Intro by Tammy Thorne
Story and photos by Colleen Kirley and Tammy Thorne
Above: Colleen points to the CN Tower on our way to Pickering.
Over eight days, cyclists ride through more than 40 communities that make up the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure. The mayor of the largest one - Toronto - would be happy to know that no roads were closed for this fun 700-km bike ride.
"No road closures needed for the GWTA!" says organizer Marlaine Koehler with pride. Marlaine invited dandyhorse to join the ride for day 3 from Fort York to Ajax.
I did the same leg of the ride on their inaugural outing (with much trepidation due to my inexperience and lack of equipment) and wrote about it for Spacing.
The Great Waterfront Trail Adventure (GWTA) is a supported bike tour from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Quebec border that takes all levels of riders along Ontario's waterfront. The goal of the parent organization, the Waterfront Regeneration Trust, is to make sure people can get to the water; and that the water is worth getting to.
This time out, dandyhorse editorial assistant Colleen Kirley joined me for her first ever long-distance ride.
She had the same concerns I did the first time around - she needed good gear (helmet and shorts) and was worried she wouldn't have the endurance. I loaned her shorts along with a Cervelo women's team USA jersey which I thought appropriate for our 4th of July ride (even though the GWTA does not go stateside).
We got kitted up to ride, and stoked up too, after watching an exciting start to the Tour de France. (Go Thor!) Colleen couldn't wait to give her new vintage pink Miele bike "Millie" a serious ride and I was taking "L'il C" out for the first long ride this year.
I'm also still learning to ride "clipped in" and so my goal for today was to not fall over -- especially in traffic or in "the peloton" where falling can be fatal.
Colleen's goal was to finish and to not have to push her bike up hills. Or at least not have anyone see her push her bike up any hills.
Repeat: We are not long-distance riders. Colleen is a fourth year journalism student who is also a newish commuter cyclist. And, sure, since starting dandyhorse magazine four years ago I've learned a lot in life and even more about cycling, but more pertinent to this story; I've also have acquired the most delightful little Cervélo bicycle courtesy of my very charming boyfriend. I also have some super comfortable, top-notch riding shorts by Castelli. Highly recommended.
Even though our 80 km ride pales in comparison to the 3000-plus km Tour de France and I did not feel like the "God of Thunder" -- I did feel pretty darn good about riding up all the hills and finishing what constitutes the "easy" leg of the GWTA.
Thanks again to Marlaine for inviting us to join this fit and friendly group.
Here's a run-down (ride-down?) of our "Independence Day" ride from Fort York (the "birthplace of urban Toronto") to Ajax -- which was almost half way along the GWTA for our friends riding end-to-end.
We were off to a rough start.
Colleen was coming from the north, and I from the west. And we both had a hard time even getting into the Fort York grounds.
Out of the gates: Fort York
I'm just trying to find the bridge...Has anybody seen the bridge?
Bridge? (Have you seen the bridge?) I ain't seen the bridge!
(Where's that confounded bridge?) ~ The Crunge by Led Zeppelin
Tammy: Good morning! I have your gear. Sign in here.
Colleen: Sorry I'm late. If only there was a bridge.
Tammy: Haha. Yeah. Nice one. I had to go around way around to the south entrance to get in.
Colleen: Biking through the gates of Fort York, I slowed to a stop at the FIRST hill. It's going to be a long day.
Tammy: Don't worry. It will be fun. Let's hit the historic washrooms before we hit the open road!
[Postscript from Colleen:] On our trip to the washroom, we missed the beginning of the race. Ten seconds outside of the gate and we're already last…and lost!
Nothing that a little detour couldn't fix. As we exited the southern gates, heading toward the lake, we spot "the peloton" on the trail. A quick ride across the lawn at Coronation Park and we're caught up with the group. Riding along Queen's Quay before nine a.m. on a Monday morning is not nearly as bad as usual. Here's hoping the beautiful pedestrian promenade planned for this stretch of the trail is finished soon.
Scarborough: more "adventure" less trail
Tammy: There is no trail really at all in Scarborough and it's not fun riding on Kingston Road. Just want to warn you.
Colleen: I'm ready for it! I've never seen the Bluffs!
Tammy: I don't know if we can see them from the "trail" - please note my air quotes around trail.
Colleen: Biking back and forth from the waterfront to Kingston Road is a bit of a nightmare. With shame, I am dismounting and walking up one of the hills. It seems odd to me that the trail uses Kingston road at all; there's no bike lane and the traffic is fast.
Tammy: I think some of the more experienced riders just take it straight across and forget about all this winding cul-de-sac stuff.
Colleen: Where are the Bluffs?
Tammy: Not sure. Is that them over there?
Colleen: [Moments later…] Now we're completely lost. The signage on the trail in this part isn't necessarily the greatest. The supplementary chalk arrows on the pavement are easy to miss. That said, all of the riders and volunteers are extremely friendly and helpful. We did get a bit of a tour of the Scarborough bluffs from a cyclist who grew up in the area who was part of a little group that helped us find our way.
[Postscript from Tammy:] Our first official rest stop is home to the former Guild Inn and a smattering of historical architectural fragments, like the columns in the photo set below. It's also where we would get our much-appreciated lunch (Starbucks yoghurt, fruit and nut bar, sandwich and banana).
Also -- I only failed to clip out once. I fell over on Leslie street in front of a dump truck. I was chatting away to Colleen and did not realize there was a set of lights at a construction site to our right and those lights had changed to red for us. I looked up to see a dump truck approaching. I let out a little yelp, pulled on the breaks (as did the truck driver) and fell over onto my right side. The driver stopped and asked if I was okay, as did the photographer riding behind us. Thumbs up and we're all on our way again. I suffered a minor scrape on the knee and mild embarrassment. Thankfully, that was my only wipe out.
Bye bye Scarberia: Follow the yellow brick road...
Tammy: It's going to get WAY better now! We get massages in Pickering. And it's really nice to ride on the waterfront trail there.
Colleen: I'm such an amateur: how could I have forgotten to bring a water bottle?
Tammy: Have some of this Gatorade. Do you want a nut bar?
Colleen: I have these Clif energy shot blocks - they taste like poison but they're keeping me going.
Tammy: [Takes a nibble, makes a face and starts to spit out the yellow goo.] Disgusting. I'll have more nuts.
Colleen: I already ate my sandwich.
[Postscript from Tammy:] We were thankful for the City of Toronto volunteer that helped get us out of the city and through the first bit of Scarborough without getting lost. We were also thankful for the encouragement of the group of construction workers who stopped work to let us through and cheer us on: "Hurry up! You're in last place!" Thanks guys. (Note: The GWTA is not actually a race.)
We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto: Into the wilds...of Pickering
Colleen: Oh yeah, out of Scarborough, things get a lot easier.
Tammy: The promise of massages in Pickering are keeping me motivated.
Colleen: Hey, why do we keep being regarded as the "young ones" even though we are constantly passed by the not-so-young-ones?
Tammy: Let's give'r! Come on!
Colleen: Woo hoo!
(Continue / Repeat.)
Tammy: We have to detour around Frenchman's Bay but then we get a good length around the nuclear facilities and wind turbine.
Colleen: Woo hoo!
Tammy: Let's stop to take some photos.
Colleen: Woo hoo!
Tammy: Let's give'r! Come on!
Colleen: Where is everyone else?
Tammy: Ahead of us.
[Postscript from Colleen:] At the Pickering rest stop, we get food, drinks, some freebies and massages. Never having had a massage before, I jumped right on this opportunity. I'd just had a half-wipeout before arriving on one of those hidden Scarborough "cut throughs" so this massage was just about the best thing I could have asked for. I assumed Tammy was feeling the love as well, but upon awakening back to reality I looked around the room to find she had been lured into an advocacy chat with some of the cyclists! Classic Tammy. When they had finished talking about trails, public works projects and the failure that is Rob Ford, all of the massage chairs were filled and it was time for us to be on our way again if we were going to finish without humiliation.
In Pickering, we were kept on track by police officers who pointed us in the right direction. Overall, the ride from Pickering to Ajax was my favourite part of the ride. We were the closest to the lake here and the scenery was surprisingly beautiful.
Cyclists Paradise: Ajax! (No, really, it is Ajax.)
Colleen: WOW THIS IS REALLY NICE!
Tammy: Yes. Look at these pristine beaches. The water looks so clean and inviting. I think it's also worth noting all the beautifully constructed and well-used pedestrian and cyclist bridges we've used all along the way from Pickering to Ajax. They really know how to make the most of our stunning Lake Ontario shoreline!
[Postscript from Tammy:] On the morning of July 5th, Mayor Steve Parish and the City of Ajax were given the international distinction of "Bicycle-Friendly Community" by Eleanor McMahon of the Share the Road cycling coalition. Mayor Parish gave the approximately 250 cyclists an official send-off on their next leg of the adventure -- after they enjoyed yoga in the sunshine on the sublime waterfront.
On our way out, riding up to the Ajax GO station, we were stopped by a women in her 50s with her friend and nephew out for a leisurely waterfront bike ride. They were amused by our shorts but highly impressed by our ride. They said they wanted to try riding from Ajax to Toronto but heard that the waterfront trail in Toronto isn't really bike friendly. They did, however, go on at length about how they were "just so tickled" by the mayor's good work on the waterfront trails and in Ajax overall.
Photo finish/ Final words:
Colleen: Maybe next year, with a little more experience under my belt, I'll be able to take on another day, or at least be able to master those Scarborough hills.
Tammy: Let's go all the way to Colbourne or at least Cobourg next year. Let's do it!
You can find out more and sign up for next year's ride at: The Great Waterfront Trail Adventure
Here are some more photos from our fantastic ride!