The tale of a 32-mile journey with no destination.

On October 9th, 2021, two girls decided to embark on The Great Saunter, a 32-mile walk around the perimeter of Manhattan. The trip took 13 hours, totaling 75,000 steps. Some called it impossible, others called it sheer madness, but nevertheless, they persisted. Below is a recap of their adventure.

My friend Emily (left), and me (right)

8 am: We depart from EC, tired from a bad night’s sleep, but excited for what the future holds. Our only possessions are the clothes on our backs and the galaxy print backpack that is also on my back. It holds two water bottles, some granola bars, a portable charger, and some cookies and brownies that I hoarded from the faculty house (I literally get lunch there just for the desserts). We begin our walk by going uptown by way of Riverside Park, intending to circle Manhattan in a clockwise fashion.

10 am: I’m not gonna lie, the first two hours of the trip were pretty boring in terms of sights, but at least we got to see these cool rocks! The farther upstate we went, the less I was sure that we were actually still in NYC. At one point we were completely alone in the middle of the woods and I legitimately began to experience agoraphobia. Also, this is when my legs started to hurt, but there was no way in hell that I was going to admit that to Emily, especially since we had about 10 hours of walking ahead of us. Despite the multiple staircases and 80 degree inclines we were forced to walk on our unexpected journey into nature, we bravely persisted.

11 am: Finally! Civilization! This is when we reached the tippy top of Manhattan and emerged from the trees into a small town utopia. The sun was shining, birds were singing, and dogs played fetch against the backdrop of an idyllic park and botanical garden. We even passed a group of bird watchers to truly complete the small town, nature loving vibe of this place. 10/10 would recommend coming here for anybody that wants to get out of the city for a day.

Also 11 am: We saw this dog! He was such a good boy and we stopped to pet him for a solid 10 minutes. Nothing interesting happened, but I just figured I would include a dog picture because he was really cute :)

12 pm: If you’ve ever watched Gilmore Girls, you’ve probably desperately wanted to live in Stars Hollow at some point during your life. We got to live out this dream once we got to Inwood, NY. As soon as we entered the town we were greeted by the most picturesque farmer’s market you’ve ever seen, which is where we got our drinkable yogurts for breakfast. We passed rows and rows of freshly baked goods, pumpkins, and flowers before getting to the town center, where we were serenaded by music from a live jazz band. This was definitely my favorite part of the trip, especially because it felt like we had travelled to a different country instead of just upper Manhattan.

12:30 pm: We took a slight detour because Emily really wanted to see Baker Athletics Complex. It was pretty mediocre, which matches the vibe of most of Columbia’s sports teams.

3 pm: So I skipped a bunch of time because the upper upper east side of Manhattan wasn’t super interesting. We did get some bomb breakfast sandwiches at a bodega up there though, so that was worth something. Once we got to the Upper East Side though, the vibes changed immensely. You could literally smell the wealth in the air. Almost every single person we walked by on Madison Ave was wearing clothes that could pay for my tuition, and we felt severely out of place. We stared openly at all of the displays in the windows of stores like Gucci, Ralph Lauren, and Hermes. There were also periodically art displays by the School of Visual Arts, which is what the picture above is from.

3:30 pm: We finally got the nerve to actually go into one of the cooler-looking stores here, and the security guard was definitely eyeing us suspiciously. Everything was incredibly out of our price range, but we did get this cute mirror selfie!

4 pm: Go to Levain Bakery. Like, right now. These cookies are quite literally the best dessert item I’ve ever had in my entire life, and I will go to bed dreaming about the gooey center for at least a month. I actually think that this cookie is what gave me the strength to continue at this point, so I cannot praise it highly enough.

4:30 pm: At this point, we had walked about 20 miles, and my legs were starting to really feel the burn. We had to stop and stretch periodically just so that we could make sure that we were still physically able to bend our knees past 30 degrees. Also, my hands swelled to double their usual size, so if somebody could explain the science behind that phenomenon it would be much appreciated. This was when I doubted (just for a second) if we would be able to finish this journey, but I knew that we had come this far, and we couldn’t give up without a fight.

6 pm: We walked in a park right next to the highway for way too long, and the highlight of this leg of the journey was seeing the seal park, which was literally just a park with a bunch of seal statues. I think that there used to be a functioning fountain that made it look like the seals were playing in the water, and without that it felt a little depressing. Overall, this was my least favorite part of the day, just because it was not only boring, but I was also in pretty severe pain at this point, and with nothing to distract me it was kind of rough.

7 pm: We finally reached the bottom of Manhattan. The financial district was pretty cool, and a random woman told me she loved me on the street so what more could I really ask for. We decided to get some white claws for the home stretch of our journey, and we basically blasted music and sang along to 2000’s hits the entire way back, which was a really fun way to end our trip. We also mysteriously gained a lot of energy at this point, probably because we just stopped being able to feel our legs, which definitely helped us basically speedwalk the last 3 miles.

9 pm: We stumbled back onto campus and immediately accosted an innocent pair of girls, pleading for them to take a picture of us to commemorate our triumph. Once this task was successfully completed, we ran back to EC to shower and get ready for the night, because we had a party to get to. I wore heels to the party. This was a mistake.

Final Thoughts (Emily): It was definitely a multi-layered journey. Each part of the walk felt like a completely different day, and by the end of it I felt as though I had lived for months instead of just 13 hours. If anyone out here wants to do this, make sure you’re doing it with someone you actually like, because this walk will either bring you closer together, or make you hate each other. This is a great way to view the city, and my only complaint is that my feet are absolutely covered in blisters.

Final Thoughts (Anya): This was honestly one of the most fun days I’ve ever had. We got to see so many cool things and explore pretty much all the neighborhoods in Manhattan, which was great for me since I’m still pretty new to the city. I do not recommend doing this walk if you’re not in pretty good shape, since it gets a little hard about halfway through. I’m also really glad I got to do this with Emily, since I’m pretty sure that we’re like legally soul bonded now from that experience.

Conclusion: If you’re going to attempt this trip, do so with caution. Wear comfortable shoes, bring snacks/water, and make sure you bring a charger because your phone will not make it otherwise. Other than that, pick someone you actually like to be your companion, start the day early, and have fun!

Images via Anya Kopyra