Monday, June 25, 2007

Weekend Wanderings

Last week P-Doug and I talked over beer about likely hiking destinations for the weekend. We both had Friday off and agreed it was by far the best day for that kind of thing. I was intrigued by a closed concession road I'd noticed and sent aerial shots of it to P-Doug and he agreed it looked worth the trek.

He drove up to my neck of the woods early Friday morning and we took off on the 401. Bad idea. Actually, we had bad luck with traffic coming and going that day. More on that later. Anyway, we bailed almost immediately, getting off at Avenue Road and picking our way across town on Wilson Avenue, Keele Street, and Finch Avenue to the 400 which, unbelievably, was moving pretty briskly.

Concessions, lost and broken

We went to 10th Concession in York. A chunk of it has been closed for some time now. But I saw a little bridge on it in the aerial shot and to me that's like steak to a bloodhound. I love old bridges on abandoned roads... there's something so iconic about them. P-Doug parked at the closed elbow of the turn and strapped on his new, belted water bottle on his hip like a gunfighter would strap on his six-shooter heading into battle. We set out.

Aerial photographs are good for giving you a general idea but they can really be useless for giving you a good knowledge of the lay of the land. We immediately hit a pretty steep slope that was badly eroded; I hadn't anticipated that from the shot. At the bottom of the slope, the road grassed over completely; it's been closed, and well closed, for a while. A few yards past that we got the biggest surprise of the trek: a broad, deep wedge of the road had been washed out, and probably very recently. Indications are that it was a small tributary (to a larger tributary, to the Humber River) that flowed contentedly through a metre-wide pipe till a couple of weeks ago. What we saw was a gap about 15' wide and about 20-25' deep, ripped right through the road. I'll give P-Doug full credit for being the first to make his way down into the gully; I had hesitated, trying to figure out the best way down, and if I could get back up again. P-Doug headed down and made the point kind of moot...

P-Doug heads up the other side. This gives some idea of just how deep the storm cut through the old road course.

On these hikes, I like to go barefoot, but I usually need some kind of excuse to get that way in the first place. Typically it comes the first time I encounter some kind of slope where the sandals are more of an impediment than a help. On Friday, this was it in spades. So, off they went and into the hip pocket where they stayed for the next five hours -- my longest uninterrupted barefoot hike to date, by far, and the most challenging; rather proud of how well I did.

Looking up from the bottom of the cut.

...Climbing back up the other side, hauling myself up the fallen grassy slope, I glanced to our left and saw the four or five lengths of the chain link fence along the property line suspended twenty-some feet in mid-air. It was something to see. It really drove home the reality that till a couple of weeks ago, that had been level ground. The water cutting through there during the storm must have been something to see.

You can't see it very clearly but there's a fence hanging in mid-air near the top of this shot. The ground was literally ripped out from under it, and it only survived by the support of all the other posts in the line.

From there, there was a slope down to the valley of the main tributary. We began encountering several trees felled across the old road, and not by beavers, but by humans, deliberately. We wondered why anyone would do that. The paranoia of the people on the private property on the east side of the road (the west is Conservation Authority land)? We had to climb over seven or eight of them to keep going; bunched together, they made the going tough. Later on, P-Doug realized that they'd probably been laid across the road as barriers to ATV drivers. If that gap in the road came as a surprise to us on foot, imagine what it would do to someone zipping up to it at 20 or 30 miles an hour. It would be almost certain death.

Looking back up 10th Concession from the vicinity of the bridge, you can see the trees that were felled to keep vehicles from plunging into the storm gully a couple of minutes' walk north of this point.

Climbing over the last of the fallen trees, we caught sight of the bridge. A modest little thing, probably built in the 20s or 30s at a guess. Just cement-clad rebar, it looked like. The guard rails were in pretty bad shape at the near end. Under it was a basin about 15' wide and maybe 8' deep, but the water passing through it was barely a hand's breadth across. Ruined beaver dams were evident on either side of the bridge. The forest hugged the bridge closely on the east side, but on the west, it was an open area. I wondered if someone's home had once been there. We lingered on the bridge for a bit before wandering the side road up the hill to see the view. Grassy pasture land; nice, but nothing exceptional, so we returned to the bridge and resumed hiking the concession line.

Looking upstream along the main tributary from the bridge. This is all that's left of it. Not much to speak of.

'Hand-tinted' in Photoshop, this infrared image shows the bridge, at centre, from the farm road trailing off into the west. We came down the concession line from the upper left of this shot.

At that point, the line disappeared into the forest. There was the odd opening to the sky, but mostly it was nicely canopied. This part of the journey was the most pleasant in terms of the textures underfoot. Most of it was soft, cool packed soil, grassy, some of it actually covered in moss that felt like green velvet under my soles. Strangely enough, there were no mosquitoes to speak of, which made it all the more enjoyable.

Rather sooner than I expected, we came to where the road is still open. Climbing the last rise, we came to a chain link fence and concrete traffic barriers. We squeezed around them and stepped out onto the paved cul de sac at the end of Huntington Road just north of the Humber River. The east side features some monster homes on large estates. We started to wander down the road; the pavement was smooth, warm but not blistering hot, so I was fine with it. When we got to the hill, we realized that around the bend, we'd just see the Humber River bridge we'd seen the year before, and have to climb the hill again for little gain, so, we headed back to the trail.

The end of Huntington Road; someone's driveway on the right, the closed remainder of the concession line on the left. That's where we emerged from.

On our way back, with east now to our right, we started looking for the side road I'd seen in aerial shots. It apparently leads to another modest bridge, and what look like farm ruins. We were keen to see them. But the concession was cut, literally, out of a slope; it's a landing between a drop on the west and a rise on the east, both pretty steep. Try as we might, we just never did find anything that looked like a road leading in from the line. Eventually, we came back out our little bridge, hung around for a few minutes, then resolved ourselves to the rough trip back over felled trees and the storm-cut gully.

When we arrived at the gully again, we realized the way down on the north side from which we'd come was easier than the way down on the south side. P-Doug spotted a way down into the woods on the west side, so we took that way down. At the bottom, the gully was littered with a half a dozen stretches of 3'-wide corrugated steel drainage piping, ripped out from under the road by the storm, bent, distorted, full of silt. One, about fifty feet downstream, seemed to have been partly wrapped around a tree by the force of the water. We were impressed. During the climbs up and down, I found an old instant coffee jar and a Labatt's beer bottle, with a neck longer than the stubbies of my youth, but not as long as the ones I'm used to now.

We got back to P-Doug's car and wondered what to do next. We decided to head over to a spot we frequent on the Humber and try something new we'd been talking about.

Barefoot-all-over hiking

Behind the spot we've been skinny dipping in the Humber for about a year now, there's a tall rise of land. It's on a peninsula and it's effectively isolated. We knew from previous wanderings that it's criss-crossed with deer trails. Not long ago I'd suggested it might be ideal for something I've wanted to indulge in for a while now... not just hiking barefoot, but hiking actually nude. I was a little surprised that P-Doug was agreeable, even mildly enthusiastic, but ever since he first went to Hanlan's Point he's been pleasantly surprising me with what he's open to.

So we parked and made our way down to the river, where we stripped on the bank and forded to the other side. P-Doug by then was wearing just his sandals, the gunfighter water bottle, and his hat. I was wearing only my cap (and my Canon S80 on my wrist and my silver ankle bracelet… there, full Monty-full disclosure). Well, that and a little bug spray; but again, that didn't seem to be much of an issue that day. Once on the far side of the river, we stowed our stuff behind a tree, and pressed into the forest. We brought nothing with us; we just set out naked. For me, it was a first.

It was really exhilarating. Below the rise is a marshy flat; it was soft under my feet, and I seemed to be wading through ferns at some points, with P-Doug a few steps behind me. We reached the base of the rise and started to climb; I remember remarking to him at the time that I thought it was the furthest I'd ever been from my clothes in my life.

Swimming naked through the sea of ferns.

Walking barefooted on the forest floor.

It took us about five minutes to reach the top. When we did, I settled myself on a long fallen tree, straddling it like a horse. P-Doug wandered around for a bit before taking a seat opposite me, and we shared some of the water and talked about how great it was, how good it might be to come camping out here. It seemed so natural that I confessed that if someone had come along, I would hardly have been bothered for them to see us nude. We were intensely in tune with our surroundings... the way the breeze came to us from different directions, the way it seemed to breathe above us with the forest as its lungs. And there we were immersed in it, part of it, as natural as our surroundings. It was like we were in some kind of great green cathedral, taking communion.

A view of the 'cathedral'.

Kicking back, sat on the fallen tree, a foot on yet another.

After about an hour, we made our way back down to the river, and in a delightful irony, emerged at the exact spot we ordinarily undress to indulge in the river. This time, all we had to do was step in. I guess we spent half an hour or so in the river before deciding to head back for a beer. Obviously, we were rather removed from our clothes... the first task was to actually locate the place we'd stowed them! I really didn't think we'd have any trouble doing that, since I knew where we'd entered the river initially and our crossing had been pretty direct; and as it turns out, we didn't have any trouble finding our clothes. But the thought did amuse me as to what we'd do if, after an hour or two of searching, we had to give up and make our way back home wearing little more than our hats. Maybe that's an adventure for another day! (Just kidding, P-Doug.)

Nacho average Irish pub

Our first choice of watering holes was Bryden's back in Toronto. We pictured ourselves there by 5, sipping Red Leaf beer and feasting on the great nachos. Fate had other ideas. Like traffic lunacy.

We came south down Weston Road, thinking to cross over to Jane and just head south. Northbound, it was solid, but we were making good time southbound until about the last hundred feet before Steeles. There, for some reason, everyone had lost their minds. Traffic on Steeles was routinely stopping dead mid-intersection, so that hardly anyone on Weston could move. We were trying to turn left. We were there about ten minutes before P-Doug determined to pull a uie when we got to Steeles and backtrack... which he did easily, since an 18-wheeler was blocking northbound traffic when he did it. Another long wait put us onto Hwy 7. About that time we were both abandoning any thought of heading into the city immediately, never mind heading for Jane and Bloor. P-Doug saw a sign being put up for a new Irish pub, and we made a beeline for it like the Andrea Gail fleeing the perfect storm. We made it, though. But even then, the parking lot was like a labyrinth. We went 3/4 of the way around the pub before finding a place to park near it. Then, we had to walk half way around it again to get to the door!

Nice place inside, though. I mean, singularly nice. I've never seen the like; it looks just like something centuries old you'd expect to see in the British Isles, not five weeks old in suburban Toronto. Stonework. Fireplaces. Gaelic signage in gold foil filigree. We had a couple of pints over nachos... the nachos weren't bad, but they didn't stand out, either. But I still think the place has a big future. The ambiance, the location, the size of the place... gonna be huge with the local crowd, I predict.

About seven we hit the road again and made our way back home. A fine day, all told; in my opinion, the best so far in our string of wilderness hikes, if the traffic to and fro is ignored. We really got in touch with nature...

...As opposed to the following day, when we actually got together again and went downtown. St. Lawrence Market, book store, stuff like that. I wasn't gonna blog about it, but now that I come to think about it, there are a few things worth noting. And so:

End notes

1) I bought seven pounds of ground meat at the St. Lawrence Market... three of lean beef, two of chicken, two of turkey. About 21 bucks, all told.

2) We passed a place selling jams and chutneys. One chutney was pineapple-cranberry; I tried it on cream cheese on crackers. It was nine bucks for a jar that'll last me two weeks, if that, but my God is it nice stuff.

3) We each had a giant roast beef sandwich at the Market. It was quite a bit rarer than I like... meat that stains bread pink is not my cuppa... but it didn't actually taste bloody, so it was okay. Not to mention P-Doug treated so saying anything would have been graceless. P-Doug, go back and don't read this part. :)

4) We passed Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street. After decades... sixty-some years, I think... at that location, the anchor of a once mighty chain, the place will close for good next weekend. It's hard to believe, and I really wish it weren't so. There was a franchise in the local mall when I was a teenager; in my early 20s, I had friends working there (including the owner) and I spent endless hours hanging around there, talking, being exposed to new music, buying 45s and albums. It has real estate in my soul. Now, you'd think with a place like that, someone would have at least bought the name and the goodwill, but I guess everything has its day.

Same location as above in colour, but this shot in infrared (colour shots, incidentally, taken with an unmodified Canon PowerShot S80; infrared shots with a IR-modified Canon PowerShot S70). The people look like the ghosts of Sam's customers over the decades.

5) At Nicholas Hoare, P-Doug bought a book about a British couple and their dog vacationing on a canal boat. At Dominion, I bought two cans of tomato soup and kidney beans in anticipation of making chili Sunday. I also bought a 12-can raft of Coke Zero (in anticipation of getting buzzed on rum Sunday), and so P-Doug kindly offered to carry the soup and bean cans. I mention this because when we got off the subway, he left the parcels in his care on the train. It was kind of funny to lose $3 worth of cans, but then he remembered he'd left the book there, too. Not so funny.

6) Saturday was the Lesbian Pride Parade and I missed it. Feel kind of bad about that. Once-in-a-year celebration, and I'm a couple blocks away, and couldn't be bothered. But it's the crowds; it's a pain in the ass, really.

These three shots, the Labyrinth in Trinity Square.

West Coast native designs (probably Haida; that's a guess) on the sidewalks of a street adjoining Yonge Street.

This was once a side street downtown, immediately north of Front Street. It's now an internal walkway inside BCE Place.

A Haida totem pole commissioned for BCE Place from British Columbia.

A panorama from inside the Eaton Centre.

P-Doug suggested I shoot this on Yonge Street. It looks like this charming young 'woman' is being advertised with her, ahhh, 'open for business' hours. :)

Taken inside an alley just east of Yonge Street and a bit north of Front Street, this is a service entrance to the Victoria Hotel, the second oldest extant hotel in Toronto (dates to 1903). P-Doug tells me that during Prohibition, this door was the entrance to the speakeasy accommodated by the hotel. Apparently, this was the entrance frequented by police... but not for raids: for after hours unwinding.

At the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario; the liquor store in this province) on Queens Quay, we noticed this pricey little number. That's right... this is a $4400 bottle of scotch. But the reason I took the shot isn't just that... if you look closer, you'll see that the official price is actually $4399.80. The other 20¢ is the deposit on the bottle. In the words of Eddie Murphy, "I think the shit is funny." :)

1 comment:

Polt said...

Sams is CLOSING???? How sad. I never really shopped there, but I did go in a few times. I used it as a reference point, more than anything, cuase you can see it for some distance along Yonge, espeically at night.

Oh well, things always change.