Travel

 

The 17th century hangs heavy over the ‘heartland’ of Georgian Bay, the twin peninsula to ‘the Bruce’ to the west. Both, of course were the home of natives, who were forced to cede about 98% of their land to the white settlers in the 18-19th cc. Even much of whatever shoreline is in the remaining 2% was/ is leased to the present day colonists, who flock to the  sandy shores in the summers. Georgian Bay’s history is a dramatic example of how this happened.


The 17th century was the killer, literally. Measles, influenza and smallpox killed 15,000 of the 25,000 Hurons. The Iroquois, head of the confederation of five nations—Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca, sealed their fate, ‘winning’ the Beaver Wars throughout the St. Lawrence River valley and the lower Great Lakes region, killing most of the rest.  But who ‘traded’ them guns for the (then) valuable furs to play the now lethal war games? The Dutch.

 

 

7:20am Union Station. 12 hours door to door to door. Six hours of travel hassles, 6 hours of fine biking, visiting childhood haunts in Eden Mills and Guelph from 1951 to 1969.

 

To get there, a 2 1/2 hr milk run Go bus from Union Station to Guelph University. First, parachuting down Gordon St to inaugurate the adventure, over the Speed river, through town, to the library for the weather report. Promises no rain. Chilly and overcast. Perfect biking weather.

 

The weekend before I left, every moment I was thinking about the trip, imagining the long haul on the bike, neck pain, sweating, muscles operating at full capacity hour after hour, adventures, getting lost and found, a challenge with many rewards. Southern Georgian Bay is (or at least was) idyllic. Good farmland but not on the way anywhere, so still relaxed. Worth three days of biking, and accessible by bus for cyclists.


It wasn’t the same worry as 2 yrs ago from Kingston to Cornwall or the Orillia Gravenhurst jaunt, more just a delicious anticipation of the (reasonable) challenge. My search at couchsurfing: 5 requests, within an hour, an invite from Josh from Collingwood, my supposed destination. ‘I am teaching in Russia, but home for the summer.’ yes!

 

Everything went like clockwork till the usual ‘getting lost’ clicked in north of Barrie. But looking back, I realized I’d actually found a good route, avoiding the dreaded highway #26, stumbling on Horseshoe Valley road and eventually Flos rd 4 through the Minesing wetlands, the only road through, (wonderfully) forgotten, with a narrow one-lane rusty old bridge. The perfect bike route.

Toronto cyclists know how hard it is to get beyond the roller coaster nightmare of Toronto traffic to Elysium fields. Ok, dreary fields of GMO corn and soybeans, but it’s a step up from strip malls. Relying on The Canadian Cycling Association’s Complete Guide to Bicycle Touring in Canada (1994), I fashioned a trip to meet the litmus test:
1/ no car headache to take you to some distant starting point,
2/ some sites worthy of the name,
3/ no mass of tourists, either biped or bipedal.


Lake Simcoe is tantalizingly close, more friendly than big Lake Ontario, but featuring a tightly packed string of cottages possessing every bit of lake front available.

Undaunted, I thought it was worth a try. The rapidly expanding Go bus/train system reaches as far as Barrie,

My life journey as a peacenik took me to Moscow in 1989 to see Gorbachev's 'socialism with a human face', his attempt to combine materialist communism with ... it wasn't clear exactly what Gorbachev had in mind, but it certainly wasn't a wholesale sell out of what had been built over the previous 70 years. However, the rickety structure that the Soviet Union had become, a tired society always under pressure from the capitalist West, final collapsed. Or rather was pushed over by a well-planned conspiracy―begun in 1979 under Carter but greatly expanded under Reagan―to destroy the last socialist revolution, in Afghanistan, next door to Uzbekistan. The tragedy of Afghanistan put Uzbekistan on my radar. A remote part of the world shrouded in mystery and now convulsed in war. Sounded interesting to the young adventurer devoted to world peace.

I had come to Moscow at the invitation of Moscow News. From my editor's office on Pushkin Square, I watched on TV the last Soviet troops leave Afghanistan and arrive in Uzbekistan, retreating across the Amudarya River on the Friendship Bridge (built in 1982 to ferry Soviet troops into Afghanistan). Even as the troops retreated, mujahideen snipers continued to target them, with US arms still being poured into what was already a powder keg. I was intrigued by this little-known part of the world, and remembered a dream-like trip as a Russian language student in 1980 to Tashkent, with its elegant opera house and its bountiful fruits, soaring mountains and hospitable people.

After five years in Moscow, working as an editor at Moscow News and then as a Greenpeace activist-administrator, I had had enough of a Moscow in upheaval, where food was scarce and expensive, and people were losing their laid-back Soviet ways and embracing the worst features of the West. I was robbed more than once (once by the train police waiting in a suburban station on the way to Uzbekistan), and remember gun shots in the Vikhino apartment building entrance one night, told the next day someone had been found murdered just a few feet away from me.

Moscow had lost its charm. I yearned to try living in a Muslim society. Uzbekistan seemed to be the most developed, cultured of the Soviet 'stans' and a short hop away from
Mazari-i-Sharif.

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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