Tag Archives: Toronto bike

Braving the Eastern Front

21 Nov

Just days after we moved to Toronto in an excitable haze, the city saw its worst ever mass shooting, which was to leave two people dead and 23 injured.

The incident in Scarborough, an eastern suburb, sparked a frenzy of newspaper columns and TV reports about Toronto’s inequalities and spiralling crime.

In a city with a reputation as an orderly safe haven, in a country so polite and friendly that a standard email sign-off is “very truly yours”, the shooting was a warning against complacency. It reminded us that Toronto, like any major city, has an edgier side and contains pockets with deep-rooted social challenges.

It also slightly dampened our enthusiasm for exploring eastwards. Besides from crime, any local will tell you that if you travel east of Yonge Street you’ll either lose your soul in a strip mall or fall off the edge of the planet.

But I wanted to try my luck. That’s me all over; I’m a thrill-seeker, a Jane Bond, a…keen cyclist. Yeah, that’s right adventure-shunners, I was raring to strap on my windproof anorak, pack a mean cache of cereal bars and show those suburban bike paths who’s boss.

So that’s what we did on Saturday, and discovered that Scarborough (pronounced Scarbour-o, rather than the English Scarbour-er) really is a world away from downtown Toronto. In the sense that it took seven hours to get there and back, involving a dark, cold evening cycle home, and we didn’t even reach our intended destination. Oops.

Our journey took us up the Don Valley, through the secluded Taylor Creek Park, across a bleak no-man’s-land and up the Hydro corridor:

Hydro corridor Toronto bike cycle

Hydro = Canadian for electrical power

From there, we tried to access Morningside Park, but came up against a slight, watery, problem:

Toronto cycle Morningside Scarborough

Er, how do we get across?

Having conquered the ravine, we were cycling around looking for the trail, when I spied a small, antlered deer weaving through the trees. Ahhhh. Deer in Scarborough?! And not a gun in sight.

The plan was to carry on to the University of Scarborough campus, but it was getting dark and we couldn’t find the trail. So in a strip mall car park, we decided to head home. It was quite a picturesque ending to our trip, I’m sure you’ll agree:

Tim Hortons Scarborough Toronto cycle

At least the coffee was cheap

Despite some temporary numbness to the fingers and toes, we survived our 70km round-trip to Scarborough unscathed.

On the way back, we even saw a raccoon peering from a tree with its bank-robber eyes:

Raccoon Toronto cycle Don Valley

On the pitch-black Don Valley trail. Thank goodness for bike lights!

We probably had nothing to worry about in the first place. This rather neat crime map of Toronto shows there most definitely isn’t a clear east-west divide when it comes to violent assaults.

Clicking on the map shows that in eastern Scarborough there were 17.57 “crimes against the person” per 1,000 residents and workers in 2006, compared with just 3.7 in my neighbourhood. But then, Chinatown has a rate of 20.3 and that’s not going to keep me from my General Tso Pork.

The excellent Toronto Life magazine published a well-researched piece on Scarborough’s demographics, worth a read.

Although the route took longer than we’d planned for and there were gaps in the trail involving some busy roads, it was impressive to see – again – how well set up Toronto is for cyclists, and how quickly you can escape the dense inner city if you want to.

Here’s where we went:

Salmon spotting in the Humber and other pick-me-ups

25 Oct

I’ve been missing home this week. But several things have put a smile on my face, including:

1. The new Topshop at The Bay (shallow, I know)

2. Listening to BBC Radio 6 Music on the new iplayer radio ap

3. Having my condo pool and jacuzzi entirely to myself for a whole, blissful, hour

4. The Songified version of the Presidential debate

5. Watching the Humber River salmon run

I’d always wanted to see salmon trying to make their way upstream. It’s hard to explain the appeal, but watching 25 pound salmon leaping out of the water in the middle of an urban park is weirdly fascinating.

Toronto Humber River Salmon

A salmon jumping out of the Humber River, Toronto

The annual spectacle attracted a crowd on Sunday afternoon, with lots of “oohs” and “ahhs” as, one-by-one, the salmon made a desperate bid for safety. Kids ran about excitedly, squealing: “Holy smoke, that was a big ‘un!”

Humber River salmon Toronto

Watching the salmon run

Sadly, we didn’t see any salmon actually make it, and their plight was exploited by a few opportunistic fishermen.

Humber River salmon fishing Toronto

Fishing for salmon in the Humber River

I got to the Humber River by bike, via a trail stretching 22km from the Harbourfront to Cruickshank Park. I think it’s my new favourite cycle route.

Here’s the route I took:

Lost in a cemetery

17 Oct

Yesterday I got lost in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. For nearly two hours.

After 90 minutes of cycling round-and-round this very beautiful, but labyrinthine, vortex of death, the gardeners were staring at me like I was at best a funeral crasher, at worst a pervy grief voyeur.

At one point I reflected on how ironic it would be if I actually died there. “Charlotte would’ve seen the funny side,” they’d say at my wake, clinking glasses mirthfully.

At least, as necrosis set in, I would’ve been comforted by the fact I was in exalted company, close to the resting grounds of Canada’s former prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and its first female surgeon Jennie Smillie-Robinson, along with Métis artist Youngfox and pianist Glenn Gould.

Who wouldn’t wish to spend their dying moments in one of North America’s finest arboretums?

The cemetery was my final stop (nearly literally) on a bike trip through the Evergreen Brickworks and Moore Park Ravine.

It was a typical sunny Toronto day in that the big, blue, Canadian sky had begged me to go and play outside.

Before reaching the cemetery I’d cycled a few laps of the brickworks’ secluded wildflower meadows, which are only just in earshot of city sirens.

Heading north, along the ravine track, I’d marvelled at the autumnal colours of the trees and how the only audible noise was a black squirrel munching on an acorn.

Getting lost in the cemetery kind of ruined my zen.

But I survived to tell the tale and share these iphone snaps of my voyage:

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Here’s a map of my journey. Without meandering through the Brick Works or getting lost, like I did, it’s 12km one way.

You terrify me (but I love you)

24 Aug

Despite the headline, I haven’t written a Meatloaf-inspired ballad, or penned a gushing poem on the psychology of domestic abuse. Far more prosaically, I have a new bike.

Here it is:

My new Kona Dew hybrid bike

Check out my new wheels

For the bike nerds, it’s a Kona Dew 2012 hybrid, with Shimano shifters and chainset. For the rest of us, it’s a comfortable-ish type you can use for commuting and on well-maintained trails, with enough gears to prevent too much huffing and puffing.

Aside from a few years of ambling around uni campus on my metallic purple Raleigh Princess bike, I’ve never been much of a cyclist. Too many hills and scary drivers – and that’s before we consider the dreaded helmet-hair.

Luckily, in Toronto there are hardly any hills but there are plenty of side roads in which to avoid horrid lorries and major traffic – and the frizz-inducing humidity in summer makes helmet-hair a bit of an irrelevance.

My latest purchase was also inspired by hiring a bike for the day and taking it on a fantastic, sunny, ride along the waterfront.

It was one of those hearty weekend afternoons that has you plotting a new lifestyle of 6am runs, vegan stir fries and lunchtime pilates, before you go home, forget about all that nonsense and watch TOWIE with a Chinese takeaway and glass of wine. (TOWIE, for Canadians who haven’t come across this Bafta award-winning series – truly the jewel in British broadcasting’s crown – is like The Real Housewives of Vancouver, but with less tennis and more vajazzling).

For the most part, my cycle ride followed the Martin Goodman trail east from downtown, for around 26 kilometres, taking in the peaceful Tommy Thompson Park nature reserve and the full length of the beaches.

View from Tommy Thompson Park

Looking over to the city from Tommy Thompson Park

On the way back, we cheated by skipping Tommy Thompson, though we did meander through Ashbridge’s Bay Park for a while.

I’ve created an interactive map, plotting our journey with pictures, here (requires sound, start on the green marker then click each marker in turn for the info and pictures). You should be able to add details to the map too, should you know of any points of interest or useful info that I’ve missed out.

Despite my enjoyment that day, after buying my own bike from the very helpful Duke’s Cycle on Queen St West, I realized a slight snag in my plan to become the female Bradley Wiggins; I was terrified of going out on my own.

But I’m an inpatient soul and after studying a cycle map for several hours, my terror of venturing out alone was finally superseded by a desperation to get out into the sunshine and check out my new ride.

As I’m still a scaredy-cat when it comes to roads, I decided to test the other side of the waterfront trail, heading west towards Etobicoke.

West Toronto Beach

Cyclist taking a break on the sandy beach

The sites along the way were a mixture of industrial developments, harbours, outdoor patios, shaded parklands, splash pads and sandy beaches.Humber Bay Park East

Humber Bay Park, with its butterfly sanctuary and clumps of colourful wildflowers, made for a secluded detour, away from the aggressive commuters that were starting to erode the tranquility of the main trail. I thought about reminding them of the 20km/hr speed limit, but on reflection decided maybe that wouldn’t be cool.

I was also intrigued by a warning notice to dog-owners about Coyotes. Not sure how common these are but I wouldn’t want to run into one in the dark.

Coyote noticeWild animals and maniacal two-wheelers aside, I’m now impossibly hooked on cycling and can’t wait to explore some of the ravines dotting the city. At some point, I’ll even venture onto the roads.

This is a helpful website that helps cyclists to plan the safest route through the mean streets of Toronto. And I definitely want to check out some of the recommendations here, too.

Any other personal faves/under-rated sites or routes you’d like to share? Or perhaps just some friendly cyclist-to-cyclist advice on how to shift gear without your pedals crunching arthritically in a “please don’t do that to me” sort of way? Please add your tips underneath this post!

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