Thursday, April 13, 2006

Nice weather for ducks!

Part of my long-range Ironman plan is to get more cycling miles into my leg. To this end I’ve been bringing my “good” bike (a 2000-model Trek 2200, with some updgrades) into work, riding a few loops of the Port Area either before or after work.

Yesterday (Wednesday, April 12) it was after. In fact, the Trek came to work by car, in the back of my Honda Odyssey.

After a mini work crisis, I was out the door just after 18:00, only a few minutes later than planned. At first I thought I was overdressed, in winter jersey, wind vest, tights, and with Ziploc bags inside my shoes, over my toes.

Rush-hour traffic had died down as I biked past SkyDome, er, the Rogers Centre, and down to Queen’s Quay, and east to the Port Area.

The Port Area is the early-twentieth-century landfill the Board of Toronto Harbour Commissioners had intended for the huge port they envisioned. Entirely manmade, I suppose it was Toronto’s answer to Los Angeles’ Terminal Island, and like Terminal Island it is flat. Unlike Terminal Island, which is a nightmare of container trucks and chain-link fences, Toronto’s Port Area is both bikeable and walkable.

There is almost no industry left in the Port Area. (As an aside, a plan to build a new, smallish thermoelectric generating station next to a very large disused station was recently decried by the Mayor as heralding the “reindustrialization of the Port Area”.) This makes the long, straight-ish, flat roads a good place for a bike work-out. If you do Cherry, Commissioners, & Leslie streets & Unwin Avenue, you have a 3.94-mile rectangle, with all right turns—which means you can safely (if illegally) blow through the stop signs and traffic signals that are rare on the loop. And there’s little traffic, especially in the evening.

Wednesdays in good weather see a small army of performance cyclists doing this loop. This Wednesday I was alone, and wisely so. As I crossed the Keating Channel into the Port Area proper, the drops started. Not bad, I thought.

More drops. Then more.

By the time I made the turn from Leslie Street to Unwin Avenue, it was coming down pretty steadily. When I hit a pothole there was a brilliant flash of light, and for a small split second I wondered if I’d lost consciousness or something. Then there was a deep, loud, very present boom! I was pretty much under the lightning.

I kept riding. A few years ago I’d looked up lightning and cyclists on the Web and had found only one report of a cyclist hit by lightning. I rather suspect that the risk is greatly overstated. And after blowing off Tuesday’s ride I wanted to go. So I went.

It got wetter and wetter. Cherry Street is carried by a bascule bridge over the Ship Channel. Like most such bridges, its deck is a metal grid. I avoid it in the rain, riding along the sidewalk, which is part of the Martin Goodman and Lake Ontario Waterfront trails. The bridge has very recently sprouted a CYCLISTS DISMOUNT AND WALK ACROSS BRIDGE sign, so recent I wonder if it’s litigation-proofing arising from this freak accident (link liable to rot).

(Another funny sign on the trail as it crosses this bridge advises NO MOTORIZED VEHICLES / MAXIMUM WEIGHT 400 KG. I’m puzzled by what non-motorized vehicle is likely to have a mass of 400 kg~882 lb.)

One big disadvantage of the Port Area’s impending massive redevelopment is that the roads are being permitted to deteriorate. It’s good practice during a time of fiscal restraint, but bad news for cyclists. On my second turn along Unwin Avenue, the vast puddles hiding wheel-eating cracks and potholes persuaded me that I should ride along the Goodman Trail through North Shore and Clarke Beach parks. I don’t usually like riding along multi-use paths: too many other users, often bovine in their habits, and too poor sightlines. But in this horrible weather, I thought (correctly) I’d be alone. And I wasn’t going that fast anyway.

So I was beetling along the trail when I almost ran over a pair of mallards, in their usual male-female pairing. They quacked in surprise and took off, their little wings flapping furiously. Ducks are not usually seen on the path, but of course it was weather for ducks.

When I got home shortly afterwards my winterweight jersey and tights, being of thick material, had gotten literally a couple of pounds heavier with water. And I couldn’t feel my toes (and, unlike, Donkey, I have toes!) despite the Ziploc bags.

The ride did remind me of one of my favourite little micro-essays at, available long ago (but no longer), under the title “Tough Guys”:

Dark splatters on the pavement before me. My clear lenses spot up. The road disappears behind a gray curtain of haze and suddenly I’m in the rain, drenched. My tires hiss and spit water at my face and back. I shift into the big ring just to stay warm. Head for climbs. I’ll stick it out no matter how hard the water comes down. I’ll never turn around, because only the dedicated ride in this kind of rain. Guys in Belgium. Heroes. Me.


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