Saturday, 27 September 2014

Day 6 - Niagara Falls to Toronto

The border guards were curious about my tale, and perhaps since they didn’t have anyone else in line at 6 a.m., brought me inside to inquire further about my scant kit (Where are your clothes?), motivation for biking 500 miles (Why didn’t you take the train?), and solvency (How much money do you have?) They also generously took note of my age but eventually decided that odd practices were not grounds for exclusion from Canada. After all, they have their own whimsical side [left].

The Canadian side of the falls is more dramatic as one gets a full-on view of the cascade rather than the awkward sideways perspective available in New York. But the honky-tonk prize goes, surprisingly, to the Canadians who have loaded up the approaches to the falls with all sorts of seedy touristic drek. There were two or three visitors out catching the panorama just after dawn, so I got my photos in and pedaled off to see what Ontario looks like, having not visited Canada since the 1970s.

The first obvious difference is that the Canadian roads, despite heavy traffic, had inadequate shoulders, often forcing cyclists—which were plentiful—onto the sidewalks. No one objected, and motorists seemed used to us as well as cautious; but it felt unsafe. Then there was the immediate monument celebrating the War of 1812 and a battle site just across the border there in which Canadians kicked our Yankee asses. They seemed quite content to memorialize a war we are neglectful of, Ohioans being perhaps the exception given our attention to the heroics Admiral Perry—victorious heroics, to be sure.

The first town on the Ontario side is St Catherine’s, a tidy, serene place with a beautiful cemetery with chimes memorializing the many veterans laid to rest there. A group of retirees oriented me toward Hamilton and wished me well in a most encouraging way. Outside the town the first of many abundant fruit stands appeared as peach and plum season was at peak. That section of Ontario is actually further south than most of Michigan, so I guess an ample growing season should not have been surprising.

On the road to Hamilton I went past a kid on inline skates who asked me directions. It was hard to imagine him climbing the hills 20 miles in those things—but who was I to question? Near Grimsby many sites and businesses made reference to “the 20,” so I asked several people what it meant. (Twenty fallen soldiers in a battle? Twenty homesteading families in a new settlement? Twenty bears in a cave?) No one knew, and it’s not on the Internet.

At Hamilton the road veers from west around the point of Lake Ontario back due east, and I needed directions from a bike shop. It was complicated, but the bike route was well laid out with a lane reserved. After that, the stretch into Toronto followed Lakeshore Boulevard for a lat 50 miles or so, and I just powered on into the outskirts where a friendly young couple took this picture of my triumphant entry [below].

So after having given myself eight days to do the trip, I had arrived in six. The bike had performed magically without even a flat tire; my stamina, carefully nurtured with a steady intake of proper foods and electrolyte-laden water, had as well. I had kept my balance, not just on the two-wheeled machine, but in my own head, maintaining a cautious confidence that things would unfold to my advantage and all my needs would be met.

It would be pointless to deny that there were times I asked myself, Whose idea was this anyway? when toiling up seemingly endless curves only to plunge down the other side and face another ridge; when roaming through vast, open fields a little too late in the afternoon without even an abandoned lean-to in sight; when observing the contented families out lolling by lakes and rivers with their vehicles standing by ready to whisk them off to domestic comforts.

But I knew all that before starting out and did it anyway. I am drawn to the uncertainty, the multiple challenges, the isolation and anonymity, and the accompanying freedom. The countryside is benign and quite friendly overall (for white people at least), and I was armed with credit cards and a mobile phone. The worst case outcome was having to bail on the trip for whatever reason and rearrange my plans.

People frequently express disbelief when I confirm that I made this trip, and I can only agree—it feels unreal to me, too. And yet the answer to the How? question is, One mile at a time. It’s rather amazing how far one gets with nothing more than single-minded concentration on taking the next right step.

The route: 20 from Niagara Falls, Ontario, to back roads into St Catherine’s, 81 out west to Grimsby and Hamilton, a complicated turn through the freeway intersections onto Lakeshore Boulevard straight into the bike paths leading to Toronto. Niagara Falls to Hamilton, 54; Hamilton to the Toronto downtown airport, 51; total: 105. Estimated six-day total: 546.

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