After a slightly fretful night’s sleep and an early awakening, watching Matt lust after the recumbent bikes out front and Theo terrorize all and everyone around him, we finally left Bloomfield, the quirky bike store, barn and our hosts behind, and started back on the waterfront trial for the final stretch towards Toronto.
Once again, we had clear blue skies and were surrounded on all sides by farmland. Everything seemed so peaceful and calm, quiet and open- it was hard to imagine that we were so tantalizingly close to the city that would signify the end of our adventure. We passed vineyards and fields of corn; horses grazing and farmers tending to their crops. It was serene: the road was open and smooth, the wind just light and cool enough, the road quiet and straight, with just rolling hills taxing us. For a while, I romanticised about how it might feel to never get off this bike… to keep cycling around the world for the remainder of my days. There are people out there who do this for not just months, but years– taking in the world at a slow and comfortable pace from the saddle of a bike. Before this trip- and, admittedly, many times during it- I’d always considered such a notion almost crazy. Why would anyone chose a life without roots? A life of wandering, of never-ending goodbyes, without stability? But after 5 months of tasting it- I can fully understand why. There’s a mysterious lure about that lifestyle. A promise of freedom and escapism, an appreciation of life from an entirely different angle. And from the seat of a bike, you are just that little bit closer to nature, and the real world around you, as opposed to from within the confines of a car: tasting it all firsthand. (And yes, admittedly, that isn’t always necessarily a good thing.. not-so-fond memories of stinging showers and stubborn headwinds bring that romantic fantasy abruptly down to earth somewhat!) If it were practical to do so for us (and I know there are many out there who succeed with this!) I would love to go without a car altogether, and just cycle- everywhere. However, I accept my limitations. But perhaps that mindset and wish will mean I can reach a healthier balance between the car and my bike when we arrive back home.
We bumped into fellow touring cyclist Merc from Quebec, who had flown across to Vancouver and was now nearing the end of his return across Canada. As we compared experiences, it became all-too-clear just how mild our take on cycle touring is by comparison to many out there; admittedly, not the toddler-taking part, but in terms of the places in which we stay, the daily mileages we complete and the equipment we bring with us. Adventurist and solo traveler Merc, in spite of his more ‘mature’ age, has no qualms about sleeping ‘rough’ where necessary or getting right back to basics: indeed, he actively seeks to stealth camp perhaps 4-5 nights out of every 7 in order to minimize his costs, and when seeking a campsite looks mainly for state parks and the like: minimal fuss and few facilities. A shower is perhaps a weekly or even fortnightly luxury. At this, I think with a degree of guilt of the motels we’ve stayed in; the upscale (expensive) campsites. But it’s always true that no matter what you do, there is always someone out there taking it one step further; doing it just that little bit ‘better’. I suppose the term ‘better’, however, is subjective according to what people feel to be enjoyable- certainly we aren’t the most extreme, but nor are we the most luxurious. Perhaps we’ve just found a balance that works for us. Matt confessed that if he were doing this trip alone, he would adopt the same principles- and held Theo as the excuse and reason for our need for facilities. I think, with a tinge of guilt, that isn’t necessarily true- given that he is still in nappies, a washroom isn’t really a must, and certainly Theo doesn’t require showers as often as we do… nor does he need a fancy playground, swimming pool or games room to keep him entertained. Actually, it’s probably me, actively seeking some degree of ‘comfort’ while on the road. I wonder for a moment if I could have done things differently- but in the same instant, tell myself I don’t regret the choices we made with regards to accommodation. Again, it’s a question of balance- I’m fairly confidant we got it just right for us.
That night, we camped in Cobourg East- camping, indeed, for the last time. Well, the last time on this trip in any case. Assembling the tent, I felt the beginnings of nostalgia and dismissed them immediately. I can’t afford to get sentimental about all the tiny ‘lasts’ of this trip: because on one hand, there will be far too many ‘lasts’ over the upcoming weeks- and therefore I will reduce myself to an emotionally exhausted mess by the conclusion!- and on the other hand, I can’t keep thinking of this as an end. It’s not the end- just the end of the beginning. The end of the first adventure; not the end of all our adventures.
And one thing remains certain: I certainly won’t miss those deflating mattresses. No sentimentality there…
We set off promptly the following morning, anxious to ensure we covered sufficient miles to avoid a long day when we finally entered Toronto the day after. It was a day of contrasts and extremes- the day when, I feel, we really left our cycling dream behind and began the transition back to ‘day-to-day’ life of the ordinary.
We opened our day with more beautiful countryside and rolling hills; open roads and wild blossoms, flittering butterflies and the smell of freshly mowed grass. It was impossibly idyllic and the miles slipped all-too-quickly beneath our rolling wheels. We could see the roads stretched before us, full of the unexplored, the unseen; all I could keep thinking was, this is perfect peace. These past weeks haven’t held the wonder and awe of the Rockies, the breath-taking and spell-binding views and sunsets of the west coast, or the majesty of the incredible redwoods. They’ve been relaxed and easy; beautiful but not spectacular. But as we prepare to wind down our tour, this is exactly what we need: ‘low-maintenance’ riding.
However, as we edged towards Oshawa -our destination for the night- things begun to change. We swapped the quiet countryside and minor roads for increased traffic, noise and bustle. The fields gave way to shopping malls and block housing; the butterflies and grazing cattle to tarmac sidewalks, hotels and fast-food restaurants. There were no campsites around to speak of, and as such we would need to find a motel to satisfy our need for accommodation for the night- but struggled, however, to navigate the criss-crossing roads and unforgiving traffic. It was an exhausting and nerve-racking process: the urban cycling aspect of this trip has never been my strong point (especially when there are no cycle paths to speak of) and our mutual stress levels rocketed. It’s on these occasions that we thank modern technology and made the most of the GPS function and TomTom on my phone: using it to safely navigate ourselves to the closest hotel and collapsing with relief in the sanctuary of our room as we shut out the noise of the city outside.
Our ride into Toronto the following day was much the same: we left behind Oshawa and found ourselves weaving out of the bustle of the city and finding back roads once more to catch just a glimpse of the countryside, if only to remind us of what we were leaving behind. Knowing this to be our final day of cycling, I felt I should perhaps feel more strongly about that fact than I did: however, the days and the scenes before seemed to merge and blur into one, leaving me numb and indifferent. It doesn’t feel real: I can’t wrap my head around the fact. How can the end be here already? This has been our life for months and months. This is who we are, now: this is what we do. The prospect of losing that… identity? Sense of purpose and direction? Is ever so slightly unnerving. Who will we be now? Can we go back to being ‘just us’ again?
It wasn’t too long until at last we saw the sign: the last sign! (Ok, I know I said I wasn’t going to do that… just indulge me… this last time… OK, no, really, I am gonna stop. Honest.) There it was: the final destination. Journey’s end. Toronto.
We made it!!
The sense of elation is incredible: but it’s combined with a tinge of sadness. I can’t believe we’re really here- we’re in Toronto! I hardly know how to celebrate. I feel… almost lightheaded, a bit disconnected, like I’m in some form of denial. I keep looking at that sign and trying to make my slow brain understand what this means. We’re here, we’re here. I experience one of those ‘life-flashing-before-eyes’ moments as the memories of the trip slip before me like some kind of rapid slideshow, the images flickering and blurring together nonsensically. I find I’m fingering the redwood bracelet around my wrist (the single ‘indulgent’ item of memorbilia I purchased for myself this trip) as though it can offer me the answers, or some sort of comfort. My chest feels tight. I think back on those horrible, hard days when we questioned ourselves, why we were doing this, how we could carry on. I think of the hills we’ve climbed and the miles we’ve covered. And then I feel one overwhelming sensation: pure pride. It’s a massive sense of achievement. We’ve cycled almost 3,500 miles around Canada and the States!! With our TODDLER! How many people can say they’ve done that? We didn’t give up, or give in. We made it. WE MADE IT.
WE MADE IT!
It takes us, however, a further hour of weaving through the throes of the city before we reach the house of our hosts. The skyscrapers and renovations engulf us: the city is a mass of jagged glass and concrete, a maze of traffic and people. We follow marked ‘bike routes’ but find them to be merely the ‘quieter’ roads, with the occasional bike painted onto the road. There’s a lot of stopping and starting as we try to find our way- and I can’t take my eyes off the enormous giants, the towers, apartment blocks and offices that dot the skyline. The noise is almost deafening after the quiet countryside roads of the past few days and suddenly the sky has become tinged with grey, heavy and oppressive. My mind is no longer free to wander at will: 100% focus is required to ensure we navigate the city streets safely. Even though we don’t like doing it, we’re forced to weave on and off the sidewalk, navigating around pedestrians, as the aggressive and fast-paced city driving is unforgiving and not even remotely cyclist-friendly. Very few people on the roads demonstrate patience or understanding of our situation- most scrape frighteningly close to the bikes. Crawling at a snails pace on the sidewalk feels like a far safer option.
Like many of the Canadian/America cities we’ve entered, however, it combines a surprising mix of the tightly-compacted city buildings with the quiet space of suburbia. When you leave the main streets and stumble upon the residential areas, there are a surprising number of homes with abundant gardens and space, and an almost eerie sensation of someone having hit the ‘mute’ button as the noise of traffic and building work immediately subsides. Going back and forth between the two is oddly disorientating.
At length, we find our final destination: the home of our hosts for the next week, family friends Derek and Anoja. I climb almost reluctantly, very slowly and deliberately, down from my bike before stepping up to the front door. And after our greetings, we carefully wheel our bikes round to the back yard and I can’t help emitting a small sigh – sadness? Relief? I hardly know- as I place my bike down.
Our bikes have been ‘laid to rest’ at last: our first cycle tour is officially over.
Miles today: Bloomfield to Cobourg East: 48.66
Cobourg East to Oshawa: 49.14
Oshawa to Toronto: 35.86