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Discovering the Waterfront Trail

By Margot Dixon

Life changed for me on a bright, sunny day in July 2008. I was working as an history interpreter in Upper Canada Village and that day there were many cyclists touring the site. After talking to what seemed to be 100 either individually or in small groups a rather pleasant, rowdy group of 5 or 6 arrived. For 15 to 20 minutes I had a lot of fun explaining 1860's fashion to these unisex spandex-clad aliens. It was a great exchange and before they left I had to ask 'Who are you? There are so many cyclists here today, and you are obviously a group.' One of the women answered 'We are riding the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure, from Niagara to the Quebec border. We hope to make it an annual event.' A little bit more explanation and encouragement to consider joining them and I went home and told my husband 'I want to do that next year.' He rolled his eyes. Not really an inappropriate reaction. After all my 5 speed CCM bike was over 35 years old and I had never ridden more than maybe 5 km in a day. Well, life interfered and I did not get to ride in 2009, but I did get to buy a new Norco Yorkville with all sorts of gears and I did get to do more riding, including the stretch of the Trail between Morrisburg and Cornwall.

Finally, in 2012, I registered for the tour, to ride from Niagara-on-the-Lake to the Quebec border. But how would I do that? My boss agreed that I could shift days off to have the week to ride. Gillis, a ride volunteer from Ottawa, phoned to arrange that I could meet his group of friends in Cornwall, leave my car in long term parking, and take the train to Niagara. I had no camping gear, where would I sleep? I was able to secure a B&B for the night before the start, tour volunteers got me there from the train station; 2008 was the first year riders could arrange packages with Comfy Campers, I signed on for the Standard Single: tent, air mattress, deck chair, fresh towel each day. I bought the meal plan: all breakfasts, some lunches and some suppers were included, others we purchased as we passed through towns. The big question: would I really be able to ride 720 km in 8 days? While the first and the last days were less than 50, Oshawa to Trenton was 129! I spent January through March watching CTV morning news while exercising on a recumbent bike. I still wondered: that distance, every day? For 8 days? I decided that all I had to do to save face for thinking that I could do this ridiculous adventure was get to Toronto to have supper with my son, get to Oshawa for supper with my daughter and her family, and then just relax, and see how far I could go. 2008 also added a shuttle service for fading riders, I figured if I sat at the side of the road and cried, someone would get me to the next campground.

I did ride the entire 720 kms, cheered on by friends as I passed through Brighton, Kingston, Prescott and at the finish line. I got to know Marlaine Koehler, the Executive Director of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust, who remembered me from our discussion in Upper Canada Village in 2008. And I learned more about the Trust. The following highlights are taken from the Trust's website:

In 1988 David Crombie chaired a federal Royal Commission to study development of the Toronto Waterfront. In 1992 the Regeneration Trust was formed to implement the Commission's recommendations, including one to create a continuous trail along the Lake Ontario waterfront. In 1995 the Waterfront Trail was opened from Stoney Creek to Trenton. Between 1994 and '97 the Trust mediated issues to preserve 60% of the Clarington Westside Marsh endangered by local quarry activity. The goal of the Trust is to establish a continuous trail incorporating all the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence River. In 2015 'Great Lakes' was added to the name and more accurately reflects the extent of the Trail that now connects over 100 communities and First Nations, linking together parks, natural areas, beaches, heritage centres, farms, villages and major urban centres between Grand Bend and the Quebec border. The Lake Huron North Channel is partially opened and signed. The expansion should be finished in 2018.

This year I will be riding the Adventure for the 5th time. I rode the Lake Erie section in 2013 and 2017. I skipped the Greenbelt route in 2015. That was the first summer I was living in Brooklin and after seeing the hills and roads in Durham I feared that I would never be riding my bike again. I did enjoy meeting the cyclists for their lunch break at Tyrone and as my cycling friends arrived, insisting on hugs and questioning why I was not riding, I only had to comment on how sopping with sweat they were and ask 'did you enjoy that last hill?' and I was forgiven for skipping the adventure. I also missed the 2016 ride.

Now I enjoy cycling in Durham, but I still doubt that I will ever ride the Greenbelt route, start to finish. This year will be Lake Ontario again, but each year the ride is different, with route variations, different meal and overnight stops, and of course different weather. Hopefully we will not have the humidex that in 2012 pushed the temperature into the high 30's/low '40's, and made our long ride to Trenton the warmest I have ever done. Nor the downpour that accompanied us from Picton to Kingston in 2014. Most rides have been in ideal conditions: sunny, light, cool breezes from the water or shaded stretches through wooded areas. Lots of opportunities to stop for refreshment and learn more about local areas, or participate in extra activities. Last year I was able to do Ziplining at Long Point. Maps are provided each day, detailing the route. Each year there has been a professional photographer documenting the ride; I have purchased the package to supplement my own photos. And yes, there is a great celebration at the end as we cross the finish line and receive our metals.

While one of my main purposes in joining the Adventure is to support the Waterfront Regeneration Trust in its work of maintaining and expanding this exceptional facility that protects the shoreline and the environment, and keeps it open to the public, I cannot deny that one of the big draws is the fun of riding with friends. Another is seeing the wide variety of bikes and the inspiration of seeing riders aged 8 to 80 sharing the fun and the experience. In 2012 I signed on, knowing no one and wondering if I could get to the finish. I met people then that will be riding again this year, in 2014 and '17 friends from Eastern Ontario joined me, this year there will be more old and new friends, it will be a new adventure. Even if you are not riding you can check the website, study the maps and consider when you would like to take on the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail Adventure.

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