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a saturday's adventure

This took me a couple days to write (I kept getting interrupted). Some time references may be off...

1. I've been biking quite a bit lately. A week or so ago, I surprised myself by taking a (very) long detour from my usual route home from work and not, you know, dying. The last time I tried something like that (after not riding a bike for a couple years, admittedly), I practially collapsed at my grandparent's door from heat exhaustion. I don't have a very good sense of my physical limits. It's kind of all or nothing for me—I can either bike around the world, or I can't bike at all. I'd been leaning towards the latter for the last little while.

The other reason I don't like biking is because cars on the road scare the crap out of me. Drivers have roughly zero respect for cyclists. Of course, they don't have much more respect for pedestrians, either, but it's easier to avoid traffic when you're on foot. Oh, I don't like riding on the sidewalk because I do have respect for pedestrians. And it's bumpy.

Anyway, after giving up on CNAnime this weekend, I felt I needed to do something. Encouraged by my recent biking accomplishments (I took a second very long detour home from work on Friday, as well), I felt that this would be an ideal way to explore my environs, and go places I haven't gone before.

One thing I like about K-W is that there are an awful lot of bike paths and trails. This is fun, and it makes carless transportation a whole lot easier. Even when exploring suburbs, it's unlikely you'll get stuck in a cul de sac without a nice little path to keep you going. From all of this, an idea formed in my head, this nice Saturday morning: today, I would explore the city by bike paths.

[map of an adventure]

Click on the map. It will guide us through our journey.

2. There's this busker festival thing going on in downtown Waterloo this weekend. And I haven't done the rounds at the stores down there in a while. So I dismount and wander around for a bit. Run into an old coworker; say hi.

The first stretch of bike path is the Laurel trail. The most interesting part goes through UW's north campus (and through the Laurel Creek Conservation Area, but that's a bit out of my way today). The rest, which goes by UW and Waterloo park just follows an old rail corridor. I noticed that the Park's zoo has a new cow. But this part is something I ride or walk all the time.

3. The nicest way to get to downtown Kitchener is to follow the Iron Horse Trail to Victoria Park. The trail is an old rail bed, for a trolley that ran between Cambridge and Waterloo in the early decades of the last century. I don't think it was paved the last time I was down here. It's interesting that Mapquest still shows it as a railway. The trail runs along Belmont Avenue for a bit, through Belmont Village. Belmont Village is a neat little shopping area that really does look like a village main street. It's a little run down, but there are some nice shops there. There's a new Japanese/Korean grocery there that someone had mentioned, so I decided to check that out. It wasn't much.

[These people aren't riding the trail I found]

Anyway, downtown Kitchener, I parked the bike in Victoria Park, and went to pick up a bus ticket and see if there was much of anything at the stores. I also stopped by City Hall, because Kitchener's web site said that they had trail maps there. They didn't, or if they did, they were hiding them and there was nobody there to ask. They did, however, have a pamphlet on the mythical Grand River Trail.

On the way back through Victoria Park I got caught up in two different wedding parties. Fun.

4. On we go. Here is virgin territory. The Iron Horse trail continues to Ottawa street through some decidedly industrial land. It's kind of neat, going through the old guts of a city.

At Ottawa St, I think, I decide I wanted to go find the Grand River Trail. All I had to do was go East, I figure. I also figure the only way I can get across the express way is to stick to Ottawa. The (admittedly mild) traffic was getting to me, though, so I attempt a detour down a side street. But it turns out to be a dead end (without a path, even), so I have to turn back.

5. Ottawa street goes through a forest. This is nice. I notice a path to my right, which is tempting, but going in altogether the wrong direction. Then, on the left side of the street, there's another trail head. I make sure there isn't a car around trying to run me over, and make my way across four lanes of traffic.

I really hope I've found the Grand River Trail. This is nice, through a lovely, dark forest. The riding is easy, there's nobody around and I'm riding at a good speed. The problem is that the Grand River Trail should be near the Grand River. When I can see through the trees, I only see subdivisions.

6. This trail ends in a school yard. I travel through subdivision and then an industrial park. And then, a path! A path through an industrial park, but a path all the same. The path ran parallel to Victoria Street, behind the used car dealerships and things. But eventually it inexplicably turns from a nice gravel path to a track in the dirt. But I can go cross country a bit and get to a road. If nothing else, I can probably get back to Victoria Street, which would take me to the river.

7. I pause for a minute and look at my Grand River Trail pamphlet. There's a map, but it doesn't really help. The road turns into gravel to the south through some woods, with a nice yellow and black checkered sign, but no more explicit signage. A car pulls up beside me, and a man pokes his head over the roof. "Do you know if I can drive though here?" he asks, "Does this go to the Grand River?" I admit I don't really know. After I make my apologies, a diabolical urge makes me drive down the gravel road. If nothing else, if this guy is right, this thing should go to the Grand River. And given a choice between going through woodlands and industrial lands, I'd rather take the trees.

It turns out that the road can't be driven through, as a sign plainly states on the other side. I emerge in a new subdivision. Nice, but no trees. I see a paved trail that looks like it goes into some trees, but, inexplicably, it branches into three paths, all of which simply end within a few meters. I go back through the subdivision, and find the Grand River.

8. There's a trail here, but it only goes South. I don't really want to go to Cambridge. There are several families milling back and forth. I check that map in the brocure again and notice that somewhere around here, the trail seems to run up a "Forwell Road." I bike back up to that gravelly dead end road and read the sign. "Forwell Road is closed to traffic. Blah blah whatever." Ah, so that's what this was. I ride back up to the industrial park and notice that there's a path off to the side of the road that I'd mistaken for a gravel shoulder. Okay, we're on to something. I pedal up Forwell and, like it says on the map, turn right onto the only side road before hitting Victoria. Ah ha! There's a sign that says "Grand River Trail" here, and a path leads down to the water. I've officially made it.

9. And it's right about here that I curse the gods. I've been doing pretty well up to this point. I've been biking for almost an hour, maybe (with breaks to wander around city cores), and, while I'm sweaty, I'm not really fatigued. But then I try to ride of the Grand River Trail.

And I can't. I have a street bike, remember. With tires that are maybe three-quarters of an inch wide. Some sick, twisted fiend decided that it would be a good idea to lay down rocks—the sort of loose, rocky gravel you find on rail beds (and this was never a rail bed, so it can't be excused)—and call it a recreational trail. Even if I wasn't scared to death that I was going to wipe out (which I was), any time I got any speed at all, I'd sink into the rocks and loose all my momentum. I had to slow down on downhills for fear I'd lose control, and I couldn't get enough traction to go uphill. It was like trying to ride through a Ball Crawl. There wasn't much for it but to get out and push.

10. I alternate riding and biking for a bit. Eventually, the trail gets a bit better. And then the trail turns into a road. And then I see tents and campers and things. This confuses me, but I go along with it. It dons on me that I've made it into Bingeman's, a sort of campground cum water park cum 'fest hall. I find out later that Stockwell Day is somewhere in the park with me, but I have more important concerns than stalking neo-conservatives.

Trying to navigate the Grand River Trail, I'd gone from "doing pretty well" to "on the verge of collapse." I stop in a campsite washroom to douse my face in cold water and get a drink. I check the mirror, and I notice that half my face is flushed bright red, and the other half is ghostly pale. (I was born with Horner's Syndrome. Like Thom Yorke of Radiohead. It basically means that my left eyelid droops a bit, my pupils sometimes dilate to different sizes, and I don't sweat on the left side of my face. If I get really over-exerted, this happens—the right half of my face flushes red and the left stays pale (or goes paler), with a line straight down the middle. This made me really popular in gym class).

I tour around the park for a bit and found an ice cream stand, and manage to buy two bottled waters and a Fruitopia, after the disgruntled cashier gets finished serving a family of eight. She insisted on emptying the Fruitopia into a paper cup. Despite dying of heat exhaustion, I was too polite to argue. I suck back one of the bottled waters, and then take a little bit more time with the Fruitopia. Even though I probably shouldn't, I grab a slice of pizza from the local Pizza Pizza franchise. It was either that or ice cream from that disgruntled cashier, and for some reason, the thought of pizza doesn't turn my stomach quite as much right about now. Pizza Pizza, unfortunately, doesn't sell fruit.

I rest in the shade for about a half an hour before continuing on my way. I don't think I'm going to make it home at this rate, and I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do. I get back on my bike (nice paved road, here) and stumble across a dirt path running parallel to the river. Why not? My journey continues. I'm doing pretty well until the path meets up with the Grand River Trail, which hasn't improved much since I last saw it. But at that point, my dirt path started to head up a 60° incline, so the Trail seemed the sensible alternative. This part of the trail looks new. There's spray paint and trail markers and trees and shrubs hacked down and tossed aside. Well, the brochure does say that it was completed June 2001...

10a. I forgot this point when I made the map. It's important. Because right here, the Grand River Trail simply ends. Well, not simply, really. It ends abruptly in a bog.

I really didn't want to go back, and I see footprints going through the mud along the edge of the bog. So I get off the bike and splurch onward. I somehow cross the bog and then a two-foot deep dry stream bed with some difficulty before I come across a small earth mover and proto-trail (that gravel stuff piled on a long bolt of black cloth). The proto-trail doesn't go very far, but there is what looks like an access road for that earth mover. This gets me back onto Riverbend Drive and amongst civilization. I coast down this nice long hill and rest for a bit on the green sod in the shadow of an engineering firm's offices overlooking the expressway, drinking the last of my water. That feels good. But I'm still quite a long way from home.

I notice what I assume is the Grand River Trail emerge from the woods to my left. But this trail isn't the rocky monstrosity I was on earlier. I could actually ride this. But I don't. I just want to go home.

11. I ride into Bridgeport straining hard now against any incline. My legs are giving out, and I decide I'd better ditch the bike somewhere and find another way home. I dismount and walk along Bridge St. I remember there's a new grocery store up around here somewhere and decide that's a good place to lock the bike up for the night. There's also a Tim Horton's there, so I grab an Iced Cappuccino. After that, I head out to catch a bus.

I remember from a previous misadventure that the #12 bus runs near here in it's drunken stagger to Fairview Park Mall, on the other side of Kitchener. I find it, but, inexplicably, the side of the bus says "12 Conestoga" (and if this were true, I'm pretty sure the bus is going the wrong way), and on the front it says "9 Lakeshore" (which would eventually take me home).

12. I don't trust a bus that doesn't know where it's going, and I'm not feeling particularly lucky anymore. I get off and decide to transfer to a bus that has a more defined sense of self. I wander over to the stop for the #7 to Conestoga Mall. Unfortunately, the stop is in front of Morty's Pub, and the patio is packed. Drunk people scare me, so I decide to move on to the next one.

13. The bus whizzes by me between stops, and at this point, I'm too tired to shout or wave or run to catch it. I don't really want to go much further, but I head up to the next bus stop anyway. There, I decide I've learned my lesson and I'm just going to stay put until another bus somes along. This gets a bit awkward when a fairly attractive young asian woman stops to join me. She asks if I know when the bus is coming. I truthfully answer "I'm not sure," and leave out the part about missing one five minutes previously. It's getting late and buses aren't running as regularly now, but I don't think it'll be too long.

14. In the amount of time I waited, I could have easily walked to Conestoga Mall. Fortunately, my transfer didn't expire. The mall is closed when I get there. It will be 15 minutes before the #9 will arrive to take me home, and I use the time to wander around the Honda dealership across the street. I'm not sure why. Maybe I'm thinking that some magical new car has arrived that will suddenly strike me as worth buying. Of course, this hasn't happened.

After getting off the bus near my apartment, I stop by the grocery store and buy a few things, including lots and lots of juice. I drink two litres of apple juice and a Brita full of water before going to bed, aching and sunburnt.

Epilogue. Sunday I get up fairly early (for a Sunday). The predicted thunderstorm hasn't happened yet, but it looks like it might still come. So my bike's still safe. I take the #9 bus back to Conestoga Mall, and then the #12 to the stop where I'd got on the day before. My bike is there, safe and sound. I ride it home, fighting the twinges in my legs. I even find some new paths.

Believe it or not, Saturday was not an atypical day for me. I do this sort of crazy nonsense all the time. Well, maybe not all the time, but once a month, maybe; and maybe not on a bike, but I've pretty much exhausted my adventuring possibilities on foot.

Maybe it's a good thing I don't have a car.


SideKick <sidekick@mechaknight.com> writes:

It's probably a good thing that you don't have a car, because you might end up convincing yourself that you can in fact make it to Halifax in one day. After-all, Mapquest says it's only 15 hours away(from Ottawa), and with two other people it's only 5 hours of driving each. Then we realized that we could do it in a long weekend, drive there the first day, do what we want on the second, and drive back on the third. We were VERY close to doing this...very close. Actually, I'm still not sure why we didn't do it.
But day trips to different cities won't be uncommon.
Oh, New York is closer than Halifax, just thought I'de share that....

Submitted 2001-08-28 11:01:26

the flying squirrel writes:

Yes. And I could have easily made that Red Elvises concert in Buffalo a week ago Monday.

Ya know, I'd kinda like to take a weekend and do a nice big loop, through Michigan up to Sault Ste. Marie and back down the Bruce Peninsula. Okay, that's not too exciting, but it's something. I dunno, I just want to see new stuff.

Submitted 2001-08-29 11:29:54

tinkerer writes:

Hockey. Hockey is always an excellent excuse for weekend road trips. I've travelled as far as Lethbridge AB and Victoria BC under that guise. Y'know, Sault Ste. Marie has a hockey team...

Submitted 2001-08-30 00:13:47

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