I’m running through the Manhattan Bridge at the speed of exactly 9 minutes 14 seconds per mile, and I know this because my watch is listening to satellites — a fact that blows my mind even this far into the 21st century. This will be among the longest of New York bridges I’ll cross on this adventure, and my sneakers are enjoying getting into the rhythm after months spent in the closet, right next to the yet-to-be-used dancing shoes.
It’s early Monday morning, the bridge largely empty, and my run is punctuated by unusual mileposts: one anti-motivational graffiti message after another, scribbled on the path in front of me. Most of them are too vulgar or dumb to repeat here, but at some point I encounter one that surprises me in its poignancy.
It says YOU DON’T HAVE IT, and my immediate response is: Well, of course I don’t. That’s why I’m doing all this.
A bridge too far
That one time I ran every bridge in Manhattan, and what I learned doing it
by Marcin Wichary
On average, the Brooklyn Bridge sees 4,000 people a day. Right now, on a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 2014, it feels that they’re all here at the same time. I’m with my friend Doneliza, an urban planner and a proud New Yorker; we are trying to get back to Manhattan, and we’re increasingly annoyed at the pedestrians stopping again and again and again just to waste yet another pack of megapixels on a completely forgettable photo. To make things worse, right next to the slow-moving mass of people, cyclists are zooming by, blatantly ignoring the possible consequences of Newton’s First — that basic law of physics stating “things will be hella painful if you’re stationary and the other guy is not.”
Both of us occasional runners, we joke that the answer to this speed dichotomy must be somewhere in between. We start talking about our running mishaps — her currently harboring an injury, me having just recovered from one — when suddenly I stop and exclaim “I have an idea!” Doneliza immediately responds “You’re going to run all the Manhattan bridges, aren’t you?”
Bless good friends who understand and unconditionally support even the wackiest of your ideas.
I am no stranger to completely arbitrary running challenges, and it seems that this one should be a piece of New York-style cheesecake:
- I could run in the mornings or evenings to avoid crowds,
- I am here for a week which should give me enough time,
- bridges are not that long and only slightly curved, and
- there’s only what, three, maybe four Manhattan-bound ones?
I find out later that there are fourteen bridges. Doneliza and I made the same mistake Hollywood does, focusing on obvious show-offs and completely forgetting the lesser-known bridges doing the hard work away from the limelight.
Alongside the most obvious — the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan, the Queensboro — there are tons of short East River spans with generic names, although curiously only one on the west side of the island (the rest of the traffic goes via car-only tunnels). And then, two more bridges up north, plus a few more inaccessible to pedestrians that I’ll have to exclude: Alexander Hamilton Bridge carrying one of the interstates; the giant vehicular traffic machine known as the Triborough Bridge; a number of rail crossings.
1 & 2.
June 30, 7am
I decide to start the challenge with the companion I already know, and take an early subway ride to the Brooklyn Bridge. Just before leaving I realize where I am, and decide to stay past the terminus on the 6 line to glance at New York’s most impressive abandoned subway stop as the train loops around.
This anchors my mind in the past. I tweet This one’s for you, Mr. Roebling (I’ll let the father and the son, both responsible for the bridge’s creation, duke out whom it is I actually mean), then start the run. At this early hour the bridge is close to empty, and I keep thinking of The great bridge, that terrific book I swallowed whole just a year prior. I imagine the efforts it took to get this damn thing up: the harrowing experiences in the early caissons; the workers suffering from yet-to-be-fully-understood decompression sickness. On a more positive note, I also wonder who was the first runner ever to cross the Brooklyn Bridge, still well within the 19th century, and how amazing it must have been — its towers the tallest features of the landscape, its electric lights among the nation’s first, “the sky for a roof and the breeze for good company.”
Lost in thought, I almost miss my exit. My very clever — and wholly original — plan is to get to Brooklyn and return to Manhattan on the respective eponymous bridges. The two southern approaches are so close they almost overlap on a map, and yet I get lost trying to find the pedestrian entry to the second dual-decked monster, needing to decipher the maze of onramps and signage without slowing down.
I eventually find my way and hop onto the Manhattan Bridge. It was built only a quarter century later than its neighbour, but the difference is stark. The distinctive limestone and granite towers of the Brooklyn seem obsolete compared with the airy latticework of the steel towers of Leon Moisseiff’s creation. The Manhattan is blue and cold and distant compared to the Brooklyn’s welcoming warmth (the latter will be the only bridge where I will run on wooden planks, fascinating in and of themselves), and although I’m talking about bridges, I wonder if that characterization extends to the boroughs as well.
The biggest difference, though, has to do with the layout. The pedestrian path on the Brooklyn Bridge is in the center, on the upper deck, making me feel as though it was constructed just for me. Here, on the Manhattan, I am a mere guest — running on the outside, surrounded by a large fence, right next to subway trains trying hard to stick to their morning schedules.
My mind reminds me it’s somewhere here that Denzel Washington shot John Travolta in the remake of Pelham 1 2 3. It is also here where the graffiti messages start to appear, and eventually where that blue and cold and distant bridge tells me YOU DON’T HAVE IT.
As if to prove the point, I suddenly realize that the pedestrian path is actually on the other side of the bridge, and that I’ve been merrily running on a stretch devoted exclusively to bikers. I’m about halfway done, though, and — in a thoroughly human response — decide to double down on my mistake. And thus the rest of the run consists mostly of imagining how my adventure is likely to be terminated on the first day, by a bike slamming right into my ass.
Fortunately, outside of occasional angry shouts from passing cyclists, everything turns out okay.
After the run, I spend an hour walking back to the hotel through Chinatown. At some point I see an old Chinese lady practicing tai chi in a small warehouse. I slow down and smile to her, at which point she gives me an angry look and, two seconds later — with determination and energy that take me by surprise — flips me off using both her fingers.
3 & 4.
Henry Hudson Bridge
July 1, 3pm
4, 14, 23, 34, 42, 50, 59, 72, 81, 86, 96, 103, 110, 116,
125, 135, 145, 155, 163, 168, 175, 181, 190, 200, 207
I’m observing an unusual chain of numbers increasing right in front of my eyes, and I wonder how many New Yorkers could recall this sequence just from memory, and how much likelier those specific digits are to pop up in the area’s lottery tickets. (Later on, looking it up, I also learn about the existence of The On-Line Encyclopedia Of Integer Sequences, because of course the Internet has such a thing.)
The next two bridges on my list require a long trip up north, and the stations on the A line I’m taking are simply numbered after the streets we’re passing under. 4th Street, 14th Street… all the way to the terminus below the 207th. The trip seems to take forever, and after an hour underground I gasp as I get out at the northern tip of Manhattan.
I am standing right next to an actual forest.
The magnificent steel arch inspires as much awe today as it must have at the Henry Hudson Bridge’s opening in 1936, and the lush surroundings hint at the debacle surrounding its construction in the last remaining natural park in the city. “While providing one of the most dramatic river crossings in the city, the new span and highway bisected the western Bronx’s dreamy isolation,” wrote The New York Times. “Parts [of Inwood Hill Park] do indeed look like scenery from ‘The Lost World,’ with huge fallen trunks and craggy forest clearings. But the whoosh of rubber on pavement is never far away, and it is very hard to imagine what it must have been like, silent, before the bridge and highway. From underneath, the huge arch has a dramatic majesty, but the landscape in the surrounding area is worn as raw as a median strip on the Cross-Bronx Expressway.”
The constructors tried to solve the problem in part by… choosing the right coat of paint. The gray appearance is the bridge’s third attire — it started in green to better blend with the surroundings, and for a short while (short while in bridge years, that is) Henry Hudson wore dark blue. It seems to be a common problem for bridges in scenic areas; I’m being reminded of the contentious original plans to paint Golden Gate Bridge in red-and-white or blue-and-orange stripes for better visibility.
As I am finding out, running bridges actually requires quite a bit of climbing — especially so here, with the deck linking two promontories. The surreal nature of approaching the bridge in what appears to be a jungle is multiplied by my brain desperately crying for oxygen on my first and last mid-afternoon run. I’d like to have a word with whomever invented running in this type of weather, I’ll tweet later, but secretly I am loving the challenge and the exhaustion.
To avoid getting lost, I’m running with turn-by-turn directions spoken into my ear. Perhaps my current pace is slower than in my carefully flattened San Francisco runs, but it’s still satisfying when Siri needs to constantly revise her walking estimates downwards. I imagine she’s secretly incredibly impressed at how fast I’m able to walk — and it’s only her contract with Apple that prohibits her from expressing the astonishment.
The connection between today’s two bridges takes me through The Bronx. This is my first time here, and the maligned borough welcomes me in two ways. The first one is an entirely unexpected, almost European, picturesque view of high rises on the Spuyten Duyvil hill, surrounded by a curved rail track. This is New York literally and figuratively far away from The Grid Of Skyscrapers I left behind 150 streets below.
The second experience seems straight from Spike Lee’s Do the right thing: some teenagers open up a fire hydrant and spray water onto passing cars. I happily run straight into the stream, for a moment forgetting about all the electronics I carry with me, and the drought I left behind on the other coast. This is a perfect antidote to the scorching summer sun, and I cherish the event with a huge grin.
I come back to Manhattan through Broadway Bridge, whose latest iteration was floated here and installed on one Christmas Yesterdays. In the absence of my usual terminus Starbucks, the second run finishes at the nearby Twin Donut; I put some badly-needed caffeine into my overheated body and exchange pleasantries with the MTA driver taking a break (207th Street is home to a subway yard and one of two overhaul shops). Then, I promptly manage to take the wrong train back home.
July 2, 6:30am
Next morning’s Williamsburg Bridge is a far cry from the bucolic surroundings of the Henry Hudson’s. It has all the trappings of a… trap, a massive cage painted in Golden Gate Bridge-esque accidental orange. After the initial approach it stops feeling like a bridge at all — the many lanes of cars are hidden on another level, with only an occasional subway train lazily passing me by.
This is among the longest of Manhattan’s crossings, but also the most unlucky one. There’s enough graffiti and damage here to bring back memories of some of John Carpenter’s movies. “No poetry has been written about [Williamsburg Bridge], as Hart Crane did with the Brooklyn Bridge. No songs have been written about it, as Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel did with the Queensboro Bridge. No one ever attempted to sell this bridge,” bemoans nycroads.com. “As early as 1964, The New York World-Telegram and Sun reported that the bridge had fallen in such a state of disrepair that rust rained down on pedestrians. The only fresh paint was the graffiti scrawled in by vandals. During the 1970’s, the pedestrian walkways were closed after a maintenance worker was mugged while doing his job.”
After the run, I end up in Williamsburg. New York might have found a way to recover from the darkest Drop Dead years of the of 1970’s, but it seems some of the bridges and neighbourhoods fared better than others. My friends keep convincing me Williamsburg is an up-and-coming area, the first place on the gentrification’s to-do list, New York’s equivalent of Berlin. The immediate surroundings of the bridge’s touchdown tell me a different story. Williamsburg as I see it is destitution apparent in the shadow and noise of an elevated railway, the cheapest of fast food chains, a persistent stench of urine, and perhaps the most depressing of it all — street plants surrounded by cages of metal to protect them from vandalism, some of those cages already half-destroyed.
The Broadway subway station I enter to get back home is flooding and reeks of mildew, but the final insult to the injury comes from… me: I forgot Williamsburg Bridge as I was compiling my original list. This means fifteen bridges, not fourteen, so I’m still only one-third through. It’s Wednesday today, and my plane leaves Saturday afternoon.
6 & 7.
George Washington Bridge
July 3, 7:20am
I spend Wednesday evening in one of Brooklyn’s laundromats, sheltered from one of the most impressive thunderstorms I have ever experienced — lightnings counting in thousands, rain pouring for hours. Coming from San Francisco, where a lightning strike is as common as a week without another techies-taking-over-the-city scandal, this makes me profoundly happy.
The next in line for the following morning is George Washington Bridge, the only aboveground connection linking Manhattan to New Jersey. I decide to pair it with its counterpart on the other side of the island, the confusingly-named Washington Bridge.
On my subway ride, a surprisingly well-dressed man pulls a trombone from his case and starts playing a theme from The godfather, but after a few lazy notes it’s apparent his heart is not in it. He completely butchers the second half, and then cuts the whole performance short, moving quickly to another subway car where a clientele of more than three sleepy people should be a promise of higher revenue.
But all of this — the thunderstorm, the morning fog in a suddenly cooled off city, the flawed recital of an already eerie tune — puts me on the edge. And then, as I climb the pedestrian ramp and approach the bridge, I realize I might be in trouble: “The George” is huge, and the Hudson River wide and far below. It might not quite be the Moon’s magnificent desolation, but my anxious mind definitely makes it seem like one — and that is enough to remind me about my latent fear of heights.
Wikipedia will tell me later that in between two decks and fourteen lanes of commercial traffic, this is the busiest vehicle bridge in the world. Right now I don’t know it yet, but I can feel it — the bridge sways heavily as the cars and trucks swoosh by at 50 miles per hour. (As Maciej Ceglowski once wrote, “turns out these suspension bridges really are just dangling there.”) I need to walk the bridge first to start running it from the other side, and I carefully try to maneuver between getting too close to the void on the left, and the heavy traffic on the right. Of course I’m not in any real danger, but my lizard brain ignores all the protection given by the barriers, choosing instead to freak out every time the tiny signs warn PATH NARROWS.
(The path narrows by some 10%. It’s really not a big deal.)
The run back is, luckily, much less traumatic. What I can focus on instead are the gorgeous views outside, and the bridge’s majestic towers, planned to be covered in concrete and granite before the Depression put a stop to that idea.
I get back to Manhattan, crossing it length-wise to the passers-by’s surprised looks. (This is, apparently, not a common route for runners.) Getting through the short Washington Bridge is uneventful, although the pedestrian path is very narrow, and at some point I have to maneuver around a muscular guy wielding a club in his right hand, and an angry expression on his face. It provides one more dose of fuel for my amygdala, but it’s quickly forgotten as I gasp at what might be my favourite view of New York A.D. 2014 — a train line and a huge high rise building flanking the East River.
But I still have eight bridges to run, and only two days left in New York. If I want to make it, I will need to streamline my attempts.
Macombs Dam Bridge
145th Street Bridge
Madison Avenue Bridge
3rd Avenue Bridge
Willis Avenue Bridge
Wards Island Bridge
July 4, 8am
I decide to string six adjacent East River bridges together into one zig-zagging run. Until my friends point it out, I’m oblivious of the fact I’m trying to solve a mathematical problem — known as Seven Bridges of Königsberg — that is hundreds of years old. Instead of throwing complicated math at the issue, I just eyeball a route.
The real challenge is of another sort: how to make sure I can follow that route without getting lost in the maze of highway underpasses and similarly looking drawbridges (some of them not meant for pedestrians to walk on), and without the distraction of re-targeting Google Maps after each single crossing. I already look dorky enough running while wielding iPhone in my hand and taking occasional photos.
I spend an evening leaving breadcrumbs for my next day’s self. Fighting with obscure data formats and suspicious programs tires me enough so that I decide to upload my route to the first random app I find. It’s meant to help cyclists, instead of runners, but I deem it close enough (when you squint, slow cycling seems kind of like fast running), and go to sleep.
In one of the many little surprises that adventures like these are known for, my starting point happens to be right next to the Yankee Stadium. I press the play button on the newly-installed app, and my headphones blast with a distinctly British, occasionally dramatic, and unnervingly judgmental voice of an older gentleman telling me to TAKE A SLIGHT LEFT TURN IN 300 FEET, and then TAKE A SLIGHT LEFT TURN IN 150 FEET, and then TAKE A SLIGHT LEFT TURN. I know we’re still far away from Scarlett Johansson, but for the love of Christ. Soon, my anxiety about getting lost is quickly replaced by fear of Death By Vocal Annoyance.
And yet, the announcements appearing with frequency rivaling a busy airport do work. I am puzzled, however, by the app’s selective understanding of the outside world. It never once mentions street names or landmarks, and yet at one point tells me to MAKE A SHARP LEFT TURN BY THE MAILBOX. I look around and count three different objects that I’m sure are mailboxes and two others that I suspect might be.
Then, a few miles later, the same stark voice suddenly announces YOU HAVE GONE TOO FAR. This hits a nerve. There’s kind a point to what he’s saying, I realize. I am on vacation, after all, and no one makes me wake up at quarter to six most mornings just to complete this self-inflicted, arbitrary mission few will ever care about. Am I overdoing it? Is this what a crazy person’s life must be like? If success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration, where’s the room for obsessive compulsiveness?
Only some seconds later I realize that I decided to cross the street at a different point and — forced to stick to the predetermined route — this is the app’s blue screen of death, the only way to tell me something went wrong.
I laugh it all away, but the doubts will linger on. There’s a moment in any good run where everything just clicks, the legs warm up, the rhythm spreads from the headphones into your whole body, and a magical thing happens — the run starts carrying you. It’s possible that projects can take over the same way, at some point the sheer drive to finish, complete, collect all things overshadowing reason and common sense.
Is that the case here? I’m afraid I will never figure it out.
Tying all the bridges together was a good idea not just for logistical reasons (today’s run will leave me with only two more bridges to go, and that means I could avoid potentially problematic after-dark runs), but also because those bridges seem essentially interchangeable: each one with four lanes of traffic precisely 25 feet above water level, each one able to open and swing away to let boats and ships by.
Each one, except the last one. Wards Island Bridge is the only pedestrian bridge I’ll cross during my runs, and its today retrofuturistic art deco appearance and palette stand out. I admire its towers before I realize why they look the way they look — instead of moving to the side, the entire bridge can be raised if necessary.
This is the longest of my seven runs, although in the grand scheme of things it’s not even half a marathon. I’m astonished how much faster the hour flies by in the heretofore unknown surroundings, and how quickly I find myself on Randall’s Island, my favourite of New York’s islands ever since my Robert Moses-inspired road trip two years earlier. Then, I head back home drenched in my black T-shirt, exchanging one logistical issue for another — trying to find a place in the subway car farthest away from people that would be bothered with my increasingly stale sweat.
University Heights Bridge
July 5, 7:30am
The first short run of my last day is a result of bad planning. I should’ve added University Heights Bridge to the second day’s event, as it was right next door. Now I once again need to trek 15 miles north to run what amounts to a quarter of a mile. And it’s through an entirely forgettable bridge — they are apparently handing New York City Landmark badges to anything that doesn’t move — although one that surrenders yet another gorgeous view of the East River, and now-distant Washington Bridge I crossed just a few days ago.
I learn later that University Heights Bridge used to occupy the space of the nearby Broadway Bridge before being moved down the river; it turns out even massive structures weighing thousands of pounds can have multiple lives.
On the other side, once again in The Bronx, the signs of another troubled neighbourhood reappear: the landscape is filled with check cashing stores, We accept food stamps notices, and loud advertisement about $10 ATM machines. I feel uneasy, but it’s a good feeling. No matter how incidental this contact is — I will soon head back to the subway for the last run — it reminds me that New York is not just The 5th Avenue (where I just bought a swanky suit), or the upper-middle class splendor of The High Line. Once in awhile, it’s good to make oneself uncomfortable… although I have to remind myself that this kind of thinking once led to a bullet hole in my couch.
15 & 16.
Roosevelt Island Bridge
July 5, 8:40am
The last run continues the theme. Many of the small islands surrounding Manhattan have led troubled, undistinguished lives, their physical isolation from the main island used as guarantee of physical isolation of unwanted people placed on them.
Ellis Island is the most well-known of them all, with its storied, six-decade history of being a gateway for your tired and your poor. Wards Island was home to The New York City Asylum For The Insane and the immense Manhattan Psychiatric Center, at some point the largest psychiatric hospital in the world. Of Randalls Island, Wikipedia dryly notes that it “housed an orphanage, poor house, burial ground for the poor, idiot asylum, homeopathic hospital and rest home for Civil War veterans, and was also site of the New York House of Refuge, a reform school completed in 1854 for juvenile delinquents or juveniles adjudicated as vagrants,” winning some sort of bingo for hells-not-in-my-backyard institutions. And just Roosevelt Island’s former name alone, Welfare Island, might give you enough of a hint. Another one would be the former presence of a Smallpox Hospital, a prison, and New York City Lunatic Asylum (ah, the names of those places!).
It seems somewhat understandable then, and yet oddly cruel, that the last bridge I need to run — the Queensboro Bridge — skips over the island altogether, linking Manhattan directly with Queens.
This is the only cantilever bridge I’ll encounter, and one that’s very unapologetically 19th century — even though it was finished in 1908, more than two decades after the Brooklyn Bridge. The whole area seems frozen in some earlier time, with factory stacks still dotting the landscape, and aerial tram gondolas silently passing by (the tram connects Manhattan with Roosevelt Island; before its opening in 1976, the bridge itself had a trolley stop and… an elevator dropping people and cars onto the island).
Fifty people died during the Queensboro’s construction — a tragic, but not unusual number given those kinds of tasks during those kinds of times. The bridge clocks in at 50,000 tons, and it used to weigh quite a few more before it was discovered United Pennsylvania Steel Company was overeagerly inflating their deliveries. Even after the diet, one of the magazines said:
The structure of the bridge itself is an intricate mass of interlacing steelwork, seemingly incapable of architectural beauty because of the strict requirement imposed by the structural conditions in the design of compression and tension members.
…which seems like a rather charming way of calling something fucking ugly.
Including the approaches, at 7,449 feet, this will be the longest of my runs. It’s a beautiful one, too — East River here, closer to the splendor of Manhattan’s skyline, feels very different than the one I kept cris-crossing yesterday.
As I count down the steps on the outer walkway I’m on, I see the path once in awhile connecting, without any barriers, to the car lanes inside. That reminds me that bridges evolve. I once researched how much the Golden Gate Bridge changed, even though it doesn’t seem like it at all. Same was as true for many of the bridges I just got to know so closely. Williamsburg Bridge was upgraded piece by piece — without any closures — and very little material of the original bridge remains in use today. The Manhattan Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, and a few others once had streetcar tracks cutting through them. Some of the swing bridges I ran the day before were replaced by new spans in the last decade. And who knows, perhaps driving on the very lane I’m running on right now was what gave F. Scott Fitzgerald the idea for The great Gatsby.
As I’m nearing the end of my run, a subway car emerges on the left, and cuts across and above me with unexpected majesty. It’s a surprisingly moving moment. As I touch down in Queens, fifteen bridges left behind me, it should be the end of my adventure, but I already know I’ll add one more crossing. By going a literal extra mile, instead of the middle of nowhere I’ll end at Roosevelt Island, able to admire the views of Manhattan and catch the aerial tram back.
It’s all perfectly calculated. Then the extra mile welcomes me with a screw to my shoe.
Fortunately, the screw stops just before my foot starts. Who knew my shitty running technique requiring extraordinarily padded shoes will one day prevent me from tetanus?
Such are the dangers of running in industrial areas, I think to myself. Then I take a left turn and end up on Roosevelt Island Bridge — the youngest of them all, another industrial entity that lifts up as needed to let river traffic by… or at least used to, in the times when there was river traffic.
And then, with my first step on Roosevelt Island I realize my encore run is done, and it truly is the finale. Since no one’s around, I do my celebratory shouting into the 4" rectangle of my iPhone:
(In case you’re wondering, I’m the typography abuser on the right.)
What I’m slowly learning about the ancient art of running bridges is that you don’t really get to see them very well since you’re never that far away. Only now, walking through Roosevelt Island on my aching legs, I get to admire the Queensboro’s industrial beauty, and imagine a little pixel of myself slowly traversing its course just half an hour ago.
Then I head back to Manhattan. This is my first and very likely last run ever that ends by coming back in a gondola.
Two weeks after the New York trip, a friend asks what were the three bridges I enjoyed most. After some deliberation, I text her back: “George Washington Bridge — huge, fast, actually frightened me greatly. Williamsburg Bridge for its seedy post-apocalypticness. And the Queensboro for overall impression: industrial beauty, awesome history, the aerial trams and subway cars all around me, and gorgeous views wherever I looked.”
But on another day, or in another mood, I would probably pick three different bridges. I look at the map my running watch painted for me, and I realize each one of the seven runs, and each one of the sixteen bridges contributed something essential to this experience.
Why do you like bridges? I get asked, too, and my first thought is — how can you not? All of the other advances of technology I can think of either betrayed us, or became commonplace. The miracle of flight has been reduced to $25 extra charge for every time a flight attendant flashes you a smile, or TSA caressing my crotch with the back of their underpaid and over-entitled collective hand. Cars? Every road trip brings pangs of conscience about ruining our fine planet for future generations. And the Internet today is basically the torture of email — which we should probably un-invent at some point — and the feeling I will never, ever catch up with anything anymore.
But bridges are bridges. Magnificent from far away, awesome as you cross them or when you stand next to them, fascinating whether or not they happen to move — and even more so when you realize they’ve been built decades, if not centuries ago.
Just the sheer scale of bridge-making is astonishing. I can barely relate to how much a ton would weigh. On the George Washington Bridge, one single wire weighs a ton. 433 more wires make a strand, there’s 61 strands to a cable, and three more cables are required to hold the whole thing together — including both the dead weight of the bridge, and that of quarter of a million vehicles crossing it every single day. The immensity of the Internet, interstate highway system, or air traffic is not something I can ever experience. But here, it is visible and tangible right next to me.
In the end, across seven #RunAllTheBridges events, I have covered a bit over 18 miles. Those were among the weirdest and most fascinating miles I’ve ever run through.
And it might have been the best possible way to start running again. Fun seeing all of those bridges in succession, and thinking of all the similarities and differences. Great getting to know New York’s less popular neighbourhoods. Amazing discovering an unexpectedly beautiful view seemingly every other time I turned my head. Going for a late visit to a sports store as my sock supply was running low. Befriending an affectionate cat and its plethora of germs at a sanitation yard I was passing by. Even spending all those early morning hours on the subway getting to and from the actual runs.
On the plane back home to San Francisco, it is seat 14A where Wikipedia magic happens, as I try to learn as much as I can about each of the bridges. A few hours in, I realize I actually skipped one; I instinctively dismissed the Triborough Bridge as being car-only because, well, Robert Moses. Turns out that bridge, presently 10 miles further and further away with each passing minute, also has a pedestrian path.
Shit. Does this invalidate my whole challenge? Can the last extra bridge count as taking the Triborough’s place?
I think about it for a bit, but I realize that it doesn’t really matter. One year I might try the whole thing again, especially if the magnificent High Bridge finally reopens after being inaccessible for decades. But I’d go for it just for the sheer pleasure of it all, rather than feeling I need to redo some unfinished business.
I come back to the moment just before the initial crossing, when my first view of the Brooklyn Bridge was of some runners already exiting it. There was a pang of disappointment until I realized how irrational it was; I haven’t invented running, or running on bridges, and it is very likely someone already tried collecting all the Manhattan crossings before me. (“You’re stringing all the bridges together? It’s called the New York Marathon,” one of my soon-to-be-former friends quipped later.) This was, as always, not about the idea being original. It was about what one makes out of it.
A few weeks after the last run, a friend of mine tweets Stuck in traffic on a bridge in New York and all I can think is “Marcin ran on this bridge.”
Somewhere in between YOU DON’T HAVE IT and YOU HAVE GONE TOO FAR, I’d like to believe I made out of it quite a bit.
Written in July, August, and a bit of September 2014.
With thanks to Doneliza Joaquin and Heather Traher for support, and Leah Beckmann, Maddie Kahn, and Bobbie Johnson for their excellent editorial help.