Today's project: ride my newly tuned-up bike to the Leslie Street Spit. A small group of friends was gathering there to learn about identifying edible wild plants and such, and given my recent stress levels, a long bike ride and an outdoor excursion seemed very appealing.
I did not, however, end up riding the whole way, because I wound up leaving late and needed to save time, so I rode to St. Clair West station, wrestled my bike down into the subway, came up at Union, and rode from there to the spit, having spent the subway ride wondering whether, given what a headache it was getting the bike onto and off of the subway, I'd actually saved any appreciable amount of time at all.
But once I set off riding along the lakeshore, all worries slipped away, because it was by far the finest place to ride a bike that I have yet experienced. Nice, smooth, flat trails, the lake to one side, a warm summery day, fresh breeze off the like and a nice wind from behind me cooling what might have otherwise been a too-hot ride, lots of other cyclists, and interesting scenery ranging from parks and beaches to intriguing urban decay. I was almost disappointed when I finally got to my destination, because I wanted to just keep going. Maybe sometime I will go on my own and ride all the way out to the end of the spit.
But the walk with friends, some of whom I had not seen in far too long, was nice, and I did learn some things. And then eventually it was time to head back.
And that was when things got... interesting.
As I mentioned, it was a blazingly sunny, unseasonably warm, very summery day, though out on the spit the wind was a bit chilly at times. But by the time I began the ride back, it was getting a little overcast, and the wind, which I was now riding into rather than having behind me, was picking up a bit. Still, didn't seem to be much of a problem at first.
But as I continued west, the wind got stronger, and was making riding a lot more challenging. It felt like I was going uphill even though the ground was completely level, just because of the force of the wind.
And then it seemed to be getting dark, and it took me a minute to realize that it shouldn't be doing that for another few hours yet. I looked up, and there was a bank of really, really dark clouds heading in from the west at a disturbingly rapid speed. I think that was when the phrase "I have a bad feeling about this" popped into my head.
I think it was somewhere around Cherry Beach that the wind began to really go crazy -- I looked ahead and could see clouds of dust and debris flying around, and picnickers scrambling to pack up all their stuff and get back to their vehicles, in between worried looks at the sky and bouts of trying to fan dustclouds away from their faces. As I rode into what looked like a mini-sandstorm, all I could do was try to keep my eyes as nearly closed as I could and still see the trail. As it was, I still got a bunch of dust and grit in my eyes (and under my contacts!), not to mention nearly hit in the face by someone's umbrella abruptly blowing inside out. Oh yes, and the first raindrops were beginning to fall then too.
So from that point on, I couldn't see very well and my eyes were stinging, in addition to everything else that followed. The wind got stronger and stronger -- it seemed like the Great Lakes were jealous of the hurricanes the oceans get to have and trying to do their best to replicate one. There were times when I had to get off and walk my bike because the wind was so strong I couldn't ride into it, or when it was coming from the side and felt like it was going to push me right off the trail or off my bike entirely.
Partway up Cherry Street, the floodgates really opened, and suddenly I was being bombarded with torrential rain and fucking HAIL, as well as gale-force winds. I alternated riding and walking depending on how hard the wind was blowing and how tired my legs were. I nearly got hit by other cyclists at least three times while walking my bike, because pretty much anyone who still could was riding like a bat out of hell and visibility was minimal, especially for anyone who'd ridden through the dust clouds before the rain kicked in.
The lightning started while I was walking my bike over a large metal bridge in a really open area. On a scale of all places you really don't want to be in a lightning storm, that ranks pretty damn high, I would say.
Oh, and did I mention that this whole area, apart from the park at Cherry Beach, is pretty much an industrial wasteland, with no coffee shops, stores or even so much as a gas station or bus shelter where one might be able to take shelter from a storm? There was absolutely nowhere to go except onward, and I was still about 2.5km or thereabouts from Union Station when the rain hit. I was also, at some points, totally unsure of where I was, because I the trail markings seemed to have disappeared and I couldn't see well enough any more to read any street signs.
Eventually, I saw a wondrous site up ahead of me -- a TTC bus! I had no idea what bus it was or where it was going; the only thing that mattered to me was that it was going somewhere and that it would not be raining inside the bus. I didn't know if I'd be able to catch up to it, though, or if they'd let me on with my bike if I did. But then I was passed by two other cyclists, who headed straight for the bus, and as I slogged forward as best I could (this was during a walking phase, not a riding phase), I saw them get on the bus with their bikes! So I hurried forward hoping to join them -- only to have the bus take off just before I got to the door. I think that was the point where I actually lost it and started crying. But not for too long, as my desire to get the hell out of the storm somehow, somewhere was stronger than my desire to just have a nice satisfying emotional meltdown.
I finally made it onto Queen's Quay, the second-last leg of the route back to Union Station, which was how I figured out that I had pretty much stuck to the correct route on the way back despite being half-blind and not knowing where the hell I was. When I spotted the legendary Queen's Quay LCBO store, it took me all of about 5 seconds to decide to cut in, lock up my bike, and go inside -- mainly for a respite from the rain, but also partly because I'd been hearing for years that it was one of the largest LCBO stores (note to non-Ontarians: that would be liquor store) in Toronto and had an awesome selection, and particularly because I had by this point a strong desire to have something alcoholic waiting for me after I got home and into a hot shower. I took about as long as I thought I could reasonably get away with making a selection (Young's Double Chocolate Stout, for the record), and then reluctantly went back out to continue on.
By the time I finally got to Union, the storm was actually easing up a bit, but I was so exhausted I couldn't even think straight, and ended up going back and forth several times between two sets of turnstyles trying to figure out how to get my bike through (and nearly having another emotional meltdown) before I finally remembered how I'd gotten it out earlier. Also, carrying a bike up and down various stairs and escalators is much harder when you and the bike are soaking wet and plastered with mud and dirt.
Finally I made it home, where a very long, very hot shower, the aforementioned chocolate stout (which was phenomenally good, by the way), and dog cuddles made everything better.
Well, I wanted a serious bike workout today, and I got one -- rather more of one than I'd counted on! I have aching muscles everywhere, plus many little bruises and abrasions of unknown origin. A combination of random bike parts, flying debris and being hammered with ice pellets during the hail phase of the storm, I suppose. I think I should get some kind of special award for cycling endurance or something. But I would settle for another chocolate stout. If only I had bought more than one...