcasm, it really truly was perfect.) I had been craving an outdoor adventure for days now, and had the strongest desire to be outside and embrace the elements. I was genuinely hoping it would rain. I wanted to experience Mother Nature in all her majesty - for better or worse. After being confined in the office for the past 5 days straight, with little to no lunch break and coming home after dark, I just wanted to be outdoors; I needed to be outside, no matter how bad the forecast was.

Over the next few minutes, the rain got progressively heavier, then it ended just as soon as it began. As I bounded along the waterway in all my glory, I was enjoying myself so immensely that I kept going past the 155th street exit. I kept trucking right along to Riverbank State Park at 145th. The only way I knew to get to Riverside Drive from there was to climb the gigantic staircase at the parking garage, so up the stairs I went - 5 flights to be exact.

I was really in an exploratory mood and remained on the lookout for another greenway entrance around 145th. After running along Riverside for a whopping 3 blocks, I noticed a partially hidden staircase behind a little playground. Wanting to prolong my adventure, I headed down the stairs, which took me over a walkway and down more stairs and over yet another walkway and down even more stairs and finally under a tunnel which opened right onto the waterfront behind the tennis courts. Awesome! I totally knew where I was. Gathering myself for the finish, I sprinted as much as one can possibly sprint with dying calves and throbbing toes through puddles and mud, and FINALLY reached the 155th street exit (for the second time that day), walked up the stairs, over the overpass, and jogged up the ginormous hill. I only stopped to catch my breath once I reached the top of the hill.

As I neared the final stretch, 2 blocks away from my apartment building, a random guy shouted "hey! a hurricane's coming! want to go out!?" or maybe he said "want to make out!?" Either way, people have a lot of nerve around here, I'll tell you that much.

I've been craving an outdoor adventure for days now, and this run most certainly did it for me. I felt the earth beneath my feet, ran over rocks, pebbles, twigs and branches, splashed in the mud, ran in the rain, and danced around puddles. I felt light and weightless for most of the run. Most importantly, I was just out there to run for the sake of running and being outside. I embraced the elements and the elements in turn embraced me right back.

Souvenirs from todays run include: a terribly jammed, sore middle toe, an awkward blister in a very odd place on my big toe, mud covered legs, smelly shoes and cramped feet. Most likely I won't be able to bend my calves AT ALL tomorrow, considering the farthest I've EVER run in my Vibrams was maybe about 2 miles. Even after just one mile I remember waking up the next day to rock-solid calves that refused to bend for anything in the world. Nearing the home stretch on today's run, I could feel my heels starting to drop. It took a very conscious effort to keep them lifted the entire time, right up until the very end. Today's run involved a ton of stairs and a lot of steep inclines and declines. My legs most certainly are going to let me know about it in the next couple of days.

But it was all worth it. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

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