Bridges to Somewhere

My Garmin spits out a verdict on “elevation gained” for every run. A rollicking 7-mile trail run in the woods of Kentucky last week? 776 feet. A 5k jaunt up the ski slopes last fall on Windham Mountain? 1550 feet. This morning’s 4-miler through the blizzard in the flats of Brooklyn? 35 feet. Ho-hum. At least it’s something. And I know where every one of those feet were gained: on the ramp up the Greenpoint Avenue bridge. At the summit I paused to get face-slapped by the sideways snow and see just what I couldn’t see in the zero-visibility weather.

Bridges are the only real hills in Gotham. There are supposedly 2000 in the city, which seems a preposterous figure. Essentially this means there is a bridge in jogging distance of any NYC runner.

I love obsessing on my neighborhood bridges and concocting runs that encompass as many as possible–and not just the big ones. One of my fave newly discovered spans is a rickety old pedestrian bridge at Scott Street in Bushwick over some equally rickety old railroad tracks. It offers the momentary relief of an elevated view of an urban industrial landscape that is fairly oppressive at street level. Also, it is so sketchy in structure it feels like a small adventure just getting across.

Running a bridge large or small often gives a sense of progress, of traveling from Here to There, of crossing a significant expanse that might be both historical itself and a monument to history. The Greenpoint Ave bridge is the sixth bridge in that spot over lowly Newtown Creek, the first being a drawbridge from 1850s called Blissville Bridge. It is also a bridge with a name nobody uses, the J. J. Byrne Memorial Bridge, after a former Brooklyn borough president.

Visiting my hometown of Cincinnati last week, I did a goofy little loop on my last morning. My folks live in Covington on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, directly across from downtown Cincy. Newport is right there, too, separated from Covington by the Licking, an offshoot from the Ohio. In just 2.6 miles and twenty-something minutes I can run 3 bridges, 2 rivers, 3 cities, 2 states, 2 levees, all the while traipsing over the very ground cris-crossed dozens of decades ago by Daniel Boone and Sam Kenton and all their Native American foes who fought tooth and nail to defend their beloved hunting grounds south of the Ohio from the endless stream of white invaders (been reading The Frontiersman by Allan W. Eckert that I lifted from my parents’ library before jumping a plane back to the NYC, can you tell?).

Elevation gained? 177 feet. Not much, but the bridges made it more uplifting than that, for sure.