RICH BUNNELLYou can take the boy out of San Francisco …
Staten Island is the outcast New York borough — so much so, in fact, that it has repeatedly attempted to secede — and it’s true that there really isn’t much to do there. But I chose to kick off my quest there for a few reasons. First, contrarianism. Secondly, to get the most difficult, vertical borough out of the way first. Thirdly, it’s a giant goddamn island!
I actually find it really fun to explore suburbia, and with its rolling hills and frequent patches of wilderness, Staten reminds me a lot of the southern, suburban half of San Francisco. With little to nothing in the way of tourist traps, it’s also the best borough for wandering around on your own, a near-impossible feat during the day in Manhattan.
It’s also known as the birthplace and turf of the Wu-Tang Clan (who famously refer to the island as “Shaolin”), and in their honor I threw on the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. Sadly, by the time I was smart enough to get this idea, I was well into the island and not exactly on ODB’s turf, but it’s the thought that counts.
I wish that Web 2.0 slang hadn’t sucked all of the fun out of the word “epic,” because this walk was really, truly epic. In fact, at 23.6 miles, it’s easily the longest walk I’ve ever taken, beating out an 18-mile crawl across northern San Francisco that I made in 2009. My calves are begging me to take it easy from here on out, but at least I’m well on the way to my goal.
The first 10 miles of the journey were probably the most isolated. I started out with some delicious potato pancakes from a Polish counter in Tompkinsville, part of the northern Staten business district, and from there on out the residents became scarcer and scarcer.
I eventually wound up at Todt Hill — at a whopping 410 feet, the highest natural point on the Eastern Seaboard south of Maine (how cute) — though my ascent to the summit was blocked by a dense patch of thorny vines. Is this a Legend of Zelda game?!
There isn’t really much to say about my trek back into civilization; if the first 10 miles of Staten resembled southern San Francisco, the remaining 13 resembled neighboring San Mateo County’s long string of strip malls. But it was at least nice and flat after the onslaught of Level 1-1, and KFC Snackers count as nourishment on some abstract level.
My mind was pretty much paste for the last 5 miles or so, but I eventually reached my goal: The Staten Island Tugboat Graveyard! The sun had almost set by 7:15 p.m., so I could barely even see the derelict vessels and their accompanying ghosts, but that’s not the point — I made it! And if there wasn’t a bus right back to the ferry at that exact intersection, I think I would have cried.