A Ride Through the City

Last night I was in a bit of a rush because I had to be home at 6:30 for a cooking lesson (another entry coming up about that soon) and so I plotted out a short route of mostly single track through the woods along the river including some new trails I haven’t been on before. It was a beautiful day for it.

The trip went quickly as I’m getting more confident on the trails. I find that it definitely helps to keep up a reasonable speed instead of crawling along weaving uncertainly forward.

Down the new trail I went all alone, through the grass. Sometimes I would go up and down hills, even with rocks and roots in them and over them I went. I reached the top of one hill and looked down.

The trail goes down a short steep hill and then turns quickly left. As I started down the hill I picked up speed quickly and hit the brakes. Whether it was a brake issue or just slippery leaves and clay under my tires, the brakes had very little effect. There was no way I could stop in time. My feet were clipped in to the pedals and I couldn’t even think fast enough to get them unclipped. Before I knew it this view loomed large:

Just before the big tree trunk you can see, is a small one at the bottom you can see underneath the leaves. My front tire hit this. Looking back at my GPS data I was going around 8 km/hr – a fast jog. My front tire stopped immediately and over the handlebars I went. My face hit the small log behind it (not really visible but about the same size as the one that stopped me.

And then it was over. My feet were still clipped in to the pedals but my bike was above and behind me so I had to figure out how to free my feet from the bike. And then I took inventory. My mouth hurt. Did I break or knock out any teeth? I put my hand to my mouth and it came away bloody but nothing seemed missing or loose. I sat for a moment in a bit of shock waiting for my mouth to stop hurting. I began to taste blood and went to wipe it away again and noticed that though I felt no pain, my right ring finger appeared to have been shredded and was dripping blood. Finally, after several minutes I stood up. All my limbs felt fine. No muscle pain, nothing broken. I still had to find my way home, first through the woods and then a few kilometres of road.

I rode home, observing carefully to see if anything was damaged on my bike. All seemed OK.

When I got inside I put my bike away and then called out to Sage,

“I’m OK, nothing is broken but I had a crash alone on a trail.” It was important to assure her that I hadn’t been hit by a car and wasn’t seriously injured. Then I took off my mask and showed her my injuries. She cringed and then forced me to sit on the couch and relax.

“Wow, you’re shaking!” she said.

I hadn’t noticed that. I really felt fine, and would’ve said I was calm and collected but a photo I took of my face just after the accident to assess the damage says otherwise. I was a little freaked out.

While I held a wet washcloth to my face, one of our cats came over and started purring loudly, trying to get to my hurt finger. Clearly the only thing stopping these cats from eating us is our size.

In the end the damage was far less than it seemed at first. A simple split lip and what amounts to a really large hangnail. Oddly enough, in the end I felt pleased. I am active enough and fit enough to be able to regularly do things like off-road cycling and can get up and easily walk away from a crash.

My crash may have been minor but it did make me a little hesitant to go back to the trail tonight. In the back of my mind for the past few days has been a trip to the heart of the downtown business district, a place that always seems so peaceful and calm. After a hectic afternoon in which most of my plans never quite worked out and I got much less done than I had hoped, I am feeling tired and overwrought. Tonight is definitely the night to go somewhere peaceful.

When I get outside the sun is already setting. After failing to accomplish other things on my list, this represents yet another failure. I’m getting out the door late and I still have to get home and make dinner. I remind myself that I only need twenty minutes for the effects of the bike ride to take effect.

As I enter the more dense part of the city, I realize that I am feeling good. I look down at my watch and it says that I’ve been moving on my bicycle for seventeen minutes. Add in a few minutes to wait for red lights and it’s really close to twenty minutes on the nose. Immediately after realizing this I look up and see some new street art I haven’t noticed before:

“Everything you can imagine is real”

It’s an interesting statement, but how true is it? I can imagine unicorns, warp drive and time travel but they’re not real. On the other hand, I can imagine that failing to check off items on a to-do list, getting out the door a bit late, and having to cook a simple dinner are issues worthy of feeling really crappy – and hey, I actually did feel that way. See? I can imagine it and it’s real. So maybe this person has a point.

I wait to pull back in to traffic and a shout from across the street brings me back to reality:

“Turn off yer god damned light, ya fuckin’ goof!”

Several homeless men have gathered on the opposite side of the street outside a store to hang out and talk. My handlebars had turned and my headlight had spotlit one of them. I move on.

As I ride, I can see that this part of town has really been hit by the pandemic and related economic downturn. Lots of people are sitting on the streets, leaning against buildings with cups on the ground out in front of them asking for change that so few people carry now thanks to the possibility of virus transmission on money. One man with holes in his jeans and no shoes lies on the ground next to a lamp post, his oxygen cylinder sitting next to him ready to help him breathe.

I turn toward Yonge street, one of the busiest commercial streets in the city. As I pass a park I can see just how much things have changed. A year ago there were no tents in parks. They just weren’t allowed and there was ample housing for everyone. It wasn’t always safe but it was sheltered and there was less risk of catching a deadly illness. Now parks are filled with tents. Outside some, people are raking leaves to provide a clean yard and possibly a location for another tent.

One kilometre later I’m riding on Yonge Street. $100,000+ sports cars pass me and stores like Saks Fifth Avenue advertise products that are too expensive for most of the people walking by.

A few blocks south I find myself in the business district. During the week, especially pre-pandemic, this area can be incredibly busy – like lower Manhattan – with people in suits going to work in banks and brokerages. It’s quiet now, so quiet that I can easily walk across what are usually packed streets without waiting for, or even seeing, other cars.

On a night like this, and mostly empty, there’s a beauty to the place. Artwork commissioned by the banks sits outside with few people to appreciate it.

Finally I arrive at my destination. Called “The Pasture“, this installation, by Joe Fafard was installed here in 1985. While on all sides we can see the city, in this tiny patch of grass, seven life-sized and very detailed cows relax. And for a few minutes I relax with them.

Recharged by some time spent alone in the field with calm animals, I get on my bike and head home.

This time I take Yonge Street north most of the way and am surprised at how busy it is. When I get near Dundas Square, Toronto’s answer to Times Square, I’m shocked to see that several buskers are there – just like always. And just like always there are big crowds gathered around them, many without masks. Streets are also filled with people, many maskless. I am glad to be on a bike, away from the sidewalk and outside of any transit vehicles.

The ride home is delightful. There is a tailwind pushing me much of the way home and the weather is cool and autumnal. I think of it as “trick or treating” weather. It makes sense. Were we in normal times, we’re two weeks away from Halloween.

At 8:00 I walk back in the door. I shower and then start dinner. By 9:00 I’m relaxing with Sage. The idea I had that my evening would be hectic and impossible to manage was in my imagination. But for a time, at least, like the artwork says, I’d made it real. Lucky for me a bike ride can adjust my attitude in twenty minutes. Not even coffee is as reliably successful.

11 thoughts on “A Ride Through the City

  1. First off , sorry about the crash but happy you’re ok. I think I mentioned this before that during my teen years I spent lots of time in Toronto, and I knew Yonge Street pretty well, sad to see the tents.

    1. Hi Alice – thanks! In the end it wasn’t bad. I and the bike turned out fine and I’m grateful for that.

      You had mentioned that before, yes. Yonge street has changed quite a bit even since we moved here in 2004. It’s much less sketchy than it was. Some other areas like the area around Moss Park, Allan Gardens and Parliament and Sherbourne are being hit harder. I hope these folks get some relief soon. It’s a really bad situation. On the surface things look relatively fine here but go to parts of town where the tourists typically don’t go (like just a few blocks from Yonge street) and you’ll see a very different situation.

  2. I am in love with those cows. Here they seemed to favor wildly painting various plaster cows and positioning them around the towns near us. I much prefer the naturalistic ones you shared.

    1. We had that too – but with the moose, one of which I shared some time ago. They used to be all over the city. Now there are just a handful here and there.

  3. Wow so much happening in one single post.
    1. I am curious about cooking lessons. Which type of food?
    2. I am glad that you are safe and sound but please take good care of yourself. It’s fine in summer but at the end of autumn there will be more leaves and small branches on the grounds. It could be dangerous.
    3. You inspired me again by not staying inside the next day and thanks for showing those cows. In some countries we see cows on roads and we question why but then in some we create them just to have their company. Such are we humans 🙂
    Have a wonderful weekend.

    1. Hi Rupali – I’ll get back to you on the cooking class. Your comment is motivation for me to finish the post this weekend 🙂

      I’ve definitely become a bit more cautious, carefully checking and adjusting brakes most of all. Right now with leaves and water on the roads it can get a bit slippery and once the snow falls I will need to be more cautious still.

      There is something about the cows lying down there that made me think of India. I think in part because where I grew up and most places in North America we rarely see cows lying down. The only time we do is when rain’s likely. I remember growing up as a kid in Vermont where there were at one time (maybe still) more cows than people. My grandfather would see a field full of cows lying down and tell me rain was coming. And he was usually right. (Maybe they wanted dry grass underneath them when the rain fell?). In India, of course, it’s quite common to see cows lying down. I wonder why.

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