Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Friday Morning Bike Adventure

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After too many days of grey and never-ending rain, finally some sunshine streams through the morning curtains of Toronto. Not daring to loll in bed and miss this opportunity, you vault out of bed, clothe yourself with haste and hop on your bicycle.

There are no bike lanes on bloor yet, but Toronto is a good city for cyclists. Perhaps you have been put off, as a pedestrian or driver, by the few cyclists who ignore road laws as if they were going out of style. Or, as a cyclists, you have been frustrated by pedestrians who only look one way or by powerful and angry motor vehicles and their sometimes enraged conductors. These things do exist in our city, but they exist alongside bike lanes, bike trails, bike parking, critical mass and flat, flat land (ever been to St. John’s, Newfoundland? Now there’s some hills!). The golden nugget of Toronto’s bike community is of course its people: bike activists pushing for more room and respect on the road, devoted bikers ditching cars forever, and all those wonderful, everyday folk who just ride a bike here and there and think nothing of it. Intentionally or not, the choice to ride a bike has enclosed within it a system of values: Care for the environment – one less car on the clogged, smoggy roads; Care for one’s health – renouncing a sedentary lifestyle, embracing personal strength. Acceptance of a slower pace of life – it may take longer to get there, but maybe not! The bicycle is one of our most amazing tools, expanding our ability to experience freedom and independence.

10AM.

Start west on Harbord Sreet, heading toward Ossington Ave.

At Harbord and Grace enjoy the first of many ‘dip and lifts’ (when a street slopes downhill, then suddenly lifts uphill, allowing you to build up speed on the way down, then try to maintain the momentum and intensity on the way up. Bonus points if the ‘dip and lift’ is below an industrial bridge.)

Turn south on Ossington, until you hit the next red light (probably Dundas), where you’ll head west to avoid the wait. The best bike rides happen when you have nowhere to go, rambling through the city, finding special spots. Let your whims and fancy carry you down bursting-green streets, around enticing corners. Sprint wildly up hills, then cruise around side streets to find your breath.

You hit Queen Street and turn west just before Dufferin to catch another ‘dip and lift’. Bonus points!

Turn north on Lansdowne. Near 175 Lansdowne, a little park on your right will catch your eye. It has no name, at least none that Google Maps can later verify, but you turn in none the less, suddenly attracted by this oasis of green. You bike past a little playground and into a grassy meadow, sheltered from the street by rows of houses, surrounded by a fence, lined with a single row of trees. In Toronto, it is easy to resign yourself to thinking: this place is completely grey. I think it’s more fun to forget all that and seek them out – the green, growing places. Find a patch of grass, surprisingly dry after days of rain and sit yourself down.

Toronto nature. Here we cannot achieve a simulation of the natural world. Just as Toronto Island Park fails to completely enclose you from the city, on this fresh patch of grass you can still hear the hum of traffic on Lansdowne, and the house at the other end of the field pumping Island music. But louder than these is a better sound: a hidden bird singing. It’s a tune you’re not familiar with, could not pick that bird out of a line-up because your education never considered such knowledge to be valuable. This scrap of green among concrete construction exists for this purpose: that there is a place green and lush, quiet and safe enough that this bird can land and sing his song to the sky and you can sit here in the grass and listen.

The moment comes to leave, the burdening thoughts of human life tumbling back into the mind. Get on the bike and blow them away. You are surprised by a butterfly, orange and black unfamiliar markings, hovering on the tree trunk where you leaned your bike. Stand still for a moment until it flutters away.

North on Lansdowne. Major ‘dip and lift’. Bonus points!

Head east on Bloor. Turn north on Dovercourt and east on Davenport. Just before Bathurst, there is a traffic island with a path cutting between it. Turn left and wait between the two halves of the island until the traffic clears. Continue straight into Wychwood Park. There will be a sign that reads “Private Road and Grounds” and some ruffian has crossed out “Private” and written “Public” above. This makes you smile as you pass through the gate.

Before you there is a small pond, entirely enclosed by a wire mesh fence. This rare spot of nature that has been gated twice: first by the inhospitable signage at the park’s entrance, then by this fence. DANGER. Deep Water. Quicksand. You continue to bike up the road that leads around the pond, lined with elaborate houses, large trees. The pond becomes a trickling stream as the incline gets steeper and you see Toronto as you could imagine it before the white man came and fucked things up. Ravines and rivers trailing toward the lake, sprouting various species of trees, bushes and ferns, damp and warm alive smells.

You keep biking around, past a small tennis court set into the trees and you begin to wonder about the people who live in these large, lavish houses. You wonder how it is that they live in this natural space, full of foliage and birdsong, while outside there are spindly, dying sidewalk trees, convenience stores on every corner and garbage in the streets. Wychwood Park was built as an artist colony near the turn of the twentieth century and the stream which runs through it is one of the last above-ground remnants of Taddle Creek. Now it is a private community where homes sell for over one million dollars. Luckily, it has not been gated off completely, so you can still wander through and enjoy one tiny parcel of the city’s once Ravine-rich past.

When you get to the end of Wychwood Park road, turn around and go flying down the hill. Press the brakes just before the gravely entrance at Davenport.

Go east on Davenport, south on Bathurst. There will be one more ‘dip and lift’. From there you can head to your favourite coffee shop, where the cute boy behind the counter will give you a candy. You can call this a Good Day.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Marta Chudolinska

Marta Chudolinska is a printmaker, bookbinder, zinester, painter and writer. Her first (wordless) graphic novel, Back + Forth: A novel in 90 linocuts, was published in September 2009 by the Porcupine’s Quill Press.

Go to Marta Chudolinska’s Author Page