9 min read

Walking the Length of Manhattan with Alex Wolfe

Walking the Length of Manhattan with Alex Wolfe
  • March 20, 2021
  • 49,241 steps
  • 22.5 Miles

It’s the highest step count I’ve recorded since I started tracking in 2015.

I’d been building my endurance in the months leading up to it so it didn’t feel like a huge challenge. It was breeze which I attribute to having my pal Alex Wolfe of Pedestrian Magazine by my side on the sidewalks.

This was the third time Alex and I made a long walk together in the year since we first connected through Instagram. Navigating the length of Manhattan was a goal for both of us, and this was the perfect time to achieve it.

It’s a feat numerous others have achieved over the years, and one of those activities that you’ll sometimes hear about from urbanists and other city adventurous. The walk offers a unique experience of the city that I feel you can only get on foot over the course of a day.

Alex has been on a roll lately. Just this month he completed an epic walk from Brooklyn to Philadelphia that he aptly named from ‘Chopcheese to Cheesesteak.’ He shared daily video commentary on his Insta Stories which I found incredibly engaging.

Naturally I am the target audience for this type of content but I find this type of in the moment field reporting to be interesting, and think it could work for other photographers and artists that spend a lot of time exploring on foot.

Upper Manhattan: We met at 9am sharp near the Marble Hill Metro North Station. It was a bright sunny day with temperatures hovering around 50 degrees, perfect for walking. Marble Hill is notable because it’s the only part of Manhattan on the mainland of the United States. However, we didn’t stay long, as it’s just a quick walk over the Broadway Bridge into the Inwood neighborhood.

We didn’t have a route planned so once we arrived in Inwood we stopped and I outlined two options. We could follow a route along the Hudson which is more scenic and filled with green spaces and parks, or just cut right down the center for the more traditional Manhattan bustling city experience.

My hunch was that Alex preferred walking the dense, bustling streets to take in the crowd, storefronts and architecture, and that was quickly confirmed, and I think it was the right decision.

Our final destination would be the observation deck at the WTC. I’d purchased two tickets for us to go up at 6:30 pm so we had to keep a good pace to make it.

I took us on a slight detour down Fairview Ave which has some of the most unique apartment buildings in NYC in my opinion. They are built to fit into the curving road offering some unique views at the intersections.

I’ve never been able to really nail a great photograph of them but if you do some Googling, you can find some good photos I imagine. Better yet, if you’re in Upper Manhattan head over to see for yourself.

Walking: As you imagine us sauntering down through the Upper Westside, I want to take a moment to share a few thoughts on walking with a friend.

I have always walked solo. The solitude allows me the psychological space to focus on ideas and making photographs. I am so fanatically about it that one could safely call it a religious devotion.

While firmly agnostic, and skeptical of organized religion, I do believe we need to develop a spiritual practice in order to cultivate wisdom and empathy. Walking, observing and making photographs puts me into a deep flow state where I believe there’s less friction in navigating the tension between the internal and external world.

I have never thought too much about developing a walking routine where I am joined with other people.

The idea of the photo walk has always been perplexing to me. I understand it from an educational perspective but the social part has never resonated with me. My feeling is why not just meet up at the bar? Why does the act of photography need to get involved?

The walks I have conducted with Alex have opened my eyes to a new possibility however. They have felt much more collaborative, as if we’re both riding the same wave, with the same intent and level of focus.

In short, while enjoyable on their own, the walks have felt like a work collaboration where we share the same goal, albeit not fully defined and articulated. I suspect it would be a similar experience collaborating with anyone that intensely shares a passion whether that’s hiking, gardening, business, art or golf!

Idea: Alex and I have not formally turned our walks into a project. We have shared our collected materials and talked about presenting them together in some form but those conversations are still preliminary.

Here’s my idea: you find a collaborator in your city and plan out three walks. There should be a theme or concept behind the walks.

Then put it together in a zine or blog post!

That’s it. That’s the idea. But!

I think if enough people found this interesting creating a group Instagram could be interesting. We’d have to find a name of course, and then develop submission requirements. That’s always tricky. It could be quasi-collective of sorts. I like it. I might never do it, but there’s a thread of an idea here worth exploring further.

Midtown: During our first walk, we discovered we both had a mutual appreciation for the Dunkin Donuts coffee break. It was part of the NYC walking ritual for me. Always iced coffee. The jolt of caffeine always energized me.

For some reason, during this walk we started counting the Dunkin Donuts. I don’t know why because it’s not exactly a mystery that there are Dunkin Donuts on every corner in NYC. Maybe it was about verbalizing the numbers to give them form.

Another game we played was to spot the clocks along the route. This is something I have been fascinated with for a few years now. The public display of time is interesting to me but I don’t know what to do with that other than notice it.

Sometimes that’s just it. I’ve never been able to fully articulate the way that time transforms when out on a long walk. It’s a mystery to me.

When we arrived in Times Square I told Alex that I’d been making a few trips at night to just soak it in before I left. The vibe during the pandemic created an unsettling feeling but I’d been there enough that I could recall how it felt in the years past.

On the day of our walk, it was still quiet but you could sense that it was starting to regain some of the beforetimes energy that make it such a popular destination.

At this point, I don’t think I ever need to visit Times Square again in my life. There are too many other places I’d rather visit. Even if I return to NYC to visit, I doubt it’ll be on my list.

For Alex though, Times Square is still a sensory feast. I’ll have to let him explain what he finds appealing, but my hunch is that he’s enthralled with the energy and the “crossroads of the world” mythos. There’s always a transfer of energy when you’re with someone that shows an enthusiasm for a place.

When I showed him the following photo, he texted back: “Me in my element.”

Madison Square Park: By now we were making good time. When we reached Madison Square Park, we instantly noticed the dead trees laying across the lawn. We had no idea what was going on or why they were there. I was nevertheless excited and took it as a clue. This was important! I told Alex.

It was a clue, but to what? I am always looking for clues. I made a note for later reference.

And sure enough, within a few weeks, I learned the trees were for a new public art piece by famed architect and artist Maya Lin called Ghost Forest.

I am bummed that I won’t be able to see it fully installed because it’s the type of public art I find inspiring these days, and of course, the inclusion of trees ties it to many of the topics I am interested in these days.

If you’ve seen it in person, drop me a line! info@bryanformhals.com

Downtown: We were starting to feel the miles at this point, but the end was clearly in sight and we knew we’d have enough time to relax a bit before our appointment at the top of One WTC, so Alex took me on a short detour to his post office box in Chinatown.

I spent a lot of time looking up, and remarked that when you live in NYC long enough you start to forget to look up. I kind of wish I’d spent more time admiring the architecture but that’s how it goes. You can’t experience everything in a city like New York.

After that I led us to the Portal Down to Old New York which was a focal point of my downtown wanderings the last year. It truly is a portal and I’d developed a ritual around it that I will share at another time. There’s even part of a podcast episode! Yes, I still have a couple in the can to share yet.

For now, if you’re curious about the portal, you’ll just have to do some Googling!

Staten Island Ferry: With a little time to spare, we decided to make the classic ferry trip. We bought a beer, jumped on and enjoyed the scenes, which you can’t really beat.

It’s hard to make photographs though.

I always thought an interesting project would be ‘Walking the Staten Island Ferry.’ Basically, just take it back and forth, and spend the entire time walking up and down the floors. I wonder how many miles you could clock in a round trip? That’s around 40 minutes, so two would probably be the target, three if you hustle.

What would be the point?

One WTC: With our mission accomplished, we took the elevator up to the observation deck at One WTC. The week before I’d visited the Edge at Hudson Yards which gives not only cool views, but it’s outside.

Not the case here, but still, you can’t beat the views, and I am happy I was able to experience it with Alex.

Completing an epic walk like this one with Alex is always very fulfilling. I wonder how I’ll look back at this over the years. I have a working theory that we remember walks more vividly when we do them with a friend. I don’t know how that works, but it adds an intriguing element to my project idea.

I am sure that I’ll probably continue my routine of walking solo but now that I have these experiences with Alex under my belt, there could be more collaborations in the future.

Alex and I are already talking about a Minneapolis walk. Maybe that’ll happen this year or sometime in the future. Who knows. But I’m sure we’ll find a way to saunter again.

There are more portals to investigate.

I’m an artist and marketing strategist based in Minneapolis. This is my newsletter on art, walking, urbanism and mindfulness.

Each issue, I share new work from my projects and try to make connections between ideas, articles and people that fascinate me. You can email me at info@bryanformhals.com or follow me on Instagram or Threads.