W1D1 Don’t turn around unless you really have to.

As anyone who has read this blog for more than a day will know, my plans often don’t go as, ahem, planned. I suppose that goes back to an unwritten guideline that I follow whenever I can: Don’t turn around unless you really have to. By some definition of “really”. This guide is not so strong as a rule, and there are plenty of things that turn me around, but given the choice between backtracking or going a new way, I’ll choose the new way.

Case in point: this morning I went for a bike ride. The plan was to ride around in Van Cortlandt Park, which indeed, I did. Only, I spent way more time outside the park than I had anticipated, and had it not been for the aid of a local resident, I’d have spent considerably more.

I started my trip in the southwest corner of the park, since that is closest to where Ellie (my bike) is stored. I was riding around in the park sort of favoring left turns, since this should keep me on the outskirts of the park, moving in a clockwise direction. This worked pretty well, until I got to what turned out to be the end of Mosholu Avenue.

The word Mosholu is no stranger to anyone who has been in the Bronx. There are tons of things with that name: a library, a parkway, community center, day camp, and golf course, to name a few. I’ve driven on the Parkway many times on the way to the Bronx Zoo, and had always assumed it was named after some general or something. Nope. Mosholu is an Algonquin word meaning “smooth stones”, referring to the stones in a nearby creek. As I wrote this, I thought it odd that that be the case. My recollection of the indigenous Algonquin people is that they lived in Ontario, Canada. This is what happens when you grow up in Buffalo, NY, listen to too much Canadian (Happy 150th!) radio and have a brain like peanut butter that stuff sticks to. I my mind, New York City is too far out of range to have Algonquin words. However, apparently the Algonquin language was used from Virginia to the Rockies to Hudson Bay. So there you are. I’ve learned something. I feel better now.

Where was I? Oh yeah, Mosholu Avenue. It headed left; so far left that it took me right out of the park onto Broadway (I’ve run into Broadway so many times, I got to wondering if that road ever ends. It does, way up in Sleepy Hollow, where it turns into Albany Post Road.) The operative procedure when you are ejected out of your clockwise circumnavigation of a park is to continue on, making every right turn in an effort to get back into the park. Of course, turning around was also an option, but where’s the adventure in that?

So, I headed down Broadway. Not to complain or anything, but I really should say headed up Broadway, both because I was headed in the uptown direction, but also because I was going uphill. The Old Croton Aqueduct was indeed a monumental engineering feat (it carried water 41 miles to NYC by gravity alone – Jerome Park Reservoir, across the street from where I am living this summer, was part of some incarnation of the aqueduct), however the part of it that paralleled Broadway (about a quarter mile to the east) was the easy part, because it’s all downhill in that direction.

I found no entrances along the western side of the park, so I took a right onto Caryl Avenue, which runs along the northern side of the park. Almost immediately, a Yonkers police cruiser passed me – I made it out of NYC! By the way, did you know that the gentilic (apparently denonym is a better, more modern term for gentilic) for a resident of Yonkers is either Yonkersonian or Yonkersite?

I travelled long enough on that street (and several others, including one or two that dead-ended at the park fence) searching for a right turn and not finding one, that I began to ponder whether you could fence off a whole city (Yonkers) from the park. Basically, yes, you can, and they did. There weren’t even any gaps large enough (and poison ivy free enough) to get Ellie through. Deep in my heart, though, I knew that if I went all the way around, I’d be able to get back into the park somehow.

Serendipity saved me from that fate, however. I rode down yet another dead end (Tibbett Road. Tibbett is a corruption of Tibbet, who was one of the earliest settlers in the area. I’d not mention this, except for the fact that I think I accidently walked by the place his house originally was this afternoon. His name is on a lot of stuff around here, a creek and several streets, but it is surprisingly difficult (but not impossible) to find out stuff about him.) As I turned around at the end of the street, where the entrance to the park should’ve been, a woman came out of her house to walk her dog. She asked me if I was looking for the entrance to the park. Decision time: do I say “Yes”, and get a short cut (if there is one) or “No thanks” and continue around the park? I had been going for about an hour at this point, and Caryl Avenue was quite hilly. (Surprise, surprise. Also, that link is a view from Van Cortlandt Park Avenue, which suggests that my right turn plan would’ve worked at some point in history.) I said yes. She told me where the entrance was (it was as far north on Tibbetts as I had come south on the dead end, about a tenth of a mile). I thanked her and was on my way.

I found the entrance to the South County Trailway, which connects to a dirt path (kind of muddy in parts) through Van Cortlandt Park back near where I had started. I finished the ride back to where Ellie is living for the summer.

Here is a picture of Ellie in her new digs. She likes it there – it is climate controlled, and just big enough for her.

After a rest, I decided to head out to the Bronx Zoo, one of my favorite zoos anywhere. Earlier this year, I bought a one year membership so I could go whenever I want this summer. Naturally, things did not go as planned.

I saw that I could catch the bus just outside our apartment complex (saving me 108 stairs). I knew I needed to head south and east to get to the zoo, so I caught the bus heading south. I was somewhat surprised when the bus drive called “Last stop” about a block from my yoga studio, which is east of here. He asked where I was headed, and I told him what stop. He said that I could go across the street and catch the bus in the other direction – the right bus heads north as it passes my apartment, then loops around. So, I went over to the other bus stop to wait for his bus to come back around in a few minutes.

While I was waiting, I looked across the street at Ewen Park, and in particular, at the staircase which bifurcates the west facing edge of the park. I have walked past that staircase several times on the way to yoga and thought, “I have no reason to climb those stairs, so I’ll probably never know what’s up there.”

I know now. As I headed to the stairway, I passed over a granite plaque that proclaimed “CLX Stairs”. Now I’m no Latin scholar (though I know one), but I recognize 160 when I see it. So I counted. As I got to the top: 155, 156, 157, 158, done. Hmmm. I thought I miscounted, but nope. They made the plaques before they reconstructed the staircase in 1999 for $720,000. Two stairs were eliminated, but the plaques still stand.

So what’s up there? Well, for one thing, another staircase with 78 more stairs, but no fancy name. I propose “LXXVI Stairs”, in keeping with the spirit of things. I found a bunch of parks, Seton Park (named after Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, and the hospital bearing her name that stood on the site until 1955, though as far as I can tell, she was never there), the Spuyten Duyvil Playground (which is named after the devil and either spate, spite, or spout), the Riverdale Playground (which disappointed me, because there was an ice cream truck and I dearly wanted ice cream, but no one was in the truck), the Raoul Wallenberg Forest (OK, this guy is pretty cool – he saved about 100,000 Jews during World War II – many by making them appear to be Swedish citizens. The forest itself is a mess, overgrown with trails in disrepair) Henry Hudson Park (“Hudson’s last voyage was in 1611 when after discovering Hudson’s Bay and claiming it for England, his crew mutinied and cast him adrift.” I had forgotten about that. link), Phyllis Post Goodman Park (she was a teacher and community activist).

When I eventually (and to my surprise and delight) made it back to the top of the LXXVI Stairs, I made my way home. By another route, naturally.

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