dandyCommute series: Algonquin Island to U of T (St. George campus)

dandycommute series #2

This is the second story in a dandy new series about commuting by bike to work. Follow Toronto by-way-of-Canmore, Alberta resident Adam Linnard’s trip from Algonquin Island over to Toronto on the ferry and up through downtown to U of T (St. George campus).

This series will continue with more photos and everyday stories about riding uptown, midtown and downtown, and what some of the challenges and joys are of riding to work every day.

We are inviting dandyhorse readers to share their commuter stories! Published commuters/authors will receive a prize. We’ll be adding an easy to use, fill-in-the-blank template soon. The dandyCommute series will continue until at least the end of 2013.

Super commuter = anyone who rides a bike to work.

dandyCommute #2: Algonquin Island to U of T (St. George campus) (approximately 6.6 km one-way)

Story and photos by Adam Linnard

When I arrived in Toronto in mid-October, I was anxious about big-city cycling. But I soon realized that living on Algonquin Island means I don’t really have to do it: for me, urban riding has so far been largely displaced by casually pedalling the Island’s carless pathways, with relatively infrequent excursions across the ferry into the smog and mayhem of Toronto’s vertical “greyscape”. But I’m gaining confidence in the traffic and gradually learning about the roads-to-know.

When I was a kindergartener in Canmore, Alberta, I often got into trouble for biking too fast on my way to school, leaving my “babysitting” third-grade sister crying in her Moon Boots. My first commuter bike was a red BMX with a moulded plastic seat that could lay down a seven-foot skid mark on the sidewalk with only a half-block lead up. I had that bike third-hand. It served at least three others after me before my parents bought it back in a garage sale a couple years ago.

Canmore, Alberta

My next real bike commute (in young adulthood) involved an almost 400-metre climb in the first six kilometres of a 20-kilometre highway ride from Saskatchewan River Crossing to Waterfowl Lakes Campground in Banff National Park. It usually took me an hour and a half to get to work, and about half an hour to get home. On hot days I would swim in a glacial lake to clean up before my shift. On cold days it would snow. On the best days I would meet grizzlies or wolves but no cars at all.

That commute through glaciated quartzite and limestone may be the greatest bike commute in the world for a road rider. It’s my favourite place on Earth.

Saskatchewan River Crossing

When I quit working for Parks Canada and moved back to town my bike commute shortened considerably, becoming a five-minute cruise with only a couple minutes in anything like traffic. The near-desert dryness of the Rocky Mountain front ranges means when there’s lots of snow on the road you can make powder turns on your road bike. I mean that almost literally.

Canmore lauds the mega-framed downhill biker, the gladiator trail rider, and the shrink-wrapped road racer, but unfortunately it doesn’t have much patience for humble utilities like bike commuting. Everyone has a fancy, expensive bike in Canmore, but amazingly few people ride one to work. By contrast, the Toronto Islands are loaded with battered old townies that people use every day.

These days, when I venture into the city, I luxuriously pedal a narrow, leafy lane and an idyllic wooden bridge to the Ward Island ferry terminal. Then I relax for 12 minutes as the downtown condos creep in on me. So far I’ve avoided missing the ferry. (Which is lucky, as it’s usually at least half-an-hour to an hour between each trip.)

Cycling on Algonquin Island

Wards Island ferry home

After the ferry docks I scramble through pedestrian traffic, squeeze across Queen’s Quay, and try to remember which northbound street has a bike lane (it’s Lower Simcoe). Sometimes I find myself on Bay getting squeezed into Front Street construction or photo bombing the RoboCop remake. (My old bike made it onto Google Earth; if my new one sneaks into RoboCop I’m gonna keep buying bikes and try for Dragon’s Den!)

Maybe it’s because I’m new to the city, but I’d rather take an extra block here and there if it means I can skip Bay, even if it is marked on the bike map as a connector route.

Queens Quay

Whichever route I take, it’s an uphill slope – a nostalgic comfort for us displaced mountain folk. For me, flat roads are mysterious and hypnotic, liable to lull me into riding straight to Kingston without blinking; or, perhaps, get me doored.

Lower Simcoe Street

My general trajectory is towards U of T’s St. George Campus, but the particular route changes every time I try it – zigzagging vaguely northwest until I find John Street, and then cutting through Grange Park and rolling up Beverley past the AGO. Once I’m here everything’s easy and quick, without sweat or tears.

Grange Park

I’m in love with intersections like College and St. George, where there’s a bike stop section in front of the cars [Read more about Bike Boxes here]. I try not to, but inevitably I’m standing at the light with my head high, turning to glance at the vehicles behind me like, “Yes, I’m the important one here. And I deserve to be!” I’ve never seen those before. They make me feel like a king.

Bike Boxes at College at Beverly

My new bike commute will take getting accustomed to, both for what it has and what it doesn’t have. But wherever I am, if I need to get somewhere a decent distance away, biking is the best way to get to know a new city and my place within it.

***

Adam Linnard recently left the Rocky Mountains for a woman (though you might say that some of the mountains came along in his beard). He's a program researcher and communications director for an international development non-profit and his favourite foods are potatoes and oats.

NEXT UP: High Park resident Hannah Spence shares her dandyCommute.

dandycommute / super commuter = any one who rides a bike to work!

This story is part of a new series about commuting by bike to work. 

This series will continue with more photos and everyday stories about riding uptown, midtown and downtown, and what some of the challenges and joys are of riding to work.

We invite dandyhorse readers to share their commuter stories too! We’ll be offering prizes to contributors to this blog series too, continuing through 2013.

Email supercommute@dandyhorsemagazine.com to submit your story and you could win a prize from one of our sponsors. 

Email: supercommuter@dandyhorsemagazine.com with your story and (at least two) photos today. More details to come.

(NEW:We’ll be adding an easy-to-use, fill-in-the-blank upload template soon to the dandyBLOG for the dandyCommute series!)

 

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