A long day's walk in the rain
Plus: An "environmental house of horrors"; Starlicide; Rachel Carson and the sea; keeping pigeons in NYC; and more
Sometimes it seems like there’s never a good time to write a newsletter. I’m either doing things outside (all too rare), busy with work and desperate for time away from the computer (all too common), or in shambles because something horrible happened in the world (also all too common) that makes the escapism of this little newsletter feel inconsequential and even inappropriate.
But, it’s Friday afternoon1 and we got off work early for the holiday weekend. I could be inside, doing dishes or scrolling endlessly through the devastating stories about Uvalde, Texas2, as I have been, but I need a break. So I’m outside in our little backyard, having just watered the plants, trying to lower my blood pressure by reminiscing fondly about our very wet and cold Great Saunter.
The forecast was for rain—all day, every hour, a little rain icon. Even so, I think we hoped it would let up, blow away. It did not. I wrote in 2019, after our first Great Saunter, “I’m sure there are auspicious times to attempt to walk 32 miles around the outer edge of Manhattan but reader, this past Saturday was not one of them.” Little did I know how bad it could get!
For the newcomers here: The Great Saunter is an annual event that the Shorewalkers—the advocacy group that hosts the Saunter—describes as an “epic urban hike.” It consists of an approximately 32-mile hike around the perimeter of Manhattan—or as close to it as possible—although this year due to construction on the east side the final mileage was apparently closer to 34 miles.
The first Saunter hooked me—in spite of the fact that we walked so long and so far that my soles developed blisters that burst underfoot in the last few miles; in spite of the fact I hobbled around for days after, barely able to walk—but much to my disappointment, the Saunter was canceled in 2020 and 2021.
The return of the in-person Saunter was much anticipated by myself and a small cadre of my Type 2 Fun friends (and by nearly 2,500 other people—the 2022 Great Saunter sold out for the first time in history!).
We were not deterred by the rain, not really.
It came down in a drizzle; it blew in from the side; it came at us in waves as passing cars on the highways careened through puddles. Not all rain gear is made equal, you know. I wore a rubber raincoat that shed every drop and a pair of rain pants (that I almost didn’t wear because I thought they might be too sweaty!). Ponchos also performed well. My friends who wore sporty “breathable” raincoats were soon soaked through. The person in jeans was quite unhappy. More than one of us had purple-blue lips from being too cold when we stopped for lunch in Inwood Hill, at the approximate halfway point. Steaming cups of apple cider did little to bring back their color. Even I started to get cold in the afternoon as the hem of my fleece pants and cuffs of my sweatshirt got wetter and wetter. My baseball cap became its own little microclimate, dripping even when I stepped out of the rain to take bathroom breaks.
And yet, somehow, it felt slightly easier than our first Saunter, at least for me. As we made our way north along the Hudson, my knees and legs felt a bit tweaky, a bit unsteady, but they held up better on the last third than they did three years ago.
I paused in the same park as I had in 2019 to do foot care, because my first pair of socks had been inundated with water and sand and grit. I sat out in the steady rain because there wasn’t any shelter except the park toilet, applying bacitracin to the worst of it, trying to keep the fresh pair of socks dry and clean until I could get them on my feet. I had blisters again, in the same places I always get them, but they weren’t quite as bad as previously. Maybe because my shoes were like squishy swimming pools and my feet were just suspended in the wet constantly, so there was less friction than usual.
The end was decidedly less dramatic than it had been our first time, when I limped over the finish line, my feet wet with blister juice and my face wet from tears, feeling totally broken. At least, that’s how I remember it. (Oh, did it not sound that bad when I wrote about it before? It’s hard to strike a balance here between ha-ha what an amusing tale and oh-boy this woman needs an intervention, so sometimes I dial back the misery-talk accordingly.) We collected our certificates, posed for the camera, and went home to shower and warm up. We even walked out to pick up Indian take-out, because I thought delivery might take too long and didn’t want to wait.
I’m ready to do it all again next year.
Quick note to new readers: Welcome! My name is Jessica McKenzie and I’m a climate and environmental journalist, currently working as an editor at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. (You may have heard of our Doomsday Clock, which I have no role in setting.) Perhaps you found me because of this tweet?
As you can see, I’ve recently written about bitcoin mining, the Obama nature doc, rare bees, and (for Audubon Magazine) about Andrew Yang, an interdisciplinary artist who grows the seeds he finds in birds that died in building collisions in pots designed in their likeness (this one was so fun to report and write).
This newsletter is my outlet for writing about nature, hiking, gardening, and rounding up some of the best outdoors x environment x climate writing I’ve found on the internet. Thanks for joining us—I’m so glad you’re here.
The heat is on: For some more than others, as the New York Times documents in this story about heat, infrastructure, and inequity in the city. I was particularly interested in the critique of the public pool system’s “prison-yard mentality” and its origins. [Anne Barnard, Corey Kilgannon, Jazmine Hughes and Emma Goldberg in the New York Times]
“An environmental house of horrors”: Not a surfer, but I will link to any story where outdoor adventurers or recreationists reflect on the various climate and environmental impacts they have on the world in the pursuit of their sport. Also, a really interesting read for someone who doesn’t know how toxic surfboards can be—“unnatural witch’s brews born from the chemical fires of Mordor,” as Justin Housman puts it. [Adventure Journal]
Bearer of Bard news: I regret to tell you that the story about the Shakespeare fan who introduced the European starling to Central Park because he wanted to spread all the birds mentioned in the Bard’s works is probably just a fable—also, there’s something called Starlicide. [Jason Bittel in the New York Times]
Hurricane season: An essay on feeling at home in a particular kind of clime—in this case, one that “most resembles a greenhouse, whose interior maintains an even pleasantness all year long.” [Lina Tran in Guernica]
“Was epic and really sad”: A really lovely story about an open-water swimming group that also picks up litter. I was also introduced to this nugget of wisdom: “Swimming is a constant state of not drowning.” [Bonnie Tsui for Afar]
“Too literary for government purposes”: I have many failings and my inability to finish any of the Rachel Carson books I own is one of them, but this Hannah Gold essay on Carson and her “sea trilogy” could be just the nudge I need. [The Nation]
In case you needed any more reasons to seek out cold water swimming, these frigid dips stopped this writer’s panic attacks. [Tim Clare for The Guardian]
Chris Arnade has a great newsletter about walking and photography and seeing the world. I particularly like this issue about the pigeon keepers of NYC. [Walking the World]
Yes, I did start writing this a week ago.