Travel

 

Okay, a bit of Lake Ontario -- the fabulous Waterfront Trail from Oshawa to Toronto, 60km, almost all in sight of the lake. Hardly any private mansions, and the towns with their marinas in between are funky. Accessible (free for bikes) on GO commuter trains from as far as away as Hamilton (the waterfront trail going west from Toronto is much less enjoyable).


I was afraid it might be too easy, and the lake boring after a while, but not so. It’s always an orienteering game, and the trail is never straight (except for bridges).

 

I’ve done the Pickering-Toronto stretch (40km) twice now (Pickering just west of Ajax). The first time always a learning experience. My first trip was also the inauguration of my Presto card, the new gimmick to minimize user-worker contact, which I don’t like, but I’ve got the hang of it by now. Do NOT forget to tap your card when leaving the GO train. Which I did, as I flew out of the station and over two hills and found the path. A bike is a form of meditation. Ram Dass's 'Be Here Now.' You get in a rhythm as you process your thoughts and the trip so far and what's ahead. Oh no! Didn’t tap the card. So my first retracing of steps (not the first or last time).

 

The panorama, the air. Such a relief from Toronto. And no ‘ribbons of death’ to contend with. The deadly hwy 401 a safe distance, buried behind lots of trees. Only the occasion rush of the electric train, the railway being the least deadly of our obsession with speed and distance. The two rail tracks just a tad wider than one car-truck lane. And when you make that 10--12 car-truck lanes and football-field size interchanges, the environmental impact is truly shocking.

 

You reach the Port Union Waterfront Park over two wooden walkways, with marsh and river underneath. Too bad the stern warning ‘No swimming - high water’. The water looked fine, Google says it’s okay. Bureaucracy. I could have found a cove and done my own thing, but on both my first and second trips, I was saving energy for the final haul getting through Toronto home.

 

I finally took my plan of a bike trip along the Welland Canal seriously, preparing my map, checking google map for the route from the train station to the canal (quite a ways, requiring navigating one of the ribbons of death that cut through St Catharines, typical of most North American cities. I would have more than my share of negotiating/ avoiding them.

 

The first obstacle was highway 406, a kind of 21st century Welland Canal, a midget at 23 km, begun in 1965 and only turned into a 4-lane beast in 2009. There are even a few seconds of beauty -- for motorists only.

 

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.

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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