The Urban Hike: Or How I Learned to Forget the Subway and Love New York

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Hi everyone, today we have a guest blogger. Jade Shames has written for the LA Weekly, ClubPlanet, and The Kat Thek Radio Hour. He recently pitched me an article about an urban hike through Brooklyn and Manhattan with his girlfriend. Enjoy!  

The reason? Uh…because it’s there. When traveling around the largest city in the United States most of us, sadly, do it underground – completely ignoring the space between where we start and where we end.

My girlfriend, Kat, and I set out from her apartment in Ditmas Park (that’s in south Brooklyn). From there, with little hiking experience and neither one of us on a daily workout routine, we figured we would walk all the way to Harlem. I’ll spoil the ending for you – we failed. But trust me, like most things in life, the beginning and the ending are the least interesting parts.

From Ditmas Park we had a lovely walk to Prospect Park where we took a path in and around to Park Slope. We embarked around early afternoon and the weather was perfect. We noticed how many people from different walks of life converged in the park for no real particular purpose. It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you do, humans like getting back to the wilderness.

Then, we happened upon a stoop sale and had a nice conversation with some Park Slopers about old books and music. After that we crossed into Boerum Hill, which Kat and I joked sounds like a neighborhood in Lord of the Rings – or an old fashioned remedy.

After crossing a small bridge over a painfully polluted river, we saw a giant lawn gnome. I’m not kidding, it was maybe 15ft tall. We investigated and realized that it was next to a design company. They were working on other giant objects for an art installation.

Jade Shames Kat Thek see giant gnome

We ate lunch in the beautiful Cobble Hill – where I actually went into a cobbler’s shop and bought some arch supports for my shoes.

Then, the illustrious Brooklyn Bridge. The sun was just starting to go down. I noticed that there was an American flag on top of the bridge – I had never seen it before and it made me think of good things about this country. I note this because I’m a critic when it comes to America and sometimes I forget about our tenancy and perseverance – like making this bridge. Kat told me that when the bridge was first erected, people were too scared to cross it – thinking the bridge could not possibly hold the weight it was designed for. To prove the bridge was strong, a parade of 21 elephants was marched across.

From Wall Street to Soho, and from the villiage to Noho we weaved through Manhattan and saw the rise and fall of the classes as we passed through wealthy neighborhoods and not so wealthy neighborhoods.

The sun finally set on us in Midtown and once I saw that we still had about 100 blocks to go, my legs began to quake.

Jade Shames Kat Thek Brooklyn Bridge Kym Perfetto Blog

The city goes through a remarkable transition into night. As the sun goes down, storefronts and skyscrapers begin illuminating the city with electricity – but there’s a brief period of twilight where midtown becomes an iridescent medley of sunset shimmer and shadows. Kat told me a story of a mugging she witnessed in the area last summer.

We had a drink outside Grand Central station because the bar inside wouldn’t let us in wearing our hiking clothes. There we decided it best to continue on, but only until Central Park – as after 11 miles, we could barely stand the idea of continuing to Harlem without passing out.

Central Park was nearly pitch black, but the sounds were a clutter of car horns, rat squeals, and the clip clop of horse hooves. Kat and I searched frantically for a place to pee.

The nice thing about an urban hike is that you never leave civilization behind. If you’re hungry, just stop in somewhere and eat. If you need to relieve yourself, just go to the bathroom. But there are locations in New York City where if you do not belong to the cultural elite, it does feel like you’re quite literarily in a concrete jungle. As was this time, where no hotel or apartment complex wanted us to come in just to use the bathroom. Finally, we did find a bar where we could duck past the staff and go without them knowing.

By this time it was midnight and we boarded the subway to Brooklyn. Briefly, we caught a glimpse of the outside as train surfaced to ride the Manhattan Bridge back home.

I went online after to see if other people have had the idea to do an urban hike. Yup. Here is a great 7.6 mi trek starting in Tribeca and another beginning at City Hall.

If anyone out there has had a cool urban hiking experience, let us know about it in the comments!