Staring at a map some months ago, I guessed at the distance between my home in downtown Toronto and that of my in-laws, near the gates of Presqu'ile Provincial Park in Brighton. I figured that, because this was a 165-kilometre run down the 401, the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail, which runs even more directly down the shoreline, would be even shorter.
I decided that I would set out to prove that this distance was bikeable. And not only that, but that it could be done in one day. There was no other reason for doing it. Only, in the words of legendary Everest climber George Mallory, "because it's there." (Notably, Mallory was later killed on Everest.) For fun, I decided to drag my wife Amy along.
We set off from the neighbourhood Second Cup at 7:30 last Saturday morning. The bikes were tuned and ready for the excursion. We took along lots of water, snacks, even a pannier full of spare clothes (and a cell phone). No amateur adventurers were we.
The first leg of the trail proceeds down the very civilized (and paved) Martin Goodman Recreation Trail before crossing into the scruffy urban heart of Scarborough. From there, it was on to the suburban cities of Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, and Oshawa, all of which have surprisingly lovely waterfronts consisting of kilometres of paved trail and interlinked parks and marinas. We were making great time. Be in Brighton in time for the hockey game tonight, I thought.
Once we finally cleared the GTA, the trail got really interesting. At times, it was no more than a tire-wide dirt path weaving through the bush. We were astonished by some of the beautiful vistas of the lake that could be seen from the most unlikely of places. Like behind the Darlington Nuclear Power Plant, for example. There were small cottage communities accessible only by dirt roads and the odd private residential development, blocked off to public access and snuggled in between the shoreline and a vast no-man's land of weeds and shrubs -- with no neighbourhood, store, or Starbucks in sight. Then the trail suddenly dropped off, and we pedalled through a thirty-kilometre void of country roads. No rest for our rapidly deteriorating legs here. Just field after field, and hill after hill, as far as the eye could see.
By the time we reached what we thought was our ultimate salvation in Port Hope, almost twelve hours after departing, we'd had enough. But unfortunately my timing was as bad as my sense of distance; there was a big college reunion happening this weekend, said a very nice (and very patient) lady at a downtown inn, and there was not a room to be had anywhere -- not even the stable.
Forlornly, we laboured another ten kilometres on to the next town, Cobourg, where, incidentally, I had the most delicious milk shake of my life. Brighton's only thirty more clicks, offered Amy as I wallowed in an ice-cream-induced trance. Let's go for it, I responded. And we did.
The last few hills felt like that last scene in Perfect Storm, when the fishermen realize that the storm is not going to let them out, but has instead chosen to murder them within sight of sanctuary. Still, I steeled myself and mounted the last hill, which dwarfed the fifty that had preceded it, downshifted as far as my faithful steed would allow, and unleashed a stream of obscenities. Finally, just before wobbling to a stop, I cleared the crest and careened down toward Brighton. We made it just before sundown, at nine p.m., a mere 13.5 hours after starting. In the end, counting the winding nature of the trail and more than a few unplanned detours, the distance ended up being closer to 190 kilometres.
A fine trip. And I highly recommend it. But if you're going to give it a go, take my advice: do it over two days.
For the Waterfront Trail web site, click here.