I found myself with an unexpected week of vacation last week (how nice!). Usually my holidays are planned long in advance - I take them very seriously (like most things in my life!). However, this one was a bit more flexible. My kids were at their beloved camp. My partner would be working. I was on my own! I'm too restless to just indulge in a "stay-cation" - at home, there is always something to DO! My partner moved in with us the weekend before (eek!), and I felt a bit badly about immediately leaving - a bit too metaphorical for both of us! So the first two days were spent unpacking and organizing and culling (my things as well as his!). And then I set out for the start of what I hope will be a long-term project! I biked a section of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail!
The trail is the result of an incredible effort and collaboration between the Waterfront Regeneration Trust and many local and national recreation trails. The path traces the Ontario edge of Lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. It spans 3000 km through an enormous range of landscapes and communities, all in celebration of this amazing freshwater resource.
I happen to have dear friends who live in just the perfect positions along the trail for me to have connection, dinner, a beer and a bed on this leg of the journey. Kate, a soul sister from treeplanting in Kapuskasing lives in Niagara Falls. Heather, my kindred spirit from the University of Guelph is in Hamilton. Heather (yes, there are two) lives in the Toronto Beach neighbourhood - she and I are avowed life partners. All three women have beautiful husbands, and children that are a joy. What a way to spend a few evenings! And they all live approximately 80 km apart along the trail (I had planned to carry on to Whitby to visit with yet another couple I love ... next time).
I took the GO train to Burlington, and the bus from there to Niagara Falls. Hooray for infrastructure that supports bikes! I had a tough time maneuvering the bike rack on the GO bus ... the driver commented that I mustn't be an engineering student ... I was honoured that she thought I was a student at all!!! I enjoyed a wonderful evening with Kate at an amazing restaurant in St. Catherines, and thoroughly caught up - it had been a while! After a filling breakfast (thanks Fish family!), I set out on my bike. Kate's door to Heather's door should have been 80 km, but that would have cut off one of the most beautiful sections of trail. At the start of my ride, tacking an extra 20 km on to ride the Niagara Parkway didn't seem like a big deal. It really is a lovely route. Spectacular view of the river, fields of grape vine, impressive Fort George, picturesque Queenston and Niagara-on-the-Lake, local fruit stands ... it was tough to ride by all the ripe peaches and cherries, knowing I couldn't carry them on my bike! I did stop and enjoy a small sample.
The next part of the day took me along the lakeshore south of the QEW. The trail meandered through small towns, along proper park trails, and for sections, along the north service road. I stopped for an extended rest in Historic Grimsby Beach. I didn't realize until I got up and left the park that I was surrounded by the famous painted houses ... (I realized after my ride that I took next to no pictures, so others' will have to suffice). Continuing west along the lake, I eventually encountered Hamilton's beautiful Confederation Park. I was sorry to have to detour off the trail here ... but I was pretty pooped, and the shortest route to Heather's was through the city ... urban Hamilton riding isn't the best, but I rolled in in time for a delicious dinner of veggie burgers and Greek salad and a radler. Thanks Harvey Family!
I have a long history with riding. As a child, our family took extended bike camping trips. I am no stranger to long days in the saddle. My dad always reflected that cycling was a wonderful way to see the world ... fast enough to get somewhere, but slow enough to appreciate the world going by. I've driven the route between Toronto and Niagara innumerable times in my life, but by bike I was able to really take in the details. As an adult, I have done many long rides in the form of training for or competing in triathlons. The distance I was riding each day was comparable to the distance of the ride in a half-Ironman. For years I've been driven to train and improve and push myself physically. Recently I haven't had quite the same mojo. It was an interesting process on this ride ... rather than push myself, to listen to my body, to take my time, to enjoy the scenery. I didn't bring my GPS watch, and I didn't have an odometer. I could have done the math to figure out my pace, but really, to what end? I had no agenda, no itinerary.
Day two took me through Coote's Paradise (and up an insane 200 steps to meet the trail again!), past the Royal Botanical Gardens and into Burlington. Many lovely homes and parks along the lake through Burlington and Oakville, and I took the opportunity to look around and finish my cherries while gazing at the lake .... until a water truck parked right in front of my bench to water the flower beds ...
The second stretch of day 2 was very familiar to me. My partner lived (until just last weekend!) in Long Branch, and grew up in Clarkson (Mississauga). I've run and biked the trail between Clarkson and Toronto many, many times in the past five years. It was nice to revisit it, especially because - now that we live together! - I may not have as many opportunities! I met his mom and dad (and their little princess Fiona) for a stroll through the Rhododendron gardens near Port Credit. I planned to stop for a cone at Dairy Cream - the classic 50's hot spot - but there was a long, long line of kids from a local sailing camp humming and hawing over their preferred flavour, so I carried on. I'll be back Dairy Cream! Instead, I stopped for refreshments at Sweet Olenka's in New Toronto - delicious chocolate sweetness! I spun through the familiar sights across the Humber Bay bridge (reminds me of the beautiful bridge in my Japanese home of Fukuchiyama), past the butterfly habitat, and parallel to the Lakeshore and the Gardiner past Sunnyside bathing pavilion, the Boulevard Club and Ontario Place ... the beacon of the CN Tower looming larger all the time. I negotiated the minefield of Queen's Quay past the Harbourfront Centre, airplanes coming and going to the island airport all the while. Out past the Redpath sugar refinery and its namesake beach. Through the port lands - the Leslie Street Spit extending gracefully into the lake. Into Ashbridges Bay and the Beach where I enjoyed a relaxing evening with my partner and dear friends. Thanks Hudson-Cox clan!
And in the end? 190 km travelled. A very sore bottom. And the satisfied physical weariness of hard work. Time spent on my own and reconnection with love ones. A spark ignited to ride the rest of the trail! Only 2800 km to go!