Saturday afternoon arrives and I’m once again trying to figure out where my ride is going to take me. I am getting better at it, though, setting a time limit after which if I haven’t decided I just go to a fallback loop out to the end of the Leslie Spit and back. It’s a lovely ride but I’ve done it often enough that the idea that I might have to see the same thing over again motivates me to decide.
I’ve been using a site called Komoot for routing lately. It uses Openstreetmap to show points of interest and then, based on others riding habits, your riding style (touring, mountain, gravel, road), it picks a route that fits your needs. Today I find a spot simply labeled “waterfall” on a trail east of here and then I see another called “lookout” near the lake. That’s enough for me. The route has about 42 kilometres – a nice evening loop.
The first part of the ride takes me along Lawrence Avenue in Scarborough. This can be a little bit stressful as it’s six lanes of traffic made up mostly of impatient suburbanites. True to pandemic form though, the traffic is lighter and for the most part really courteous. All this cycling has been really helpful as my stamina and speed have gone up quite a lot. I’m not as fast as the drivers (on a 30 lb bike, I’m not sure that’s possible), but I do manage to be as fast as a city bus that, admittedly, makes stops to let me catch up – or perhaps to let passengers on and off. The ride takes me past a cross section of Scarborough – Tamil grocery stores, Afghan markets, Lebanese bakeries, mosques, mandirs, an old pub advertising its fish and chips, a used car lot, a place advertising the best jerk chicken around. There’s a reason Scarborough is one of my favourite places – it truly is a place where one can travel the world in the space of a city block or even a within strip mall – of which there are countless.
Finally, after a long, but fortunately fast stretch, I find a steep path leading down in to a valley next to the Highland Creek. The first of the bodies of water I’ll visit today. Signs warn me that there is to be no sledding or tobogganing down this hill. I would totally have done just that as a kid. No question.
At the bottom of the hill I’m in a different world. A narrow paved road leads north and along the way I pass several small groups. From time to time I stop to see the creek.
I eventually find myself at a park where several different groups of people, all distanced from one another are having family picnics. The cooking smells are amazing. This park leads me up and out of the valley and near the University of Toronto. I’m back in busy traffic for a bit – but just a bit before there’s another steep hill. This time it is wide and straight down, letting me see enough smooth, empty road ahead of me that I can speed up to 60 km/hr.
Once at the bottom the bad news comes. There’s another hill going back up. I gear down and start to pedal up but then I’m saved. The navigation on my watch tells me it’s time to turn right, and I’m following a new river – this one the Adams Creek.
This path is wider but also sandier. It is clear I’m getting closer to the lake itself. Along the way I pass several cyclists going in both directions, some alone like me, others in small groups.
And then, I see it: the thirteenth largest lake in the world: Lake Ontario. At this time of day in this time of year it looks particularly beautiful.
At the end of the path I see there are two different directions I can go. My watch tells me to turn right – west – to go back home but it is too beautiful to do that. I turn left instead, going further from home.
The lakeshore path is choked with people. At times I go at a walking pace or completely stop while a family in front of me finishes their conversation and notices there are people behind them. But it’s nice to see humans and I’m not bothered. There’s no good reason I need to speed through here. I’m here to enjoy the atmosphere. If I wanted to put kilometres behind me I’d be back on Lawrence Avenue.
There are so many families here, fires are coming up from barbecue grills. As I ride by I hear music from all over the world all at top volume. Like in the last park, the families are all a safe distance from one another but their mere presence makes it feel like we’re in normal times, not a pandemic. It’s a bit of a relief.
In the distance I see a nuclear power plant and know that I am close to the eastern border of Toronto. That’s Pickering ahead. If I can see the power plant I am within cycling distance. I resolve to ride a bit extra.
Finally I arrive at my second river, the Rouge River. This one is one of the bigger ones and quite beautiful.
I have only gone a couple of kilometres from the Highland Creek but the river and region look so different.
I go up the bridge in the first picture and cross over and there I see it:
I have been on this trail three times before, each time headed for Montreal or beyond. My heart wants to keep going but my mind knows that there is only a little daylight left and travel options are limited during the pandemic. I turn back, hoping to come back again – and continue beyond sometime.
The route home takes me a different way for variety. I find myself on a road that looks as if it could be in rural Ontario. Instead, I am just a 20 minute drive from downtown.
The road goes through fields, past a water treatment plant and ends near a Dow Chemical plant I learn makes emulsions mostly used for latex paint. I had no idea we had such heavy industry here.
I travel through a residential neighbourhood and soon I am on a busy street again. This one, Kingston Road, goes past a number of sketchy looking motels that saw their peak in the 1960’s.
Now many of them are used as provisional housing for homeless people. There’s an excellent article about the motels’ history here.
Kingston road is another fast suburban arterial road with few stoplights so I make excellent time even with the rolling hills. Soon I find myself in Cliffside Village – the first place on the road that looks like a normal city street instead of a suburban one and I stop at a convenience store. I’ve emptied both my water bottles and am very thirsty.
The convenience store is small, about the size of my kitchen but it has what I need, a cold bottle of Cherry Coke. I go to the counter, now with a barrier around it made of the same shrink wrap they use to wrap pallets in, pay my money and then go stand next to my bike to drink. As I finish it a woman of about thirty smoking a joint comes up to me and urgently repeats over and over “Give me five dollars for the convenience store!” I’m affected by her urgency and hand her two dollars apologizing for not having five. She puts the money in her pocket and continues down the street away from the convenience store.
I can see the city skyline now and familiar street names are coming up: Eglinton, Warden, Victoria Park. At Victoria Park I turn right and find myself following a bus through the neighbourhood until I get to another narrow road that looks more like it belongs near a farm than 10 minutes from downtown.
And down I go to the Taylor Creek – a path I’ve been taking a lot lately, most recently for my visit to the Scarborough Bluffs. This path is also pretty busy with pedestrians and cyclists. And as the sun goes lower in the sky the areas around our creeks are busy with one more thing: gnats. Clouds of them swarm around my face as I go, a few, no doubt, ending up being inhaled and accidentally eaten.
As I write this I’m curious enough that I go look up why gnats even bother people. They don’t bite, they just fly around your face and annoy you. The answer? They want water and salt. There’s some in sweat, and there’s other in tears. Yes, folks, the reason they’re going in your eyes is to get a quick drink. And, I just recently learned in this search, possibly to give you pinkeye (conjunctivitis). Who knew?
Taylor Creek eventually feeds in to the Don River – the river we live right next to – one that this summer, my summer of truly appreciating where I live – I see up close several times a week. And then it’s up the last big hill to my neighbourhood. Like much of the rest of our city this summer it seems to be filled with boys and girls out on their own riding, some in groups and others alone. At the top of the big hill I see one bike with a boy standing, steering and pedaling, a friend behind him sitting on the seat and a third kid standing on the rear rack and holding on to the shoulders of the kid sitting.
In the end, my little detour added a bit of time and I end up riding almost 55 kilometres in just under three hours. I’m especially pleased to have managed this because often I decide not to go for a long ride because it’s after 12:00 PM. But here it was 5PM and I still managed to have a great ride. Clearly not dithering and just making a decision to go and do something has its benefits.