Crossing Toronto Stage 1 – Etobicoke to the Don

Storm clouds over the lake

Once you’ve made a plan, the next step is to execute it. Stage 1 of my Crossing Toronto plan was to walk from Etobicoke Creek to Corktown Common, beside the Don River. It meant starting at the western edge of the city, and since the Long Branch GO train station is only a few hundred meters from Etobicoke Creek, that was the perfect jumping off point. I had to hustle to catch my train that morning but I could relax and conserve energy on the way there.

From the train station, I walked west along Lakeshore Blvd West over Etobicoke Creek, leaving Toronto and entering Mississauga, where I could pick up a trail down the west side of the creek through Marie Curtis Park.

Etobicoke Creek at Marie Curtis Park

In Marie Curtis park, I turned east to re-enter Toronto by crossing the creek on the Waterfront Trail, part of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail system. Within Toronto, the Waterfront Trail joins together multiple shorter Trails like the Martin Goodman Trail, the Beaches Boardwalk, and the trail through Port Union Waterfront Park. It’s well signed the whole way, and I would realize over the course of my journey that following its markers made navigation easy.

MapsDonate Now

Great Lakes Waterfront Trail

Given the transit time to get to Long Branch, it was already 9:00 a.m. by the time I got going, with grey skies and forecasts for some rain, and sure enough within 20 minutes some sprinkles forced me to drag out the rain gear, before a light rain took me into a Tim’s for a coffee. That unplanned early stop was welcome nevertheless, because in dashing for my train I hadn’t had a chance to buy a coffee and I was feeling caffeine-starved.

While sitting there drinking my coffee, my mind wandered onto Tim Horton, the hockey player. The current president of the Toronto Maple Leafs is Brendan Shanahan, who was born and raised in Mimico. Tim Horton was a star defenceman who anchored the championship Leafs teams in the 1960’s, including the 1967 team that last claimed the Stanley Cup for Toronto. He was also a canny businessman whose investment in a donut shop grew into a food empire spanning the country, so that today you can order a double-double from St. John’s to Victoria to Iqaliut. For those, unfamiliar with Tim’s, a double-double is a coffee with 2 creams or milks and 2 sugars, and if you say you’re doing a Tim’s run in any workplace in Canada, a chorus of heads will pop up to place their orders.

After that little break, I listened to my inner Gandalf and resolved to follow the Trail. Since much of this area is private property, it can’t always follow the shoreline of the lake so in many places it winds through the back streets of New Toronto and into Mimico, for the most part along Lakeshore Drive (not to be confused with the larger, busier Lakeshore Boulevard which runs parallel but north of Lakeshore Drive). These neighbourhoods have welcomed many new Canadians for decades, arriving from many countries including Poland, and that’s why the Polish Consulate in Toronto is located on Lakeshore Blvd at Royal York in Mimico.

And speaking of immigrants, I also noticed many hints of Newfoundlanders in the area, from bumper stickers to ironic boat names like Chateau Newf. There are many in St. John’s who would view a move to Toronto as move to a foreign country so I guess that’s in keeping with the neighbourhood.

It was a quiet morning, a Thursday in mid summer, and the sky was glowering. There was a bit of humidity though the temperatures weren’t that high, so it felt very close and you knew rain was in the air. There wasn’t that much breeze, nor much traffic, and it felt like I was out on my own – there were few fellow walkers about.

Along the way, I passed through Colonel Samuel Smith Park, which contains some great walking trails (and a really cool ice trail for winter skating). The early part of my walk was quiet and serene – birds everywhere, wildflowers in bloom, bees and butterflies, and even a turtle plopping back into the water. Something about the looming clouds made it even more intimate, like a darkened room.

Col Sam Smith park, in addition to wonderful trails, is also home to the Lakeshore Yacht Club. I spent many a night there with my friend Paul throwing darts, as he was a member. Walking past the boats brought back some warm memories.

Lakeshore Yacht Club – it was actually about 10:00 a.m. but the rain clouds made it look like sunset

Continuing on, I passed through a series of parks that have been created around the mouth of the Humber River – Humber Bay West, Humber Bay East, Humber Bay Shores – where the famous white-painted arched foot bridge welcomed me into the old city of Toronto. Prior the 1990’s, Etobicoke was a separate City in its own right, and walking through the area it still has a distinct feel to it.

The Humber River foot bridge

Once you cross the bridge, you’re in Sunnyside Park, where a boardwalk starts and continues on for several km. The boardwalk makes for great people watching as well as bird-spotting. There were Canada geese everywhere and their poo grenades made the boardwalk slippery. There were also mallard ducks, wood ducks, cormorants, herring gulls, swans, and even a great blue heron. I’m not a bird watcher, but it was funny seeing a flotilla of geese gliding majestically along the shore while in the distance a smaller and more ragged flotilla of sail boats competed in a race.

Along the waterfront, the City has installed hundreds of Adirondack-style chairs, dotted along the path all the way to Queens Quay. I chose one that gave a great view and enjoyed a bit of lunch. I was at about 12 km, so just over half-way, and ready for a rest.

From Sunnyside, the Waterfront Trail follows the shoreline east through a series of parks, and past landmarks like the Argonaut Rowing Club, the Palais Royale, and the Boulevard Club. The Trail is also adjacent to the Gardiner Expressway, and as I was walking along I noticed a large semi truck and trailer passing by. It caught my eye because the sides of the trailer were brightly painted with faces of some of the performers in Wrestlemania. And then I spotted another vehicle in the Wrestlemania caravan, and another, and another, till I lost count at around 15. How much stuff does it take to mount this particular circus? Does the world need 15 trucks worth of loud, spandexed athlete entertainers to consider itself amused? It put my walking into perspective – I amuse myself differently I guess.

At around the 15 km mark I passed Exhibition Place, and there noticed one of the 3 sure signs of the end of summer – I spotted a truck turning into the Exhibition grounds loaded with rides to set up for the Canadian National Exhibition aka the CNE or just the Ex (the other 2 signs being the calls of bluejays (the bird, not the baseball team), and the calls of commentators on the state of the Maple Leafs).

I have to say, this stretch of the Trail is a slog, exposed to the sun, greenery-free, and sandwiched between a busy Lakeshore Blvd/Gardiner Expressway and acres of car parks. But finally you come to Coronation Park. It’s a welcome stretch of greenery and is usually quiet, but on this day I came across a fundraising group that was having a softball home run derby – some of those folks could really put a charge into a ball, and the PA announcer was providing a running commentary.

East of Coronation Park, the trail passes through the Little Norway neighbourhood and then along Queens Quay, past the Toronto Music Garden. This is an interesting idea – the plantings are arranged to illustrate different styles of music. It’s lost on me, tone-deaf as I am, but worth a visit all the same.

I had just reached the shelter of the trees there when the rains returned in buckets, and I had to make a dash for another Tim Hortons along Queens Quay, where I sheltered alongside tourists from many places, judging by the snatches of Spanish, Italian, German, and American that I overheard. They struggled with the concept of a small double-double – that’s not how one orders coffee in Rome.

After a short wait, the rain cleared and I set my sights on the Don. I was about 18 km into the walk, and it was time to push on to the finish. There is an incredible amount of construction happening near the lake, from Yonge east to the river. Condos and office towers are going up left and right, and despite the marked Waterfront Trail, you have to dodge dump trucks and skip over muddy puddles trying to follow it. After the peaceful quiet of the morning’s walk, this was a loud reminder of Toronto’s constant growth. It shouldn’t have been a surprise – Col Sam Smith Park is just one of many built in part on landfill excavated during earlier waves of building, and Toronto is no mood to slow down.

That industrial character is also evident in landmarks like the Redpath Sugar Mills and the grain elevators. As you go east towards the Don, you lose sight of the lake amidst the new construction as well as the docks, wharves, and shipping warehouses that still dominate the area. It’s hard to follow the Waterfront Trail through this mess, but if you want to pass the mouth of the Don and get to Corktown Commons, you have to put up with the noise of traffic and construction.

Keating Channel, where the Don River meets Lake Ontario
The mouth of the Don

When you do get to the river, it’s sadness that overwhelms you. Once this was marsh and wetlands alive with wildlife. Today it’s brown lifeless water and rusty bridges, with traffic roars drowning out any hint of birdsong or frog croak.

And then you follow the path a few more meters and there under the Gardiner Expressway, a bright soul has created a series of fantastic murals that add colour and life to the grey concreted mess.

That little artistic interlude takes you past the worst of the construction and then you finally arrive at Corktown Common. It’s a wonderful park, and the warm wet summer we’ve been having has brought wildflowers and greenery exploding onto the paths. 30 years ago, the area that is now the park was a wasteland of old industrial buildings, car parks, and rusty containers. Today, this green oasis served to remind me that the shocking state of the mouth of the Don can be reversed, a fitting thought to finish the first stage of my journey.

Crossing Toronto

Since unforeseen circumstances postponed my first attempt at a Big Walk (the Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake journey), I’ve decided to take advantage of a slowish time at work to cross off a different Bucket List Big Walk.

I call this Big Walk the Toronto Crossing. I’ve had the idea for about a year or so, of walking east-west and north-south to criss-cross Toronto. At first I thought of walking west to east along Eglinton or Lawrence Ave and then south to north up Yonge St, because those roads more or less bisect the city north/south and east/west.

But then I had a better thought – Toronto as a walkable city features some fabulous parks and trails, and many of these exist because of the water features that have shaped our landscape. That includes not just the lakefront, but also the many creeks and rivers that flow north/south.

What better way to criss-cross Toronto than to follow the watercourses that define it? By walking west to east across Toronto following the lake shore, and walking south to north following the Don River, I’ll have a much more interesting journey than following rivers of asphalt.

Looking at a map, it’s pretty clear that I’ll cover more than 50 km west to east, and probably 25 km or so south to north, so that means breaking it up into 3 stages. Since the western boundary of Toronto is formed in part by Etobicoke Creek, and the eastern boundary in part by the Rouge River, I am going to make these the starting point in the west and the ending point in the east. Conveniently for my plan, there are rail stations at Long Branch near Etobicoke Creek, and at Rouge Hill near the Rouge River, so that gives me an easier way to get to/from the starting and ending places.

Also since the Don flows into the lake about halfway between Etobicoke and the Rouge, it makes a good half-way spot to break up the west-east stages. It also runs north past the city boundary at Steeles Avenue so that gives me a south-north corridor. Finally, the mouth of the Don is marked by the Corktown Commons, so this park is a perfect nexus to tie the 3 walks together.

Thus the plan: First stage, from Etobicoke Creek to Corktown Common., about 23 km. Second stage, from Corktown to the Rouge River, about 30 km. Finally, the third stage from Corktown north to Steeles along the Don, again around 23 km.

One complication is that given the split of the Don River into the East and West Don branches in the middle of Toronto, I have to choose one or the other to follow. After some consulting of the map, I’ve decided to follow a combination of the two – I’ll follow the West Don from the forks to Sunnybrook Park, and then the East Don from the Betty Sutherland Trail north to the Steeles Avenue city limit. In between these two legs, I’ll follow Wilket Creek for part of it and go urban cross-country for the rest.

Along the way, this 3 day Big Walk will be a chance to test my stamina for the 6 day TONotL Big Walk. It will also let me explore parts of Toronto that I’ve never explored close-up, like Etobicoke and Rouge Hill. While I’ve been to many of the places along the way, and have hiked sections of this Big Walk, I’ve never tied them together. I’m hoping I’ll learn something about the city and get a chance to lots of exercise and fresh air.

So that’s the plan – criss-cross Toronto, get some good walks in, enjoy the sun and summer, and see what I can see. Here goes.

Walk Journal – July 27

Where: Parks (Cedarvale, Ramsden, Chorley, Oriole), ravines (Cedervale, Nordheimer, Moore), neighbourhoods (Forest Hill, Rosedale, Bennington Heights, Moore Park, Chaplin Estates), and trails (Beltline, Lower Don) in mid-town Toronto

Duration: about 4 hours, around 18.5 km

Weather: Summery hot, about 28 C with a lot of humidity that made it feel like the mid-30’s, and a mix of sun and rain showers

I hadn’t done a long walk in a couple of weeks, so it was time to stretch out a hike. While it was warm, it wasn’t crazy hot and there was a nice breeze at times that helped to cool things. I decided to make a big loop heading west along the Beltline to the Allen Expressway (why does everyone lean over and touch the wall when the reach it?) and then south through the parks and ravines to get to Ramsden Park.

Crossing Yonge, I headed down into the Rosedale Valley and followed that it to Bayview to pick up the Lower Don Trail, and then turned north up to the Brickworks. I was going to take a break there before continuing up the Don Valley to come home through Sunnybrook Park, but there were threatening skies looming so I decided to come home.

That meant a detour up through Chorley Park in Rosedale, where I took a wrong turn, forgetting that you can’t cross the train tracks north of the park, and ended up heading walking back east along Douglas and over Governor’s Bridge into the Nesbitt Park neighbourhood.

That detour took me back to Bayview south of Moore Avenue, so I had to climb up to cut through Bennington Heights to Heath St. East, and then across the pedestrian bridge over the Moore Ravine and into the Moore Park neighbourhood. From there I went west to Mount Pleasant Road, north to Mount Pleasant Cemetery, then northwest through the Cemetery to connect with the Belt Line near Yonge. I was almost home by then, and just had to follow the Belt Line to Oriole Park and turn north Lacelles Boulevard through the Chaplin Estates neighbourhood to Eglinton, and on to home.

The threat of rain, which never did turn into more than light showers, kept me walking without a break, so by the time I got home I was tired and hungry. It had been a deceptively warm day, with the humidex over 30 C but with enough clouds and breeze that it didn’t feel that bad while walking, and yet those kinds of days are draining – I was dripping by the time I got home. I’m enjoying the summer, but I’ll be glad to get a nice autumn day with blue skies and about 15 C.

On a walk like this, my focus is on the workout, keeping a steady pace up and down the hills while remembering to hydrate. I’m wasn’t really paying too much attention to my surroundings, but nevertheless I did notice a few vignettes that stuck with me: the cricket match underway in Cedervale Park (a bowler with a funky herky-jerky run-up, the “well run” shouts for a stolen single on a dribbler to 3rd slip). Or the way the light rain brought out the colours of the flowers along the trail. And then there was the discovery of what is probably a namesake distant relative, Jimmie Bradt, buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

There were lots of people out, walking or biking, and it’s always fun to listen in to parents coaching their young children on their bikes, or to eavesdrop on conversations as you pass someone. I heard the cry of a hawk a couple of times, in the Don Valley and in Mount Pleasant, and followed a trio of birders who were in turn following the sounds of the hawks (“did you see the other one?” “they are nesting over there”).

These walks also offer a chance to choose a street or a path that you’ve never followed, even if you’re in a familiar neighbourhood. Today it was Standish, north of Chorley Park. It’s a quiet little street that is in a cul de sac neighbourhood, because of the train tracks to the north that can’t be crossed. Traffic is minimal so there are lots of kids out playing, and there’s lots of trees to shade the sidewalks. It looks like a great place for families.

It was a fun walk, and a good cap to the week. I’m thinking of doing my Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake trip in late September or early October, and I need more walks like today to stay in shape and be ready. I felt pretty good today, covering more than half the 30 km I plan to cover each day on that journey and doing it in under 4 hours. I need to keep that up to be ready, and I’m looking forward to it. Till then, I’ll enjoy the weather and the walks.

Walking in Summer

The West Don River at Serena Gundy Park

Toronto is a city of climatic extremes. Winters can dip to -30 C, while summers can soar into the mid 30’s. A 6-month swing of 60 C between January and July leaves just a few weeks of middle temps in late spring and early autumn when walking is at its best. The extremes of summer are a walker’s labour, but you have to get out and get through it.

So yes, it gets hot here, and these past few days it has been officially HOT. The City of Toronto declares a Heat Alert when temps exceed 31 C during the day and stay above 20 C overnight, and we’re in one right now. Forecast highs are in the mid 30s and it will feel like 40+ with the humidity.

All of that heat makes walking hot work. There’s no way round it, if you want to go out you’re going to feel it. Just like extreme cold in winter, when it gets this hot you tend to stay indoors out of the sun. Still, you need to get to work, so for me it means leaving early while it’s still cool, cutting across the park to smell the dewy grass.

Eglinton Park at 7:00 a.m. on the way to the subway

Walking in the heat also means dressing for it – loose, light fabrics that breath, hats to shade your nose and ears, and a water bottle to stay hydrated. I’m lucky, the software shop where I’m working is very casual so I can get away with a tee shirt and shorts, though the irony of AC means that I need an extra layer when in the office.

Walking in heat is also a bit of a dance, cutting back and forth across the street to find shade from buildings or better yet trees. It’s also a slow waltz rather than a fast foxtrot. Take your time to conserve energy, and drift from shade to shade.

Summer walks can feel like a desert journey from oasis to oasis, trudging through sun-baked streets to reach parks that have water fountains and shady cool grass, stringing the parks together to reach a destination. Toronto’s park system helps to make that possible, while generations of urban planning has ensured that many streets are lined with mature trees.

Burkes Brook at Chatsworth Ravine

Downtown, however, it’s a concrete heat sink. The buildings, sidewalks, roads, and rooftops suck up the heat and radiate it back out so that even in the shade you feel it roasting you. Getting from the subway to the office for me is less than a 20 minute walk, but that 20 minutes leaves me drenched. No one wants to crowd on the subway, we’re all feeling sticky, so we spread out and bless the AC.

When walking in summer, there are clues to the heat. The silvery shimmer on the underside of maple leaves turned up by hot breezes. Old tongue-lolling dogs slowly shambling to find shade or cool grass upon which to lie panting. Young, trim athletes in skimpy work out gear running in the heat to sweat-shame the lazy and unfit.

And then there are small moments of relief, like passing an open office door to be hit with a blast of AC. Or a cool breeze off the lake finds a path down an alley onto the sidewalk, or a drifting cloud turns off the heat lamp. These little moments of relief remind you that in just a few weeks we’ll be into the autumn and wondering where the summer went. Our summers are short, really only about 8-10 weeks of hot weather, and despite that we moan when it’s hot just as we moan when it’s cold.

It’s a constant conversation topic, the weather, in Toronto and everywhere. Did humans evolve language specifically to moan about the weather? Perhaps it’s not far-fetched to think that “too hot” may have been mankind’s first words. And with climate change a reality, will “too hot” be our last words as well?

Walking in the Heart of the City

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about walking in the suburbs. Lately I’ve been doing the opposite of that and walking in the city.

I’ve been working downtown of late, in the King and Spadina area – the Entertainment district as the city calls it.

Weather permitting, I’ve been getting off the subway at King Station and walking west on King to my client, just west of Spadina. Most days if the weather is good, I try to get out a lunch time and go for a 10-20 minute walk round the neighbhourhood – along King to Portland, up to Adelaide or Richmond or Queen, then back east to Spadina and down to King again.

It’s a really interesting walk. The vibe, compared to north-west Toronto around Steeles & Weston Road in Emeryville, is totally different. Downtown it’s walk and bike friendly. King Street has been designated as a streetcar zone so car traffic is limited. There are lots of pedestrians around and lots of bikes, scooters, and skateboards.

Uptown in Emeryville, it’s car-city – walking is an afterthought and you never see bikes or scooters. Public transit is limited to buses and those are used by the people who work in the light industries that dot the area.

Downtown, the street traffic is either young and professional (software industry, design industry, or hip retail for the most part) or else young and destitute (pan-handlers or barrista wannabes). The tattoo-to-skin ratio is way higher down here compared to uptown in Emeryville. I feel out of place walking around without nose ring.

There are funky food options everywhere downtown, as well as retail options for everything from clothes to bongs to adult toys. Emeryville has no retail other than fast food and Tim Hortons.

I like it downtown – there’s an energy that makes you feel like you belong, and you want to shop and eat locally. It reminds me of why I wanted to move from a small town to the big city in the first place, 35 years ago. It buzzes and it accepts – I can wear shorts and a tee shirt to work and no one cares. I can walk to a restaurant that has something tasty to eat (hello porchetta), and I can relax my car alert spidy-sense in a pedestrian-friendly zone where the humans rule the streets instead of cars. I love it.

Whenever I’ve travelled to other cities, I’ve tried to walk the downtown core and savour the experience. Working and walking downtown in Toronto has reminded me why I gravitate to the heart of the cities I’ve visited. There’s energy and informality and diversity, and there are real people going about real lives and real jobs. That urban tapestry is much thinner and paler in the burbs compared to the Technicolour downtown – I can get sushi or burritos or pizza or ramen or burgers or sandwiches or babimbop all within 5 minutes of the office.

This is urban, and it’s why I love cities.

Change of Plans

Aerial view of St Stephen’s Green
By Dronepicr (edited by King of Hearts) Edit corrects CA and sharpens image – File:Dublin Stephen’s Green-44.jpg, CC BY 3.0, Link

This week was supposed to have seen me complete my TONotL hike, and as I wrote last week, those plans had to change when we made an unscheduled trip to Ireland for a funeral. It’s meant that this past week has been a mixed bag of walks.

Sunday – walking the strand at Portnoo in Donegal.

One of the secrets of Ireland is that while it’s a northerly climate, and it’s associated with soft rains and green pastures, there are in fact quite a few fabulous beaches. Portnoo is one of them – several km of sand and shallow waters that are perfect for sunning yourself or swimming, if you don’t mind the chill.

Monday – city walking in Dublin, wandering favourite neighbourhoods near St. Stephens Green and Marion Square, window shopping and sightseeing.

The trip had been a whirlwind, and we’d given ourselves Monday afternoon and evening in Dublin to decompress after the emotional visit to Donegal. The sun was out and it was a lovely day, perfect to find a little out of the way pub with some outdoor tables and a pint of Guinness. Dinner was equally lovely, enjoying seafood and crisp French wine at Sole. The stroll through St. Stephens Green after dinner capped off our trip, enjoying the flowers in bloom and watching the other strolling couples.

Tuesday – airports and taxis and a quick stroll around the shops back home to pick up dinner. Welcome back to Toronto summer heat.

Wednesday – since I was off work for the week anyway and had planned to spend it walking, it was off for a tour of Lawrence Park and Bridle Path neighbourhoods and on through Burkes Brook and Sunnybrook Parks.

15km of wandering up and down hills, through cool shaded forest and sun-drenched playing grounds.

Thursday – more hiking, this time the full length of the Beltline.

First west along Roselawn and Castlefield all the way to Caledonia to pick up the start of the Beltline Trail by the Canada Goose factory, and then back east on the Trail all the way through Mount Pleasant Cemetery, down the Moore Ravine into the Brickworks, and then back north up through David Balfour Park and into the Cemetery again to complete the loop. 20 km on an even hotter day.

Friday – yet more hiking, this time down to the lake through inner city neighbourhoods – Whychwood, Christie Pits, Palmerston, Little Italy, Parkdale – and along the Trillium Trail through Ontario Place, then back home through stifling city streets heavy with humid heat.

I passed through several of parks that make Toronto a fantastic place to live – Christie Pits, Trinity-Bellwoods, Coronation Park, and more. Without those green oases, the city would bake in the summer. While they were lovely to walk through, 25km on a hot muggy day wiped me out.

Saturday – after that long day Friday, it was time to take it easy, strolling in the neighbourhood and shopping for new running shoes after wearing out my old pair. It was a day to unwind and let my legs and feet rest a bit.

Overall, I did more walking this past week than I’ve done in any previous week in at least a year, and yet I only did about half of the 160 km I had planned on my TONotL walk. If I’m honest, it would have been a tough challenge to finish that walk as planned, given 30C heat and my evident fitness level despite my training walks. Clearly I need to put in more work so that when I try this in the autumn when the weather will also be cooler, I will be ready for it.

Still, a change of plans isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When life throws up the unexpected, the best path forward is to learn from the experience.

Big Little Walks

Sometimes there are curves in the path that you can’t see round.

This past Friday I was in Ireland, in Donegal Town. I took the biggest little walk I’ve taken in a while, when as a pallbearer I helped to carry my wife’s dear Aunt Nora out of the house to the waiting hearse, then into the church for the service, and finally up the hill in the cemetery to the grave.

My plan had been that on Sunday June 30, I would start my Big Walk from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake but that’s now been postponed. We won’t get home till mid-week and that doesn’t leave me enough time to do the walk I’d planned before I need to be back at work. I guess that will now wait till the autumn.

But more important than those plans was the walk I took on Friday. It was a lovely day, warm and sunny, and the town turned out as we passed walking slowly behind the hearse. I’m glad we came, and that I was able to help on that short little walk.

Over the years, and especially the past few visits, when we were leaving Donegal Nora would always part with the words “I’ll not say goodbye, only farewell”. There’s an Irish saying that’s apt – may the road rise up to meet you. Farewell Nora.

Big Walk Diary – TONotL Prep

As I’ve mentioned, I have a bucket list of Big Walks I would like to do, and this year I’ve set myself the challenge of attempting the first one. I’m calling it my TONotL walk – Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake. I’m giving myself 6 days to do the planned 160km (the map above doesn’t show all the twists and turns of the Bruce Trail), and I’ll be carrying clothes, lunches, water, etc. so my pack will be around 8-10 kg.

Since it’s my first Big Walk, I’ve invested in gear like boots and a good backpack, and part of the prep for this trek is breaking in and getting used to the gear. That’s especially true of the boots and pack. I’ve been using walks to try out combinations of socks and orthotics in the boots that will be comfortable over the journey. I’ve also been getting used to carrying a decent weight over the day while ensuring the pack is comfortable and adjusted to suit my body and style. I’ve also been trying out trekking poles, which I haven’t used before.

My prep walks have mostly taken in the Don Valley and related parks and trails, so that I can get lots of up and down hills and a mixture of trails and paved paths. The weather has finally warmed up and it’s been good to work up a sweat.

The biggest challenge has been with my boots. My custom orthotics don’t quite fit into my boots – they are extra thick with cushioning and my feet are too cramped in the boots if I use them. Instead I’ve been trying different off the shelf orthotics combined with different socks to get the arch support combined with cushioning. My custom orthotics do work with my running shoes and this TONotL walk will have a lot of paved trail to it, so I could just go with the running shoes. It will depend on the portion of the walk that covers the Bruce Trail – that will need good hiking shoes at the least and the boots will be better, so I’m trying to get used to them. Still, what I’m finding is that I have the stamina for 20k plus but my feet are killing me after a couple of hours. I’ll need to work through this.

Other than working out issues with my the boots, the rest of the training has been pretty good. I’ve loaded up my pack with some free weights, books, and other ballast so that I carry 10+ kg, probably more than I’ll have on the walk. The pack fits great, and makes it easy to carry the weight. I’ve done 3 hours + with that, and I’ve also done 25 km with a day pack in around 5 hours, so I figure if I give myself 8 hours or so to cover 30 km with the pack, I’ll have time for rest breaks and should be ok covering the distance with the load. I just need to get in another 2 long walks before I jump off and I should be ready to go.

Otherwise the rest of the planning and prep is going well. I’ve arranged my work schedule so that I have the 1st week of July clear, so now I’m following the weather forecast like an anxious farmer. I don’t expect to get 6 consecutive dry days, but I don’t want to walk for 2-3 days in pouring rain and thunderstorms either, so as long as it’s looking good a couple of days ahead of time then the walk will be on.

I’m aiming to do this in 6 legs, each around 30 km, give or take. The route will take me through Toronto to the Lake and then west along the shore to Port Credit. From there the next day it’s on to Burlington, then Grimsby, Jordan, Thorold, and finally Niagara-on-the-Lake. From Grimsby to Queenston outside Niagara Falls I’ll be doing the 88 km stretch of the Bruce Trail known as the Niagara section, and finally the last 10 km from Queenston to Niagara-on-the-Lake will be along the Niagara River trail. It will give me both interesting city life and quiet countryside, fields, and forests.

I’ve picked this route as a starter because the first 3 days are easy flat ground walking near the lake, so I can work out the kinks before I get to some hills climbing the Niagara Escarpment onto the Bruce Trail, plus I get an easy finish on the last day with a relaxing walk on a flat shaded trail. Even so I know it will be challenging just because it’s my first Big Walk, yet I’m also hoping it’s a small enough challenge that I can enjoy it as a good walk through interesting places.

The countdown has started. Stay tuned.

Walks Past – New York, February 2006

In February 2006, I had some business to attend in New York. Since my wife’s birthday is that month, the timing worked perfectly for her to fly in on a Friday just as my meetings ended, so that we could spend the weekend in the city and celebrate in style.

I had been working in mid town so we were staying in a hotel just east of Grand Central Station, I think around 43rd & 2nd Avenue. That central location meant we could explore the whole of Manhattan on foot – downtown, midtown, and uptown were all reachable and all tempting destinations. This was my first visit to NYC and I was looking forward to exploring.

That first day, the Friday, was a lovely winter’s day, positively warm at maybe 5-10 C, and since my wife arrived around noon just as my meetings finished, we listened to our hunger pangs and headed straight off downtown.

First stop was a little Japanese restaurant for sushi to keep us going. While every city these days seems to have sushi restaurants, in NY it was different. The bustle and hustle of the city meant that everything was fresh, delicious, and quick. It was a great way to enjoy a meal while leaving plenty of time for sightseeing.

We set off south on Park Avenue and just wandered, holding hands in the sun and window shopping as we went. Every block seemed to offer a view of an iconic building or landmark – the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building.

Soon we came to Gramercy Park and I thought of the jazz artists I’ve loved who recorded for the Gramercy record label. Continuing on to Union Square, it struck us that we were getting close to Greenwich Village. We had fun pointing out places that had appeared in movies or TV shows we’d seen over the years – oh look the Friends building! – and of course by 2006, the Village was well gentrified compared to the 60’s when Dylan hung out, but just like visiting St. Germain in Paris and thinking of Sartre, wandering the streets was an immersion into cultural history.

After a stop for coffee and more exploring, we stumbled upon a quaint French restaurant that looked perfect for dinner, authentic without being pretentious. I don’t think the restaurant is there any more but I do recall the meal being wonderful, and the wine even better, fuelling us for another day of exploring on Saturday.

That day was my wife’s birthday, and it was an even more glorious New York warm winter’s day – sunny blue skies and about a springlike feel at 10-12C. The sunshine and warmth pointed our feet north towards Central Park. Walking up 5th Avenue, we passed more landmarks and icons – the FAO Schwarz toy store, Rockefeller Center, the Park Plaza hotel, and the Sherman Monument at the entrance to Central Park.

Entering the park was to enter another world. I’d always heard about the magic of the park in the way it formed a green oasis within the city, and wandering the paths I could finally understand it. Outside, cars honked and buses roared. Inside birds whistled and children shouted. Strolling the paths we turned and twisted and followed our noses to find ourselves at the Boathouse just in time for a late lunch. It was such gorgeous weather we had to sit outside, and drinking a glass of wine we thought we were in mid-spring.

After that relaxing stop, it was a lazy stroll back to midtown amongst the brownstones of the Upper East Side and down along Madison Avenue. The shopping was oh so tempting, and it was Ann’s birthday after all, so by the time we reached the hotel we were shopped out and knackered enough for a nap. We woke up famished and were very ready for dinner that night at a hopping Italian place in the Upper West Side near Columbia University. We celebrated and thought we’d ended our weekend in NY on a perfect note.

And then, surprise! Winter returned overnight with a howl and blast and 50+ cm of snow. By the time we awoke that Sunday morning and looked out, it was obvious that we weren’t flying anywhere that day. We checked with the airline to see about flights on the Monday, and then asked ourselves what we could with a grown-up city snow-day.

While we did have winter coats, hats, and gloves, we didn’t have boots and the snow was knee-deep at least. Still, if we wanted to embrace NY then we had to act like New Yorkers and just get on with it. We braved the blizzard and headed for Grand Central Station, thinking we could at least take a train somewhere. To our surprise, we walked in to find a lovely little market tucked into the back of the building that was open despite the storm, and sniffing about we soon found the makings of a picnic lunch along with a bottle of wine to keep out the chill. We slogged through the snow back to the hotel and settled down to watch a bit of the Winter Olympics while enjoying our feast – an unexpected treat.

By Mockba1_1999, CC BY 2.5, Link

By early evening, the snow finally slowed and the sidewalks were more or less cleared so taking one last NYC walk, we slushed up 2nd Avenue and soon found a cosy little Italian restaurant straight out of the 70’s, complete with red velvet wallpaper and candles in wine bottles. There were only a handful of customers on what would normally have been a busy Sunday night, so the staff showered us with attention and free tiramisu. It was one of the best and most memorable meals we’ve ever had – a bonus night out to complete an extended weekend that had offered sunshine and snow, parks and Park Avenue, icons and ice cream, and walks to remember.

Walk Journal – May 19, 2019

Where: Chaplin Estates, Belt Line, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Moore Ravine, the Brickworks, Pottery Road and Pape Village to the Danforth, then back along the Danforth over the Bloor Street Viaduct and then through Castlefrank and Rosedale to Summerhill & Yonge and up Yonge to Deer Park and back through Chaplin Estates to home.

Duration: about 3.5 hours walking, and around 17 km

Weather: Spring! 18 C and sunny enough for a sunburn

My walking regime this year so far has been patchy at best. I’ve put back on some weight that I’d lost, and I’ve been feeling flabby and out of shape. My weekly target of 60 minutes of walking 5 days out of 7 has mostly gone by the wayside, and the weather has been chilly and teasing – the calendar might say spring but the temperatures don’t.

On a holiday weekend, you never know what you’re going to get. Last year on Victoria Day we had a great walk through High Park and then up the Humber River. This year we decided to walk east, and visit the Danforth and Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood, and the weather forecast was promising.

The most direct yet still interesting route took us through familiar streets to the Beltline Trail and then east along that into Mount Pleasant Cemetery. From there we followed the Trail into Moore Ravine and down into the Don Valley into the trails of the Brickworks. On a nice holiday weekend day, there were hordes of walkers, families, dogs, bikes, runners, and self-snapping young couples. We took our time going through the Brickworks trails, and then crossed Bayview to the Lower Don Trail to head back north up to Pottery Road. Walking along that brought back memories as we passed Fantasy Farm – back in the 1980’s when I was at Glendon College we’d had several formal banquets there at which I had let down my student hair in epic fashion – and then it was the grinding climb up the hill to Broadview.

From there we meandered through back streets to arrive at the Danforth at Carlaw. The sun was out and the outdoor tables were packed. We found a spot at the Alexander the Great Parkette and grabbed takeout gyros from Alexandros to eat in the sun.

After that tasty pitstop, it was a stroll along the Danforth to Broadview, where my wife decided to hop on the subway home, while I kept walking. My route took me south on Broadview to Riverdale Park and down to one of the trails. I was trying to connect to the Lower Don Trail, but I guessed wrong and didn’t find the connector trail over the Don Valley Parkway – instead I ended up heading north and back up to Danforth at the Bloor Street Viaduct, so I decided to cross the bridge (since I’d come to it!) and cut through Rosedale to head home.

Walking through the neighbourhood, I thought about the essay my son is currently working on, on the subject of sustainability and how that is manifested in Toronto. One of his study areas is Rosedale. On paper this neighbourhood doesn’t have a large amount of green space, at least when defined in terms of public parks. And yet, the trees coming leaf and the ample yards and gardens of the large houses certainly gave a strong impression of verdancy, and the wealth displayed by the luxury cars parked in front of every house contrasted with the TTC bus stops scattered along the side streets. Does it count as sustainable if that neighbourhood has a higher percentage of Tesla’s than other areas of the city?

At the same time, there’s no question that it’s a lovely place to live. It’s always quiet and charming walking through Rosedale and it was no different on this walk. I know my way through there by now, having walked it many times, and I meandered along back streets between Castle Frank and Summerhill where I connected with Yonge Street.

Interesting fact – on Castle Frank Road, the Netherlands consulate owns a house, marked by the large Dutch flag out front. There is also a commemorative plaque beside a tree, planted in honour of the many thousands of Canadian troops who helped to liberate the Netherlands during the Second World War.

At Summerhill, Yonge Street led me up the hill to St. Clair and into the Deer Park neighbourhood, and onwards to Oriole Park. I passed a baseball game in progress that brought back memories of my son at 7 playing there. I kept going through the Chaplin Estates back to Eglinton and up Oriole Parkway to reach home footsore and sunburned.

In the end I’d done more walking in one day than I’d done in several weeks over the past few months. It felt good to be tired, like I’d worked out and deserved to sit for awhile and watch a baseball game.

It was a great spring walk, on our first really proper sunny spring day of the year, and now I need to build on that and get back into my routines. Stretching out your strides with the rhythm of walking feels good at anytime, but it’s especially sweet when it’s the first time all year you can finally go out in shorts and a T shirt.