Oshawa is the last stop on the GO train east from Toronto, 60km -- in theory. I’m sure there are many ace sportsmen who zip back and forth (terrifying walkers), but I’ve never met anyone who tried to do it. Undaunted, I packed my lunch, gathered my pump etc, and aimed for the 8:13 train.

With the new bike craze, there are bike lanes popping up where you least expect them. University Ave, Toronto’s stately boulevard of banks, the US consulate, the Ontario legislature (in that order of importance) now has a spiffy bright designated lane, and a trip down past spooky silent skyscrapers on an early Saturday morning was now a delight. Leisurely pedaling among the monolithsI felt like I owned this concrete paradise, not TD et al.

The mask paranoia is irritating, constant loudspeaker exhortations, but I have a mask permanently in my outdoors trousers. The new PRESTO electronic payment requiring juggling with wallet and bike, and remembering to tap in and out, also a new learned behaviour. Every day a new card, number, password… Getting out first demands playing the robot in our virtual reality, a kind of baptism by the ‘reality’ we live in without realizing how degraded our lives have become.

Only two other cyclists got off at Oshawa, and they had no idea where the trail was. Nor the next two people. Finally, I moved off and found a garage open and asked two young guys who looked enviously at my expedition in progress.

The sun and brilliant greens and yellows shouted out ‘I am the real REAL. Welcome.’ Like after a summer downpour, all those computer cobwebs washed away. As the trail opened up in a meadow, a big fluffy brown rabbit passed on his own greeting. 

Looking up, there was the moon, waning Gibbous phase, offering hers. I was determined to watch it till it was swallowed up by the sun’s light, never reaching the horizon. It led me westward hanging lower, swelling and becoming sickly pale. After an hour, I stopped to wait it out, looked up, and it was gone! Ms Moon had the last laugh on me.

Photo AstroBob

Onward to a rustic boardwalk and sand beach. I stopped to do wudu though it was probably only 11am, waded out for a bit, then walked barefoot on the smooth board causeway, as if I was walking across my living room. ‘Thanks for walking,’ said a lovely, blonde woman suddenly. 

Of course, walkers really don’t like us cyclists much. Whizzing past without a howdy-do. The point of my expedition was not speed (though there were lots of fun twisty hills). ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Why rush over this beautiful marsh? The boards are fun to walk on.’ As I continued, a lovely black woman smiled in approval. Suddenly I’m Mr Peacemaker. I empathize with walkers (for the most part), knowing myself what it’s like to have a beefy truck push me aside to make his right turn.

The markings were not always where you needed them. What else is new? Whitby and Pickering are tricky. I’m glad I did my homework, finding the waterfront trail maps and jotting down some street names around the nuclear power stations at Darlington and Pickering. You end up in downtown Pickering, which is crowded and homey. Fortunately, a group of 15 Chinese cyclists caught up and passed me and I followed them.

I disdain GPS. It is a not-so-subtle straitjacket, robbing you of your instinct for exploring and finding your own path, both real and by implication, metaphoric. Who wants to be reminded of the other reality, the ‘matrix’, out here? But hypocrite that I am, I heard a computer woman: ‘cross at the lights go right then left’ coming from a pair ahead. And I followed the matrix.

There are several boardwalk causeways on the route. Such a nice break from the asphalt. A fork on the boardwalk in Rotary Park in Ajax led me out into the marsh just as a goldfinch flitted away. Leaning over, I saw a flock of cliff swallows darting in and out from under the walkway. There couldn’t have been more than a foot of headspace for them. Silent in the air, but a delicate cacophony under our feet.

It was hot when you stopped! You really had to keep moving. A loose shirt, shorts and sandals let me feel the wind from head to toe. What a rush. But as I approached Toronto, I was losing steam, and dreaded the last leg through suburbia, where the trail gives way to a stubborn private ‘hunt club’ and other obstacles, forcing you onto the manic Kingston Road. I did it twice in past trips and decided it was a bad way to end the day, so I followed my trusty map to get me to Guildwood GO station and a smooth, quiet ride into the matrix. 

My lucky day. A train was due in 15 minutes. A dozen other bikes showed that I was not the only one unwilling to wrestle with urban insanity. I anticipated a toke while waiting, then remembered: no smoking in the matrix! Wear your mask and behave. Our cameras are watching. I was so tired, it was bliss just to sit and eat an apple. 

Okay, I didn’t reach the summit of my Everest, but I did ‘visit’ our monster nuclear power stations, and, as they say, close counts in horseshoes. I have nothing against horses or their hoofware. After all, my bike is shoed by me, a 21st century rider of the purple sage. I dare you, Mr Matrix, to take that bit of freedom away.



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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergIV.html