Story and photos by Alix Aylen
Ride to Albion Hills
I feel liberated and accomplished. I finally biked my way from my front door in Toronto to a campsite by the river and then back again within one weekend. From my bed to my tent floor in just 4-5 hours, fuelled only by plentiful snacks and water. It was a genuine GTA tour, meandering along the natural course of the Humber River and stopping for temples and Indian food in the suburbs .
I met my good friend Kate at my favourite entrance point to the Humber Trail, the Lambton House. Run by volunteers that are as much into cycling as they are into the cultural and geomorphological history of the Humber River, the Lambton House dates back to 1847 and is full of interesting photos, trinkets and stories about life along the Humber throughout the years.
We were trying to exit the city relatively quickly as we were slow to meet up on a Saturday afternoon and unaware as to whether the ride would be pleasant or torturous. We did however have to stop a few times to appreciate some fluff ball goslings, gnarly bird nests and Russian Olive trees in bloom. Although I’d had great aspirations to ride the entirety of the Humber Trail in the past, I hadn’t been successful until this trip. I would either get distracted by an unexpected wildlife sighting or a bud forming on a tree or shrub that I’d never appreciated before. Last fall I visited with my partner and a friend, and it took us two hours to ride from the Lambton House to Eglinton Ave. That’s only 3.8km.
The trail was extremely popular on this afternoon, with joggers, roadies, families on bikes and commuters packing up the trail, but it didn’t seem that any groups were on the same route or schedule. The trail is decently well-connected, although there are some stretches where you are required to drag your bike up stairs (facilitated by a bike ramp in at least one case, albeit for five flights) and ride along chaotic roads such as Weston Rd. until you stumble upon the next trail entrance. Unless you have GPS or a map on you, you will have to hope to stumble upon it as it is not always evident and the signage is non-existent. I found that a lot of people would opt to just turn around when they reached what appeared to be the end of the trail, but was really a short interruption. At one point, we took a short cut through a car wash to re-connect with the trail. Not because we were following any signage but since Kate knew from a previous trip that the trail continued on the other side.
The next third of this ride was spent navigating our way through knots of highways and across the highway moat that separates Toronto and York Region. This was a bit of a hairy transition as you exit the safe space that is the car-less and tree-filled Humber Trail, and enter an area that is arguably the least cyclist friendly region in the city. There is suddenly nowhere for cyclists to go. It is the land of extremes - sidewalks along highways. Over over-passes and along thin gravelly shoulders, we decided to stick to the sidewalk as long as we felt that it was necessary for our safety. We would resort to this a few times on this trip, and count the number of pedestrians that we passed along the way. I never ride on the sidewalk, so when I do, I feel slightly embarrassed and guilty. We followed the rule of yielding to pedestrians if we saw any, however we only saw maybe two along this stretch. No one wants to walk around here. Where would you go by foot?!
After crossing the 427 and then the 407 shortly after, our sidewalk refuge ended, but the traffic continued. We decided to jump onto the shoulder of Highway 8 as soon as we could , hoping to start transitioning onto quieter and safer roads. Highway 8 in this area, also referred to as The Gore Rd., while not a cyclist’s paradise was a welcome improvement from Albion Rd. Lighter traffic, fewer lanes, and quiet enough for us to hold a conversation. We would continue making our way north to Castlemore Rd., but not before getting distracted by Sri Lankan and Indian food at the Jaipur-Gore Plaza as well as the distinctive architecture of the Hindu Sabha Temple.
The further north you ride, the fewer road options there are, with intersections fewer and further between. But in addition to the long, straight stretches of car-packed roads, there are an increasing number of long, straight, stretches of velvety farm fields. As soon as we turned onto Clarkway Dr., it felt like a a large, semi-sized weight was lifted off of our shoulders. At this point on the ride we were only halfway, distance-wise, but ended up arriving at our destination in just over an hour after our late lunch break. It took us about that much time to enter and exit the “Highway Knot Region”, and we had to stop for a sanity snack break in between.
I had a big smirk on my face as we rode into Albion Hills Campground, as we stumbled upon a section of the Trans Canada Trail, passing through a lush canopy of maples, pines and oaks. It was just an hour earlier that we had been riding around a plaza parking lot, behind long lines of cars with few trees scattered and baking in beds of concrete.
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