Snowshoeing in Toronto

With 25cm (10″) of snow arriving late last week it was time to drag my snowshoes out of storage.  With so much snow in town and the roads a mess it wasn’t even worth renting a car to head north in search of trails to hike.  Luckily Toronto has a huge green belt running right through it, so I threw on some layers, grabbed my snowshoes and took the bus to Wilket Creek Park at Leslie and Eglinton to get started.

I took a pile of these shots, where long shadows and high contrast kept catching my eye.  You can make out some of the tracks from squirrels, mice and other little critters that dot the snow.

Long shadows in the snow while snowshoeing

I am amazed that, despite being surrounded by 6 million other people in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), I appear to be the only one who thought to venture into the trails last Saturday morning.  I had the place to myself!

I followed the mountain bike trails south, through the woods, often high above Wilket Creek.  The trail offers some wonderful views of the park.  This trail comes to an end where the creek goes under the park’s service road (as you approach Don Mills Rd).  Although, if you’d care to double the distance, you can easily continue all the way down to Pottery Rd.  I turned around at this point, returning along the other side of the creek, through the open spaces adjacent to the paved Don Trail.

A coyote crosses a foot bridge and heads up the trail...

A coyote crosses a foot bridge and heads up the trail…

I did eventually pass a few cross-country skiers, but the cold temperatures early Saturday morning (-20C/-4F) must have kept most outdoor enthusiasts at home.

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My travels take me past a spot that most Torontonians will find hard to believe is right in the middle of town.  This pond sits right behind the Ontario Science Centre, and just a few hundred meters from one of the busiest intersections in town.  You feel as though you are out in the middle of no where.  The sounds of the city are absent.  I sit and enjoy the moment over a cup of hot tea that I’ve packed in a thermos.  The silence is broken finally as a snowy owl whistles overhead.  That was my first snowy owl sighting ever!  I didn’t realize that their range extended so far south.  Sorry, no chance to get a picture.IMG_4651

With Valentine’s Day just a few days away, a bent twig and a low light angle offered a perfectly cheesy shot that I couldn’t resist.

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Here’s what the 5km route looks like in case you’d like to try it out, or for a map that you can zoom in on, click on this link:  http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=5818400

snowshoe_map

Looks can be deceiving though.  There isn’t a straight line to be had through the woods.  The trail cuts back and forth a number of times and there are a quite a few climbs.  Cutting fresh tracks through the mountain bike trails in these conditions is slow going and lots of work.  Expect this 5k route to take at least 2.5 hours.

Bring a friend and have fun.

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Gluten-free Pancake Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday preceeds the 1st day of Lent.  A longstanding tradition is to have pancakes as a meal.  Growing up we always had them for dinner on Shrove Tuesday.  For those not participation in Lent it is still a great excuse to eat pancakes for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner.  So I skipped breakfast and had my pancakes for lunch today with a huge onion and spinach omelette.

pancakes_omelette

Here’s a whole grain gluten-free pancake recipe if you’re interested in trying something new.  To start things off you’ll need:

1/2 cup quinoa (red quinoa adds some nice colour)
3/4 cup short grain brown rice
Soak the grains overnight with enough water to cover and add 1tbsp lemon juice.

In the morning, rinse the grains in a colander and place in a blender.

quinoa and brown rice

quinoa and brown rice

Add 1/2 can of coconut milk and blend until smooth (a few tbsp of water may be needed to get the blender going, depending on how thoroughly you strained the grains).
Mix in:
1 egg
1Tbsp coconut oil or olive oil
1/4tsp sea salt
2Tbsp shredded coconut or brown rice flour or tapioca flour  ( optional )

Finally, briefly stir 1tsp baking soda into vortex.

Cook on medium heat with a small amount of oil in the pan and enjoy.  Makes a dozen 3.5″ pancakes.
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Enjoy.

Part 1/3: Today’s ride – The Flat

Well, I’ve ramped up my riding this year after a few slow seasons, unfortunately more miles = more flat tires 😦   I’ve had 8 flats so far and my latest was on today’s ride.

I may not be the fastest in the puncture repairs department but things really sped along for me a few years ago once I began to skip the wheel removal.  Yup, just leave your wheel on and pull out the punctured tube along the affected section.  This works really well when you can still hear the air hissing out (and when you have bolt on wheels like me and forgot your wrenches…).

So here I am at the corner of Dupont and Davenport, just 5km into my ride when I noticed my rear tire was a little soft as I’d rounded the corner.  It was 110psi just 10min ago, now it’s down to about 60 and I can hear the air hissing out even over the noise of the traffic.

So as you can see I don’t use the instant peel and patch variety.  I talc all of my tubes so I haven’t had the best of luck with the instant patches.  I use the kind that requires applying glue first.  They do take a bit longer, but they have been much more reliable for me. Total time around 6min including some picture taking…

Onto part II.

C’mon CTV! Seriously?

So I literally just finished watching the Olympic Men’s Time Trial Cycling event.  They are just finishing the medal ceremony.

What a great race and congrats to Wiggins on taking gold.  Hot on the heels of his Tour de France victory and time trial stage wins he has done it again!   It’s also good to see Froome share the podium with Wiggins again as he did in the Tour and to see Tony Martin in 2nd after a fracture forced him to abandon the Tour de France just a few weeks ago.  Tony is known as a time trial specialist so it was no surprise to see him do so well.

Obviously, as a Canadian, I had hoped to see Hesjedel, this year’s Tour D’Italia champion, up there on the podium too.  He abandoned the TDF early after a crash, which gave him time to rest.  He used that time to win his final tune-up criterium race in Roeselare Belgium on July 24th, but finished 63rd in the road race and way down in the standings in the time trial.  Either way I’m sure I’ll see a lot of cyclists out on the road showing their support for Ryder by proudly wearing their Garmin-Sharp jerseys.

Okay CTV, what’s up with your on-line coverage of the time trial?  Covering a sport involves more than pointing cameras at participants.  Where’s the race analysis?  Did your mic cut out?  Did your announcer call in sick this morning?  How about an update on the racer’s position in the overall at any particular check point? Just say something!  I would have thought that I was on mute except for the roar of the crowd.

Oh well, now that the race is over it’s time to go for a bike ride.

Ride safe!

Toronto to Hamilton: My first century ride on a fixed gear

For the last few years I have cycled very little other than to get to work.  This year I have started ramping things up again.  I trained fairly regularly on a Wattbike over the winter (but that’s another story) and by spring I was ready for some longer rides again.  From Yonge/Eglinton I have been riding south to the lake and then west pretty much every time venturing a little further as my legs allowed.  At first my turnaround was the Humber river.  After a few weeks I’d venture as far as Port Credit where I’d stop for an espresso before the ride home.  Eventually my usual espresso ride would take me to Oakville (95-100km), a handful of times on my own and once a week with a friend from mid-June through most of July.  After 8-10 rides to Oakville my riding buddy and I decided to explore a little further.

Here our bikes wait patiently for us to finish our drinks and to keep riding:

So with no particular destination in mind we set off from Oakville to the west along the Lakeshore.  After a few kms we agreed that we might as well make it official and ride right into Burlington. So we followed Lakeshore to North Shore Blvd East and did a quick turn around at the Burlington Golf and Country Club figuring that we’d gone far enough for one day.  So that loop worked out to around 145km, and definitely the longest ride I’ve ever done on my fixed gear bike!

145km.  Phew!  But that was a week ago.  Time to move on.  I was working on extending our route while keeping it interesting so I decided a ride around Hamilton Harbour might be best.  It would add about 30km to the ride.  See my earlier post for that part of the route (https://eatpedalpaddle.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/google-told-me-to-jump-off-a-bridge/).  Unfortunately my riding buddy was away this weekend so I decided to go it alone.

I set off from Yonge/Eglinton around 645am, after launching the GPS app on my Blackberry and stuffing it into my jersey pocket.  I checked my phone as I rounded the base of Bayview and turned onto King St East and it had yet to acquire the satellite signal.  Ugh!  Oh well, I guess there’s about 10km that won’t be captured in my ride history.  Into my jersey pockets I also stuffed a patch kit, a small pump, a couple of water bottles and a couple of my home-made energy bars.  I also brought a camera but I placed it, my house keys, some cash and a few allen keys into my frame bag.

I stopped briefly at my usual spot in Oakville for a double-long espresso.  As I enjoyed it I sat and wondered why I would stop with 120km to go.  It might have made more sense to stop later on, maybe closer to the 1/2 way mark, oh well, a habitual stop I guess.  I stopped again at the Burlington Golf and Country Club on North Shore Blvd at 9:15am for a quick photo op about 70km in, but otherwise I didn’t check my watch all day, so I’m not entirely sure how long each leg of the journey took.

The ride around the bay was a great.  Well, most of it. Riding through Hamilton’s downtown and industrial sector is just a section to get through, but the rest of it is incredible!  North Shore Blvd is a beautiful road, quite smooth, with some small gently rolling hills and with very little traffic on a Saturday morning.  This leads you to County Road 2 (Plains Rd W) and finally to York Blvd, taking you right around the western side of the harbour, mostly along bike lanes.  Once through the downtown and industrial sector you get to the best part of the loop, the Waterfront trail.  If you know of a more bike friendly route please offer it in the comment section.  See the map link at the end of my post for all of the details of my ride.

Why oh why does this picture get rotated 90deg when viewed in full size?????

In this section of the Harbour loop you’ll cover about 10km along the lake on the Hamilton Beach Recreational trail.  The path is smooth and offers a great view of the lake.  There are also plenty of benches to soak it all in from should you need a break.  If you you need a nature break along here there is one washroom about 4km down the trail, almost as far as the Burlington Lift Bridge.  There is also a water fountain there so be sure to stop, this is your last chance to fill up for a while.  At this point it is tempting to just keep on riding, to get ‘er done, but stop, relax, savour the moment.  You’ve got about 70km to go, but this can wait another moment, you’ve earned a break.

You’re on the home stretch now, the Toronto skyline is calling you home and is but a muted spec in the distance.

So there’s my first century ride in about 12 years and my first century ride ever on my track bike.  The total distance worked out to about 170km, but my gps app only recorded 160km worth, making it an official century ride either way, 100 miles or 160km.

…but only averaged 28.6km/hr 😦

Ugh!  And my average was not even 30km/hr 😦  Oh well, I’ll blame that on the headwind that picked up on my way home, on stopping many times to enjoy the view and to take pictures.  Total trip time was, according to my stop watch, 6.5hrs.  Either way the century is a milestone to many a cyclist.  It was a milestone that I had reached at least 15 years ago, but probably haven’t repeated since.  So there it is, a little reminder to my legs and mind (and butt) of what it takes to cover that distance again.  If a 6.5hr ride doesn’t sound like fun to you then just ride faster, ride a bike with more than one gear, one that allows you to coast, go with a fast friend and take turns drafting or if this doesn’t sound like something that you would be interested in trying in its entirety then check out Go Transit schedules.  They offer service to Hamilton all the time and depending on which station you’re leaving from and the time of day you can usually bring your bike on board.  From the Hamilton Go station you can then tour the Harbour and transit home again, or ride back to TO from there.  You have plenty of options and hopefully one less excuse.

Here’s a link to the full map of the ride, which by the way could not be saved into google maps because Google keeps guessing which way you’d want to go which never makes any sense so you have to keep moving points along the route from Google guess to the actual route until you literally run out of points that you are able to enter….  So, I had to use the gmap-pedometer, which is far more user friendly:

http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=5584895

Have a safe ride!

Google told me to jump off a bridge!

I use Google maps before I go anywhere new.  When cycling to a new locale I’ll use it to measure out routes and look for cycling friendly bike lanes and paths.  Before my ride to Hamilton yesterday I was looking for an easy way around Hamilton Harbour.  There are a ton of bike paths around Hamilton and they are all marked in green when you’re viewing the map with Google’s beta cycling directions turned on.  When giving you directions between 2 points Google can however be a bit overzealous when it comes to getting you onto one of those bike routes, often adding a lot of distance to your ride to make it happen.  Well, this time it offered a great short-cut, or at least a short cut, to get from the Wolfe Island Bridge to the bike path below through the Botanical Gardens.  It only looks to be about an 80ft drop!

Yup, just ride right up over the curb, across the road and over the guard rail:

Well I skipped that section altogether, and rode Plains Rd W all the way into town, following a bike lane most of the way in, riding past Copps Coliseum, down Wilson and then more or less following the Around the Bay road race course.  Next time I’ll follow the race course more closely.  Their route takes Spring Garden Rd off of Plains Rd W to get down by the water.

Here’s the race map as posted on http://www.aroundthebayroadrace.com:

https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=114954809910133418529.00045a7921454be2ed2ca&ll=43.280955,-79.821167&spn=0.167959,0.215263&z=12

Gmaps is a great tool for route planning, but be sure to double check its suggestions.  Their routes could add more distance than would make sense for your travels or, like some of your coworkers, Google could tell you to “go jump off a bridge”.

Ride safe!