52 Adventures #31 – The Long Walk

I wake up at 6AM Saturday morning to do the laundry. I’m starting this because the laundry needs to get done but Sage has said that I 100% must be out the door at 9 for today’s mystery task. I’m a bit nervous though for a few reasons:

  • Sage has said that I must dress warmly
  • She tells me I need to eat a big breakfast
  • She says that it would be in my best interests to use the washroom just before leaving
  • And most horrifying of all: every time she thinks about today’s task she cackles evilly like a witch

So, laundry done, a big omelette and toast in my belly, and several layers of warm clothing on, I am handed a task.

In 10 minutes, you will walk out the door.
You will start in the Toronto Ravine, but once you are on the street level you must head west.
How far can you walk in one day? You’re about to find out.
You have thirty minutes for lunch.
DRESS WARMLY.
Your time starts now.

Sage starts a kitchen timer and I race around the house, gathering gloves, hat, and coat. It’s only -2 and will go up to 4 degrees today, but if I’m going to be outside most of the day, I need to be able to be warm for several hours.

Out the door we go, and around the corner toward the ravine. The day is sunny and gorgeous. And I notice something that I’m embarrassed to have taken nearly fifty years to realize: If I have an extra layer of long johns under my pants, I feel so much warmer. Though there’s a cold wind, I feel great.

Toronto’s two biggest ravines, the Don Valley and Humber Valley are one of the great treasures of the city. In 1954, there was some development in them – houses, businesses and factories lined the river. And then, that October, Hurricane Hazel came through, destroying and damaging many of them. The city’s response was to expropriate the land and say that no more building would be done there. Now along these rivers and their tributaries, there are swathes of green space and bike/walking paths.

The ravines are generally accessible by road, with lots of parking at the bottom. However, our ravine’s roads are not maintained in the winter. After a winter of snow, ice, melting and re-freezing, the hill down in to the ravine is quite slippery.

We gingerly make our way to the bottom. Along the way we meet several people. Some are on mountain bikes, others are with their partners, dogs, or both. Though it might look like an Arctic wasteland to some, the fact that it’s warmed to the freezing point and will top it soon has brought many of us out of hiding.

When we get to the bottom I decide to walk east – a direction I don’t often travel in in this ravine.

Finally we reach street level on a north/south road. I want to be in a relatively busy area when it comes time to have lunch so we turn south. At the first intersection as we’re crossing a woman comes up to Sage and says how lovely and coordinated she looks with her glasses, hair, and coat. When she passes, Sage tells me she hears this often and really likes it – not because of the fact that it’s a compliment but because it means that someone was moved to say something nice to a stranger.

I am so happy to have dressed as I have because I feel as warm as if I were out on a summer day. Sage, her nature much warmer than mine has taken off her coat and is now in just a sweatshirt. And soon we are at Danforth Avenue – a major east-west thoroughfare in the city. We’ve gone from a quiet ravine to a busy city street.

When we hit the streetcar tracks at Main Street, I am cooking up a plan for the day’s route. I ask Sage how orthodox the “Go West” directive is and she lets me know that I can jog south or north but have to generally head in a westerly direction. It’s decided then. We turn south, following the streetcar tracks down Main Street to Gerrard, then down Coxwell and back on Gerrard. Now we’re in Little India just in time for lunch. I couldn’t have planned this better had I tried.

Sitting down feels good. We’ve walked around 10 kilometres, just over six miles. As we sit Sage tells me that the original plan for this task was going to be much harder. She was going to make it like the Stephen King story “The Long Walk”. It wouldn’t just be “how long can I keep walking” but “how long can I keep walking without stopping for any reason”. She tells me she decided that might be a bit too harsh. I make a mental note to maybe try that later after all.

Now that Sage is eating, she realizes she’s feeling a bit sleepy. As she has to perform in a house concert tonight she decides that when we finish our lunch, she will head back home and I will continue alone. I finish my food and say goodbye while Sage stays to finish hers. I have only a limited time to eat, after all.

Walking alone feels different. On the one hand my longer legs mean that I’m able to walk faster. I go from 13-14 minutes per kilometre to 11-12. Over the course of a day those minutes could add up. On the other hand, I already miss having Sage to talk to. As I walk under a railroad bridge, a message appears on the pillars in response.

The interesting thing about traveling through Toronto on foot is how the neighbourhoods change. Just a few minutes outside of Little India, I’m in Chinatown East which has a completely different feel.

The streets get a bit busy here. one set of parents calls out to their daughter of about 8 years old “Stay close! We’re in the city now!” A couple of blocks later two 7-8 year old kids nearly walk straight in to me because they’re not paying attention. As I dodge them, I am happy to see the reason why they didn’t see me: They’re both reading books while walking.

I pass the first of several libraries I will pass today: The Riverdale Library. It’s one of Toronto’s Carnegie libraries and is a beauty. I’m reminded that I am long overdue to resume my Toronto by Library project.

Soon after I pass the library I am back at the Don River – the same one we walked east away from in the ravine. I’m surprised both at how long it took to walk back to the river but also how much it has grown since it came this far south.

As I get deeper in to the city street art gets more and more common.

As I am walking along Gerrard, I hear a voice calling: “Hey! Is that Todd Tyrtle the World Adventurer!” I laugh and am so excited to have met up with my friend Shae whom I met through the Friends for Life Bike Rally some years back. I haven’t seen her since returning from India and actually some time before that. It is such a lovely surprise that I stop to have a catch up. Soon it is time to get moving again, though and we say our goodbyes. As I walk away I think about how much I prefer traveling in just about any other transportation method than a car. It is almost impossible to have a chance meeting with a friend in the car. But walk, bike, or take transit somewhere and it’s surprisingly common to run in to friends.

I head further west and the buildings grow around me. And then I get a break from the city and winter itself and am transported far from the city.

I walk out the back door and I’m back in the middle of Toronto and the city continues to get busier and grow up around me until I reach the mid-point of the city: Yonge Street. I am now entering the west end of the city.

Now that I’m downtown there are not only many more people, and also many more wealthy people driving cars that cost upwards of $500,000. At the same time there are lots more people just barely getting by, asking for money for food. Many don’t have enough warm clothes to be comfortable even on a day like today when many of us are reveling in the warmth that is giving us a hint that spring is on the way. I pass a man asleep on a grate in the sidewalk that is blowing out warm exhaust air from a nearby office building. The grate is actually in a curb cut that’s part of a wide driveway to go in to the building. I worry a driver might not see him there – but at the same time I also can imagine that given the choice between sleeping in the cold or taking a small risk to be warm, one might choose to be warm.

A couple of kilometres later I’m in Chinatown where I have to stop at a computer store to get a cable to recharge my phone. I’ve walked so much that my GPS watch’s battery is exhausted and I have to use my phone. But I’m hopeful that I’ll walk enough that my phone will need to charge from the power bank I brought (without a charging cable, sadly). Next door is a hardware store. A message on the door is a sign of the times:

While there are hardly any cases of Coronavirus happening now (3 confirmed and resolved as no longer infectious, 12 under investigation), there seems to be a lot of caution happening. I see about 10 people each day on transit wearing masks, ostensibly to protect themselves from infection. Last week when I arrived at work there was a sign at the gate notifying anyone who had been to China, Hong Kong, or Macau in the past 14 days that they were not allowed to come to work and must return home.

Now with my phone charging and logging the kilometres, I continue on. The next neighbourhood I hit is Little Italy.

I stop at a library to use the washroom here, 18 kilometres (over 11 miles) in to the trip. As I walk, I count that this is the fourth library I’ve passed on the trip. I’ve only visited one “officially” so I have a bunch more to do on just this one street.

The brief stop lets me take stock of how I’m doing physically. My left foot seems to have a few blisters and my lets are getting a little sore. Mentally, I’m feeling a little tired of walking. I’ve been doing it for most of the day now. Despite that, walking isn’t that hard. It feels mechanical – just put one foot in front of the other. Maybe it hurts a little more than it did before, but it doesn’t feel the way being tired on a long bike ride or run does. I am aware of the discomfort but I don’t feel impeded by it. I decide that I’ll put my earbuds in, sacrificing some of the sound of the streetscape in favour of having some music to motivate me and provide a cadence for walking. I decide classic hip hop will be just the thing and put a number of albums by A Tribe Called Quest on shuffle, walking to the beat. It works exactly as I expect. I am moving quickly and the boredom has left. I’m having fun again.

Now I’m back in our old neighbourhood, Dufferin Grove. I haven’t been on this particular stretch of road since we left in 2012. I do miss it a bit. However, looking at the change in real estate prices since we left (Now $3000-5000/month rents and houses in the multi-million dollar range are common) I decide that I don’t miss it all that much.

Further and further from downtown I go. The road I am on merges with Dundas Street area gets more industrial, the road widens and the cars speed up before the streetcar tracks veer off of Dundas. I follow them on to Howard Park Ave and I’m back in a residential area. The streets get quieter until eventually the streetcar tracks end in a loop at the edge of a park.

And now I’m at the goal I didn’t really allow myself to think I could make: I’m at High Park, far on the west end of Toronto. The last step is to walk through the park to get to the subway station at the north of the park. It turns out to be a beautiful walk.

And finally I am at the subway station. My legs are pretty tired now, and I have at least four blisters on my foot. But I’m also very excited. I’ve walked a total of 23.18 km (14.4 miles). This is the farthest I’ve gone in any single stretch on foot. I am happy for two other reasons. The first is that when I started this project, my second adventure was a walk whose route was decided on the fly by a roll of the dice. It was fun, but it ended fairly quickly. At that time I had been having a great deal of trouble with my lower back. Standing and even walking for more than a few minutes was painful. I addressed this by no longer wearing insoles prescribed to allegedly help my feet and back. So I think I can say without a doubt that that issue is gone.

The second thing is that this year I want to do a half marathon. I gave up running a couple of years ago after problems with shin splints. However, based on the success of working with the physiotherapist before my bike trip, I’m going to try again to see if I can run. I actually got to the point where I could run a half marathon before heading out for my first trip to India so I know that it should be possible to get back to it. However, now I know that even if I can’t get myself to be able to run a half marathon, there’s no question I can walk it. After all, I just did.

In the end this was one of my favourite adventures, getting me out to appreciate my city on a delightful day – a day I would have missed if I kept my usual attitude about spending time outside when the temperatures are below double-digits. Maybe I’m changing a bit.

For those who like multimedia and video, there are two Instagram highlights you can watch Part One and Part Two.

4 thoughts on “52 Adventures #31 – The Long Walk

  1. I like following you. I skip commenting many times. But sometimes, I want to stop and say a few words about how as I read you, I have the urge to go ahead and tell the things I like doing in Toronto. Usually I skip doing that because I think noone will care. But then, I see myself caring about what you do and this gives me hope: someone may care what I am doing also. Anyway… nice walk. With love…elif

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