I don’t remember how the plan to try to walk to work first came about. Probably a few things inspired it – my excursion to and fascination with Tibbetts Brook Park and its pedestrian bridge (a path through the park runs parallel to part of my commute); the fact that I’d pretty easily walked about five miles on my Newtown Creek excursion; and in general, my friend, coworker, and expert long distance walker who had carpooled with me for so many years.
From driving this route for so long, I surmised it would be a beautiful walk – the Saw Mill Parkway stays true to its “parkway” name in that Van Cortlandt and Tibbetts Brook Parks run alongside it for the stretch between my house and work. I also knew from getting car insurance quotes that the drive is 6.3 miles.
So coworker friend agreed to this plan and we waited for the first nice, clear day in April, which took way too long to arrive. In the days and weeks before it had poured.
We planned to meet between 6:45 and 7 AM at the 242nd Street/Van Cortlandt Park 1 train stop, leaving ourselves about 2 hours to complete the walk. I packed a bag full of the bare essentials: materials for work, clothing layers, and my camera, and set off on my 7-minute downhill walk towards the station. As I stood by the park for a few minutes waiting for friend to arrive, I looked up at the elevated tracks and platform. How many times I had pulled up at this curb in my car, picking up or dropping off him and others on the way to or from work. My viewpoint at this moment, just slightly set off from where I’d been so many times in the car, seemed so different and set the tone for our alternate commute.
In just a few minutes, friend arrived and we set out into Van Cortlandt Park. I’d walked this first part of the broad trail before. While I don’t frequent this park, this was the entrance closest to my house. Parts of the concrete walk were flooded or muddy from the recent rains. We tiptoed around these obstacles and soon reached a bridge over our path. I didn’t remember it being so bright blue. I consulted my smartphone GPS and determined we needed to get up onto the bridge to continue our travels.
Our path jogged around and up. We were now on the Putnam trail, part of the former New York and Putnam Railroad line. And it showed; one of the first sights we came upon was a rusted structure that appeared to have something to do with the railroad, perhaps even a station?
The strange structures continued with a row of thirteen stone pillars next to each other. At the time I couldn’t imagine what they would be for, but Wikipedia tells that they were for testing structural stone.
We continued by making our first crossing over Van Cortlandt Lake. To our left was a marshy area filled with lily pads. To our right, the lake stretched expansive. Buildings rising in the distance over the lake and the park’s greenery reminded me of such similar vistas in Central Park.
For the next stretch of unpaved trail we found ourselves in between parts of the golf course. Aging, rusty chain link fences halfheartedly tried to keep trail visitors off the pristine grass. Some stretches of fence to our east were actually in or over a little brook – I wondered if it was the southern end of Tibbetts Brook. We passed a makeshift bridge over the little creek.
The trail seemed to stretch out in infinity ahead of us, reminding me of something out of a fairytale’s forest. The straightness and length of the path made sense in light of the trail’s former life as railroad tracks. In fact in parts the old ties still jutted out from the clay-ish mud. Less than a handful of humans on bikes or with dogs passed us during our early morning walk on this stretch. I imagined how difficult it might be by bike, especially going over the parts with railroad ties!
The next identifiable structure that came into view was an overpass. Excited, I checked my GPS to see what road ran over our trail here. It was the Mosholu Parkway – something I don’t often drive but seeing it here, the location made sense to me geographically. We walked under it and out.
On our way so far we’d seen a few gray boxes hanging on trees. At this one we stepped off the trail to finally see what they were. As we rounded the corner to the far side of the tree, we could see a hole in the box. It was a birdhouse!
We walked on, passing a big fallen tree on the side of the path.
In a bit we came to a sign announcing that we were leaving Van Cortlandt Park and the Bronx and entering Westchester. We laughed as the changes to our surroundings echoed some Bronx vs. Westchester stereotypes: Most prominently, the path in Westchester was “nicer”: wide, paved with asphalt, and well-taken-care-of. Gone were the rickety fences, railroad ties, mud, and shoddy appearance of the Bronx part of the trail.
Soon we found ourselves walking parallel to the Saw Mill Parkway, just maybe 50 or 100 feet to our left. The highway was clearly visible next to us for the entire next leg of our trip. I remembered how from the car I could see some parts of the path. At each point on our walk I tried to figure out how where we were on the trail related to specific parts of the drive I knew.
I got that opportunity to identify my surroundings as we approached the McLean Avenue overpass. From the car I suppose I never realized which road ran above me, but again, it made sense now. Here there were fewer trees between the highway and the path, so my eye easily recognized houses and signs from the drive.
Everything seemed so much more beautiful and detailed than from the car – perhaps because our slower pace gave me time to examine things, we were more enveloped in the nature of the area, and it was an all-around beautiful day out.
I noticed some strange details on this part of the walk too – a big piece of pipe not connected to anything, and what looked to be an animal costume in a tree. The latter I’d seen from the drive too, but this closer perspective didn’t help me further identify what exactly it was or why it was there.
A bit further there was a sign describing the history of the New York and Putnam Railroad. Here I simply snapped a photo instead of stopping to read the whole thing, since I wasn’t sure but I thought we might be getting short on time.
Soon we reached an entrance/exit to the trail from civilization on our right. In this area we spotted two cats, one right after the other. The first followed us a bit down the trail. The other, a longhaired, stalked through the brush on our left then ran away. Just beyond we crossed a small bridge, I believe running over Tibbetts Brook. At this point our cat companion let us go on without him.
We were kept busy looking to our left and right – on the left (west) side I still searched for landmarks I knew from the drive. Through trees I occasionally spotted highway signs, though my sense of distance was distorted by our different perspective and much slower pace. Also, now the road was elevated from us quite a bit, making direct correlations more difficult.
To our right we saw signs I recognized from my excursion to Tibbetts Brook Park, as we were in the thick of that now. What looked like old electric poles lined the path, reminding us again of a time when trains ran through. The beautiful gazebo I had seen in fall by the lake was barely visible through the new leaves.
The next structure we came upon was my glorious pedestrian bridge. Unfortunately time grew short and our feet were getting tired, so I didn’t even suggest to friend that we climb it. Another day, I thought! But I did spend a few minutes gazing up at it.
As we climbed the little hill with the path, I described to friend my last visit to Tibbetts: How I’d seen games being played on the soccer fields we were overlooking, and how wonderful the old train bridge high over the Cross County Parkway was. We looked out over the parkway eastwards towards work, our final destination. He recognized this curve in the highway from being in the car so many times too.
The sun rose higher in the sky and we began to get warm. Just past the weird Yonkers Gateway Motel I directed us down a staircase that would finally take us off the Putnam/South County trailway. We took a hard right and walked underneath the trail we were just on.
We were now on Yonkers Avenue. This began the less scenic part of our walk, as the rest was through more commercial districts. I had some familiarity with this Yonkers Avenue leg – this was the route I took if I ever had to drive from work to downtown Yonkers or vice versa. Friend recognized a big building. Now a gym, he told of how it used to be a restaurant that he and his family ate at when he first came to visit the college.
Past wide intersections and parkway on and off ramps, we crossed over and made a left on Midland Avenue, one of the most confusing roads in the area due to its twists, turns, and multiple disconnected sections. We walked up the hill on the right side of the street for a bit, through grass and next to bus stops (who omits a sidewalk where there’s a bus stop?) The Cross County Parkway ran elevated alongside us.
We finally found the opportunity to cross, and walked on the sidewalk next to houses with driveways and a school. Though both of us had gone to school and currently work just a mile or so from this part of Midland, neither of us ever remembered passing by it. Soon the hilly neighborhood transformed into more commercial – duplexes gave way to delis, mom & pop shops, and a lodge(?) We debated getting breakfast at one of the delis but wanted to press on and didn’t want to have to carry our food, so we took a pass this time.
Soon we came to a part of Midland we did recognize, near where it passes over Central Avenue and I-87. How many times I’d sat at the stoplight next to this shiny office building and driven over the overpass without even noticing that you can see the Cross County Shopping Center from it.
The rest of the walk was quite familiar. Many of my friends (including the friend I walked with this day) had lived on this stretch of Midland in the past, and I’d been to visit them on foot and by car. One part I didn’t remember that friend did was a shortcut to work/campus up a hill and next to a big rock. I knew it existed but would have gotten lost trying to pick the right path. It’s a favorite route of those who live in that area and must walk to work or school. Here, infrastructure excursion intersected with my memories of being in school; thoughts of all the years I’ve cumulatively spent living, in class, and at work in this location; and the feelings I’ve developed for the place as a result.
We set foot on campus in 2 hours and 6 minutes from the time we met up and began our journey. Triumphant and tired, we treated ourself to breakfast and began to share our accomplishment with our coworkers.
Friend and I agreed that this walk was a great achievement, and more than that it was fun. We should find another day with suitable weather and certainly do it again. Friend is the best long-distance walking buddy!