CityStrides – 100% of Northampton!

(back-dating this post, completed 2/2/2021)

On November 7th, 2020, I completed my years-long project of running every street in Northampton, thanks to CityStrides.

I joined in 2018 while training for the New York Marathon, but since it syncs with RunKeeper, my favorite run-recording app, it counted runs I had in 2015 while training for the Rochester Marathon and so I was already at 18%. I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled on it, but it was connected to working with CommonMedia because that’s where James Chevalier, the creator of the app, was working; I had signed up already when I saw him at a tech happy hour and we talked about it. Having it be something local was completely cool and unexpected.

CityStrides has made running so much more fun! It helped a ton during marathon training when the miles started adding up; the extra motivation to complete streets made the long runs more rewarding. That got me to 76% of the city, pulling ahead of the nearest competitors (#2 is at 65% as of today and #3 is at 49%; I didn’t record where they were then, but I don’t think either of them has been focusing on Northampton). It felt awesome to be in the lead, and I kept plugging away at nearby routes post-marathon, but my normal routine is only about 6 miles for a long run and I soon plateaued at a little over 80%.

My philosophy (even pre-CityStrides) is that I want exercise to be self-propelled, so I strenuously avoid driving to a route. I make exceptions for races, of course, and some of my favorite hikes (especially with friends) require getting in the car, but I didn’t want a single stretch of CityStrides to involve driving, so I didn’t make much progress in 2019. This year I decided to prioritize finishing by biking to the outlying areas, starting with sections near ValleyBike stations and then mixing in my regular bike.

I got a bottle of champagne at the end of October in order to celebrate, with the unspoken hope that we’d actually be celebrating a Biden-Harris victory. On November 7th, after the spontaneous celebrations all over downtown, I rode to North King Street to finish the last segment, Trinity Circle in Laurel Park. As I had suspected from a previous attempt, it turns out to be a phantom section that I had to mark manually complete. But one of the really great things about CityStrides is it’s based on the open-source Open Street Map, so I’m trying to figure out how to report this as a phantom or paper street and make it better for everyone. It’s very interesting that the official Laurel Park map, GMaps, and OSM of this area are all totally different.

I became a supporting member so I could get the instant gratification of uploading and syncing my new runs when I got home, but I’m really happy to do so anyway. It’s a great project and it’s free to use! One of the extra-nice features is that it brings in weather data, which RunKeeper doesn’t. I can look back on a particularly slow run and be reminded that it was 85 degrees with 100% humidity!

Some thoughts on why this was so much fun:

  • Obviously, it got me to explore every single street. I saw all kinds of things I would have otherwise missed.
  • Less obviously, I have memories and associations all over town – the neighborhoods I went to over and over, the little streets that eluded me at first, the places I want to revisit.
  • Seeing the variety of architecture, gardens, wild areas, industrial parks – all delightful. Some of the newer/developer-driven neighborhoods remind me of McMansion Hell, but that’s interesting too!
  • I found new conservation areas to explore, and now I have a secondary goal of tracking all the public trails in Northampton.
  • It helped me enjoy what I don’t have – both in the positive sense, that other people’s gardens and design choices bring me pleasure, but also in the negative sense, that every lawn is one I don’t have to mow, and every soffit is one I don’t have to paint.
  • When traveling or visiting family, picking a running route is (rather, was, and will be again…) an additional small joy. I won’t do much of DC or Rochester etc., but I can at least add a few streets on each trip.

On top of getting all the Northampton hiking trails on my lifemap, I can also set new goals – covering neighboring towns like Hatfield (fewer, longer streets) and Easthampton (tons of streets, accessible via ValleyBike). Years ago I had the vague project of walking every Manhattan street, which I was going to manually map. Once the pandemic is over, I’ll be able to work on that when we visit family.

Terracotta tile floor refinish

I laid this red French terracotta hexagonal tile kitchen floor in my mother’s NYC apartment when I was a foolish and cocky 21-year-old, in the mid-80s. Now that I have much more respect for craft and awareness of my jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none inadequacies, I wouldn’t dream of attempting something like this (especially not in Manhattan with its various extra difficulties). But thanks to an impeccable subfloor (1928 construction),  it’s actually held up pretty well. I initially grouted it, probably not very well, in  off-white–terrible choice!–and sometime in the 90s it was professionally regrouted in a dusty/dark pink. The sealer had long worn off except on the grout lines, which were grimy and discolored. Every time we visited, I would think “I’ve got to fix that floor,” and I finally did something about it! I was inspired by  Dusty Coyote’s blog post, tremendously helpful especially for the recommendation of Zep stripper, but modified the technique somewhat. I also have ideas about what to do better next time. (I’m also experimenting with Amazon affiliate links on this post.) The floor is small, under 200 sq ft., and there’s plenty of everything left over to do this several times again as needed.


Stripped and scraped


As Dusty Coyote recommends, I used the Zep stripper full-strength intially, but I found that 50% water worked too. I did two rounds of stripping, both times spreading the stripper around with a rubber broom (a genius tool with a squeegee on one edge) on 12-24 tiles at a time. The first time I only waited DC’s 30 seconds before starting to scrub with a brush, and then scraped up some of the gunk in the grout lines with a small screwdriver. The second time I used much more volume, mixed with water, let it sit at least 10 minutes, and went at the grout with a proper grout brush. Both times I squeegeed the debris-laden gunk into a line and sucked it up with a little wet-dry vac, then used a wet rag to get the remains. Wet-dry vacs take so much of the pain out of serious mopping!



Regrouted and sealed

A few of the tiles needed regrouting, as did the edge at the threshold into the kitchen. I couldn’t find a match to the pinkish color, so used Polyblend sanded grout in Nutmeg, which seems like a decent fit with the tile. It looked delicious when mixed!

Luckily there was only a bit of grouting needed, because I didn’t have enough time to let it properly dry before sealing and will have to catch it next time. For sealing I used Tilelab matte, but I made the first coat too thick and used a foam brush, so it was streaky. I did three more thinner coats with a rag which went much better but didn’t entirely even out that first coat. Should have re-stripped and started over!




What I would do next time:

  1. Single stripping session, leave to soak for longer, use a power scrubbing tool to really get the grout clean
  2. Use a proper lambswool applicator for the sealant and do three or four thin coats (the half gallon would go a long, long way!)