I was delighted when author friend, Sam Wiebe, announced his latest Dave Wakeland thriller, Hell and Gone, the third in the series about the introspective Vancouver private investigator (Harbour Publishing).
The first two Wakeland books were stand-outs: Invisible Deadwas a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award and Cut You Down was short-listed for both the Hammett and Shamus awards. But Hell and Gone is the best Wakeland novel yet!
The book opens with a harrowing robbery and shoot-out, one of the most gripping action sequences I’ve read in recent memory. Wakeland witnesses the crime, tries unsuccessfully to help the victims and struggles with PTSD as a result. He’s determined to bring down the perpetrators, but this puts him in conflict with his business partner, Jeff Chen.
Hell and Gone focuses on Jeff, who up till now was more Wakeland’s foil: the moral, stable, non-violent half of the partnership. Sam delves into the intricate historical ties to crime in Vancouver’s Chinese community and the traps that can befall the modern generation of business owners like Jeff. His portrayal of Wakeland’s PTSD is especially believable.
The plot offers enough twists and betrayals to rival Dashiell Hammett himself. (Sorry no spoilers!) You’ll stay up all night to get to the last page.
And for emerging writers, I highly recommend Sam’s online Mystery Writing Mastery courses. The 14 beginner’s lessons are free.
The 2021 Virtual Ride to Conquer Cancer took place over two days, the August 28-29th weekend. For Ride #4, my final pledge ride, I picked Saturday, August 28th, mostly because my parents got married on that date in 1943, nearly 80 years ago!
Ed snapped this pic of me as I headed out, wearing my yellow Ambassador’s jersey. The weather looked cloudy and unsettled so I skipped the opening speeches on YouTube to beat the heat.
I rode east to Bayview and turned south, treating myself to a 1 km downhill zoom to the Don Valley bike trail that runs parallel to the Bayview Extension – an easy ride past the Brickworks and Rosedale Valley Road to River Street.
Thanks to COVID, the City has made the tail end of Bayview Extension one way and carved off half a lane for a new bike path. That deposited me squarely into the Canary District and the corporate art therein.
A moment of nostalgia for the super-techs at Gears Bike Store: they fixed my flat in 15 minutes during the 2020 virtual Ride. They’ve now relocated north to King St. The Canary District looked deserted: not the eastern twin of overbuilt Liberty Village…yet.
I decided to take the lakeshore trail to stay out of traffic and use the headwind to ward off the promised heat.
Passing under the Gardiner Expressway, I took in the gallery of street art.
Once again, it was a fast ride with the west wind behind me. The lake looked spectacular though the rain clouds did look ominous.
Few people were out this morning. I passed the occasional dog walker and happily connected and chatted with a fellow Rider who was doing her third Ride. By the time I reached the Distillery District for my usual Balzac’s break, I was almost exactly halfway done. Waiting for Ed to drive down to join me, I found some neat things: the original shoreline of Lake Ontario memorialized and the LOVE sculpture.
Pledging eternal love by using a padlock originated in Europe in the early 2000s even though the origin is sad. During WWI a young Serbian woman fell in love with a soldier and they put a padlock on the Bridge of Love. He left her for another and she died of heartbreak.
Not a great recommendation but since 2000, lovers have placed locks on bridges and fences throughout the world. In Paris, the Pont des Arts was so overloaded that in 2014 part of its parapet collapsed. Cities now routinely remove these padlocks. Some, taking a more positive route, invite people to create sculptures like LOVE above. Read more about love locks here.
After coffee, I cycled out along the Lakeshore bike path to my usual turnaround point at the Humber Bridge and Palace Pier.
On the bridge, I met and chatted with a team of fellow riders, all wearing yellow jerseys. They all work for the same software company and were riding for the father of the young woman with them. A heartfelt moment and reminder of why we ride.
On the way back, I began to feel the heat, but luckily I was nearing the end of the journey. I turned up Bay Street and kept to the lane reserved for bikes, cabs and buses. I played chicken with three buses all the way up to Belmont Street. With relief, I turned right and from there went north onto Yonge St.
Once again, thanks to COVID, the City has installed a bike lane up Yonge St. starting at Bloor St. It was the fastest way home for me though it did mean two thigh-burning climbs between Summerhill and St. Clair Ave.
Happily when I passed the Summerhill clock tower, I hit the 50 km mark! After I reached St. Clair, I had a quick pedal through the calm of Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, said hello to the boys and arrived home in time for lunch. Total distance: 53.422 km!!
This was my 14th Ride. Did I sign up for next year? Of course, I did. Who could say no to a pair of stylish socks like these?
Apparently only 64 riders have done the Toronto Ride every single year since the inaugural one in 2008. I’m one of them!
On to training for 2022 and big hugs and many, many thanks for your wonderful support of cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital.
Here at last is my blog on Ride #3. (Spoiler alert: I did successfully complete my four pledged rides for a total of 200 km!)
Tuesday, August 24th I headed west to the Humber River one of my favorite trails. Getting there from mid-town Toronto unfortunately requires a hair-raising pedal through traffic. I started out early to beat the promised scorching heat. The first few kilometers were along the cool shade of the Beltline trail.
The Beltline trail follows the path of a commuter railway that opened in 1892. It never turned a profit and only lasted two years. For almost a century afterwards Torontonians wrangled over how to use the land until David Crombie, Toronto’s tiny perfect mayor, turned it into a bike path. (If you’re having a sleepless night, you can read the detailed history of bureaucracy and indecision here. )
As a runner, I was familiar with the Kay Gardner section that runs from Mt. Pleasant Cemetery to the Allen Expressway. There my buddies and I would literally “hit the wall” before looping back, 11 km roundtrip from the Pearly Gates on Bayview. I ran across the York section west of Allen Road purely by accident, actually coming east from the Humber. The access from the west is well hidden down a narrow sidewalk past an auto bodyshop and as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy would say behind the sign saying “Beware of the leopard”.
The York Trail is belied by the overgrown entrance. It’s actually quite exposed and bland, running as many rec trails do, under a set of hydro wires and pylons. But behind a set of industrial buildings, there’s some neat street art.
At the end of the Beltline, I pedal back along Bowie to Montgomery and cut through Prospect Cemetery, which bears a striking resemblance to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, which is hardly surprising since they were designed by the same people. Prospect is bigger than Mt. Pleasant, consisting of three pleasantly green sections to ride through despite a steep climb midway.
You might think that Prospect provides a lengthy stretch in which to contemplate one’s own mortality, but death is far more imminent on the next part of my route which follows St. Clair Avenue west until it ends at Scarlett Street.
There are no – and I mean NO – accommodations for cyclists along busy St. Clair. Stay alert, stay alive. I watch for car doors opening, street car tracks and open air patios that have narrowed the thoroughfare to one lane. In some sections, I beat a retreat to the sidewalk. Better to be humbled into walking with pedestrians than blending in with the traffic in a grisly way.
I’m much relieved to turn onto Scarlett Street and its bike path. It’s a speedy downhill ride for the most part to the quiet refuge of the Humber River trails.
The northern parts of the trail are wilder and susceptible to flooding. One spring, a cycling team mate and I watched an enormous snapping turtle swim across our path.
In 1954, Hurricane Hazel struck Toronto with winds of 115 km/hr. The Humber, Don and Rouge Rivers overflowed and killed 81 people, destroying nearly 2000 homes. After this disaster, Toronto no longer builds on floodplains and developed an early warning weather system. Today though the trail is dry. I say hello to the few hikers and wave to the kids at a bike camp.
The Humber Trail has a general downgrade interspersed with some short steep hills. Long sections are being rebuilt in the section north of Old Mill Road. I’m glad that my trusty bike is a hybrid and that Ed pumped up my tires as I negotiate the gravel and mud.
South of Old Mill, the trail gets challenging with two heart thumper climbs out of the valley. There’s a short section that detours through city streets before I reach my midway point and the last part of the Humber trail.
It’s now a downhill zoom through a wood and field flowers. One of my fav features along the trail is the Oculus, a UFO-inspired 1950s pavilion designed by British architect, Alan Crossley, and engineer, Laurence Cazaly. Over the years, Oculus had been defaced by tag graffiti and the City considered demolishing it. Happily, in 2019, it was saved. It’s now an art installation complete with alien graphics. (See pics below.)
At the pedestrian bridge by Palace Pier, I turn east for the 15 km journey along the lake shore. I pass a kid-friendly dinosaur playground. Along the way I pass one of Toronto’s saddest ghost bicycles, a memorial to a 5 year old boy killed when he fell into Lake Shore traffic.
It’s full sun by now and 30+ degrees. Too hot even for biking. No free Perrier today at Ontario Place. At Balzacs in the Distillery District, I treat myself to an iced coffee before taking my usual route home: up Sherbourne through Summerhill and Mt. Pleasant cemetery.
Home at last and my third pledged 50 km ride is done
Ride #2 completed! Today Ed persuaded me to put on my 2021 Ambassador’s jersey ahead of the official virtual ride date. One way to tell the world about The Ride to Conquer Cancer, so I did.
Because of the weather forecast for August 20th – full sun and soaring temperatures of 30+ degrees – I opted for the shadiest and coolest bike routes through the Don Valley and along the lake.
I headed down early into Sunnybrook. This morning I chose the Serena Gundy entrance just east of Laird Avenue, a narrow steep hill that swings down through some pretty parkland that’s a favorite of day camps. A scary metal grid bridge crosses the West Don before dumping cyclists out between two huge boulders into a parking lot.
The park was donated by James Gundy, one of the founders of Wood Gundy, in memory of his late wife, Serena. WG used to be one of Canada’s biggest stock brokerage firms before CIBC absorbed it in 1988. When I first entered the finance biz, the principle of “The Four Pillars” was sacrosanct. Banks, stock brokerages, insurance and, I believe, credit unions operated in separate silos to protect customers. However, the Four Pillars vanished in 1980s. Now banks sell you stocks and insurance. Thirty years later our financial world, fingers crossed, has not collapsed.
At The Teeth and Tout Est Possible, I turned right and headed onto the North Don Valley trail for 5 km. This is one of my favorite trails, sheltered, well-paved and mostly downgrade. The Don River seems tame, but it can get wild in spring to the delight of kayakers. it’s also burst its bank and flooded roads many times.
I’ve encountered plenty of small wild life here – even a deer once! Today I noticed a group of people gathered around… a skunk!Luckily it wasn’t mad.
I crossed over Pottery Road onto the South Don Valley trail, which has lots of neat artwork along the way. Sadly during COVID, many of the official Toronto Street Art murals have been obliterated by tags. See below:
Halfway along, I encountered several trucks, workmen and assorted equipment blocking the route. They were obliterating the graffiti tags with a smooth cement coating. This doesn’t work. The punks love it. The cement leaves an empty canvas for, you guessed it, more tags.
The gargoyle garden is happily not damaged, but at the end of the trail, several of my favorites are.
I met Ed at the Distillery District for a coffee at Balzac’s. Life feels almost normal on summer day.
Now that craft beers taken over, artisans are taking up custom spirits, too. We spotted this interesting entrance. Wouldn’t it make a great location for Noir at the Bar?
Temperatures stayed manageable by the lake. I headed west along Queen’s Quay and the Martin Goodman trail, marking my midway point at the Windmill by Exhibition Place.
It’s a 30 km loop along the lakeshore trail from the Distillery District to the Humber River and back. I passed several landmarks: Sunnyside Beach, the Ex and Marilyn Bell park.
On September 9, 1954, Marilyn Bell, at only 16 years of age, became the first person to swim Lake Ontario. Entering the water at Youngstown, New York, she fought through lamprey eels, hypothermia, oil spills and high waves to land close to Sunnyside 21 hours later. Winds and currents blew her off course so that she actually swam 72 km instead of the planned 51.5 km. She’s a true hero who inspired many marathon swimmers, including Vicki Keith, the lady of all five Great Lakes.
To learn more about these remarkable women and the unusual sport of marathon swimming, I recommend my friend, Laura E. Young’s book, Solo Yet Never Alone. Marilyn Bell retired at only 18 after swimming the Straits of Juan de Fuca. She chose to lead her own life, married and became a teacher, mother and grandmother. Now 83, she lives in a retirement home in New York State. Despite a spinal injury, she still swims!
On my way back from Palace Pier, I stopped to look at the lake. Lots of sailing boats out with both blue and white sails. As a child, learning to sail with my dad, my dream was to own a wood-hulled Dragon with blue sails. It’s now a vintage sail boat with its own fans and niche regattas.
When I passed by the inukshuk, I got lucky. Perrier had set up a pop-up / guerilla marketing booth handing out ice-cold cans of a new product to cyclists: Perrier water flavored with fruit and laced with Yerba Mate. Free caffeine! Just what I needed.
It’s remarkable how much the waterfront has changed in the past 10 years. In 2008, the Redpath sugar refinery was easily the largest of the few buildings along the eastern part of Queen’s Quay.
Today I had a hard time finding it, dwarfed and hemmed in by several monolithic condo towers. Even the sign to the Redpath museum looked dusty. It’s no longer Redpath and no longer a Canadian company. The caramel tang of melting sugar is overwhelmingly strong. Wonder what the condo dwellers make of it?
I pedaled over to lower Sherbourne and took the bike lane for the fastest way home: up through Rosedale, Moore Park and Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. I was happy that my calculations were correct as it was getting too hot even to bike.
The 2021 Ride to Conquer Cancer is – sigh – virtual once again on August 28-29th. But cancer doesn’t sleep so I’m embarking on my 14th Ride to raise money for research at Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the top 5 cancer hospitals in the world!
Once again I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of my supporters. As pledged, I’ll be doing four 50 km rides, the 200 km distance from Toronto to Niagara Falls. This year, I’m riding for three friends who are blood cancer survivors: L, M and T, this ride is for you!
On Aug 16th, at 8 am I set out on my first 50 km ride, wearing last year’s jersey, We Ride, for inspiration.
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect; a clear sky with a soft breeze to ward off the heat of the sun.
I headed down into Sunnybrook park via the steep hill at Lyndhurst, passing the dog park (no customers yet) and gliding past the picture-perfect creek and Sunnybrook stables which, judging by the COVID warnings on their website, appear to be back in operation.
On May 21, 2018, 3 am, a two-alarm fire broke out, destroying one barn and damaging the other. Firefighters spent long hours battling the blaze, but tragically only could save 13 horses, fewer than half on site. The Fire Marshall’s Office says that since the damage was so extensive, the cause of the fire may never be found.
My ride through the park felt blissfully cool. At The Teeth, I turned left, passing my favorite icon, Tout Est Possible and headed up Taylor Creek trail.
The hill out of Taylor Creek to Victoria Park remains a challenge. I might have made it all the way up in “granny gear” (hey, I am a grandmother), but I opted for the better form of valor and walked up at the halfway mark. I zoomed down Victoria Park to Gerrard then followed Scarborough Road all the way down to the lake, passing two favorite icons: Hydro Cat and the student posters at Adam Beck Public School.
Scarborough Road ends in a nail-biter of a hill down to Queen Street West. Good thing my old Trek bike has disc brakes!
The lake was especially lovely this early Monday morning. I rode a short distance along the boardwalk before catching the designated bike trail. Last week, my friend, TO Poet and I strolled the length of the boardwalk and discovered a neat art installation: a row of painted stones lining the sand for hundreds meters. For the great pics, check out TO Poet’s blog here.
I said hello to the resident flock of Canada geese breakfasting on the lawn (no, that is NOT cores of aerated lawn!) and leave the Beaches, swinging by the skate board park and fresh street art before turning south at the big Canadian Tire store.
The city has made huge improvements to the bike path that leads to the Leslie Street spit (aka Tommy Thompson Park). So who was Tommy Thompson? According to Wikipedia his father was the head gardener at Casa Loma – better known as Henry Pelham’s folly – and Tommy was actually born on its grounds. A botanist, horticulturist and RCAF veteran, he became Toronto’s first Parks Commissioner. His most notable and somewhat controversial achievement was transforming Toronto Island into a public park. That meant flattening a lot of houses and kicking out the people who lived there. To this day, a conflict waxes and wanes between the city government and the remaining residents on Ward’s Island.
The new improved trail passes by some allotment gardens where urbanites can grow fruit and vegetables. The wild flowers are out, even chicory, a sky-blue flower that only opens in the shade. The peaceful trail ends abruptly at Cherry Street and dumps you out into a condo building apocalypse.
The massive building and excavations mean that the bike trail is now crisscrossed by entrances for trucks and equipment. Chanting the cyclist’s mantra, Stay Alert, Stay Alive, I crossed over the ancient Cherry Street lift bridge. A sign warned me to walk my bikes. Good thing, too, because a huge chunk of the pedestrian walkway is missing and only covered by plywood boards!
In 2019 the lift bridge got stuck open for four weeks. Here’s the video. I paused for a moment to take in the view of Keating Channel.
The trail along Queen’s Quay is pretty chopped up, too, with several detours around more condo construction and the never ending Gardiner repair. I jockeyed with other cyclists and dodged texting pedestrians as well as a new stealth hazard: the ubiquitous electric scooter. These PEVs (personal electric vehicles) are all the rage now. Owners stage weekly rallies at Queen’s Park. There’s even an electric unicycle! Here’s the scoop.
The bureaucracy is stymied about how regulate these PEV’s. For now they rocket down the city bike lanes at speeds of 30 kilometres – in total silence.
At the CNE’s Princes Gate, I turned north on Straughn and after braving some heavy Toronto traffic, entered the shelter of Trinity Bellwoods Park.
On the way, I had my first view of pickle ball which has taken the world of seniors by storm. To me it looked like ping pong played on a tennis court with a wiffle ball. A good friend has joined the cult – argh!
North to Harbord where I spotted some terrific street art.
I pedalled north up St. George through U of T campus then up to Dupont, east along Marlborough and its hidden quaint houses before hitting Yonge Street. I saluted the happily restored Summerhill Station then cut through Pricefield Park to dive into Rosedale and the hush of money.
I was sad to see that the home of my old boss at the mining company has been sold and is now being gutted. Sic transit gloria mundi. I took my usual route north via Glen Road and the Summerhill pedestrian overpass. Glad to see that the street art painting of the 1950s car was still visible on the concrete wall bracing Whitney Public School.
From here it was a quick ride through Moore Park, a short loop in Mt. Pleasant cemetery and home. First 50 km done!
I read my first T.D. Stash novel while vacationing with the family at a tourist lodge on Lake Temagami. Despite being exhausted after canoeing with a 3 year old, I sat up all night to finish The Neon Flamingo. Its Florida Keys setting was as removed from Northern Ontario as you can imagine.
Gripping and smoothly written, W.R. Philbrick’s book has stayed with me, mostly because its hero, T.D. Stash, was so unusual for the late 1980s. He was a screw-up – a stoner and sometime fisherman desperate enough for cash to do favors for friends – legal or not so much. He often made dire situations worse.
I quickly read the next two books in the series, The Crystal Blue Persuasion and Tough Enough. Then waited in vain for more.
A few years later I met W. R. Philbrick at a crime writers’ conference. He happily signed my copy of The Neon Flamingo then passed on the bad news that his editor didn’t want any more T.D. Stash novels. A damn shame!
I suspect that TD Stash series was too dark. In other words, too intense, truthful and violent for 1990s readers. Like Liza Cody’s Bucket Nut, the books were fine examples of noir – and thus decades ahead of their time.
So what happened to W. R. Philbrick? I’m happy to tell you that he’s written over 30 novels under three pseudonyms, including the Connie Kale and J. D. Hawkins crime series. He’s had great success as a YA author, winning multiple awards. His YA adventure story, Freak the Mighty, was translated into several languages and is studied in classrooms throughout the world. Later it became a successful film.
The T.D. Stash books are not available on Amazon in print or digital form. Abe Books carry only a very few used paperbacks listed between $3 to $8US.
As a kid I was space mad. I longed to become an astronaut or an astronomer. And while I was growing up, sightings of UFO’s were prominent in the news. I became convinced that space aliens were visiting our planet.
Maybe that’s why I have fond memories of Lia Matera’s thriller, Star Witness, the fifth book in her Willa Jansson series. The book opens with a hit-between-the-eyes description of a horrific road accident: a sporty Fiat has dived into the roof of an old Buick, squishing the driver. The owner of the Fiat, Alan, has vanished. When the police locate him, he claims he was abducted by aliens. They’re the ones who dropped his car on the Buick!
It falls to grumpy lawyer, Willa Jansson to defend Alan and his incredible alibi. But delving into reports of UFO’s and encounters of the third kind, her skepticism dissolves. Holy Cartman’s anal probe!
Matera did a deep dive into UFO’s and weird encounters and included a listing of books and videos at the end of Star Witness. In her foreword she describes how her personal skepticism took a journey much like Willa Jansson’s.
Even today in Canada, we have firm believers in UFO’s. (Check out the meet-ups in Toronto alone!) Many years ago, I met and chatted with one of BC’s leading UFO believers thanks to my friend, retired filmmaker, Chris Windsor.
Chris had studied film making at UBC while I slogged away at my doctorate in organic chemistry. His student film, Roofman, was a huge hit with audiences at the university. That success and his talent landed him a job making industrial training films in Alberta. Mind-numbing and soul-destroying to be sure, but at least he was earning a living in his chosen profession.
In his spare time, Chris began working on a documentary about UFO’s. By then I was living in Victoria and writing my PhD thesis. Out of the blue one afternoon, Chris phoned. Would I help him out on a film shoot? He and his cinematographer were in town to interview the President of BC’s UFO Society.
Boy that was a hard choice – cranking out dry scientific prose or skiving off with two friends to explore UFO’s. Hell, yes!
The three of us headed off in Chris’s car to interview the UFO President at his house in a rural part of Vancouver Island. He turned out to be a kindly middle-aged man who lived in a tidy, respectable middle class home: he looked and acted like our dads though if memory serves, he did don a tinfoil hat. And his belief in UFO’s was absolute.
I’ll always owe Chris for that amazing life experience. I don’t know what happened with his UFO documentary, because shortly after that I handed in my thesis, graduated and moved back to Ontario.
So what happened to Lia Matera and Chris Windsor? Lia Matera , herself a lawyer, was chief editor of the Constitutional Law Quarterly and a teaching fellow at Stanford Law School, when she took up crime writing. She wrote the Willa Jansson and Laura Di Palma series of crime novels, twelve books in all, plus a dozen short stories. Her work collected several nominations for leading awards: the Edgar, Anthony and Macavity. She won the Shamus award in 1996.
Matera wrote from 1987 to 1996 then very little thereafter though Ellery Queen Magazine published her chilling tale, “Snow Job” as recently as 2019. Did she go back to law? Did she retire? The crime writing world is poorer for it!
Chris did go on to make a feature film, Big Meat Eater, a horror comedy that was released in 1982. It got favorable reviews and was a finalist at the 1983 Genies for Best Original Screenplay, but it never became a huge hit. Chris told me that unfortunately, as a Canadian film it was eclipsed by the American film, Eating Raoul, another horror comedy about cannibalism.
Andrew Gillies, Chris’s star in Roofman and Big Meat Eater went on to have a long career as a stage and film actor, with roles in The Virgin Suicides and Orphan Black.
Sadly, Chris left the film business. He may simply have burned out. To learn about the arduous art of film making, read his excellent article in the Georgia Strait here. He now lives in Asia where he has worked for many years.
VALUE: So what’s my used paperback copy of Star Witness worth on Abe Books? About $2 to $8US. It doesn’t appear to be available in Canada
I was a bookish child and so inept at sports that my friends would fight to NOT have me on their team. But two amazing women got me to love sports – and changed my life forever.
In university, my sister-in-law got me into hiking, biking and downhill skiing. (We also had adventures dinghy sailing.) And my friend, Marian Misters, co-owner of Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore, introduced me to road running.
Hard work and perseverance accomplished more than I dreamed of: I’ve run a marathon, regularly biked 120 km at a stretch and skied black diamonds without dying! But I remain in awe of ultramarathoners, adventurers and mountain climbers whose exploits I devoured in the late, great Outside magazine.
Jon Billman, is a search-and-rescue expert, a former wildland firefighter and regular contributor to Outside. In The Cold Vanish, he explores how and why people continue to go missing in the wilderness. It’s been said that the solution to an enduring mystery is often sadly banal. That may be true of the many cases Billman writes about, but like Jon Krakauer, he unveils the tragedy behind each story – and a warning. Venturing into the wilderness requires an abundance of caution.
Billman’s book reads like a thriller. I couldn’t put it down. The overarching story centers on Jacob Gray, a 22 year-old cyclist who disappeared in Olympic National Park in Washington State. He’d embarked on a cycling journey but shortly after leaving home, his bicycle was found abandoned by the side of the road, all his gear intact. Close by was the fast-flowing Sol Duc River. Searchers assumed the worst: that he’d tried to fill his water bottle, fallen in and drowned.
Billman formed a close friendship with Jacob’s father, Randy, who never gave up hope of finding his son. They searched for Jacob for over a year, chasing scenarios from Jacob being involved in the drug trade to joining a cult to simply walking away from the world. (No spoilers, you must read through to the end of the book to find out what really happened to Jacob.)
The reasons behind these disappearances range from murder to accidents to running away. Billman interviews scientists – there aren’t many of them – who research how and why people go missing in the wilderness.
So how do people go missing? Much of the time accidents are to blame, usually falls when the person was on their own. The other main reason? Simply getting lost and dying from exposure, which usually means dehydration or hypothermia. People greatly underestimate the amount of water they need when hiking, especially in the heat. And even temperatures as moderate as 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) can lead to hypothermia.
Sadly the vast majority of the cases do not end well. Billman does include a miraculous rescue, that of a young yoga teacher who went missing in Hawaii for over two weeks. She wandered off the marked trail in a nature preserve and got lost. She survived a fall and a broken leg, but knew enough about nature to stay dehydrated. Search planes found her by chance in an area of the preserve far outside the search range. She’d wandered much farther than anyone had predicted.
The takeaways from the stories: those who go missing for a long time are found by chance and by people unassociated with the original search and rescue team. Often as not, the missing person is in a location logic did not dictate.
Important to remember that our predominantly urban society is spectacularly underequipped to deal with the wilderness. It’s not Disneyland. When exploring the wilderness, listen to the advice of forest rangers and park wardens. Don’t wander off marked trails. Take the right amount of water, food and supplies with you. And never go alone.
My rating: 5 stars Eat this book!
A Footnote: In 2016, at Left Coast Crime in Phoenix, Arizona, I took a tour of the Apacheland Movie Set museum. Our guide told us how a hiker had died the day before of heat and dehydration. He’d wandered off the beaten track and gotten lost, one canyon looking much like another. Also that day, three German tourists had set off into the desert with umbrellas to ward off the sun, but greatly underestimated the quantity of water they needed. Fortunately they were rescued, dehydrated but alive. Read the full story here.
Saturday August 29th was the 2020 virtual Ride to Conquer Cancer – and my 4th and final pledge ride of 50 km.
On Friday I picked up my official blue jersey from the mid-town Ride office. Distancing in the line-up, I happily ran into a friend from yoga class – and fellow rider. We almost didn’t recognize each other with our masks on.
The virtual event was a new experience. Saturday morning I dutifully logged onto YouTube to listen to the opening speeches, which were inspiring – and short. I learned that 4000 Riders would be cycling throughout Ontario – and indeed all over the world, even in the mountains of Columbia.
Speeches done, I set off on my final 50 km. It felt strange not to see Niagara Falls at the end and to ride solo. The sky looked ominously dark. The weather report called for scattered thunderstorms. But so what – I’ve ridden through thunderstorms on The Ride before.
I cut down through Leaside and entered Sunnybrook Park through Lyndhurst Hospital. The big hill down was slick from the night’s rain and my sunglasses fogged up immediately from the humidity. I took it slow.
The sun came out as I passed the dog park and paused to wipe off my glasses. Then off for a beautiful, easy morning ride through the park. Very few people about. I met my first fellow Rider halfway along the trail. The poor guy was fixing his punctured tire, but kindly refused my offers to help.
Thinking, been there, did that on Ride #3 and wishing him the good luck I had, I reach “The Teeth” and turn south onto the Don Valley trail.
The Upper Don Valley trail is getting busy. MAMELS, runners, dog walkers, other cyclists. I wave to a corporate team of Riders at the Pottery Road crossover and embark on the equally busy Lower Don path.
Sad to see the official, i.e. commissioned, street art murals steadily defaced by “tags” this past season. The murals in the tunnel of the Belleville underpass are pretty much obliterated.
At Lakeshore, I turn east and head under the concrete arches of the Gardiner toward The Beaches. I pass many icons: Ashbridge sewage works, the movie studios, Canadian Tire mega store and the skater’s park with its cool art.
It’s now mid-morning and the beaches are getting really crowded despite the many signs warning to “keep ur distance”. Pedaling feels remarkably fluid and fast. I know from experience that this means strong headwinds from the west behind me. I zoom along in top gear, thinking smugly how well my training has paid off, but when I turn around…
At the turnaround by Balmy Beach I prepare myself for a slog.
Riding against a headwind can be a humbling experience. I cope by gearing down and “spinning”. In other words, my feet go round and round the pedals in low gear like a hamster on a wheel. Several stony-thighed MAMELS pass me, but they may not know an endurance runner’s secret: always conserve energy.
I reached the 25 km halfway mark at the Beaches turnaround. Delighted to rendezvous with Ed at Balzac’s cafe in the Distillery District to nosh down my reward of coffee and delicious chocolate banana muffin!
By the time we’ve finished our coffee break, the skies have cleared. I head west in brilliant sunshine, cross over Lakeshore and take the crazy-busy Queen’s Quay bike trail. At least no construction trucks today.
I pass and wave to many Riders wearing the blue RIDE ON bike jersey. The headwinds have subsided somewhat. At Princes Gate the southern half of Lakeshore Blvd has been closed off to traffic, allowing more space to humans. (Maybe Toronto’s imitating Paris which closes the road along the Seine every Sunday morning so that cyclists and walkers can enjoy the river bank in peace.)
This is too good to pass up. Besides, for every Ride, the City of Toronto closes Lakeshore Blvd to allow 5000 Riders to get to Mississauga. The weather turns stormy again by the time I reach the end of Exhibition Park.
For nostalgia, I cross through Exhibition Park. Normally the crazy, sleazy Ex would be in full swing now. Ed loves it, especially the “Pure Foods” like deep fried butter and Canada’s favorite, Tiny Tom donuts. Sadly, Tom Brazier, the founder died earlier this year but his family will be carrying on his well-loved business. (See the history on video on the Tiny Tom Donut website.)
I return to the lakeshore trail via a handy pedestrian bridge and turn east for home. I’m already at 42 km!
Because it’s Saturday, I decide to try the bike lanes through downtown Toronto. At Spadina, I take a new trail through the generically-named Southern Linear Park, pass The Dome and the Aquarium (you can get Tiny Tom donuts there) and pay tribute to the great Steam Whistle Brewery.
Since the very first Ride in 2008, Steam Whistle has been rewarding thirsty Riders with TWO beers at the end of each day. (Ed as road crew gets his beer!) Here’s me celebrating the end of my very first Ride.
I’m really impressed with the new bike trails through downtown. I remember biking to work during various TTC strikes wondering if I’d make it home in one piece. Now I spot Bike Share everywhere. Progress at long last!
Up Simcoe, a short dash along Queen St., then onto Bay St. with its single lane reserved for buses, cabs and cyclists. I definitely feel rain drops now and eye various options for shelter just in case.
Despite the thundery-looking heavens, I take a minute to salute Queen’s Park, my old employer and IT client. At the site of what was probably the ugliest government building in Ontario, there’s an enormous multi-story wrapped in flapping construction paper like an erstwhile Christo / Jeanne Claude artwork.
The building I remember – where we IT consultants were consigned – was a square cement low-rise, dingy, poorly lit and without a single bit of decoration. For years, it housed the Ontario Publications book store on the ground floor. (Please contain your excitement!)
The most remarkable thing about the building was its survivability. Perhaps its dowdiness convinced taxpayers the Government of Ontario wasn’t wasting their money (ha!ha!).
But even the most hardy disappear in the end. I’m not sure if this glass tower will be housing civil servants or condo dwellers.
Up Bay Street and down Belmont Avenue, the site of the legendary Toronto Truck Theatre where Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap had its longest run outside of London, England. The Canadian version of Mousetrap opened on 19 August 1977 and closed on 18 January 2004 after a run of 26 years and over 9,000 performances. The only person who ever guessed the murderer was our daughter, who was about 9 at the time, because she noticed that…sorry, no spoilers.
Up Yonge Street, dodging traffic, aiming to cut through the St. Clair reservoir. No luck, it’s still under construction – for nearly two years now.
I steel myself for more risk-taking adventures (Yonge does not have a bike lane) and turn in to Mt. Pleasant cemetery just north of Heath St. I finish my ride in the calm and peace of its roadways. No traffic, the sun bursts out and before I know it, I’m home and done.
At 5pm I logged back on to YouTube for the closing speeches. This year The Ride raised $7 million, nearly 50% more than the organizers had anticipated.
Beautiful morning on Monday, August 24th for the third of my pledged four 2020 Rides to Conquer Cancer.
In Ride #2, thunderstorms drove me back closer to home, so today my goal was to head west along the lake shore to the Humber River trail. But the best-laid plans…
I zipped down Bayview extension, passed the warning raccoon and opted for the section of the Don Valley trail that runs along the eastern edge of Bayview. I ride past the Brick Works (and the sadly closed Cafe Belong) down to Rosedale Valley Road.
Happily I discover that Toronto City has put in a bike path along Bayview itself as far as River Street. Traffic is a little hairy, but manageable.
Up the hill to River Street and the falling cranes thereon (read article here). Scary to think that the day before the accident, my cycling buddy and I rode under this crane. Holy dodging a bullet!
I zoom past the Toronto Humane Society, where I volunteered as a “cat groomer” many years ago then cross through the Canary District to get to Lakeshore.
Funnily enough the legendary Canary restaurant was one of the most celebrated dives in Toronto. Whenever we drove by it, I dared myself to eat there, but I never had the guts –ha, ha– to do it. The building has a storied history – warehouse, school, artist apartments – and even starred in films shot in Toronto. (I’ll be writing up the late, great Canary in a future blog.)
A new street through the Canary District takes you under the Gardiner Expressway. There I ran across Underpass Park, one of Toronto’s better efforts to beautify the grottiness under the cement arches the raised highway. There’s a children’s playground and lots of interesting street art.
I carefully heed the pedestrian signals to avoid getting flattened by the mad traffic on Lakeshore Boulevard. All going well all, as I ride along the Queen’s Quay when thump, flap, flap, flap! It’s a sound cyclists know all too well – I’ve a puncture in my rear tire.
Punctures are an unhappy reality for urban cyclists. Bits of broken glass, loose screws, hard plastic, sharp rocks – all are lurking to destroy your inner tube. Earlier this season, I had a “snake bite” puncture: if you go over a curb too hard, the inner tube can twist and you get twin holes. Sigh.
I wheel my bike over to Balzac’s in the Distillery District and enjoy an early coffee break while awaiting rescue via Ed in the Mazda. Slight panic when the internet tells me that my usual bike shop has closed for summer holidays. Then I remember passing by GEARS bike shop on my way through Canary. A short drive over after rewarding Ed with a latte. Terrific service – they replace my inner tube and I’m back in the saddle within 20 minutes.
By now, it’s late morning and the two-lane Queen’s Quay bike trail is bustling with MAMELs, biking families, mums and babies in strollers. Hard to pass so I settle in to the slower flow. Unbelievable amount of construction with high rise condos going up everywhere.
It’s hard to spot Cinesphere, where I’ve seen so many great films. I hope it survives COVID as well as my fav landmark, the windmill demo project. Only a mild headwind today so it isn’t turning.
The crowds thin out slightly. I have to stop for a flock of Canada geese crossing the trail and spot an encampment only 10 feet away from the thunderous traffic on Lakeshore. The Sunnyside Bathing Station is surprisingly open despite COVID.
At long last the “millennial” white pedestrian bridge over the Humber is in sight signaling the turn north onto the Humber River trail. Close by the bridge are the twin Palace Pier towers.
In 1981, Patrick Kelly, an undercover RCMP officer, tossed his wife off the 17th floor balcony of the building. He was convicted of first degree murder in 1984. His trial revealed that he’d turned to the dark side, working with organized crime to fund his extravagant lifestyle as well as his extra-marital love affairs.
He made parole in 2010 only to have it revoked in 2012 because of his relationships with women and insisting on cash payments for his antiques “business” in Prince George. By 2016, he was out again, living on Vancouver Island. Caveat emptor – indeed caveat everybody.
The trail along the western edge of the Humber River is lightly travelled today. I’ve had it easy so far since the roads have sloped down to the lake. Now I’ve got a few heart thumper hills until I emerge at Old Mill and Etienne Brule park to tackle the toughest climb yet.
Even at my fittest, I’ve never made it all the way up Humberview, a killer hill complete with hairpin bend, impatient drivers, etc. I walk up my usual bit then dive into the shady alleys of Baby Point.
A friend lives nearby. I’d always pronounced it “baybee” but in fact, it’s “Babbee”, the name of French fur trader, Jacques Bâby. Not a very nice guy though.
Recently the plaque below appeared near the stone gates of the enclave. It was created and funded by a white person with a social conscience. Not a comfortable truth to learn that Canadians also enslaved Black and indigenous people.
From here it’s a long hot ride along Annette and Dupont over to Summerhill. I stop along the way at one of my fav Starbucks at Christie for a cold drink. It’s housed in a former bank, but of course, the usually crowded cafe is much diminished because of COVID. There’s no place to sit down outside so I take a walk break and enjoy the street art along the way.
For many years, this Summerhill landmark, the former North Toronto station stood neglected. Built to rival the downtown Union Station – the tower is copied from the Venetian bell tower in St. Mark’s Square – it fell into disuse by WW2 though it continued to function as a liquor store. It’s now one of LCBO’s flagships. Read its full history here.
Finally I’m on the home stretch. A shady cool ride through Rosedale, Moore Park and Mt. Pleasant cemetery. I do a short loop past The Boys and reach home for 50km!