Scrambling at Breakneck Ridge

Manhattan’s population swells from 1.6 to 3.1 million during weekdays and much of this human tide flows through Grand Central Terminal, but at 6 AM this Memorial Day it was quite calm. Beams of artificial light filtered through the station’s enormous windows, casting orange shadows across the nave of this secular cathedral. Several police officers guided a German shepherd past two young tourists, allowing the canine to sniff plaintively at their backpacks. Newlyweds posed for a photographer beneath a massive American flag draped from the ceiling above the 42nd St. entrance. The photographer likely predicted an empty station early on a holiday morning and sacrificed sleep to capture the surreal memento: Grand Central Terminal occupied by no one else but them. Now he holds her above his head. Click, click. Now she waves bashfully as he looks on. Click, click. Now they wait for a gaggle of tourists to pass. Ok, now kiss. Captured.

The station is stubbornly devoid of benches—exiled some time in the mid-1940s to avoid being used as cots by the homeless—so tourists, commuters, and hikers all are forced to either stand or else line the walls and stairways with their bags and bodies. The dearth of benches had never been apparent to me before, but when you’re negotiating a coffee, newspaper, trekking poles, water bottle, and a train schedule all at once, it stands out.

I was bound for the Metro-North’s Hudson line, a route which, after passing through Harlem and the Bronx, clings to the eastern shores of the Hudson River, past the Palisades and along a shoreline that very quickly and quite unexpectedly becomes a shroud of green. The city  vanishes, replaced by a matrix of foliage that hugs the riverbank like a dense fog, concealing all within. The illusion is bracing, but a slight push in any direction would reveal the network of suburban towns and villages dotting the river from Westchester county on up. I got off just north of the town of Cold Spring at the Breakneck Ridge station, a tiny platform abutting the river, so small that passengers are made to disembark from the very last car. The Metro-North only services the station on weekends and holidays—and only a handful of times throughout the day at that—but it’s a wonderful convenience for hikers to access the eponymous trail. Continue reading

Staten Island Greenbelt Trails

When hiking in New York, I’ve usually chosen to leave the city limits. For my latest adventure however, I made my way to the Staten Island ferry at 6 AM and took in the wonderful harbor commute past the Statue of Liberty over to St. George, where I caught the S61 bus bound for the Greenbelt—a system of parks and woodlands occupying a large section of Staten Island’s interior.

The bus left me at the corner of Bradley and Harold, just a short distance from Brielle Ave., which abuts the Greenbelt along its central West side. According to my map, the longest of the Greenbelt’s trails begins here, just East of the College of Staten Island, a network of greenery hemmed in by ostentatious houses, SUVs, meticulously groomed lawns, and all the material trappings of suburban life. Staten Island is the only Republican borough in New York City and judging by the look of the neighborhoods, it could have been anywhere in Middle America. This was not a side of the city I knew.

The trail began with a slight ascent up towards the ruins of Seaview Hospital. After less than half a mile, I was confused to find myself in a construction site. According to the New York Walk Book, “this area has been targeted for a senior citizens’ development, and the trail will be relocated around the development once it has been complete.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have been completed yet. The blue blazes were extremely inconsistent and I retraced my steps to be sure I hadn’t gone wrong. Unable to find where the trail reconnected beyond the construction site, I decided to bushwhack through thick brambles, ripping my legs up in the process. So much for three miles an hour… an auspicious start to the day. Continue reading