I love adventures that involve the unexpected. I am not the type of person to go to on a trip to a beachfront resort where I can expect every day to include the same meals, the same sunbathing and swimming followed by the same dinner outside. From an early age I have tried to inject randomness in to my life. Sometimes it didn’t work so well. OK, that was true more than once.
The goal of the 52 Adventures project is to have some of those new and unexpected experiences at least once a week. Today my plan is to go for a walk with a completely unknown destination.
I roll the dice to find out what direction I’m going to go in. The dice tell me to walk west. Off I go through the grey day. The next intersection comes quickly. Walking north will take me further to the suburbs or to midtown Toronto, south will take me toward Greektown and further downtown. Another roll there takes me south to the Millwood Bridge.
I cross the long bridge. The grey weather and rain that falls off and on makes it hard to see more than a few kilometres and I can’t even see the skyline. Winds are high as I cross the bridge and between the wind and damp, I’m getting cold. I pick up my pace.
As I walk I catch myself having preferences. When I get to the next major intersection, Cosburn, I am hoping to go east toward Scarborough and somewhere I’ve rarely seen.
I’m disappointed when the roll sends me west toward downtown. I head in that direction nearly every day when I go out. I’m especially disappointed I didn’t roll a ‘6’ – the value that would see me stopping at the cafe for coffee and a pastry. But who knows what lies ahead?
To avoid having to stop every minute or two I resolve that I’ll wait for at least three songs to play before I make another decision. After the third song I find myself at the corner of Broadview and Pottery Road. One choice is to continue toward the subway line and the more densely populated part of the city by staying on Broadview. The second choice is to go down a steep hill in to the Don Valley by following Pottery Road.
About 2/3 of the way down I see a set of stairs leading to the left. Every single time I pass I’m dying to know what the stairs lead to but I’ve never ventured down them. Today is the day I will follow my curiosity.
When I get to the bottom I am alone in a small field. It is quite peaceful here.
I explore the area a bit more and learn that this is actually a historical site known as Todmorden Mills. The first mill, a sawmill, was built here in 1795. Soon after they added a gristmill and paper mill. Over time people built houses as well. Not long after the mills were built, a brewery was built and before long it was bigger than the paper mill. Sadly, a massive fire in 1847 put an end to that.
The mill has since been converted into a theatre and gallery space. Today there is an exhibit of artwork – paintings, photographs and ceramic work, by local high school students. Other than the one staff member, I’m the only person in the space.
When I go back outside I am still the only person I can see. My ears tell me otherwise, Just a few hundred feet away hundreds of cars roar up the Don Valley Parkway. Despite the noise, the trees and grass make it like a peaceful island in the middle of a big city.
It is strange to think that I have lived only a few kilometres away from here for fifteen years and until a roll of the dice brought me to the doorstep, I never once visited the place. I’m glad that chance took me here.
In the 1930’s, during the Great Depression and jobs were extremely scarce, many homeless people lived here. Known as the “Cave and Shack Dwellers” they would take shelter in the kilns. A plaque says that the media and residents were sympathetic to them in those days.
Even today, many homeless people live in the Don Valley. At night we sometimes see their camp fires, and when we walk on some of the lesser-used trails we come across their tents and settlements. Homeless shelters have a reputation as being unsafe so many people prefer to sleep outside to sleeping in a shelter where they might even have to worry about their shoes being stolen at night if they don’t wear them while sleeping.
I leave Todmorden Mills and head further down Pottery Road and under a bridge. A sinister sight greets me.
Further down, at the other end of the bridge I see a pile of what looks like debris. When I get closer I see there is a bit of order to it. A folding chair is set up, leaning on that is a pair of crutches and a large forest green backpack. Next to all of that is a quilted down sleeping bag. I can’t see who it might be, only that a shock of brown hair is sticking out of the top. This makes sense. It’s 8 degrees outside. Even in my coat I’m a bit chilled. We may not have a catchy name like “Cave and Shack Dwellers”, but we certainly have needy people sleeping on our streets – and today many residents and media outlets are less sympathetic. I have no cash or food so I can’t leave them anything today but make a note to keep something on hand the next time I pass through.
Pottery Road dead-ends at Bayview Avenue. While the road goes in two directions, only the southbound one has any provision for pedestrians. I continue down the path.
You can see by the vegetation, and of course the river in the distance that I’m now in the bottom of the valley. The city rises all around me in all directions. Though a couple of runners have passed me I still feel alone despite the hundreds of apartment windows overlooking the ravine I’m walking in. A few hundred metres later I arrive at the Evergreen Brickworks.
I’m not waiting this time for a specific roll. I’m having that coffee. And fortunately, at the Brickworks, there is a cafe. I decide to end the walk here.
During my walk I was struck by how much the walk seemed to me like a metaphor for life. If we keep to the same routine and introduce no randomness, the likelihood of something new and interesting happening is low. Why would it? We’re on the same route we always take. How often will we find a new place to get coffee on our commute to work when we take the same route? Only as often as someone decides to open one. But how often will we find a new place if we vary our route and try a different way? Chances are near 100%.
Another thing occurred to me as I stood over this bridge watching these cars drive past:
To me, the car is a metaphor for the routine. We buy a car mostly do do the things we do every day: it drives us to work every day, and back home. It drives us to the grocery store or department store to do our chores. It drops the kids off at school. We become attached to the routine to the point that any disruption is upsetting. A traffic jam makes us mad – this isn’t the experience we signed up for. If the car gets a flat tire we feel put out. We were attached to that plan of getting to work on time. Much of our life we live with the illusion that nobody’s rolling any dice. We’re going from Point A to Point B with no interruptions, delays, or diversions. But this exercise I did only externalized what was already true. Every moment of every day dice are being rolled. Maybe a giant foam die can make those decisions more obvious or more frequent, and hooray for that. But the fact remains, there is uncertainty in every day. And with that in mind, we get to choose how to approach it. Inconveniences, delays, and re-routings can be cause for frustration, or we can look to them as opportunities for new experiences and discovery. The choice is ours: Why not go see what’s down the rickety wooden stairs?
Have an idea for an adventure? Let Sage know with the form below and she’ll take me on a surprise adventure to do something I’ve never done.