Awful Bob and I took the long Branch streetcar to the Sunday matinee at the Moose Lodge on the Lakeshore, where the finest country musicians in Canada play for a crowd of heavy-smoking dancers.
When we passed by the marshes of the Humber River, I felt the allure of a place I've never been. The farthest west I've ventured off the streetcar/bar line is High Park, where I invariably get lost as darkness is setting in.
Then my friend Pedro happened to mention that he's been riding his bicycle up to his mother's at Keele and Sheppard via a path along the Humber. I quizzed him on the difficulty of the ride and factored into his answer the fact that his calves are proportioned like inverted bowling pins. That and I don't really have a bicycle. More like two unicycles chained together that are constantly conniving to separate and dump me in the road.
Nevertheless, we've been gifted with fine fall days, the CBC has eradicated my Coronation Street at 3 o'clock ritual, so I'm allowed out. I can't go to my woods at the train tracks because they've been torn from the ground by big machines.
A river, and it seems so far away. I must pack food and a Swiss Army knife. What about a compass? Flares?
The first thing is to get to the lake, which in itself is a feat considering the way Toronto has concealed it behind highways and condo towers. There's an overpass at Roncesvalles. The first ramp off it leads to a lonesome, big island of mature and handsome trees stranded between seven lanes of traffic. The second drops me by the Palais Royale, which has once again sunk into despair.
Ride west on the paved path, ceding passage to serious spandex-clad riders of sleek cycles that spend their nights indoors. I come to an aesthetically offensive little bridge that looks like something inflatable, or at least temporary. It goes over the mouth of the Humber, and so do I. Then under the highway and I'm riding north, with the bullrushes alongside the river on my right.
The trail breaks at Stephen Drive, a street of suburban-style houses that must have been visited by a very convincing ornamental shutter salesman. Down into King's Mill Park, where the trees will soon be posing for photos in an array of fall colours.
A sign gives historical information. The river was the path of "ancient First Peoples." In 1796 there was a boatyard here where ships were built for the War of 1812. There was a commercial salmon fishery until 1915. Rum-runners used the river's deep-water anchorage during Prohibition.
Jogging families go by along with schoolgirls running because it's someone's idea of what's good for them. At Bloor there's the Old Mill subway. Crossing ye olde (1916) stone bridge, I can see that the river here is too shallow to cover the stones in it. I wonder if permits to suck water into bottles up around Caledon have anything to do with this.
Then comes Etienne Brulé Park, named after a crony of Champlain's who got fatally mixed up in inter-tribal politics. A ways further and I can see Dundas West, but this stretch is too parky for me. Dogs and walkers, a playground, all that lawn - I'm sure it inhibits mosquitoes, but I keep thinking it looks like the grounds of a hospital.
Heading south again, I see a poster sponsored by missingplaque@yahoo. com about the village of Taiaiako'n that was here a few centuries before the Old Mill Inn and Spa.
It's good to get back to the narrow trail below Bloor. A vee of geese honks by just above my head. They're headed south - about 100 metres - to poop on the freshly mowed lawn. Not a single cyclist, stroller or blader goes by. Supper to sundown is the perfect time to visit. Intrepid Pedro rides through river mists that rise before the dawn.
The big waves that slap together when the river meets the lake are the only sound down where ugly tall brickless structures clutter the shore. To the east, Sunnyside Pavilion shines as a symbol of Toronto's lost charms.
At the Roncesvalles ramp that leads down to the isolated arboretum, a bearded man gazes intently into the sunset. He looks like the artist who used to be Cat Stevens. I take a rest before plunging into the dangers of the road, humming Peace Train.