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Ride Report: Toronto-Georgetown-Toronto (Sunday, August 14, 2011)

A look at the sky before leaving.
I can’t remember where I first heard about randonneuring, but Raymond Parker’s excellent site, Velo Web, has finally convinced me to give it a try. I’m going to cap off my upcoming week of vacation with Randonneurs Ontario’s Means Streets 200 km brevet (pdf). But since I haven’t done many long rides this year, I decided that I had better start “training”, so last Sunday I set out to ride to Georgetown and back. It would also be a good opportunity to see if the tweaks I’d recently made to Tara’s front derailleur where successful.

Like many cyclists, my favourite roads to cycle are rural backroads, which are hard to find where I live in Toronto. The night before my Georgetown ride I consulted Google Maps in search of the quickest bike-friendly route out of town. Google tries its best to put you on bike paths and smaller roads, so it doesn’t pick the fastest route. I made a few modifications to the parts of the route I was familiar with, but deferred to Google for most of the directions. Perhaps this was a mistake.

The first time I got lost was in Centennial Park. Up to that point my route had been rather direct: west on Dupont to Dundas, north on Scarlett to Eglinton and then west along a bike path just south of Eglinton. I had been worried about the Eglinton part, never having cycled that street so close to the airport, but the separate bike path turned out to be nice. But the path ends at Centennial Park on Toronto’s boundary with Mississauga. Since my goal for the day was north of the city, I didn’t see the wisdom in heading south into the park’s confusing trails, but it was a beautiful morning and I was making great time. And the park would give me an opportunity for a nature break.

I managed to get through the park with the help of a kindly man out walking his dog. In fact he helped me twice. I finally got out of the park only to add my first bonus kilometres of the day. Google was telling me to turn left despite the fact that I was sure I needed to go right. Nevertheless, I dubiously deferred to Google and proceeded south. By the time I decided that I’d been heading South too long, I’d gone at least a kilometre out of my way. With the help of Google Maps on my phone (no bike directions on the iPhone app!), I got back on track adding about two or three kilometres. No big deal.

“Back on track” took me through the interminable twists and turns of light industry near Canada’s largest airport. I was amused to see that these industrial parks sported names like The Churchill Industrial Community. This park hosts to the mighty Loblaws and features a small lake in a crater surrounded by well-tended turf and the odd park bench. Somewhere nice to escape for lunch, I guess. But I wasn’t interested in eating lunch yet this early in the morning. It was Sunday, so the industrial parks were deserted, allowing me to wend my way north and west in solitude.

A look at the sky before leaving.

The problem with this solitude is that it was bought at the expense of speed. And you quickly lose your sense of direction navigating these curvy streets. But my desire for solitude won out over the need for a direct route , so I followed Google’s instructions, avoiding major roads as much as possible. And, as you can clearly see by the image above, this route did afford some encounters with nature. The geese stretched from one side of the street to another, so I stopped to snap a pick. When they seemed to be moving on, I started pedalling again, throwing their ragtag flock into disarray. Some of them sped up their pace across the street while others turned to hiss at me.

During the industrial phase of my journey, I had Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe express in my head and I kept imagining how J.G. Ballard would narrate the landscape.

I was making good time and soon I was racing along Steeles to 9th Line. This was to be the all-to-short rural segment of the ride, because, within no time, I was lost in the outskirts of Georgetown. From a bike tour earlier this year, I recalled a beautifully preserved Main Street that bore further exploration. What my wife and I hadn’t experienced at the time was the suburban sprawl on the south side of town. This is where Google’s directions ended. I had done more than 50 kilometres in really good time, so I considered turning back and retracing my steps, but I wanted a glimpse of idilic Main Street. With the further help of Google and some friendly joggers, I managed to make my way there, where I saw I coffee shop featuring organic coffee and a group of regulars nursing their coffees outside. I pulled Tara up to the side of the coffee shop and dug around the handlebar bag for money. This is when I noticed that I’d forgotten my wallet and change.

Oh well, at least I had some water and a banana. I walked over to a retaining wall in front of a church, which was still deserted this early on a Sunday morning. I sat there a few minutes, writing a text home, eating and drinking.

Georgetown main street.

The ride back home wasn’t that eventful. I decided to follow Main out of town, which quickly turns into 8th Line, heading back south through some pleasantly rural kilometres. I was making great time now, my speed easily climbing to 30+ km/h between stop signs.

One of the other disadvantages of the circuitous route I’d followed in the morning, was that its frequent twists and turns kept me concentrating on the next navigational cue when I really just wanted to relax and enjoy the ride, so I decided to follow 9th line south of Steeles and then cut across Eglinton on my way back.

ississauga abruptly begins at 9th line near Eglinton. To my right the landscape was decidedly rural, but to my left were endless rows of townhouses. I turned onto Eglinton and rode it for what seemed like hours. Of course I had underestimated how long I’d have to ride this suburban thoroughfare before reaching the relative peace of the bike path, which starts at the edge of Toronto.

And I also started to run low on water. I was using a stainless steel water bottle from MEC that was hard to drink from while in motion, so I was only drinking at stops. Unfortunately, because of this, I wasn’t drinking nearly as much as I should have. I also ran out of food. Without money there was nothing I could do about that. I could have stopped for water from a gas station sink, but I was also hyper focused on getting home.

The one nice thing about this ride from one side of Mississauga to the other, was that I reached one hundred kilometres in exactly four hours of ride time.

By the time I got home, the humidity, thirst and hunger where getting to me. During the last few kilometre, I fantasized about a burger and a pint or two of beer (I know, that wouldn’t have helped my dehydration, but I was bonking here). Thankfully, MM had prepared a delightful chicken salad accompanied by the best biscuits (and gluten-free to boot!), so my hunger was soon satiated.

I’m not sure that I’d take this route again. It was definitely a confidence booster. I rode the 118 kilometres in about five and a half hours or 4:53 of actual ride time, but the endless suburban riding was a chore.

Preferences aside, I learned some important lessons:* Bring money* Eat and drink frequently* Carefully vet your cue sheet before the ride* Use a squeezable water bottle that allow drinking on the go.

Now it was time to start planning next week’s ride.