The soundtrack for this stroll — for most of my urban walking of late — was the Beatles’ Revolution Number 9:
Number nine…number nine…number nine…number nine…number nine…number nine…number nine…
You get the idea. But how about some visuals?
I was taking another shot at Moreau Lake, eight miles or so along this route from the front door. I knew I wouldn’t make it this time — late start, and Winter daylight hereabouts doesn’t stick around long — but at least I’d get closer without being sidetracked by inviting side-roads.
It was cold. Not quite as cold as right now, as I write this…
..but minus 19C when I walked down the driveway, which at the time didn’t feel too bad.
I passed the turnoff to County Rd 36 that had distracted me last time, kept going a mile or two…
..and came to another one of those roadside history markers that lurk like rusting apparitions on even the most banal American thoroughfares:
I’d noticed “Grant Cottage” on Google Earth but hadn’t thought any more about it. I’d had no idea Ulysses S. Grant, famed Union general in the Civil War and 18th President of the United States, had died there a couple of hours’ walk from my new home.
Naturally I didn’t waste a second deliberating, and swung left (always healthier than a swing to the right) and into the foothills of Mt McGregor. The main road led to a (ugh) “correctional facility”. But I turned up a narrow mountain road…
..past the former Wiltonville Church that now houses a museum:
A sign advised that the cottage was only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but I thought I might score some nice shots of the place nestled in snowy repose, and anyway it was nice to have a tangible goal.
I passed a few well-icicled houses dozing beneath their white Winter coats; a driver, leaving home, smiled and waved. Gained some height, pausing here and there for a shot of a tree or some animal tracks, and passed a home-made sign half-buried in snow beseeching readers to SAVE MT McGREGOR!
Save it from what? Another strip mall? A new apartment tower complex?
No, wait — that’s Korea.
But pretty soon my new-found sense of purpose crashed hard against the iron gates of state-owned power and retribution. An office, a car stopped on the road blocking access — and unmistakably, a big, solid and unsmiling guard regarding me with a goon’s ice-cold professional interest.
I decided to feign nonchalance, though authority figures in uniforms can take the thrill out of any stroll. Why did I suddenly feel so guilty? I was on a public road. Relieved, I recalled that my passport was in my pack; broke into a halfhearted whistle, clapped my hands against a suddenly severe cold, studied the highly photogenic trees…
“Where you goin’ today?”
“The cottage. Is it this way?” He was standing right next to another of those signs: COTTAGE THIS WAY.
He waved to the rear without turning. “It’s way on up the mountain. You can’t go up there.”
“Oh, okay,” I responded with devastating cheerfulness, beginning to turn.
“Whatchu doin’, takin’ pitchers?”
“Just trees and…stuff.”
“You can’t take pitchers up here!”
I could feel his eyes burning two beady, too-close-together holes in my Patagonia daypack (damn it, Patagonia don’t come cheap) as I went my whistling, glove-slapping way back down the road, and just on principle — Like hell I can’t take pictures on a country road through public land — I started snapping as soon as I was out of his sight:
But my indignation soon wore off and was replaced by something far, far more powerful: the desire for a grilled-cheese sandwich and a nice hot latte. Moreau could wait — it would be lunch time once I got to Panera, and those 12,000 calories would come entirely guilt-free, especially as getting there meant doubling all the way back home, a journey of several miles, and keeping right on going, another three-odd miles the other way to the strip mall zone of Saratoga Springs.
And then walking those three-odd miles home again…
Like I said, it’s nice to have a goal. So off I went:
I passed the turnoff to home but kept going according to plan, made it at last, face numb and stomach rumbling, to my reward…
..and then figured I should at least do some shopping while I was on Planet Mall.
One day soon I’ll write about the relentless awfulness of negotiating the American strip mall netherworld on foot. Again, the sensation of trespassing, of violating some sacred tradition, all because I was sans vehicle. But somehow I made it alive to Home Depot, where I grabbed another cheap rug for our study, thinking (it seems bizarre to me now) that lugging a rug home would make my journey more…interesting.
And off I went into the dusk and cold…
Kate called to offer to pick me up/check I was still alive. “I’ll be fine, babe,” I told her. It was important to see this thing through. For some reason.
My GPS indicated I’d fallen just short of 20 miles when I made it back to Kate, hot soup and delicious red wine. I almost wanted to circle the block ’cause I like nice round figures, but that would have been pure craziness.
Oh, and after all that hard work, how’d the rug turn out?
We like it.
* * * * *
Grant spent his last six weeks at the cottage, completing his memoirs there three days before he died of throat cancer. I’ll definitely be back in the Summer.
Governor Cuomo plans to close the prison (which wastes 1,187 acres of the mountain) despite some local opposition (jobs, etc) — hence that “Save Mt McGregor” sign. Hopefully something more progressive, inclusive and socially beneficial will take its place…
~ And that’s all the Goat wrote