The Great Saunter
Many years ago, I started my list of 100 Things. Not a list of owning a 100 things, but 100 things I want to do in my lifetime. I do not like calling this a “bucket list” because I don’t view it that way. A bucket list seems like things you do when rushed at the end of life. I decided to start working on things I wanted to accomplish in my lifetime beginning in my thirties. I don’t have 100 Things on the list yet, but more like 45 right now. I want to keep space open to add new items to the list. And the list can be simple, like “owning a dog” (which I do, check) to “visiting every UNESCO World Heritage site aside from war torn countries” (a LOT more difficult). I like to keep it interesting.
The reason I am mentioning my list of 100 Things is because two weeks ago, I completed one of them: The Great Saunter. The Great Saunter is not a race, but an annual walk around the island of Manhattan. And it is a 32 mile walk in one day.
I have no idea how I found out about The Great Saunter, but I am so glad I did. I am fairly certain I was down a rabbit hole on Reddit one night back in 2017 and I was reading posts about long distance walking. Fun fact, another 100 Thing item on my list is hiking the Appalachian Trail, hence my interest in long distance walking. After some googling, I realized that I could actually do The Great Saunter. i walk everywhere, to work, to social events, as much as I can. W and I use walking as a way to explore new cities. We love walking. So clearly I needed to do the Great Saunter.
Fast forward to 2018. The Great Saunter takes place on the first Saturday in May. Unfortunately we had a wedding to attend in Long Island that weekend. The Great Saunter would have to wait another year.
In 2019, I blocked off the entire weekend on our calendar. I love going to New York City, and since we live so close we go at least once a year. We booked train tickets and a hotel in the Financial District, and I registered both W and I for The Great Saunter. It was happening in 2019.
In April, the Shorewalkers (the walking group that organizes the Saunter) sent out our adorable “racing” bibs plus a map of the race. It was a nice touch and we really appreciated the community vibe that the bibs would bring us on the day of the Saunter.
And so, W and I took the train up to New York City Thursday evening before the big walk. I love living in DC, and we try to get up to NYC at least once a year. Generally we see a show, but not this time! I wanted to keep our eyes on the prize and have a calm night before the Saunter.
We stayed at the Residence Inn Downtown, as the starting point of the Great Saunter is in the Financial District. The hotel was actually really great. We had a HUGE room complete with a little kitchenette. Normally our hotel rooms in midtown are the size of a closet, so this was a welcome change.
Friday we walked down to Fraunces Tavern, the starting point of the Saunter. I had no idea that this was such a big part of American history! George Washington held a farewell dinner with his officers after the Revolutionary War ended and all of the British troops finally left the city. Very cool!
After some like touristy things like visiting Alexander Hamilton’s grave at Trinity Church, we went about our very relaxed day in New York City. We got a massage and bought a ton of snacks for the next day, and we ended Friday with take out sushi eaten in bed in our hotel room. We were lights out at 9 pm. That is not our typical NYC experience at all, which was amusing.
We woke up at 6 am for the big day!!! The Great Saunter begins at 7:30 from Fraunces Tavern. We pre-registered but decided to show up at 7 and wait in line since we really did not know what to expect.
The weather was gloomy with rain threatening, but the clouds held off while we waited in line. The doors opened and we all filed through the Tavern, which was huge and looked really cool inside. It turns out we really didn’t need to wait in line, but I am glad we did since it felt like a real start to the event. The amazing Shorewalker volunteers passed out baseball hats and some other cute swag. We filed through the back doors, and we were on our way!
The route was really easy to start out, we walked around Battery Park and ended up walking through Hudson River Park all the way up the city. It did start to rain a little, but nothing that made us need to seek shelter. Along the way, Shorewalkers volunteer let us know we were following the right route. They had a professional photographer taking photos and also passed out snacks when possible.
After walking through Riverside Park, at around 11 or 12 miles, the George Washington bridge started coming into view. It was a constant for several more miles as we continued on to Riverside Bank Park and through For Washington Park. The rain wore off, and we had absolutely gorgeous views of the bridge and the Hudson River. W and I were astounded at all of the parks, playgrounds, and athletic fields on the west side. We hardly felt like we were in New York City at all.
And finally, we were at the tippy top of Manhattan under the Henry Hudson Bridge, and just a little less than halfway through the saunter at 15 miles. Somewhere on a set of stairs I tweaked my calf a little. W thought he was developing a blister, but other than that we were in good shape. Our feet hurt, but that was to be expected when walking so many miles.
At the true halfway point, Great Saunter volunteers popped up again to pass out some snacks and Gatorade. We took our first bathroom break, and sat down for about five minutes before setting off again down the island. It felt great to be heading south, but after Inwood Hill Park, the Great Saunter no longer followed a beautiful river side path. There was less infrastructure on the east side, so the route had us cutting through the streets of Inwood and Sugar Hill, en route to Harlem River Park. The sun finally came out and it got hot.
Unfortunately, after around 22 miles somewhere in Harlem, we started to really hurt. The east side was less pleasant walking as we followed a super busy road for awhile. We were still walking in a big pack of people, but it was clear we had lost a lot of Saunterers along the way. My feet were killing me, and we started taking breaks once an hour for a few minutes. The problem with breaks is that it was SO hard to get started again after resting.
Clearly I was live posting to my Instagram story along the way. My friends and family sent us a LOT of words of encouragement along the way. But near the end we stopped taking as many pictures, as all of our energy (physically and mentally). Here are some of the few images we captured as we neared the end.
The last few miles were absolutely brutal. It turned into a lovely day in NYC, so everyone was out and about on the path along the East River. By this point the gentle saunter had turned into a forced march, and stepping out of the way of bikers, joggers, and playful children proved exhausting. Finally we started walking under FDR Drive, and as the pier numbers started dropping we knew we were getting close to the end.
And then, just like that, we finished! We got our photos taken at the end, complete with our Great Saunter certificates.
Some finishers elected to go back to the Fraunces Tavern and have a drink, but we were just COOKED. We summoned an Uber to take us back to the hotel as we could not walk the short distance back there. After I got into the room, I immediately took my shoes off to survey the damage. I only had one small blister, but my feet were throbbing. I followed my pregnant friend’s advice and elevated my feet, which helped so much. We ordered room service because again, walking was too hard. We fell asleep around 9 PM and slept for about ten straight hours.
The next morning we were almost 75% recovered. Some slight stiffness when walking, but our bodies really sped through recovery!
So many people have thoughts and questions on The Great Saunter, so I thought I would address some of them:
How long did it take you to walk that far? Eleven hours and 30 minutes. We rested for about an hour and twenty minutes of that time. Frankly we should have rested MORE, and EARLIER in the day. It would have probably made those last ten miles much better.
How many steps did you take that day? 70,210 or about 33.1 miles. Our GPS had the Saunter at 33 miles, not 32. But it is billed as a 32 mile walk.
Would you do it again? Not next year, or the year after that. I could see myself doing it again in ten years after I forget how hard it was to complete. For the last five miles I was focused on finishing the walk so I would never have to do it again!! If I do it again, I would consider walking the Saunter in reverse. The East side was markedly worse than the West side, and it would be great to finish up the last ten miles with better infrastructure.
What would you do differently? As stated above, we would take breaks more often. I would also pack a real lunch. We only brought snacks like chips, cookies, beef jerky, and water. A sandwich would have made a real difference since we were burning calories like crazy. I would also bring a ton of coffee in a thermos. Since we walked the perimeter of NYC there were not that many opportunities to grab a cup of coffee when you really needed one. Thought we did hit up a Starbucks in Inwood at a seriously delicate time, I almost cried tears of joy when I saw it.
Verdict: The Great Saunter is amazing. Hard, but worth it. It is relatively unknown outside of New York, or even in New York. Shorewalkers emailed attendees afterwards and said that 2,009 people signed up for the event, but only 860 people made it across the finish line. I feel incredibly proud of my achievement of walking around the island of Manhattan. It was a total mental and physical challenge, and I conquered it. It was not easy, but again I am so proud I did it.
I’m encouraging everyone who can walk ten miles in a day to take a chance and walk The Great Saunter. You don’t have anything to lose, and if you hate it, just get off the trail and have a cocktail in Manhattan. You can’t lose!