Sunday, April 4, 2010

Riding for the fun of it

... strangely, not something I do that often. I mean, I love my commute to work, it's beautiful and usually fun. I like riding to events and meetings and all that, I like heading out on the fairly long trek to get to the West End when I need to visit Mountain Equipment Co-op. But I don't, often, get a chance to go out just for the hell of it.

So today, when it was a beautiful, slightly windy, warm, summery day, and it happened to be Easter Sunday so there was nothing else I needed to be doing, I hopped on the bike to go out to Mer Bleue, a large conservation area in the south of the city. You would never know, from the picture, that you're about a minute from the 417, and about ten minutes from the city, would you? Out here it's just fields, gravel roads, and farmland. This is the Greenbelt, long may it remain, um, rustic.

Walkley Road, which is what this road turns into as it curves off and vanishes at the right of the frame, is a four-lane main artery with exits to the highway snaking off of it, and the ride out to this point is pretty outskirt-urban: watch out for horrendous gutters in the pavement, try not to be afraid of the cars that are jetting their way up to highway speed, hold your breath, pedal hard and pray as you cross the mouths of the highway exit ramps. But then you get to this corner, and head on down Ramsayville Road, and suddenly, almost jarringly, you're in the country. Like, there are turtle crossing signs.

You keep going for another couple of miles until you get to the parking lot for the Mer Bleue boardwalk, which takes you out over a huge peat bog and marsh. So I walked around that, then headed back to the parking lot - running into, on the way, a couple of my friends and their son. Great minds think alike, apparently. So we talked for a bit and then I hopped on the bike to head home and they climbed into their car.

Switching gears when I hit the country roads was strange. As a kid I lived along a country road - the kind with asphalt just laid down and dirt shoulders, ditches running along the sides. That kind of road is different. For one thing, I had to watch how close I was to the edge, to avoid the drop and skid that going off the asphalt would cause. And then there was getting into the pace - not having to keep my head on as much of a swivel, not having to stop at corners, hitting a travelling stride. I could imagine being on a long road trip, even though it was only a few miles to the bog.

And then there was the fact that I had time, on the way home, to poke around on some of the gravel tracks to the side of the road. One, right across from where Ridge Road intersects with Ramsayville Road, with an NCC sign that just said "Greenbelt," was a rattling gravel road that ended up at the bottom of a high-tension wire tower. Not the most exciting destination, but it was at least up at the top of a slight rise, and I could look out over the fields and see the highway and the buildings where the city starts up again. So I did a loop around the tower and headed back out. Not all detours get rewarded by a great view, but that's okay.

I also got curious at the corner (the one pictured above) because I often see cars parked there - I think they're usually letting their dogs off leash, because beyond the gate and up the dirt road there was just a large, dug-up stretch of hillside that looked as though someone was building an extension of the road. But, I pedalled along, kind of enjoying the chance to break out Mike's more mountain-bike-ish qualities, and over the hillside there was another field, a patch of water with geese resting on it, and a few dirt tracks. Maybe next time, I'll see if the tracks between the fields take me anywhere... but this time I headed back to Walkley Road.

But it was really nice to be able to just go wherever, on impulse. And by the time I was a couple of blocks from home, I was back into my city-paced stride and very tempted to keep going, because the rhythm had clicked and I was well into second wind. But, I was getting very hungry, so I turned in on my street and went home for dinner instead.

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