Come visit New York City, one of the biggest and busiest metropolitan areas in the world. Now hop in a taxi and ask the driver to take you to the George Washington Bridge, which stretches across the Hudson River, and which by the way is the busiest vehicular bridge in the world. Stroll across the span into New Jersey and on the far side, in the Fort Lee Historic Park, you'll find a tree with three aqua blazes. As improbable as it might sound, this is the southern terminus of a rugged hiking trail, which, if you follow the blazes, will take you through some of the most beautiful parks and preserves in the Hudson Valley, and 350 miles later, deposit you on the outskirts of Albany, capital of the state.
The Long Path is a close cousin of the Appalachian Trail, but the Long Path is virtually unknown. It might as well be a secret, like the blank spot in the middle of a map of unchartered wilderness. When I set out to thru-run it in August 2013, only 120 people had completed the entire trail, according to the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, a not-for-profit organization whose volunteers maintain 2,000 miles of trails in New York and New Jersey. This compares to some 14,000 documented completions of the Appalachian Trail, according to the Appalachian Mountain Conservancy.
For a harried city-dweller like myself, there's something alluring and mysterious about a trail that starts virtually in my back yard and heads north into the unknown. I had first discovered the Long Path accidentally, while running on the carriage trails of Minnewaska State Park, about ninety miles north of the city. Over the years, as I heard more about this enigmatic path, my curiosity grew. The Trail Conference maintains an excellent website, with detailed notes on each section of the Long Path, photographs, mileage tables, an interactive map, and comments on the history. Perusing this site, I learned that the name was inspired by the first stanza of Walt Whitman's Song of the Open Road:
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose
Whitman may not have been a dedicated hiker (and he certainly wasn't a trail runner). Nor was he a naturalist like John Muir or John Burroughs. Nonetheless, this image of the open road has inspired New Yorkers and many other Americans to hit the trails and experience that sense of freedom that comes from escaping the crush of modern city life.
Inspired by Whitman's verse, I set out to thru-run the Long Path on August 25, 2013, with a goal of not only completing the entire distance, but also beating the fastest known time of twelve days. To do so, I aimed to travel light, relying on cached food, sleeping in lean-tos, and running as much as I could.
- The Hudson Palisades
- Harriman State Park
- Wallkill Valley
- The Shawangunks
- The Catskills
- Schoharie Valley and Capital District
- Some Comments on Logistics
- Footgear and feet
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