Block by grimy block, avenue by gritty avenue, Paul Grand is establishing himself as the John Muir of New York's concrete canyons. After retiring as a vice-president for Colgate-Palmolive, Grand, 58, decided to devise an adventure quest that fused two of his strongest passions: hiking and New York City. He is now engaged in a multiyear expedition that may not be quite as grandiose as the thousand-mile schlepp that Muir made from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico in 1867, but it is surely every bit as bold: hiking nearly all 504.3 paved miles of the streets, boulevards, lanes, ramps, tunnels, passageways, and back alleys that crisscross the island of Manhattan.
As any seasoned Goth.am pavement pound.er will tell you, the traverse from, say, the Harlem River to the South Ferry Terminal is no easy stroll. Grand, however, comes prepared, having made winter treks in the Swiss Alps to alpine villages like Saas-Fee and Zermatt. Limiting himself to a more leisurely pace for this endeavor, he has taken on Manhattan by covering as much as 15 miles a day once a month since his enterprise began in 1997. "I'm a hiker and alpine mountaineer," he said one morning last December as he left his Highland Park, New Jersey, home for a six-mile ramble through the alternately fetid and tony meat-packing district just north of Greenwich Village. "But I'm consumed by the city. There's a more expansive palette here than anywhere else. Depravity, squalor, joy, spirituality—all the world exists here. That's why it's a great place to hike."
Dressed in a fishing vest, fleece shirt, and hiking boots, Grand looks like an outing club stalwart who took a wrong turn down a Connecticut trout stream. "I'm prepared for anything," he says, pointing to an emergency urine bottle dangling from his backpack. Walking briskly, he covers the meat-packing district in concentric passes the way a Zamboni sweeps an ice rink. "Thrilling!" he sputters, pointing at a shadow-draped redbrick facade above the Hellfire Club, a well-known S&M establishment. "Some people walk to go. I walk to see."
Grand has plotted his course across Manhattan by breaking the borough into zones. So far, he's tramped every neighborhood below 181st Street save for the affluent Upper East Side, which he dismisses as hopelessly colorless. An avid amateur photographer, he shoots six or seven photographs per hike, and he'll pull practically any stunt to get exactly the right image. Last summer, on a West Harlem excursion, he scaled a seven-foot wall with $9,000 worth of photographic gear, including four Nikon camera bodies (three with black-and-white film, one with color) and five lenses, to snap a trash-filled lot. "It wasn't a Motherwell," he says, "but I saw a painting there. I'm on safari. I'm looking for trophies."
Of course, Manhattan is only one of New York's five boroughs. Expeditions to Brooklyn, Queens, and storied old haunts like Coney Island are in the planning stages, but for now, Grand's focused on tackling Inwood, from 181st Street to The Cloisters. And once he's walked all of New York City, what then? "I'll do this for the rest of my life," he says. "Every three years or so I'll walk it all again, and I'll see it differently. Won't that be wonderful?"