Friday, October 28, 2011

Ride for Africycle 5.0 Day Nine

The sun rose bright and full on this day and came streaming into the tent at a fairly early hour. Our last day. It's always a mixed-feeling as I know that something very special is coming to a close but then I get to see my family and sleep in my own bed and return to familiar surroundings . . . . . The house gradually came to life as everyone in their tents starting packing bins and admiring the gardens.

A huge breakfast was prepared and we were invited to join the family and friends inside the house where a lot of food was put back pretty quickly. Soon, it was time to say goodbye so bins were packed for the final time and bike tires pumped up and chains lubed and off we went. Our route was largely undetermined and figured out along the way. I remember passing through some little towns and certainly I remember one epic climb up a hill on the North side of the Mosport racetrack. Otherwise, I couldn't tell you the route we followed. It was super hilly and there were some breathtaking views and speedy descents.

Eventually we arrived in Millbrook and paid a visit to our friends Colin and Deanne at The Pastry Peddler.

Here's Michael's bike waiting patiently while its owner puts an Americano and a pastry where they belong!
(Photo courtesy Ed Kwaka)

Soon it was time to clip in again and head up the long steep hill East out of Millbrook and catch the awesome tail-wind that often waits at the top. Sure enough(and thankfully) it was right there. Scotia then made history with an epic pull that began at the top of the hill and ended at the VanDerHerberg residence in Peterborough. Speeds sat around 40 -45 km/h much of the time so we were there very quickly!

Friends and family were waiting there for many of the riders so a few beers were hoisted and there was a little celebration. We heard that the bus had broken down near Port Perry and that our bins of gear were being brought up in a van and so the celebration lasted a little longer as we waited for its arrival. Not a problem as Andrea magically hauled some chocolate cupcakes out of nowhere to continue the celebration!

My wife came to pick up my gear and after lots of goodbye hugs with the riders and support crew, I got back on my bike and rode home, west into the afternoon sun. Another amazing ride - my second - over too soon.

Next year, for Ride for Africycle 6.0 we will ride to Quebec City. It will be an epic, life-changing ride.
(Ed and I are planning on riding back as well).

If you've followed this story and are curious, or feel the itch to ride with amazing people and have incredible never-to-be-forgotten experiences, then you really should consider contacting the Ride for Africycle people.

A big thanks to the Voss family for their support of our ride. To Dave Barber for all his quietly incredible extra efforts and for being such an awesome man. To Jerred our chef for the excellent food. To the good people of The Next Church in Kingston for being so accommodating. To our many generous sponsors! To all of you who prayed for us and sent us your good thoughts.

These rides are entirely possible only because of the many good people who
generously provide their love and support.

My Love and thanks to you all.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Ride for Africycle 5.0 Day Eight

Waking in Bronte Creek Provincial Park to a cool morning. The distant muted roar of traffic. The much closer sound of birds and people grudgingly extracting their bodies from sleeping bags.

My point-and-shoot camera battery said "no more" just after I woke up, so most of today's photographs are from the camera of Mr. Ed Kwaka, my biking buddy extraordinaire.

Here I am hauling my pillow over to my storage bin in exchange for a bowl of porridge.
(Photo courtesy Ed Kwaka)

The morning is a fragile place but there were always people laughing while they
parked back a couple of cups of coffee.
(Photo courtesy Ed Kwaka)

Today's ride had been the topic of much discussion as we were unsure whether to skirt North of the GTA or to cycle right through its heart. There are benefits to both routes of course but the decision was finally sealed by the Amazing Ben Voss who invited us to spend that night at his parent's home in Claremont. Our route there would take us directly along the Lakeshore until somewhere East of Toronto at which point we would turn North, ride past the Metro Zoo and then wiggle and twist our way through Concession and County roads until we would arrive at Chez Voss.

Most of the ride alongside the Lake followed the Waterfront Trail, a well-maintained and well-signposted route that we left when necessary as it does deviate away from what we thought was the best and most direct route for us.

The ride along Lakeshore Boulevard through Oakville and Port Credit was fast. A smooth uncluttered road with beautiful old trees on either side and of course, vast mansions whose wrap-around driveways are parking lots for Bentley's, Aston Martins, the odd Lamborghini and lots of other toys that are well beyond my experience. I wonder how the lives of their owners might be changed if they were to come along on an Africycle ride?!

Eventually the edge of Mimico arrived and we passed into the older parts of Downtown Toronto where the road was a little more broken up and of course bisected by streetcar tracks. I really enjoy riding along here - although the last time I had been on this stretch on a bike would have to be thirty years ago - it looked essentially the same. A lot of cool little shops seemingly untouched by the passage of time and very obviously deeply embedded as the anchors they are for the little communities they serve.

Shortly after passing through Mimico, we crossed the very stylish bridge over the Humber River.

Just up ahead and on the right are Dave and Mel enjoying the view across the Lake.
(Photo courtesy Ed Kwaka)

The views across the Bay to the Downtown skyline were really good!

Downtown Toronto skyline. (Photo courtesy Ed Kwaka)

We stayed as close as possible to the Lakeshore and blew past the Sunnyside Swimming pool, weaving and dodging through the bladers, runners, walkers, and other cyclists until we reached the bottom end of the Don Valley Parkway where we picked up the bike trail that would take us to our Lunch spot at Ashbridge's Bay. At Ashbridge's Bay we met the bus and the guys had picked up some roast chicken and fries and buns which was so totally unexpected and awesome! The park is huge and there were rugby games, a skateboarding park and all sorts of mega picnics and whatever else going on.

After Lunch we headed across the middle of Scarborough using the Danforth and Kingston Road -huge entertainment quotient there as bikes are definitely not expected and especially not welcome. This is a car and truck road and people are motoring along and have places to go and things to do!!! I was super happy when my front wheel turned North andI knew that we would pass by the Metro Zoo and head out into countryside pretty soon. Of course country roads are a bit rougher but there are all sorts of visual distractions that make it all worthwhile.

At one point we came across a countryside hazhard - the bridge was out. Not wanting to take the long way around we agreed that no matter what, we were getting across that river even if it meant we had to wade or swim across with our bikes!

Happily neither was necessary as the bridge had handy dandy planks where its paved span would normally be so we were able to walk across and remain nice and dry!

Here's Michael VanDerHerberg taking the difficult route across.
(Photo courtesy Ed Kwaka)

Here are the rest of us taking the easy way across. Is there a life-lesson there? You be the judge!!
(Photo courtesy Ed Kwaka)

From here some long smooth roads led us to the beautiful little town of Claremont where the bus was parked.

The bikes were put away in the garage for the night. I'm sure they had some amazing discussions!
(Photo courtesy of Ed Kwaka)

After we'd all enjoyed a couple of rehydrating beers, Ben's sister provided superb massages to all who wished! She worked on my shoulders which hold a lot of tension when I ride long distances and it was as if a weight had been lifted off them by the time she had finished working her magic!

Then we all gathered in the beautiful back yard of this gorgeous home for a candlelight feast that was beyond comparison around tables filled with the most amazing people. We ate and drank and laughed our way into the night and then retreated to our tents for the last sleep of this year's ride.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ride for Africycle Day Seven Part Two

Night falls at Bronte Creek

Riding across the top of the Niagara Escarpment, you get some pretty good views of Lake Ontario and bits of the Golden Horseshoe conurbation.

After riding through a lot of countryside, the scale of cities always comes as a surprise.

Eventually we arrived above Hamilton and made the big decision about which road to drop down into the city on.

The picture below shows Dave Blondel scouting the terrain to determine which tarmac ribbon would get us the closest to the shoreline of the great Lake. This scene reminds me of those paintings of Columbus, Cartier and Cabot that have the great explorer standing on the prow of their ship while the scurvied lackeys wait anxiously for him to announcethat indeed we have arrived at the New Land .....

Dave's choice was a road that descended at a ferocious, brake melting rate with - bonus of bonuses - a sharp right about four fifths of the way down that cars coming up the hill left their lane and crossed into ours to take at a faster clip!! I was so nervous coming down that I didn't fully appreciate it and I hope that one day I can return and let the bike do its own thing!

We raced through the streets of Hamilton which were pretty clear and in surprisingly good condition.

We made our way to the Lakefront trail which is a wide paved smooth and very fast ride but on this day was also fairly well populated with roller bladers, runners, walkers, families, little and big dogs and so we picked up speed where we could and were careful everywhere else.

At this point last year it was the only cold and rainy day of the ride.

This year it was beautiful and so we were able to appreciate the mega-structure of the Skyway ...

Soon after passing this great big bridge we crossed another great big bridge. This is the lift bridge that you can see when you cross the Skyway by car. Some of us rode across it and some took the sidewalk. If you're thinking of riding across it I'd suggest taking the sidewalk! I've done both and the sidewalk feels a whole lot better under the wheels than the interlocking metal grid of the roadway!!

From here we continued along the Lakefront park trail which became even more densely populated. At one point we saw two women walking along it in scuba diving flippers ..... and eventually the trail ended and we came out into Burlington where we stopped at a favourite pastry and coffee stop of Ride for Africycle riders - the Lakeshore Coffee House.

Here we were able to strech out and put back some tasty Americano's and I believe that most people parked a slab of cheesecake back as well.
From there we rode on caffeinated legs at a very good rate of speed along Lakeshore Boulevard, and then North towards Bronte Creek. Bronte is an improbable park, located smack dab in the middle of suburbia. But you would never know there were housing developments within a kilometre of you at all times through some cool trick of nature that has placed trees, small rises and a really beautiful setting to distract you.

We set up the Ride for Africycle tent city ...

and watched the sun go down behind the trees.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ride for Africycle 5.0 Day Seven Part One

Crossing the border day! Our destination - Bronte Creek Provincial Park in Oakville.

But first, getting the body back in gear - there's cycling to be done today and lots of it! The process of preparing for a day of riding becomes so much easier as you establish the little routines of bike maintenance, organizing clothes (trying desperately to keep the smelly ones away from the clean ones...), and packing up the camping gear, becomes secondary to enjoying the sleepy banter of a dozen people getting revved up for a ride.

Today's ride began gently with our wheels turning along a beautiful parkway that more-or-less parallels the Niagara River. We passed through the beautiful town of Youngstown - I'd love to spend more time there sometime.

Image courtesy Ed Kwaka

It's the strangest thing to look across a river at the opposite shore and realize that it is not simply "the other side", but another country.

We rode at a good pace and after the big climb up the side of the Niagara Escarpment ...

Image courtesy Ed Kwaka

we were on the Robert Moses Parkway. Another post-apocalyptic riding experience that saw us using a former Expressway that runs right alongside the Niagara River but is now entirely abandoned and given over to runners, walkers, and cyclists like us. The views were a bit industrial, but then I find that stretch of the River with its massive hydro-electric facilities a lot less than natural!

Here's Ed Kwaka putting the Big Ring to work

After a little fun trying to figure out how to get onto the Rainbow Bridge, we found ourselves riding alongside happy tourists who were bemused to see a team of cyclists making their way across the border.

This is what you see half way across the bridge!

This year we had agreed that when we got to the Canadian side, we would stay on top of the escarpment and only drop off it when we were near Hamilton. The route was tricky at times but between the pre-ride support of Evan Taylor of the Niagara Freewheeler's Club and our very own live-action sort-it-out-on-the-fly cartographer Michael VanDerHerberg, we made our way through little towns, beautiful countryside, along sometimes busy but always lovely little roads ....

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ride for Africycle 5.0 Day Six

Look carefully - you can see Toronto if you want to!

Waking to our much looked forward to "Day Off" was a strange sensation. Really, I wanted to ride, but I also wanted to wander around the Park we were in and then I had heard that we were near Fort Niagara which I had seen many times from the Canadian side but never actually been near or in. So I figured some combination of those three things is how I'd spend my day.

A hot shower, fresh coffee and a simple breakfast and then I caught up on the notes I was compiling in my little red Moleskine. Along the way I'd also been reading "The Rider" by Tim Krabbe. I'd not made a lot of progress with the book because by the time I crawled into my sleeping bag, I was simply too tired to focus in the half light provided by my flashlight. So I read a few chapters (it's one of those books that you re-read sentences, paragraphs, chapters over and over again just to really enjoy the brilliance of his writing)

As I walked off to find the beginnings of a trail that led through a wetland I heard that a group had left for Niagara Falls, NY in search of food, bike parts, and a view from the American side of the Falls. I decided to head down to the Lake where a bench that Dave Barber had claimed was beyond awesome was placed with a sweet view of the Lake. I walked there and sat down and wrote stories and a few poems and took in the mellowness of a family playing in the waves below.

After a while I made my way over to the start of the "Nature Trail" and found myself immersed in a beautiful wetland bisected by a dusty trail, rippled with roots and rocks, and all the while I was wondering if perhaps the original occupants had come this very way through the wilderness.

no wonder they stayed ...

I started to get hungry again and was thinking about riding over to Fort Niagara - which I think was about ten km away, so I returned along the same path and found Chris and Paul pretty much ready to go on a ride to the Fort. The Fort has great presence and I was absolutely taken by the amount of original detail still available to be seen and touched.

Here's the entrance:

Inside the barrack house:

The view from the barrack house:

For more images of Fort Niagara please visit my Photobucket page here.
After a thorough, self-led tour of the Fort we biked back to the campsite and enjoyed another astonishing Jerrett-made meal before setting off to sleep knowing that tomorrow we would be returning back to Canada across the Rainbow Bridge.