Tag Archives: Bronx

Summer Joggling Highlights

I’m sorry if my absence has worried anyone. The rumors about me drowning while juggle-swimming out to sea are greatly exaggerated. No, I haven’t forgotten you, my dear readers, it’s just harder to blog consistently when I spend so much of my free time outside during the summer. Though I haven’t joggled any official races so far this year, lots of exciting things have been going on recently, some of which may be difficult to believe. I don’t blame you if you don’t believe what follows.

Here’s what I’ve been up to this summer:

On Sunday, June 14th I joggled all the way from Mount Vernon to Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan, a distance of 23.3 miles. It took me 4 hours and 8 minutes to complete this journey from the quiet suburbs to the noisy maelstrom that is the Big Apple, and I didn’t drop the balls once. It was in the mid 70s at the beginning and 85 toward the end. I ran this exact route before back in November 2013, but I dropped several times.

The reason it’s a big deal to me that I didn’t drop during this run is all the endless distractions on this route, especially after leaving Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. The heat and humidity and the fact that it was almost totally cloudless that day also weren’t very helpful. Since the Hudson river path runs along the West Side highway, there’s a ton of noise from all the traffic, as well as exhaust fumes. On the path there were many cyclists, runners, skaters, and the occasional freak. It got crowded at times and I had to run around many people. I had to take several short breaks to refuel or rehydrate.

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I got a lot of comments and support as usual, but I think some Manhattanites are kind of used to joggling. Even with everything going on, I did surprisingly well and had no major fumbles. I was exhausted the last few miles and upon completing I was ecstatic. I was shocked that I didn’t drop once while running the entire length of Manhattan and then some! Besides weariness, I was dealing with sensory overload from big city craziness. This is why I don’t run in the city very often. After runs like this, I appreciate joggling in the woods a lot more.

Besides this, I managed to not drop at all during all joggling runs from July 7, to July 21, for a total of 102 miles of dropless joggling. My previous record was 70 miles without dropping. Yes, I did drop while doing juggle chi many times during this time frame, but that’s a completely separate activity. I came very close to dropping so many times during that 2 week no drops streak. It will be difficult repeating that. For what it’s worth, I don’t think this indicates I can joggle a 100 mile ultra-marathon without dropping.

Though it feels good to not drop, it comes at the expense of not challenging myself enough. In part, I was able to do this because I avoided doing some complex tricks that I still struggle with. However, I did plenty of simple tricks. It often got unbearably hot during those 2 weeks, but making sure I was properly-hydrated and had enough electrolytes helped prevent any serious heat issues.

On top of this, to celebrate the long awaited grand reopening of the old High Bridge, I joggled across it twice on July 25th. It had been closed for over 40 years and the city only recently finished renovating it. It was a really big celebration with so much going on on both sides of the bridge and even on the bridge. This historic bridge, which is the oldest in New York City, goes over the Harlem river and connects Manhattan to the Bronx(it’s a pedestrian-only bridge). The High Bridge was originally part of the Old Croton Aqueduct which I’ve mentioned many times before since I often run on the trail that follows the path of the now defunct aqueduct in Westchester county.2015-07-25 12.34.32

 

I’ve been meaning to do this forever. I remember driving under or near this ghostly structure countless times during my childhood. But this relic was impassible, and in desperate need of repair. So now it’s finally open, and it’s much easier for pedestrians and cyclists to get from Manhattan to the Bronx. I felt so ecstatic crossing it while juggling, and many people were very amused. It’s possible I’m the first person to joggle across the High Bridge, unless some other jogglers in the area beat me to it. The day I joggled across the bridge(I didn’t drop), I also noticed some unicylists on it who probably had the same idea. The kids loved it! Later on, along with some friends and as a walking juggler, I took part in this Giraffe(giant paper mache giraffe heads)parade across the bridge, and the kids loved that too.

How am I able to do this? It requires a lot of dedication, but the rewards are endless. All this acrobatic fun is the end result of a very healthy lifestyle that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, getting enough sleep, and knowing how to deal with stress. Indeed, joggling may be one of the best ways to deal with stress since it is such a powerful, full-body exercise. It puts your mind in this unique “zone” that makes it more difficult for stress to get to you. That it makes people around you smile is a nice bonus.

 

Littly Italy of the Bronx

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Arthur avenue in Little Italy

It’s always an adventure being in the Little Italy of the Bronx, which I visited yesterday. This neighborhood, with its many unique Italian restaurants, pizzerias, bakeries, pastry shops, and gift stores is a hidden gem. It is not as well known as the Little Italy in Manhattan but has as much, if not more to offer food-lovers, both vegans and non-vegans.

Screenshot from 2013-09-03 22:20:18The indoor market that is on Arthur Avenue in Little Italy is a world unto itself. It is a cornucopia of Italian food and fresh produce, and has an “old world” kind of feel to it. You will often hear Italian spoken here, by both the merchants and some of the customers, though luckily it’s not required that you speak Italian to order food. Similarly, you don’t have to understand Italian to enjoy the performances of the Italian singers that occasionally come by. It reminds me of the Reading Terminal market in Philadelphia, except it isn’t as big, and there aren’t any Amish.

Screenshot from 2013-09-03 22:26:42The Cafe Al Mercato in the market has a very long menu of various pizzas, pastas, salads, and sandwiches. They make a delicious vegan pizza or focaccia. I highly recommend it.

If you are ever in New York City, you should definitely visit.

Joggling 18 miles through central Westchester county

Screenshot from 2013-06-05 17:56:29I hope my fellow jogglers, runners, and outdoor enthusiasts are having as much fun as I am having this time of year.

This run took place on Wednesday, June 5th. The magenta line in the middle, from south to north and then back south to Mount Vernon was my journey. I joggled about 98% of the time, except when I had a water break and a very short bathroom break in the woods. It took me 3.5 hours to complete this 18 mile run, and the last hour was pretty rough. The juggling was so much easier than the running. There were many hills along the trail and it was a sunny day, in the low 70s, so I didn’t sweat that much. I did some juggling tricks much of the way.

I followed the Bronx river for much of the run, but then the trail that runs along it terminates in Scarsdale, amidst a lot of construction, so I had to use route 22 to get to White Plains. I’ve been drinking more cherry juice during and after long runs, and this may have helped me recover to the point that I was able to run 3 miles the day after this 18 miler, and 7.75 miles today.

Ordinarily, I just take a day off the day after very long runs. The soreness the day after this was pretty bad, but it is almost completely gone now. Remember, I don’t stretch before or after runs(scientific studies show it is useless, although I do a little back stretching and nothing else), and this may also be a factor in speedier recovery.

First signs of spring

2205320946_731b3bca75_z A brave flower emerges from the ground outside the Bartow Pell Mansion in Pelham Bay Park in very late winter. One of the first signs of spring. This was one of the loneliest flowers I have ever seen.

Of drugs and juggling

As long as I can remember, I’ve had a deep fascination with addiction and drugs. The neighborhood I grew up in, though not necessarily a terrible one was surrounded by communities ravaged by drug addiction and the associated violence. The crack wars were raging and there were often spill-over effects into my usually peaceful neighborhood.

I remember the “troubled” kids at school, and the stories about their drug-addicted parents. There was the occasional death by overdose, leaving a child motherless or fatherless. I remember playing with friends in the park and discovering crack vials and hypodermic needles nestled in the grass. They often spooked us, since they indicated the presence of drug addicts in the park. We naively believed this drug paraphernalia and the drug addicts responsible for them weren’t supposed to be in our suburban park – this isn’t the south Bronx, this is the “safe” north Bronx.

The exact borders of that the hell-on-earth called the south Bronx was and still is disputed. Us kids who grew up painfully close to it always liked to think of it as being very far away, though it always crept a bit closer each year. We always knew not to walk too far toward it, lest our souls get destroyed, since we always heard horrible stories about it which indicated an absence of civilization there. I remember many childhood friends moving upstate to escape from the horrific violence and social decay that appeared to be crawling closer.

In response to this, the schools did all they could to terrify us kids so that we would never do drugs. They told us how bad drugs were, never to use them, and to say “no” to smoking since it is a “gateway” drug(yet so many adults, even the ones against drugs smoked, which confused us children). Anti-drug messages were plastered almost everywhere – it is a “war” after all. “Drugs” already struck terror in me due to a neighbor I knew who died from an overdose. And every now and then a celebrity would die from a drug overdose or get arrested for possessing drugs. It often seemed that all celebrities were drug addicts, for some perplexing reason, as if you needed to do drugs to be a celebrity. These “glamorous” celebrity drug addicts were in very sharp contrast to the filthy homeless drug addicts we regularly encountered around town.

I never did take any drugs and my friends for the most part were drug-free, but by high school I would witness kids bringing drugs to school and even smoking pot in the bathrooms. And so many students smoked cigarettes.

I always wondered how otherwise intelligent people could become addicted to substances that rob them of their health, and in a large enough dose, their life. It’s like these substances “trick” the mind in some ways, to get a person to do something that is not in their best interest. The “trick” is that drugs tend to make people feel wonderful; it’s an escape, its empowering. The anti-drug crusaders in grammar school tended to leave this out of their anti-drug diatribes(they seem funny in retrospect), which made drug addiction very mysterious to us.

There still is a certain element of mystery in all of this, even if we can understand how substances like cocaine or nicotine trigger the pleasure centers(especially on dopamine) of the brain. Science helps us understand addiction, but it currently offers little hope to people who want to overcome their addictions. Addictions are nowadays labeled “diseases” by the medical establishment, which always seemed bizarre to me.

Whatever it is, it is obvious that some people are more prone to addiction than others. Some people can snort cocaine occasionally and never become addicted. Most people who drink are not alcoholics. Some people are so hopelessly addicted that even the best detox and addiction treatments fail to help them. People like this are looked down on by society, and are often alienated from friends and family, especially if they turn to crime to support their addiction.

People who manage to overcome their addictions often do so by “fixing” the underlying psychological issues that drives them to do drugs as a form of “self-medication”. Indeed, psychiatric problems are often co-morbid with addictive behavior. If their psychiatric problem is treated properly, it is often much easier for them to overcome their addiction(except perhaps their doctor prescribed medication, assuming they need medication). It looks like replacing one addiction with another.

Another way some addicts become drug free is through religious rebirth. It’s almost a cliche: The addict has hit bottom, their entire life is one big hopeless mess. Even their families and friends have given up on them and they have no reason to live. But then they have this epiphany. They see the light. They hear or feel God, and they regain their strength and will to live. They manage to give up drugs by devoting themselves to God. In some ways, these religious feelings approximate the “high” they experienced through drugs, so this in turn may be another case of replacing one addiction with another addiction.

Some other addicts may overcome their addiction through sports or physical activity. It’s well known that vigorous exercise can cause a drug-like “high”, so this may be an ideal approach to overcoming addictions. This doesn’t mean it can help everyone. Yet again, this is replacing one addiction with another, though this is a much healthier, life-affirming addiction.

IMG_0823Which brings me to the subject of juggling. Can it help people overcome addiction? It is a physical activity and it can bring about a “high” if done long enough. It does require intense focus, to the point that a juggler can get lost in the activity and keep doing it for long periods of mine. Sort of like an addiction! I know of a few jugglers who can juggle for several hours straight with little to no breaks. Sometimes this includes me. But is this a kind of addiction, or do we only use “addiction” to refer to compulsively doing something that are detrimental to our health? Can juggling be a helpful replacement addiction to overcome deadlier additions?

As a person with a passion for juggling, I always run the risk of over-stating its benefits. It’s certainly not bad for you, but it is hardly a panacea, and there is little to no evidence it may be beneficial for your mental health in a manner different from other forms of exercise. What I mean is that the benefits of juggling may very well be generic effects, since it is a form of exercise, and any form of exercise that significantly raises your heart rate has benefits. We do know that exercise can be addictive for some people, and since juggling does count as exercise, it can also be addictive.

The brain is such a magnificent organ. No computer can come close to doing what it can do. Yet it still has serious flaws that can lead a person to do self-destructive things, regardless of how “smart” they are. Trying to outsmart an addiction is really just another way of saying we should try to outsmart ourself. Unfortunately, the smarter a person is, the easier it might be for them to rationalize their addiction.

Whatever you want to call it that is in the brain that leads to addiction, a “flaw” or “genetic predisposition”, it’s a part of being a complete human, and it’s a part of being uniquely you, and could just as easily be used to do good as do bad. For as François de La Rochefoucauld once said: “Our virtues are most frequently but vices disguised.”

Ghostly boat wreck overlooking Long Island Sound

2204520103_fe1fe7be0d_zBoat wreck along the Long Island Sound, in the Bronx. I took the photo, but that is not my boat, I am much better at steering boats than that.

This photo was taken in Pelham Bay Park in the north-east corner of the Bronx, the only borough of New York City that is on the U.S mainland. At 2,766 acres, Pelham Bay Park is the largest park(more than 3 times larger than Central Park) in the entire city, with miles of trails meandering through its many woods and marshlands, as well as along the Long Island Sound and its many inlets.

The diversity of wildlife in this park is remarkable for an urban park. Besides squirrels, it is home to many deer, opossums, hawks, owls, turkeys, cardinals, blue jays, raccoons, turtles, and a few people here and there.

Due to its distance from Manhattan and most major tourist attractions, it isn’t very touristy, except for the Bartow-Pell Mansion(that’s a whole other post) in the middle of the park, but mostly during the summer. Like just about all the parks I visit, it is a terrific place to run and observe wildlife, and you can access Orchard Beach from the park. I first learned how to joggle in this park and in the nearby streets many years ago when I lived closer to it.

Luckily(or unluckily, if you prefer more excitement), the neighborhoods adjacent to the park are not among the Bronx’s most crime-ridden, though I’ve observed drug activity in it over the years. The Bronx and Pelham Bay Park shares its northern border with the boring town of Pelham, and the even more boring town of Pelham Manor, which are in Westchester county.

Green space beneficial for health

It’s always sweet when something we intuitively know gets verified by science. So it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that science has found that living near green space is associated with better health, even after controlling for socio-economic factors. So if you have a significant amount of parkland or woods nearby, consider yourself lucky, even if bears or wolves live in them.

According to J Epidemiol Community Health. 2002 Dec;56(12):913-8.- Urban residential environments and senior citizens’ longevity in megacity areas: the importance of walkable green spaces.

CONCLUSIONS:

Living in areas with walkable green spaces positively influenced the longevity of urban senior citizens independent of their age, sex, marital status, baseline functional status, and socioeconomic status. Greenery filled public areas that are nearby and easy to walk in should be further emphasised in urban planning for the development and re-development of densely populated areas in a megacity. Close collaboration should be undertaken among the health, construction, civil engineering, planning, and other concerned sectors in the context of the healthy urban policy, so as to promote the health of senior citizens.

One of my favorite parks

One of my favorite parks. It is also a supermarket to me, since I love to gather edible plants from here when they are in season

There are few things as refreshing as going to the park to relieve stress, to observe wildlife, to exercise, to meditate, to get bitten by bugs(not very refreshing unless you’re a masochist) or just to explore. As I always say, the larger the park, the better! Besides beautifying neighborhoods, trees also remove CO2 from the air. This is one of the reasons parkland is so essential for human health.

When it comes to exercise, nothing beats a park. If you don’t like indoor gyms(like me), just bring some resistance bands with you to the local park and you can do a total body workout there, besides of course juggling, running, or joggling around it.

”Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.” -Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

This subject is related to my earlier post – The effects of air pollution on exercise

Whatever you do, try to promote green space wherever you live. Get involved in park activities or community gardens, plant trees, or even start a garden(indoor or outdoors) to help clean the air. Do it for your own health and for the health of your community.

Ghostly ruins of train station

My joggling routes sometimes take me through some interesting areas. Here are the ruins of an abandoned train station I occasionally joggle by. I don’t think they’ve used it for over 70 years, unless you count “ghost” passengers. I admit it is a little scary going by it, especially at night.

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This train station is in the Bronx, very close to the Westchester county border, so it is many miles from midtown Manhattan. It is surrounded by the dense woodlands of Pelham Bay Park, the city’s largest park and woodland area. And no, I haven’t seen(or heard) any ghosts at this location. Still, I don’t recommend going to this place.

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Photo sources: C.P Wild Juggler

Weirdest joggling experiences of 2012

One of the best things about joggling is all the weird things that happen to you while you joggle, largely due to all the bizarre things people say to you as you pass by. It really is an exercise journey into the Bizarro World.

While most people who say anything say “that’s so cool!” or “that’s amazing!”, there’s a good number of jokers and weirdos out there who can’t resist making sarcastic comments. I’ve even received a few threats(“who the %$#^ you think you are!!”, “get the $%^& outa here!” type of threats) from some gang-banger types, but that was back when I would foolishly joggle through these run-down, crime-ridden areas.
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Anyhow, among the more amusing remarks from last year were from this old guy saying “you can only juggle 3? just 3? come on!”. I did manage to respond that I was working on 4, and asked if that was good enough, to which I think he said “great”(I was going too fast to say much of anything).

I’ve also received a bunch of “I wish I could do that”, as well as a few “I wish I was you!”. I often just respond, “thank you!” or “you can do it too, it just takes practice”.

By far the most bizarre was a few months ago when I had to slow down at this busy intersection, and this young woman I had never seen before comes up to me and tells me “I love you, I really really do”. I didn’t say anything because this was so totally unexpected, and I was trying to catch my breath and darted off as soon as I was able to cross the street. And she started shouting at me again, “I really do!”. Of course I don’t believe she does and this may be her own weird way of expressing admiration.

A few people around here really seem to get it. If I am going slow enough or taking a break, some people will praise me(I’ll tell them I don’t deserve the praise) and start a conversation about how juggling is good for the brain so juggling while running is such a great exercise. I will usually try to encourage them to do it too, but they will say it is impossible for them. Some claim it is impossible for them to juggle even while standing still. But it is just a matter of practice I will say, before parting ways.

Oh how could I forget the man who asked me as I joggled by – “can you chew gum while doing that?”.