A Holiday Ride

Though it is the Victoria Day holiday, my alarm goes off at 5:15 AM as usual. Instead of showering, though, I go straight to the kitchen to start breakfast: two eggs, a bagel and peanut butter. After I eat I finish my coffee and struggle to get myself moving toward the door. Inertia is a powerful force, especially on the third day of a three-day weekend. Instead, I play cards with Sage under the guise of getting sufficiently caffeinated. Finally, by 6:30 there is no more room for excuses.

I finish packing my gear for the trip: Tire levers to remove a flat tire, a spare tube, a multitool and pliers in case something mechanical goes wrong. Then for me I throw in three energy bars, two big bottles of water, a power bank and phone charging cable.

I look at the weather and see that right now it is only about ten degrees and only expected to go up to fifteen. But when exercising that still can be quite warm. To be ready for that I wear cycling shorts that look like cargo shorts (I feel more comfortable going in to restaurants and stores not wearing skin-tight clothes), and a short sleeve jersey that quickly wicks away any sweat.

Today will be sunny so I cover myself in sunscreen and like Pavlov’s dog reacting to the bell, the smell of the sunscreen lights a fire under me. This smell means a bike trip and now I’m excited to go.

Next I put on biking shoes. These have cleats built in that attach my feet firmly to the pedals. Some people don’t like them as they feel vulnerable and worry about falling. And to be honest, I’ve fallen twice: Once when I had an unexpected quick stop and another time early on when I was learning and “forgot” to unclip and just fell over at a stoplight in slow motion. But now I prefer riding with them. I feel more stable in them, and on difficult climbs I can both push down and pull up to get more power.

I put on fluorescent yellow windbreaker and head out the door. At 7:00 AM on a holiday morning the roads are nearly empty and in the 5 kilometre ride to the subway station I see only a couple of cars. It feels like it did when the lockdown first started and the roads were empty and felt incredibly safe. Without the cars the air smells clean and feels chilly on my exposed skin – refreshing like drinking cold water. I cruise along at 25 km/hr and am at the station in record time.

In Toronto, bikes are allowed on the subway except during morning and evening rush on weekdays so they’re a huge convenience. I lift my bike over my shoulder, which is a bit difficult as this is no light weight racing bike. This is a steel touring bike which right now weighs about 15-16 kg with water and bags.

The subway pulls in, mostly empty at this hour and I find a place to sit. The riders are an interesting mix of people. Many are dressed and ready to start work, coffee in hand. Others are wearing the outfits they went out to the club in the previous night. As soon as the doors close these people lean their head against the plexiglas barrier next to the door and nod off almost immediately.

As the subway heads cross town it mostly goes underground, popping up here and there to get a bit of sun or to look down at a river far below. Finally, it pops out one last time just before the last stop where everyone gets off, most everyone making their way to the bus platform where they make their way to the buses that will take them deeper into the suburbs.

There are only a handful of people outside the station. I set my GPS watch to follow the track I created the night before. While it figures out where we are I take a photo.

Today’s route starts on a big suburban street that is nearly empty of cars. Before long, though, I am on to small trails that will eventually take me to the Etobicoke Creek Trail that I’ll spend most of the ride on.

It isn’t long before I find my first fallen tree. Two nights before, a huge storm, later described as a derecho, passed through, leaving many downed trees, damaged houses, power outages and killed eleven people.

At one point high up on a bridge pillar a message catches my eye. “Kelsey Mitchell’s Wall – honouring her performance in the 2020 Olympics”. Having seen many sad memorials near bridges before, I was worried this was another, but I was happy to see that Kelsey Mitchell is doing just fine. They just have some fans in Etobicoke. While I was stopped first one mountain biker stopped to make sure I wasn’t lost, then another mountain biker stopped to tell me that down a dirt trail there was a baby falcon who had fallen from its nest when their tree was knocked down by the storm and its mom was nearby and quite upset. While she suggested I go to see it I figured the last thing that falcon family needs is one more human gawking at them. So I headed north.

I pass the Pearson International Airport – the busiest in Canada but airports are big places and the nearby runways weren’t busy so even there it was calm and quiet. I wouldn’t have guessed there was an airport there were there not a few radar towers and of course a big sign.

I’ve been riding for a couple of hours and am getting hungry. A day’s ride can burn 2000, 3000, or more extra calories in a day and these have to be made up. Fail to do that, you bonk leaving you physically incapacitated, and an emotional wreck. Believe me, I know. I’ve been there.

What you eat on a long bike ride is very different from what many people consider healthy food. Those whole grains, salads and lean proteins? Save those for dinner. You need to think in terms of what your body is wanting. You’ve been using carbohydrates so that’s what you replenish with – the simpler the better so it’s easy and quick to digest. A little sugar can be good too. And if you’re like me you’ve been sweating and losing not just water but salt as well. So while fried foods may not be the healthiest, I’m often a big fan of french fries with lots of salt on them or plain donuts. But as had just entered Brampton, a city with a large Indian population I had another option that I remember working well as fuel when I was on my cycling trip in India: aloo paratha. Not far from the path was “Paranthe Wali Gali” – its location in a strip mall was a long ways from its namesake in Old Delhi but the food was decent. A bit of achaar brought my salt balance back in line where it should be as well.

Back on the trail again, it isn’t long before I find another tree down.

As usual graffiti along the way catches my eye.

Before long I reach Loafer’s Lake.

I’m not sure who this loafer they’re talking about was, but it seems like a good suggestion. I lean my bike against a tree and sit on the ground. A little ways away I see that someone seems to have left something on the ground.

Right next to me are a bunch of turtle eggs just waiting to hatch.

North from the lake, the route gets a little more rustic and forested. And before long there is, you guessed it another fallen tree. This one is a little trickier to get my bike through, and is followed soon after by yet another tree.

I ride through the forest for a long time and see fewer and fewer people until my trail ends at a busy suburban street. Fortunately I ride this one only a short distance before my GPS tells me to turn back down a narrow path to a disused part of a park.

The trail gets a bit more rustick and turns to single track. Most of the other folks riding are on mountain or gravel bikes. I do my best, though, until I find the biggest fallen tree of the day. Not even the mountain bikers can bunny-hop over this monster.

This park is beautiful and more rustic. Though my route tells me to make my way through parking lots, I explore a different and more roundabout route.

And then my luck runs out for good roads. The inner suburbs of Toronto like Mississauga and Brampton are challenging for cycling. Recently some cities have at least been making sidewalks wider and designating them as shared pathways for bikes. But still, after a day of delightful riding through the woods this is not nice.

Cars are zooming by at 80-100 km/hour or more. The sound of wind, water and birds has been replaced by loud engines tuned for street racing. It seems to take forever but then, after routing down a few roads like this, I see signs that say “Road ends” – which can bode well as that can mean “Road ends for cars” but cyclists and pedestrians can keep going. And indeed that’s what happened. The wide high speed roadway quickly narrows and turns into this:

And then I’m back in the country for a while. Families travel together here, a few on bikes, but most on foot. And soon I’m at the Claireville dam just south of the reservoir.

I am able to continue on mostly paths and quiet roads for a bit, before as expected I’m dumped out on Finch Avenue. It’s usually like the Brampton street above except with only a narrow sidewalk. It’s only a kilometre or so so I had decided to suck it up and just ride/walk that stretch before getting to another path along the Finch Hydro corridor which would take me to the subway station.

But what I didn’t know was that since my last time riding in this area pre-pandemic, a light rail project had been initiated. The road is a shambles. There is no high speed traffic, but there is also not really a road or sidewalk. Lanes are closed, sidewalks are closed and require crossing to the other side or using a narrow path separated from traffic by jersey barriers. When I get to the hydro corridor it’s also mostly closed. So my last few kilometres are a walk through a construction zone. But then on the other side I get a glimpse of the future.

It’s one of the first protected intersections in Toronto. It’s not a particularly busy one but it’s exciting to see. See how the curbs are designed to keep right-turning drivers from hitting cyclists? Drivers also wait quite a ways back from cyclists going straight so they’re less likely to be hit wen going through the intersection.

And even on the way down to Finch West Station, Keele Street has a fully protected bike lane, separated from traffic. This is a huge upgrade for this area and it bodes very well for the future.

In the end, it was a full day’s ride. I end up arriving home in late afternoon after riding over 92 kilometres (about 57 miles). It’s one of my first big rides of the year and I feel good at the end. I’m glad I pushed myself out the door in the morning.

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