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." :)

Just bridges

I'm taking most of this year's vacation as Fridays off during most of the summer. I tend to feel obliged to do something with the weekends... sitting at home feels like wasting them. So I try to get out and look around. One of the best things about an amateur photography hobby is it gives you a built-in excuse.

So Friday I waited for the traffic to abate on the 401... but does it ever?... and I headed west. I've always been interested in abandoned roads and bridges; anyone who's read the blog for a while knows I like to poke around in such places and take shots and try to imagine what they were like as going concerns.

I took the 401 to the 409 to the 427 to Finch Avenue. If you follow Finch as far as you can, it eventually crosses Steeles Avenue and goes under the 407. At this point, it's taken up the course of an old Peel County concession line, today known as Gorewood Drive. It only goes about a quarter mile north, though, before it's closed to traffic. At that point, you do what I did: get out and walk.

Five minutes further along you come to my goal... the Gorewood Drive bridge over the West Humber River. It's a kind of bow arch bridge, and looks wide enough to have accommodated traffic in two directions at once, though you would have had to be careful, I think. The river was, at least the day I was there, as still as a pond. It hardly seemed to be a river at all. I poked around on the bank for a while and finally waded in. Leaving my cameras on the shore, I made my way under the bridge. Ordinarily I'm used to such places being rife with graffiti, but oddly enough, under this bridge, there wasn't any. I guess the local vandals have contented themselves to defacing the road surface sections.

I was down there lounging, trying to keep the cuffs of my shorts out of the water, for about twenty minutes, I guess. It was idyllic. Then I heard voices. A couple of guys, and it sounded like they were drinking. I was concerned that if I stayed where I was and they found me, they'd be mad because they'd think I was spying on them or something. So, quietly, I got out from under the bridge, gathered my stuff at the bank, moved through the trees and into the meadow. Incredibly, I don't think they ever knew I was there. I wandered around in the meadow and the the little groves in it for a while, maybe half an hour or so. When I got back, they were gone, whoever they were. I headed up north just a bit to see what was around the bend... hydro towers, a sign telling you where on the path you were... a guy on a bike went by as I was looking at it and waved to me. Tipped my cap. Seemed the polite thing to do. After that, I figured I'd gotten what I came for, and I crossed back over the bridge and went back to the car. I had another bridge to visit.

I guess I didn't blog about it when I was there last December, but I visited a stretch of road on the border between Mississauga and Toronto called Indian Line Road. It's an old concession line that, since the 1980s or so, has been increasingly subsumed by Hwy 427. The part that I visited still exists in its own right; in fact, for about ten years, till around 1991 or so, it actually served as the exit and entrance lanes for what was then the northern end of the 427. After that, the 427 vaulted further north to Hwy 7 (its current northern terminus), and that stretch of Indian Line Road was closed to traffic for good. A strange life, to go from a quiet country road, to the busy distribution and collector lanes of a 400-series highway, to a forgotten stub that can be glimpsed by travellers on that same highway even now. Being who I am, stuff like that makes me wistful.

I had my license before all this changed, just, but I don't think I myself ever drove there. I had driven the 427 to the weird traffic light that gave access to Morningstar Drive, but not as far north as Indian Line, I don't think. There's a possibility I was on it once, though. I do, clearly, remember going up the 427 onramp from the 401 eastbound the Christmas I was 13 to visit my Dad's relatives up north; Trouble by Lindsey Buckingham (always a favourite song of mine) was playing on the radio. Given how short the 427 was at the time, I can only imagine we were dodging traffic and that we would have driven that stretch only to be dumped onto Albion Road, and from there perhaps to Steeles, and then to the 400. That's a guess, of course.

I found myself walking there late last December, promising myself I'd return in the spring or summer and see how the place looked, green. So I did.

I parked nearby and set out on foot. As I rounded the first turn, surprise surprise! A truck rose up over the railroad bridge and started down towards me! I remember laughing and thinking it must be the most traffic the road had seen in a while. There's some kind of facility at the end of the drivable part of the road, and that must be what the truck was coming back from (the service vehicle gate at Albion Road was open, in fact). I was charmed by the idea that, at least for the moment, I was seeing it just how it would have looked on a less busy day in the 80s. I was tempted, really tempted, to run back to my car and drive the stretch while it was open. But I thought better of it. It's just as well; the gate was closed again when I eventually made my way back.

Until around 1990, this would have been your view as you, having exited the 427, came to the end of Indian Line Road at Albion Road. There was a signaled intersection here at the time. Today, there's no intersection; this road is closed.

Heading down Indian Line Road (Albion Road is behind me), I was very surprised to see... traffic! This was, probably, a service vehicle returning from a facility at the end of the accessible stretch of Indian Line Road.

Life on Indian Line Road. Some little robin has made a successful escape from the egg into the big wide world.

Till about 1990 or so, this would have been your view as you entered the 427 (in the left background in this shot). This was the northern limit of the 427 at the time.

Originally, Indian Line Road skirted the lip of the valley of the West Humber River. When the flood control dam was built in the mid-60s, that valley became the reservoir, and submerged part of the road. By then, Indian Line had been diverted to its present course (its bridge across the river was roughly where the much larger 427 bridge is now). I didn't realize that when I was there in December. This time, I decided to walk the old trail. I came to places where someone had been doing replanting work, and strange things had been done with the logs of old trees. Some of them look like they'd been put out as diving boards to let the workers cool off, perhaps. I also found what must have been someone's boat launch years ago. In fact, I padded down it to the reservoir and for about half an hour I sat there with my feet in the water, just taking it all in. While I was there, I noticed a guy fishing to the north of me. Cranking my cameras up to 11, I could just barely get a few shots of him. After that, I headed back, retracing my steps.

Looking south down what was once, even further back in time, Indian Line Road as it runs along the lip of the West Humber valley. On the right is that valley, now the Claireville Reservoir.

From there, I thought I'd stop in at the conjunction of Islington Avenue, Rexdale Blvd., and the 401, where Rexdale Mall stood for about 40 years. I never visited it myself, but it was still kind of sad to learn it had been torn down. It's been replaced, it turns out, by a big Wal-mart and a lot of open plazas. The days of the enclosed mall seem to be over in Canada, at least for now.