I continue to be quite skeptical about Randonauting but at the same time it continues to provide some great routing ideas that I wouldn’t normally have come up with.
My running distances have been increasing steadily. Where Randonauting was not really practical for me to use for a 3-4 km run, it is great for a 9-10 km one. And so Friday I put a couple of points in, focusing on the word “interesting”. I still think of this as thinking of what I want to watch for more than some idea that I’m manifesting something in the universe but either way why not play along rather than just clicking the button randomly?
My route takes me to a nearby park. As I cross the Don River I see that there are many new graffiti tags on a bridge. Most graffiti in the city is in English but every now and again I see some Hindi. Some time ago in our old neighbourhood, someone used to tag “आसमान” (sky) on various walls. And in the past week or so, a new person has shown up here.
While I find simple name-tagging boring at best, I do like that the name chosen is literally a friendly one.
The route takes me along the Taylor Creek and then I pop back out on the street and run down a relatively busy street. I’m surprised to see a familiar vehicle. The one time Sage and I did Randonauting together we ended up at the grocery store and saw this unique car:
And today, quite some distance from the store I see the car again – parked in someone’s driveway – perhaps that’s where the owner lives.
I run further and pass a hospital. I’m surprised at how normal it seems. The last time I biked by a hospital – about a month ago, I was a little disturbed. There was a big line-up and signs for a COVID-19 clinic. As I passed there was a strong smell of alcohol in the air that I could notice even from far away. They were taking zero chances. Today, though, there were no giveaways that there was a pandemic at all.
I turn on to a residential street, passing a park with sunflowers made of cast iron and stop at the random location I was given. The house is barely visible. Instead, there’s a massive garden of flowers and other plants including milkweed – not known for its beauty it is well known for how much butterflies benefit from it. So someone here is not just creating a garden for them but for the environment too.
I turn the corner and head toward home. I’ve still got about 4 km to go but the weather is so pleasant that I don’t mind at all. After struggling to get back in to running shape I’m happy to feel like I can just run without pushing myself too much. A few blocks later I’m surprised to see our building from a distance. When our building was built in 1970, it was the tallest residential building in the commonwealth. Now there are many larger ones but in the area there’s nothing bigger. But from this quiet residential neighbourhood it doesn’t look big at all. And it certainly doesn’t look like a 4 km run away either.
The next day I try a new technique for building a bicycle route. I use the app to find a random initial destination and then use that point to search for another destination. After several destinations I’ve mapped out a route of over 50 kilometres (just over 30 miles) – about 2.5 hours of leisurely riding. The word for this ride will be “cool”.
Today I’m not feeling so motivated. After being up too late the night before my cat wakes me early at 4:45. As I’m waking for Hindi class at 5:15 AM anyway, I decide to just wake up. I’m exhausted after class and after a quick meal, I go back to sleep for almost three hours.
When I wake I’m groggy and unmotivated. Nothing sounds fun or interesting. Today’s one of those days that I have to lean hard on the idea that I’m now 104 days in to an exercise streak and I can’t possibly mess that up or I’ll really regret it. So after sitting far too long using the excuse that I’m charging my phone, lights, and fitness watch while making a route, I’m out of excuses. I’ve got to go.
The first few points are a bust. I go south toward where I took the photo of our home from. Nothing interesting there, just someone’s house, then an electrical substation, then the back lot of an old age home and another house. As I go my mood hasn’t changed. I’m not being motivated by excitement or happiness at riding. I’m riding because I said I would.
And then my route takes a turn. I’m no longer on a city street, I’m on the Kay Gardiner Beltline Trail. Ms. Gardiner was a politician in Toronto and during her time working for the city, she advocated preserving this trail. At one time it used to be a local railway used for public transit but it had long since been decommissioned. Old rail lines are great opportunities for creating pedestrian and cycling infrastructure because they are already cleared, generally lack steep grades, and often still have bridges and tunnels intact. And so now this former railroad is, thanks to Ms. Gardiner, one of the car-free spaces to ride or walk in the city.
One cool thing I discovered along the way, thanks to a recent sign posting about some upcoming construction work is that along this trail there will be “stops” created where the old train stations used to be. These will be provided with seating spaces and other amenities like picnic tables. I love the idea of honouring the past while making something useful for the present.
There are many people out, cycling, running, walking their dogs, pushing their kids in strollers with everyone doing a reasonably good job of staying distant from one another. It’s nice to see other humans and my mood improves as a result.
The trail ends, goes to a suburban street and then, a few minutes later resumes as the “York Beltline Trail” which takes me even further west where I’m sent out on to a relatively busy road. Now I’m in a more industrial area and the traffic is a bit faster and dense. And now, almost 20 kilometres in to my ride I reach my next destination: A factory store that makes “giftware”. It’s closed, the parking lot is empty and it’s not particularly cool. But now my attitude is different. The ride so far has been quite cool, seeing parts of the city I’ve never had the chance or reason to visit.
I wind up on Weston Road, and end up in a neighbourhood I’ve visited before when I went to the Weston Library some time ago. There’s a large African population here and there are many African groceries and restaurants, most closed. In the window of one shop I see masks made from African-print fabrics. I regret not buying or even photographing them. Another time.
The route takes me down in to the Humber Valley – I haven’t been on this trail in over a year. The construction that was there last time is gone and it’s lovely to be there. Families are having picnics in various parts, some playing music, others playing games, all maintaining their distance from other groups. The path itself is populated with cyclists and pedestrians in ones and twos for the most part.
I near the Highway 401 underpass – a place with lots of excellent graffiti and notice a few new pieces designed to make me think:
A bit further and I’m directed back to Weston Road. It’s quite busy here and the turn to get on the road looks more like a highway onramp than an intersection. A bit further and I find myself at the next destination on my map. Another nondescript house. The cool things are clearly to be found between the destinations. Of course I’ve always felt that about travel so this is no surprise.
I turn back, retracing my steps and then continuing south on Weston Road. It’s not a very pleasant ride but it feels safe if not a little busy. And then I’m back on the path by the river again. Such a relief.
And then it’s back on to another busy street. But for at least part of it the road is very bicycle friendly.
Then the lane ends and I’m sharing the road with busy traffic again. Fortunately not for long as soon the route turns and takes me to another neighbourhood. There are sports bars, churrasquerias, and Portuguese groceries on the side of the street and hooray! A bike lane to ride in.
And, thank GOD there’s a convenience store as I had finished both of my 1 litre bottles of water some time ago and was so thirsty. I pull my bike over, lock it up and go inside. Fresh fruits, vegetables and plants are displayed outside and a woman is putting more out as we speak. When I go inside there’s a smell of the meat and fish they sell there – not unpleasant, but enough to know that this is a big part of what they’re selling. I look around for something to drink and there’s no bottled water for sale. I settle for a 12 oz can of pop and a Gatorade. I drink the pop before I even get on the bike, pour the Gatorade in to one of my bottles and set off for my final destination in Corso Italia – one of our city’s Italian neighbourhoods. There’s nothing cool or interesting at the destination but a few bits of graffiti.
It’s only been about 15 minutes since I left the last store but I’m still very thirsty. I bike a little further to another store. Outside it says it has vegetables and is also a pasticceria – a seller of (usually fresh) pasta. I am disappointed when I get in, though, as it is clear that the sign is old. This is just a convenience store. I’m not completely disappointed though as I pick up another bottle of coke and a big bottle of water. Like the previous time I drink the coke outside and fill my water bottles with the water. I’m still feeling thirsty but my stomach is definitely full of liquid. Clearly I’ve waited much too long to hydrate.
Now it’s time to turn toward home, I turn down Via Italia which takes me to the edge of a steep hill – Toronto’s built on the side of one and right after St. Clair avenue the road rapidly turns downhill as it goes to the lake. You can see a bit of it here.
The route sends me down the big hill, closer to downtown where I pick up another road with a bike lane and zoom east toward home. It isn’t until I see the sign for Poplar Plains road that I realize what this route has done. It’s taken me downhill to catch the bike lane but thanks to that has put me in line to do one of the larger hill climbs in the downtown area – Poplar Plains.
In 2014 I lived nearer this road and would sometimes train on this hill to build endurance. I’d do a 20 kilometre ride that was just repeating up and down this hill. I was in pretty good shape then as a result of both running and cycling. As I ride by today I remember this time and I also remember how I felt in February. I was looking at the calendar and realizing that in just 9 months I would be fifty years old. Other milestone ages never bothered me but my mindset that month was different. For a moment I thought that I’d likely peaked in fitness and capability. I might as well just give up, right? Maybe stop cycling and instead pick up a TV habit instead. Sage talked sense in to me though and as you can see I didn’t give up anything. In fact, I doubled down.
So when I get to Poplar Plains today I’ve got a bit of something to prove. I haven’t climbed this hill in six years. I’m six years older. Heck, even my bicycle is six years older. But I don’t let that stop me. I give my all and zoom up the first part at over 20 km/hr before it gets steeper. A few metres further I pass a man who is walking his bike. I’m encouraged – I feel pretty good, I know I’m not going to be that guy. But how will I do on the climb? Am I truly over the hill?
I get home and check my statistics for all of my attempts to climb this hill.
I’ve set a new record. I may be older but I’m also faster. Clearly it’s not just about age, at least at this level. It’s a clear demonstration of just how much we can kid ourselves about our own capabilities.
I get home, drink even more water, shower and then make everyone a big dinner of dal and aloo gobhi matar ki sabzi before we all watch TV together, laughing at the (possibly a little too real) comedy, “Space Force”.
So while I might not have been interested in doing a ride to begin with earlier, in the end I can say without a doubt: