Before I end my vacation I want to do a longer ride – somewhere in the 80 kilometre (50 mile) range. I can get paralyzed by choice sometimes and spend hours in front of maps and ride logs looking for the perfect destination – the perfect road, or the perfect balance of hills and flats. And sitting here with the power of perspective and being a little honest with myself I can say that 90% of that is absolute garbage and a waste of time for me. Unless the road is a dismal suburban traffic-fest, or has absolutely no services on it and I don’t bring food or water, it’s going to be a great ride because I’m on my bike and it’s a nice summer day, period.
And so I wake up on Monday, catch myself waffling: will I ride or not? Will I go for a long one or not? Where will I go if I do? It’s a holiday, will there be anywhere open for me to get water or food? Then for once, instead of sitting in indecision, I realized something: If I do a loop close to home within the city limits, if any of those problems occur, it’s a simple matter: I put my bike on a bus or subway and ride home. Done.
I load a GPS track in to my watch to help me navigate and head out – a little late for riding as it’s already 10AM – it’s already starting to get hot.
I start with the same route I took to get to the Korean Restaurant the day before. This time, though, I continue north sharing a bit of the route that I took to get to Hot Spicy Spicy last summer. There was a quick meander through some suburban business park streets and then it was back down in to the ravine and on to the path. As today’s a holiday even the roads are quiet and pleasant for the most part.
There are a few more folks out today including this one guy who is sitting on a bench surrounded by Canada Geese. When their goslings are younger, they can be very aggressive and actually hurt you. Don’t believe me? Here’s a quote from this article (Warning – some graphic injury pictures in there):
Surman was biking alone on June 10th when she came across a gaggle of adult geese and goslings crossing the trail. She thought she gave them enough room to cross, but the geese thought otherwise. “The last adult goose stopped and I saw her look at me,” says Surman. “And then the next thing I remember she flew up behind me.”
The goose battered at Surman with its wings, wrapping them around her head and blocking her vision. “The last thing I remember was me screaming as I fell off my bike,” she says.
Even though Surman was wearing a helmet the fall knocked her unconscious. When she came to she made her way to Dwyer Hill Road where she flagged down a passer-by who called 9-1-1.
Surman would spend five days in hospital with a concussion, a fractured cheek bone and several cuts and bruises.
But these babies are bigger. They don’t bother the cyclist in the photo and so I take my chances. For the most part all goes well OK. As I ride through all I hear is the sound of beaks pulling up grass…and one grumpy hiss from an adult as I passed them.
The path is smooth and with few other users I might be tempted to ride quickly. However, this particular stretch has already taught me a lesson. Back in 2008, I was heading home from work along this trail and riding very quickly when a part of the trail, pushed up by a big tree root, caused a big bump – I think it hit one of my pedals and I started to go out of control – at 30 kilometres an hour (almost 20 mph). Eventually I went over the handlebars, whacking my knee and scraping my hands. Luckily I was wearing gloves that day – something I almost never do – so they were spared. My leg was pretty messed up, though. I couldn’t ride and had to limp back to the nearest road using my bike as a “walker”. My knee was bleeding pretty badly from several cuts and so I tied a spare t-shirt around it and called a cab home. For several weeks I not only couldn’t ride, I had trouble walking up and down stairs when using the subway. So as tempting as it might be to fly along at top speed, I don’t on this stretch anymore.
The ride takes me on the branch of the trail I’d never been on before. This one is gravel instead of pavement and I see barely anyone on this stretch.
The temperature is rising and I’m glad to have a bit of shade to keep me cool. The sunlight filtered through the leaves looks stunning.
After a few hundred metres, the path turns to pavement again and then I see it: It is a short but extremely steep hill. I am feeling strong, though, and so I head right in to it. About half way up the hill I realize something: I am 100% committed to making it up this hill. Why, you might ask? Because I wear cycling shoes with cleats in them that attach my feet to the pedals. Most of the time this gives me extra power, allowing me to both push and pull with my legs. But now, on this hill, I am a little nervous. If I decide I have to walk my bike, I will need to unclip my shoes from the pedals. This isn’t hard, a simple twist of the ankle will do it. But the hill is so steep that if I stop pedaling long enough to make that move, the bike will stop or even roll backward and I will fall with one or both feet clipped in the pedals. And so, I put extra power in to it and make it to the top. I’m especially pleased with myself when I see the signs at the top:
It’s so steep they are worried that cyclists will get up too much speed and mow people down if they’re not careful. I can see why after crossing the road and going down the hill on the other side where the path continues. I ride my brakes very hard the whole time to keep from gaining too much speed as there’s a couple walking in front of me.
Soon after this I reach the northern part of my ride, the Finch Hydro Corridor. This path goes beneath high tension power lines for much of the breadth of Toronto. Hydro corridors are a great place for bike infrastructure as they often already have access roads – they only need permission from the owner of the right of way and a bit of pavement and signage. And once you have that, you end up with a route like this:
Along this route I see several community gardens. These are generally shared space where small plots are rented to people to grow plants, often food. This is great for people in the city who don’t have back yards or sometimes, like us, even lack a balcony or any outside space at all.
The only complaint I have about this hydro corridor is that with the big power lines above, there really is no way for there to be shade and the ride is hot. I’ve worn sunscreen so sunburn isn’t a worry. However, I’m drinking a ton of water and have nearly exhausted both of my 750 ml bottles. I need to refill.
Eventually I get to a major crossroad, Jane Street. Just south of the trail is a gas station with a Tim Hortons inside. I head over there and as I park I realize I am firmly in car country. Bikes are so unusual here that there’s nowhere to park. Eventually I find a sign near the road to lock my bike to and head inside.
The first thing I do is grab liquids. I buy a bottle of Gatorade, and two bottles of water. I go up to the cash and when I pay the cashier asks me if I’m going on a bike ride on a hot day like today. He’s surprised when I say yes but when I tell him I’m about 30 kilometres in to an 80 kilometre ride he actually thinks I might be crazy and pretty much stops talking to me.
Then I head over to the Tim Hortons to get some food. Though the food isn’t great, it’s passable and the restaurants are so common in Canada that any long bike trip will likely include a visit to at least one. I order a turkey sandwich and when they offer me the chance to make it a combo by adding fries I can’t pass it up. Carbohydrates are the fuel that cyclists run by and fries are delicious. The salt makes them not only delicious but on a hot day like today it’s as necessary as water. Everything I try to avoid when I’m not riding is something I go for guilt-free when riding. This includes the frozen lemonade I almost always get when out on a summer ride:
This is a gas station / restaurant for drivers and so there’s nowhere comfortable to sit. I make my way back to the street where my bike is locked up, sit in the shade, and enjoy my meal. In the distance I hear really loud shouting that worries me at first and then I listen harder. It’s a woman yelling in to a megaphone about Jesus and warning us all to repent. I don’t repent. Instead, I carry my garbage back to the gas station, drop it in the trash and ride back to the path.
The path continues further to the east and then…*poof*…it’s gone. There’s a major highway, “The 400” between me and where I need to get to and like most major highways, there aren’t a lot of easy ways to cross it. So here’s what I face.
The cars are just flying by at 80 km/hr or more as the get on and off the highway. By law I should be riding in the road as bikes are prohibited from the sidewalks. However, there are no pedestrians here, and the other risk of sidewalk-riding, being mowed down by a driver not expecting someone to cross a driveway at bike speed isn’t an issue either. I slow to walking speed and just stop entirely for intersections.
This is the heart of “car country” and drivers are not tolerant of cyclists here at all. The city councillors in this area are also not sympathetic, voting down measures to add safe infrastructure even in areas downtown well outside of their area. There is talk of a bike lane being added here when the Light Rail (LRT) line goes in. While that’s in the works, it will be many years before that’s done. Meanwhile, adding insult to injury there are signs asking drivers to call their councillor because the should be against the LRT and ask for a subway.
Fortunately for me, this route is only a few kilometres long and then I’m diverted first to a suburban street and then, if my GPS is to be believed, down what appears to be someone’s driveway and in to their back yard. I ride back and forth a few times looking for where it might be directing me instead but it’s clearly where I’m supposed to go. So down the driveway I go – and I see that it’s actually fronting on a park.
It’s still not entirely clear what I should do, but I’m meant to head in this general direction and so I follow the mowed path and soon it takes me to an abandoned road. This road takes me around a little pond and straight in to this:
My GPS tells me to go past this and to the left. I even see some riders coming from the other branch that goes off to the right. I look around the pond to see if I can circle around the other way and in the distance I see another fence just like this one.
But the nice thing about a bike versus another vehicle is that it is not too heavy. I take matters in to my own hands:
I follow my bike over the fence, walk a bit further, then repeat the process and off I go again.
I’m now on a trail next to the Humber river heading south toward Lake Ontario. I go a few kilometres and I see another sign:
Wouldn’t you know it? The trail is closed. There has been a lot of work on this trail over the years. A few years back a friend of mine and I rode up here to Brar’s – a restaurant not far from where I saw this sign. They make an excellent veg thali. In fact, Brar’s is on the road we are being directed to. This is not as bad as Finch Ave, the major road crossing the 400 above, but it’s still filled with fast, impatient, suburban traffic. I’m not looking forward to this. I won’t even have an appetite to stop for a thali.
But then I get to another fence just like the one before, and coming around it is another man who makes a gesture to me that means “You can just walk around through the bushes here.” and indeed I could. I ride through the construction site and it’s not bad at all. As it’s a holiday there are no workers and most of the work is done. From the looks it just needed to be paved and then it would be ready. I need to go around another fence at the other end and then I’m good to go.
A few minutes later I actually see the Humber river. I haven’t looked it up but I think it is a bit larger than the Don River on our side of town. I stop and relax a bit next to a waterfall:
Soon, it is time to go, though. Down the path I continue. I go under a bridge where a man is using his phone to video who I assume is his girlfriend dancing to some music. I go between them and get an exasperated sigh for it.
I pass a couple with a big dog and a few seconds later I hear an “Oh no.” from them. Soon I feel the drops as well. It’s starting to rain. But it’s sprinkling – not bad, though. It actually feels a little good in the heat. But then I hear something – the sound of water hitting the leaves above me hard. Seconds later the downpour hits me. And when it hits me, I forget everything I said above about not riding fast. Looking back at my ride data I can see that as soon as the heavy downpour started, my speed picked up to 30-35 km/hr. Not long after the path went parallel to a road and there I saw a covered bus shelter. This is what I was speeding down the trail toward – shelter from the storm! And as soon as I got under the roof, the rain petered out to almost nothing. And as quickly as it came the rain had passed. It did cool things down a little but the humidity remained.
But at least it is a little cooler out and the ride is still downhill.
The path merges with a few small roads before going along next to the river until finally, I can see the mouth of the river as it enters Lake Ontario. Soon I will be riding my bike over that bike/pedestrian bridge – part of the Lakeshore trail that will take me back across town.
Once I am down to by the bridge, I can see the downtown area. I’m still quite a ways from the city as you can see. I have to get downtown where the CN tower is and then several kilometres on to the east end before heading back north.
Once I get on the Lakeshore trail there’s a fair bit of bike and pedestrian traffic but it’s moving well. I pass several beaches and go back through the stretch of downtown and the ride home you saw on my visit to the Fort York Library. It’s a very pleasant trip and doesn’t require any riding on the road to speak of.
However, as I get closer to home I can feel the effects of the heat. I’ve been out in the sun for several hours and it is catching up to me. At the end of the ride I have just one big hill to go up. Just a few weeks ago I set a personal record on it, climbing up it in 1 min 44 seconds. Today, with the heat, humidity, and fatigue, I struggle to do it in 2 minutes 31 seconds. I give myself a break, though. I’ve gone quite a ways as you can see below: