Road Walking, Urban Walking, USA
Comments 14

Went to See the General

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?

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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…

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At least it’s sunny.

..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…

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..and came to another one of those roadside history markers that lurk like rusting apparitions on even the most banal American thoroughfares:

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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…

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..past the former Wiltonville Church that now houses a museum:

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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.

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Looking back, and down

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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!”

“Okay, then…bye!”

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:

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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:

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I passed the turnoff to home but kept going according to plan, made it at last, face numb and stomach rumbling, to my reward…

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Grilled cheese, orange scone, latte — and (this being America) standard complimentary potato chips

..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…

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Last Summer’s Corn Crop

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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.

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You’ve heard of flying carpets — here’s the walking version.

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?

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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

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14 Comments

  1. Katemurray Stano says

    You’ll love Grant’s cottage, I love living history sites like that. It’s lovely. And, for your education, it’s un-American to walk. There is a national aversion. You’ll notice that people DRIVE to a place then park AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE, even I if it means that they are parking or idling ILLEAGALLY or if it endangers other pitiful pedestrians. It helps us WINWINWIN! at our goal of most obesity and chronic lifestyle diseases! Yipee! Go progress! Pave it all!

    • Haha, sometimes when I’m driving with Kate I see a (very rare) pedestrian skulking along the roadside and love to exclaim, “Look at that poor wretch!” and then “GET A CAR, YOU…COMMUNIST!”

      And then I remember…

      Looking forward to re-visiting the General!

  2. Good to see the new portrait of you and Kate up there near the top of your blog. Fascinating to see my native land through your eyes. There’s the deer crossing sign, for one thing. That led me to this YouTube clip from the Y94 Playhouse in Fargo, North Dakota:

    and this sign that is said to be in a national park in Alberta, Canada:

    Your photos always engage my attention. My favorite photo here is the black and white one with the square holes in the trees. It was a revelation to go on a walking tour in South Korea for the past few years through your blog. Now I’m enjoying these winter walks in upstate New York and looking forward to many more.

    Yikes!!!! It is cold there. Glad you are thriving in the cold. I’m amazed that I am no longer miserable when the temperature drops into the low 30s here. That’s progress for me with Raynaud’s.

    • Am, that radio interview is hilarious — not sure if I want to believe it’s genuine (thereby proving something I’ve long suspected about many drivers), or hope it’s not.

      Yesterday Kate and I walked the perimeter of a frozen lake (the one I’ve been trying to walk to lately) in snowshoes. With Spring (sort of) in sight, I find myself strangely melancholy about the prospect of the snow departing. Just starting to feel (sort of) at home in it, and definitely hope to get a lot more use out of our snowshoes while there’s time.

      Speaking of deer, we came across the fresh carcass of one on the lake’s edge — and lots of coyote sign. Kate’s brother David (The Dude) told me about a deer hitting the side of his work truck and dying instantly — he hauled it to a butcher and obtained a good store of fresh meat.

      Thank you re: the pictures. Enjoying the new subjects and conditions; not missing Korea as yet! I did have one very bad episode of finger pain last week, downtown while trying to photograph the park in very cold weather. Had to run into the library to warm the hands, it was very bad.

      Spring will be a mixed blessing: a ton of work to do on the house, yard and garden, but at least the hands will hurt in a different way.

  3. nielsenbrownoutdoors says

    I spent 3 years living and working in the Bronx, it was an eye opening experience but ,one which helped me gain a better understanding of the US of A or at least NYS. Your posts remind me of those days in NYC and the trails that I wondered (including sections of the AT). I read with fascination your story and am looking forward to the ongoing tale of your journeys and discoveries in your new found home. As always your photos are excellent and bring back memories of times past.

    • Thanks so much! I’m slowly learning to find my way around this little corner of the state. Speaking of trails, I’m very excited with my new plan to re-hike the Long Trail next-door in Vermont, probably in late Spring (solo) and then possibly again in the Fall with a couple of friends. I did it in 2006 on a brief diversion form the A.T. and have a lot of fond (and muddy) memories. The first hundred miles of course are shared with the A.T., so it’ll be marvellous to revisit the Mother Trail as well.

  4. Marching 20 miles back to base down the snowy highway in sub-zero temps carrying a rug? This beats any crazy Korean trek hands down! Plus gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘Special Home Delivery’. I feel that General Grant might have been very proud.

    • My mileages have been pretty decent lately, SW, mostly on roads: On consecutive days I’ve done 5, 11, 2, 11, 6 and 3.5. But the rug: not quite, say, lugging a fridge around the UK, but possibly a more worthwhile endeavour.

  5. Nice post.

    I saw the weather chart there showing “-24”, for us here in south India, even a temperature of “+24” is a low one 🙂

    • Thanks, Sreejith. Yes, by coincidence the morning it was minus 24 here, it was positive 24 in the evening back home!

  6. Loving this new chapter in your life, Goat. There’s a spring in your writing to match the spring I imagine in your step. No sign of a thaw yet there?

    • Well, most of the snow has disappeared from the bushes near the back steps, but I think we’re due for some more later in the week. Definitely feeling that the worst is over, though — just as I start to enjoy it! I’m loving the novelty of snowshoe hiking and the whole tactile smorgasbord of walking on snow and ice, even on roadsides.

  7. Why can’t you visit the cottage all year round? Why can’t you take photos on a public road? What is going to happen to Mt McGregor? So many questions and I assume you don’t have all the answers 🙂

    Who needs a car when you’ve got rug transportation skills as good as yours?!

    • I have no answers at all, Greg. The quest continues…

      Going on another long road-walk today — it’s gloriously sunny. Really hoping next time I go up the Mt McGregor road, it’ll be open to all and goon-free.

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