cycling utah July 1999
The bicycle is a perfect travel companion
By David R. Ward
There comes that certain moment, before each trip we take, when I gingerly suggest to my wife that I think I will take my bike along. I watch for a good moment, when Karma is in a good mood and seemingly well disposed toward me for the time being.
She rolls her eyes and says, "Does it make any difference what I say?" Well, it does. In my mind, anything but an outright, "Don't you dare!" is permission granted, but I do worry with each vacation that she will finally reach her limit and utter those devastating words. Being the patient person she is, it has not happened yet.
So, when we were getting close to our trip to Toronto, Karma once again indulgently acquiesced to my suggestion that I might take my bike along. I packed my trusty Trek in my bike case, and we were soon winging our way to Toronto.
What I really enjoy most about having my bicycle along is the ability to explore. I can go anywhere I can walk, I can cover much more area than on foot, and I can discover sights, scenes and scents that I would otherwise miss if limited to my feet or a car. Traffic hassles? No problem on a bike. One way street? Take the sidewalk (slowly, of course). Something catch your eye? Just stop right where you are. Right turns, left turns, and u-turns are a breeze anytime. Such maneuverability does not exist in a car. On my bike, I can see it all, hear it all, and smell it all, and can follow any whim or fancy that catches my attention.
Toronto is one of those places where it is fascinating just to get around and see the city. Sitting on the shores of Lake Ontario, it is modern mass of gleaming glass and metal high-rise buildings. With a reclaimed and refurbished waterfront, historic sites, museums, art galleries and ethnic neighborhoods scattered through the metropolitan area, what better way to get around than on a bike?
After awaking my first morning in the hotel in downtown Toronto, I donned my cycling duds, grabbed my bike and headed for the elevator. I always feel like an oddity as I hobble down a hotel corridor in my cycling shoes, pushing my bike along on its rear wheel, front end raised toward the ceiling. Actually, I suppose I am an oddity. But then I think, "I won't see these people again, so what do I care?"
From the door of the hotel, it was only a few short blocks to the focal point of Toronto's famous skyline, the CN Tower, and the adjacent Skydome. The CN Tower, a Seattle Space Needle look alike that outgrew its twin, is the world's tallest freestanding structure. As I rolled along the walkway, the CN Tower skied over me on the left, while the Skydome, home of the Toronto Blue Jays, squatted on my right. There is a real sense of excitement that comes from sensing first hand the magnitude of these magnificent structures.
I cycled down to the waterfront, where I discovered a bicycle/pedestrian path that skirted Lake Ontario. I am not a big fan of bike paths, finding them restrictive and more dangerous than a good road. But on this trip, I learned to appreciate them under the right circumstances. I headed west, and the path led me for about ten winding miles before ending. Along the way, I came across three nice parks, with great side views of Toronto's skyline, and several historic and honorary statues, sites I would have missed without my bike.
On another ride, I took the same bike route, only this time to the east. It led to a long, three-mile peninsula closed to traffic. It was either bike it or hike it. While riding along the peninsula, I had another great view of the Toronto skyline, this time from the east. At the end of the peninsula, I came upon a marker honoring a lady who had swam Lake Ontario, across and back doing the butterfly stroke! What an incredible feat. Had I not been on my bike, not only would I have missed this interesting tidbit of local heroism, I would have missed the peninsula entirely.
We spent one morning on the Toronto Islands, a string of small islands just a ten-minute ferry ride from Toronto's shore. We had planned to rent bikes on the islands for Karma and our daughter, Jessica, to ride. Unfortunately, business had been so slow the day before that the boys manning the bicycle rental building had apparently decided to take the day off. We spent about an hour wandering the central island, where an amusement park is located and admiring face on the striking beauty of Toronto's skyline.
Then, while the women headed back, I spent the next hour on my bike exploring these unique islands. This included the abandoned and supposedly haunted lighthouse, the mile long boardwalk on the main island's south shore, and the small and quaint residential area on the eastern end. Not big items, to be sure, but easily accessible with my bike, and sights that Karma and Jessica could not, unfortunately, share in.
Just wandering around downtown Toronto was, in itself, a treat. The arts community must have real influence, here. As I wound around and through the downtown maze, I was constantly captivated by the artistic sculptures which seemed to front the entry of each corporate structure stretching out of the ground as it reached for the sky. On my bike, I could watch for these, and stop to ponder and admire them.
While in Toronto, we took the time to drive to Niagara Falls, as we had never been there. I could go on about how magnificent the falls were, and what a thrill it was to experience them. But this column is about biking and, frankly, the falls are easily accessible by car and the long walkway viewing the falls is best experienced on foot.
But there is a bike path extending approximately 15 miles from Niagara Falls to Niagara on the Lake, a quaint little shopping mecca on the mouth of the Niagara River where it flows into Lake Ontario. The two-lane road has no shoulder, and enough traffic to make riding apprehensive. So the bike path was the way to go.
Riding the bike path was extremely pleasant. With little bicycle or foot traffic, I could maintain a brisk pace. The path winds through several parks along the way, with excellent views of the river. I came across the Floral Clock, a huge mechanical clock with a flowerbed for its face. Right after that was a monument and column with a statue atop it commemorating the Battle of Queenston, an apparently famous battle (at least to local Ontarioans) of the War of 1812.
The path then descended down from the plateau, the only hill along the way, to Queenston, a small town midway to Niagara on the Lake. Riding the bike path was fun as it curved and rolled through the Parkway and along the river till reaching, on the edge of Niagara on the Lake, a restored fort from the era of the War of 1812. With my bike, I could explore the fort from various angles, and in a short period of time. A car would have necessitated pulling off the road, finding the parking lot, and then wandering around on foot, something I have discovered few people, including tourists, do except for major attractions. Karma and Jessica made the drive to Niagara on the Lake, stopping only for the Floral Clock.
This trip exemplified for me the great advantage of having a bike on vacation. Taking my bike along makes the experience much more complete. The excitement of traveling is in discovery, and I discover so much more when I can get out on my bike and explore. Toronto and Niagara Falls are great areas to visit. But there was much I would have missed without my bike.