It seems like forever since we’ve been in a large city – Minneapolis notwithstanding. This post is coming from the historic Distillery District of Toronto, an interesting mix of commercial and residential uses centered around a former whiskey distillery.
When we left Nanticoke, we traveled eastward along the north shore of Lake Erie to Bronte Creek Provincial Park, just east of the town of Oakville on Lake Erie. Oakville is a very prosperous town that is a suburb for both Hamilton and Toronto.
Mansions line the lake, blocking the view, though there are frequent parks with access to the lake. One of those parks has a beach with cobbles formed from a former the remains of terracotta pipes produced in the region.
A few miles inland, I cycled through the town of Caledonia, which lies along the shoreline of the Grand River. Fishing for pickerel and walleye, and canoeing on the river are the main recreation activities in this area.
We also gradually hit the city of Hamilton, and then a little further east, the distant suburbs of Toronto. We passed more wind farms and solar panels, and small farms selling berries and vegetables, as well as some industrial areas.
I haven’t had a chance to swim in either Lake Erie or Lake Ontario, but I can understand why people flock to the many beaches along their shores as they did to the shores of Lake Michigan.
The final 15 miles of that day included some roads that were very challenging – fast cars and trucks, impatient drivers, narrow (or non-existent shoulders). It felt like I was riding along many of the suburban Bay Area roads – a stark contrast to the mellow cycling of almost all of the 3150 miles I have ridden so far on the trip. Before we left the Lake Erie coastline, a couple of our fellow campers sort of rolled their eyes when we told them we were camping in Brampton, in the far northwest corner of Toronto. They said we should be prepared for a culture shock. It turns out that what they meant was that Brampton is a very ethnically diverse section of Toronto. We find the diversity to be very refreshing after the almost total whiteness of the previous 2 months of cycling.
Along with city energy comes a marked reduction in friendliness, compared to most of the rural areas we have visited. In rural areas, people were more interested in and excited by our adventure than here in Toronto, where we are just two more American tourists. I guess we’ve gotten addicted to our small scale fame as cycle tourists; this is an addiction we will have to kick as we slowly transition back to our real lives in the Bay Area.
While we’ve enjoyed the pulse of this great city, we’ve noticed a lot of aggressiveness by cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians. Horn honking, pedestrians yelling at motorists and vice versa – not fun. Even we two experienced city cyclists have been yelled at by irate drivers and even other cyclists for violating some unwritten rule or other. All cities have, of course, have a set of unwritten rules that a casual visitor can’t possibly know; we’ve had this ‘stranger in a strange land’ experience before. The Toronto experience will make me much more patient with the rental bike visitors to San Francisco who do things like take photos while cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge (a big no-no in my mind) I’ll at least try to suppress my scowls and grumbling in the future.
Cafes are everywhere. Most of the homes are small, and look to have been constructed in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The promenade along the waterfront affords some views of the Lake and offshore islands, but most views are disappointingly walled off by large apartment buildings, with many new ones now under construction.
Here’s to the Mexican concept of ‘malacons,’ which are public promenades along the shoreline of most coastal cities in that country.
Toronto has a lot of things going on – varied neighborhoods, great diversity, professional sports (I even considered attending a Toronto Blue Jays-NY Yankees baseball game at their downtown stadium with a retractable roof), excellent public transportation, an extensive bike share program, and lots of arts and culture.
As we leave Toronto, our mileage tally is: Howard – 3150 miles; Wendy 1275.
It’s been a huge change to be in an area with traffic, occasional gridlock, and stoplights. As we approached Manitowac, Wisconsin, I remember being totally shocked to see a stoplight-controlled intersection. It was also very interesting to see Google Maps navigation directions and mileage immediately shift to kilometers as we crossed the border into Canada. Thank goodness for the auditory navigation from my smart phone – what a difference that technology has made in the ease of my driving our van and trailer from camp to camp.
Toronto is that much more intense – with much more aggressive drivers, no one is yielding to me as I try to change lanes on the freeways with our van and trailer; in fact most drivers speed up when I put on my turn signal. But, as Howard has said, it’s been exciting for us to be back in the city with its energy, diversity, and food choices (we’ve enjoyed handpulled noodles in Chinatown,
crepes in Midtown, beer in the Distillery District, grazing in the amazing St. Lawrence Market,
and the pizza in the Little Portugal neighborhood at Pizzeria Libretto, a place recommended by Drew and Sara.
While the waterfront has a lot of development, it also has some great pockets with lovely parks. We took a round trip on the ferry to the Toronto Island Park and loved looking at the city skyline from the water.
As a cellist and major Yo-Yo Ma fan, I especially loved the Toronto Music Garden that was developed through the collaboration of a garden designer, a filmmaker, and Yo-Yo Ma. The garden is divided into six movements/sections based on Bach’s First Suite for Unaccompanied Cello.
Canada is currently celebrating its 150 years – it’s been fun to see the many displays of this along the way.
Cycling is such a wonderful mode of travel. Bike share has been a great way to see Toronto (along with great public transit) – and tags on well to our cycling mode of travel on this journey. The bike share bikes are really heavy, but thanks to my many miles on my e-bike, my leg muscles are ready – yay! The cycling with my ebike has become more and more fun as the miles go by. I can’t remember the last time that I had to switch to my second battery to make my 30-ish mile round trip on each of our cycling days. I also no longer need to slow down on my return trip when I turn back – I can just keep zooming along for the full round trip.
Recently, I’ve been talking with Howard about doing some overnight cycling trips when we return to California home. Even carrying heavy panniers, I now have a huge range (70+ miles) with my leg strength and two batteries.
As I noted before, cycling allows me to really experience an area. More sounds to add to my previous list: the threatening rumble of distant thunder, sounds of crickets (I have always associated crickets to night time, so it’s been very surprising to hear them during the day in the rural areas of the US and Canada), lots of lovely birdsong, and the sound of the wind.
Wind is typically the nemesis of cyclists (though it’s not much of an issue with my e-bike). Ontario has really made a big commitment to renewable energy – very exciting to see! And it has made me think differently about the wind when I’m cycling as I see it generating power. In many places in Ontario, I counted 15 to 30 wind turbines generating power in my immediate location. There are many different wind farms – Erie Shores Wind Farm with its 66 turbines generates enough electricity to power the local county’s 24,000 homes. I find myself thinking of the windmills in Holland when people were first harnessing the power of the wind. Don Quixote also comes to mind; I find myself singing “To Dream the Impossible Dream” as I cycle along – it really is possible for humans to reduce their carbon footprint by switching to renewable energy source,s such as wind and solar.
In Michigan and Ontario, wildflowers have returned in a big way – and are that much more beautiful seen from a bike.
I am still amazed to see lakes that look like oceans – and they are very changeable. This is especially for Lake Erie – it is really shallow which makes it warmer for swimming, but is really easily churned up by the wind). Someone told us that Lake Michigan’s biggest waves were recorded at 25 feet – and that the big waves on the Great Lakes are more challenging to navigate than the bigger ocean waves due to irregular wave patterns.
Just as we experienced in Minneapolis, there are very few mosquitoes in the urban area of Toronto. It’s been a wonderful break from them during our layover here; they greatly reduce the enjoyment of an area. It’s very telling when you see homes with screened porches and campers with screened rooms surrounding the picnic tables – we have “screen envy.”
On our return, we are looking forward to our San Francisco without mosquitoes and no-see-ems! Tomorrow we leave Toronto for more rural environs…
There has been a lot more interest in our little trailer here in Canada – much more so than in the US. While there are still plenty of big motorhomes and trailers, tents and smaller tent trailers are more prevalent.
Continuing to be lucky with weather, we seem to thread the needle between major storms. Canada has had unseasonably cooler weather then usual, which has given us perfect cycling temperatures. Lucky us! Throughout the Midwest and Canada, we’ve learned though that weather forecasts are meaningless. A couple of examples: when our phone app is saying that it’s currently partly cloudy, we are being pelted by rain – or when it says thunderstorms at 8 pm, the storms may hit at any time during the day or dissipate entirely.
Yesterday Howard commented to me, “Look around – everyone you see here has health care.” Today, we had an interesting conversation about Canada’s health care system with a wine vendor at the St. Lawrence Market. The man is a dual citizen (Canadian and American) and had lived in San Francisco and elsewhere in the US; he now lives in Toronto. He said that wine and other alcohol (and perhaps other products) are heavily taxed (the “sin tax”) to help fund Canada’s health care. People also pay high income taxes in Canada. It’s definitely another example of “you get what you pay for;” he is extremely happy with his health care – the level of service, including quick access to doctors and needed procedures, and preventative health care services.
As we say each morning when we are moving camp, “eastward ho.” We are closing in on the Atlantic Ocean!