It’s March and my thoughts turn to training for The Ride. If Toronto’s wild weather allows, mid-March means riding the real roads!
The 2021 Ride to Conquer is virtual once again, but training is real – and an escape from COVID.
And a chance to Urbex Toronto. (Urbex = urban exploration.)
Spring this year promises to be mild and soon. I jumped on the bike the earliest since the inaugural 2008 ride and pulled off 13 km.
The Beltline trail proved to be treacherous. Crossing over the Iron Horse Bridge, I hit ice. It’s like hydroplaning in a car: don’t steer, don’t brake, don’t waver. Maintain speed and balance and hope to *$%# you make it over the next 50 feet.
I reached my beloved icon, Tout Est Possible – and happily contended with mere mud before retreating to dodging traffic on regular roads.
It turns out that the Beltline Tout Est Possible is only one of at least 20 such icons scattered throughout Toronto. Many appear in non-obvious locations in places like Sherwood Park, Nordheimer Ravine and Taylor Creek Park.
The artist remains unknown like Banksy since their work started appearing in 2011. I’m happy to report that when my fav got erased, the artist restored it before too long.
For a description of fellow cyclists’ full tour of the icons, see the blogTO article 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!
On Monday, August 17th, I headed on Ride #2 of my pledge to do 200 km in August, the distance from Toronto to Niagara Falls.
The morning was perfect, one of the most beautiful this summer. Cool, sunny, no blustering head winds. I headed down through Leaside into Sunnybrook Park through the Lyndhurst Hospital entrance.
I’m familiar with the rehab hospital because a friend spend several months there after a bad car accident. He’d travelled down to the USA to buy a vintage sports car, but on returning to Canada, he slid off the road. The problem: the rubber in the vintage tires had gone hard with age and lost all traction. Happily, he made a remarkable recovery.
The other reason, I’m familiar with Lyndhurst is because of the killer hill down into Sunnybrook. During my marathon training days, we used to run UP this hill. Fortunately today, I am biking DOWN.
Past the dog park and along a picture perfect creek . Few people out this Monday morning other than the usual runners, hikers and dog walkers.
The wild flowers are out!
A tricky aspect of Sunnybrook trails for cyclists is negotiating the narrow, heavily used pedestrian bridges. I’m less worried about COVID than I am about blunt force trauma, having nearly been crashed into numerous times by MAMILs (cyclist pejorative for obnoxious middle-aged men in lycra). Luckily I cross over the Don Valley pedestrian bridge with no incident before stopping at “The Teeth”.
Allegedly the artist created the concrete structures to be elephants that would blend with nature. Hence the trees growing out of them. But for Toronto runners “The Teeth” are a landmark for running routes. And, yes, I agree they really look like molars.
Today, I decide to head east into Taylor Creek Park, a trail with numerous dread pedestrian bridges over rocks and running water. My luck holds – few MAMILs crushing everyone in their path to score their Personal Best time! I take a breather to check out an impromptu memorial along the way.
The stones remind me of the lovely Jewish tradition of leaving a stone in the cemetery after visiting a loved one.
The main trail ends at Dawes Road. To get to Victoria Park, I cross yet another pedestrian bridge and bike through an underpass with some neat street art. After this the trail is mostly a gravelly track that gets muddy and floods after a rain. The climb up to Victoria Park is another heart thumper.
This is my Test Hill. If I can make it up all the way in my “Granny Gear” or the lowest possible on my hybrid, I’m fit enough for The Ride. But since, the Ride has gone virtual, I bike up the first half and walk up the rest.
Down the Victoria Park bike path across Danforth. This heavily trafficked road is a bit nerve-wracking, because my riding buddy once took a header over the handle bars after hitting a pothole beneath the underpass.
Over to the safety of Scarborough Road for a straight run down to the Beaches. I pass by Adam Beck school with its colorful murals. This is one of my favs.
Today the weather cools noticeably as I near the lake. It and the boardwalk are especially lovely today.
A strong headwind as I pedal toward the Distillery District and my usual reward at Balzac’s cafe. While munching down my muffin, I see thunderous clouds building in the west.
Change of plans, the route through to the Humber will have to wait until Ride #3 or #4. I charge north, taking the bike path along Sherbourne making for home.
This is a sad route; I call it the Economic Disparity Route. It passes by Moss Park arena and the neighboring homeless shelter. During COVID, many more homeless are wandering the streets often shouting, in distress, deluded in the middle of traffic. Cop cars and emergency vehicles every time this year when I’ve passed through – and that’s a lot.
Sherbourne crosses over into Rosedale, once of Toronto’s wealthiest enclaves. To my surprise I see people camped out in a parkette within a stone’s throw of multi-million dollar mansions.
Summerhill pedestrian bridge again requires careful negotiating. I usually walk my bike over to dodge schoolkids, nannies with babies, seniors and of course, the ubiquitous MAMILs. Some neat street art on the crumbling concrete walls bordering the steep hill of McPherson Drive.
From here it is short pleasant ride through Moore Park into Mt. Pleasant cemetery.
Keeping a watchful eye on the threatening weather, I finish off the distance via the Beltline and looping through Mt. Pleasant. There are enough hills and gradients to keep my heart pumping.
Almost done for Ride #2, I pause by one of the Mt. Pleasant icons, a memorial to two young men who died within months of each other. The plaque reads: Why has God picked all his beautiful flowers first. There is a love story here.
COVID forced the pause button down on modern society. And the intensification of social media meant the whole world watched George Floyd get murdered. Yes, let’s use the right word – murdered over an alleged counterfeit $20 bill.
Many times I’ve handed a $20 bill to a cashier who semi-surreptitiously checked it out with a UV light under the counter. What’s the worst that would have happened to me if it looked fake? The cashier would simply have handed it back and told me it’s phoney.
Because I’m white. Also I live in Canada.
As a kid, I witnessed the shootings at Kent State University on the TV news. The image of state troopers firing into and killing unarmed student protestors seared into my memory forever. Up until then, I believed the world was the way society and my folks told me it was. That day I began to see the way the world really is.
I’m hoping there’s an upside to the ubiquitous spying technology we’re so addicted to. (In case you missed it, our phones are turning us into “Little Brother”.) But amidst FAANG’s avid personal data collection, the truth occasionally slips out.
Will public outrage reach the critical mass needed for meaningful action? Does this mean Revolution, Baby?
Maybe this time it’s really gonna be different.
So I biked through Toronto’s Graffiti Alley to take in the street art memorializing George Floyd. Here’s what I found. The pics speak for themselves.
Graffiti Alley runs a short block south of Queen, east-west from Spadina to Bathurst. It’s gritty, the paintings multi-layered and ever-changing. Check Google Maps for location.
Strange times indeed. Normally in March and April, I’m training for The Ride to Conquer Cancer, to support cancer research at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the top five centres in the world.
2020 would have been my 13th ride. Alas, not to be. The Ride is in limbo along with the rest of our world. Hard to see how an event of 4000+ sweaty riders plus 1000 volunteers, all served by well-used porta-potties, leaking buckets of energy drinks and pawed-over treats, could happen in this epidemic year.
No matter what they decide about the Ride itself, the donations will go to cancer research, if not this year, then in 2021. If only cancer went into quarantine! Happily though PMH has officially joined the war on CORVID-19 with researchers working on a treatment / vaccine.
What to do in the meantime? Luckily because I’m a runner and cyclist I’m not housebound. No rules against either activity…yet. Public health authorities encourage everyone to get fresh air. But where?
My favorite training loop, Mt. Pleasant cemetery, is closed, but city trails are not. And the streets are eerily empty of traffic. Surreal to be sure. My intrepid fellow companions are: dog walkers, families with small children, senior citizens and other crazy cyclists and runners. Waved to a gym buddy – an 82 year old grandmother and long distance runner who grew up during the Battle of Britain.
My British blood stirs. This is our boomer moment, I guess. Crap! And it’s spring and reason for happiness.
One of my favorite bike routes runs along the Beltline. Uplifting to discover that its interesting street art is not only intact, but restored.
Wildlife may be reclaiming their habitat judging by the sign spotted near the end of the Beltline. Stay safe, my friends!
A well-kept secret in Toronto is that our city actively promotes street art. There’s even hope that Toronto can become a go-to destination for followers and fans.
One interesting sideline is the beautification of our plain, military-grey hydro boxes. Hell, the city even pays artists to do this. Here are some neat examples spotted on my cycling forays. Click on each image to enlarge it.
It’s been a chilly spring and I’m still wearing my winter bike gear in May! But riding through the wind and rain toughens you up to any adverse weather on the Ride to Conquer Cancer. As always, the City of Toronto keeps closing bike routes and the repairs are s-l-o-w. This year it’s the southern part of the Don Valley trail, which I normally do on every training ride.
But there are rewards. Cruising down a Leaside street and crossing north over Eglinton en route to Sunnybrook I discovered Graffiti Alley North. The street runs parallel to Eglinton now torn up by the light rail construction. Feast your eyes, readers!
I’m home from Hawaii and a most enjoyable Left Coast Crime. Back on the bike, too, training for my 10th Ride to Conquer Cancer. Always good to see spring struggling through on the Belt Line Trail.
Had to touch the usual icons of street art on the way, Uplifting Homily and Toronto’s own, Boaty McBoatface.
School kids are getting into it. Crossing through Cedarvale Park I spot this though it’s marred by some cynical graffiti. Met an elderly dog walker who recognized – and approved – of my recording street art. As a volunteer, he’s been an advocate for the park for 30 years. He pointed out the escape hatch from the subway, cleverly hidden in a rock pile just off the trail.
As always, part of my regular route is inaccessible due to repair. This year the middle Don Valley trail from Pottery Road to Riverdale is closed with dire warning to trespassers that the police are patrolling. But the lower part is open and I was rewarded by new art.
Little do the motorists atop the ramp from DVP to the Gardiner know what’s beneath them. Feast your eyes, readers!
Every year on a Saturday mid-December 100+ Santas storm through Toronto’s Eaton’s Centre and head down Queen Street west. Flagrant rebels in search of BEER! This is a world-wide movement from Hanoi to Helsinki to Tokyo to London and beyond. Read about Santacon here.
Ed and I have been part of this rampaging mob for several Christmases now, thanks to our friend Eric. (Read more about Eric and his Grand Guignol clowning in my most popular blog ever, Charlie the Lonely Sentinel. Charlie’s a stuffed dog BTW.)
We’re polite rebels with several rules of decorum, including being nice to kids and obeying police officers and security guards. After all, we’re Canadian! A Santa suit is a must, but one’s imagination may run wild from racy to saucy Mrs. Claus. We’ve even had a Thor Santa! (Sorry, ladies, no photo). And we are led by Old St. Nick in resplendent bishop’s robe and staff.
Typically, we meet up at the Imperial Pub on Dundas St. East then march through the Eaton Centre, giving out candy canes to kids. Then on to Nathan Philip Square for a rampage through the skaters. Group photo at the war memorial on University Avenue then on to The Rex to be refused admission. (Hey, it’s tradition!) The Black Bull though is usually our first and favorite watering hole.
We wend our way down Queen Street, invading the pubs that will let us in. (To be fair, they’ve been pre-warned.) The Academy of Spherical Arts is a fav as well as the late, great Hideout. This is a way to get in to clubs who would never otherwise let you in because you’re obviously middle class and O-L-D. We’ve even witnessed Fetish Night. (Great material for crime fiction, but who would believe me?)
By 2 am, Ed and I are ready for food (poutine anyone?) and home. Many times the subway has gone sleepy-bye for the night so we’ve relied on the notorious Zoo Bus of our youth. The Yonge St. night bus is a whole quantum level more surreal and never fails to disappoint.
Interested? The info isn’t up on the website yet but word is that if you come to the Imperial Pub at 6 pm, Sat Dec 17th, you may find something to your advantage…