Last Sun­day, Lily and I stepped out­side our com­fort zone and took a trip to down­town Burling­ton. The city is a mere 60 km away, which does­n’t make this a ter­ri­bly excit­ing or impres­sive accom­plish­ment. We dri­ve through Burling­ton every time we vis­it Lily’s fam­i­ly in Hamil­ton. So, what gives, and what makes this adven­tur­ous? It’s the way we trav­elled. We took the GO Train with our bikes, our dog, and his bike trail­er. All this stuff made it a mas­sive pain in the ass but a very worth­while expe­ri­ence.

Recent­ly, Lily and I became acquaint­ed with a new cou­ple. I met the man, ‘P,’ in one of my pho­tog­ra­phy work­shops at the start of the year, and he lat­er attend­ed a pho­towalk that I host­ed toward the tail end of March. Flash­for­ward to a sun­ny after­noon in June: Lily and I are walk­ing Porthos down the board­walk on the beach and run into P and his wife, ‘A.’ We chat­ted on the board­walk for about ten min­utes as the steady crowd flowed around us like a stream around rocks. This cul­mi­nat­ed in our meet­ing for din­ner at a Mex­i­can restau­rant in the west end of town two weeks lat­er. And two weeks ago, they invit­ed us for a bike ride around Burling­ton’s water­front on Sat­ur­day. 

It was a some­what neb­u­lous plan with­out a spec­i­fied route. P sug­gest­ed we bring our dog. We thought about it, remem­bered the embar­rass­ing con­di­tion of our exist­ing pet trail­er — fad­ed and torn fab­ric from eight years of use, miss­ing a hitch attach­ment for the bike, and rust­ing away in the crawl space — and decid­ed to buy a new one. 

The night before the trip, I bought two week­end GO Tran­sit pass­es. Each pass is $10 and offers unlim­it­ed use of the GO sys­tem for a sin­gle day, a good deal com­pared to reg­u­lar prices. We were ready.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the weath­er had dif­fer­ent plans. We woke up on Sat­ur­day morn­ing to an unex­pect­ed rain­storm, fore­cast to con­tin­ue into the late after­noon. I con­ferred with Lily and spoke with P, and we decid­ed to can­cel the bike trip and meet for din­ner and a game of boc­ce ball over at Lob in River­side. This left Lily and I with two unused tran­sit pass­es, the work of break­ing in the new dog trail­er, and a whole Sun­day to do it. 

On Sun­day morn­ing, we packed our things — tow­els, swim attire, water, dog food, etc. — and left the house at 10:30 AM. The ride to the Dan­forth GO stop was easy and unevent­ful, and we made it with time to spare for the train’s 10:55 AM depar­ture. Here, we encoun­tered the first self-imposed dif­fi­cul­ty of our cho­sen mode of trav­el. I had fold­ed the trail­er after sep­a­rat­ing it from my bike before the train’s arrival. The train pulled in, and we quick­ly moved to the doors with stand­ing room for bicy­cles only to see – sur­prise – a crowd. Shit! A kind stranger helped lift the trail­er in ahead of me, and I fol­lowed with my bike and a healthy dose of “sor­ry’s” and “excuse me’s” to the peo­ple shuf­fling to make space. I saw Lily strug­gling to lift her tank of a com­fort bike up the two steps from the plat­form with Porthos leashed to her waist. With some­one hold­ing my bike upright, I rushed to grab her bicy­cle and get it into the train sec­onds before the door chime sound­ed, and they closed shut behind us. 

At this point, it’s impor­tant to men­tion that I’ve nev­er trav­elled by GO Train and did­n’t know what to expect. Based on my review of their web­site and bike poli­cies, I expect­ed two ded­i­cat­ed bicy­cle spots and plen­ty of room. There was nei­ther. In fact, there’s no way to stand two adult-sized bicy­cles with­out block­ing either of the two doors, aisle, or stairs to the upper lev­el. The effort exert­ed into not incon­ve­nienc­ing the oth­er pas­sen­gers with all our things, plus mind­ing Porthos, stressed me out. I’ve been a ner­vous sweater all my life, and this sit­u­a­tion real­ly got me per­spir­ing. When we pulled into Union Sta­tion, my ear­li­er deci­sion to wear a grey cot­ton shirt had proved to be short­sight­ed.

For­tu­nate­ly, most of the train’s pas­sen­gers dis­em­barked at Union. This left us plen­ty of room to repo­si­tion our belong­ings and relax for the remain­der of our trip. Upon arrival at Burling­ton GO, we dis­cov­ered two sets of ele­va­tors between the plat­form and the street, which was a minor nui­sance. Once at street lev­el, it took about ten min­utes of ped­alling from the sta­tion to Burling­ton’s water­front. I’m grate­ful for the nar­row, paint­ed bike lanes along most of the route.

Burling­ton’s water­front and the sur­round­ing neigh­bour­hood are pic­turesque and bustling with peo­ple and fam­i­lies. There’s a tiny arti­fi­cial beach squeezed into the cor­ner between the pier and the cen­tral water­front recre­ation­al trail, and it seemed like the domain of tod­dlers and their dot­ing par­ents. In terms of sheer eye can­dy, I’d rank it high­er than Toron­to’s Har­bourfront. 

After stretch­ing our legs, drink­ing water, and being amused by the croon­ing karaoke chops of a pic­nick­ing fam­i­ly, Lily announced that she was hun­gry. She quick­ly found a veg­an restau­rant called Let­tuce Love Café, a two-minute ride away. We both ordered the so-called ‘clas­sic veg­an break­fast,’ one kom­bucha and one beer, and the total with tip came to around $62. This was admit­ted­ly expen­sive, giv­en the sim­plic­i­ty of the food served to us. Thanks, infla­tion! See­ing peo­ple around the patio eat­ing must’ve made Porthos hun­gry enough to beg, so I took advan­tage of the sit­u­a­tion and fed him his lunch, the kib­ble he refused to eat for break­fast ear­li­er.

After fin­ish­ing the over­priced lunch­es, we set out to ride our bikes along the Water­front Trail from down­town Burling­ton to the very end of Con­fed­er­a­tion Park in Hamil­ton. How­ev­er, less than a kilo­me­tre into our jour­ney, I noticed Lily stop­ping to adjust her hat. It’s a pale pink buck­et hat with a limp brim and too big for her head. The mere flut­ter of a but­ter­fly­’s wings could blow it off her head. After stop­ping sev­er­al times over a cou­ple hun­dred-metre span, I could tell she was grow­ing frus­trat­ed, so I offered to trade hats. I pos­sess what can only be described as a head “of size”— the polite way of say­ing I have a big fuck­ing head — so her hat was in no dan­ger of being flung off. I wore her pink hat, and she donned my cap after tight­en­ing the strap to its lim­it.

There are tidy beach­es (and clue­less pedes­tri­ans) along the entire water­front trail, inter­rupt­ed only by the Burling­ton Canal Lift Bridge. We had to dis­mount the bicy­cles and cross the bridge on foot because the path was too nar­row for pedes­tri­ans and cyclists to min­gle safe­ly. I stopped to take three hum­drum pho­tos, which I’ve includ­ed below. We crossed over to the oth­er side of the bridge in the nick of time before its warn­ing siren acti­vat­ed, and it start­ed to rise. We stood for a minute to wit­ness the spec­ta­cle but quick­ly became bored and ped­alled onward. 

The beach­es on the Hamil­ton side of the canal dif­fered from Burling­ton’s in sev­er­al ways. First, there’s no dog ban, which Porthos and I appre­ci­at­ed. Sec­ond, the beach­es were broad­er and more exposed to the sky rather than clois­tered by trees. Last­ly, the beach dou­bled as a hydro cor­ri­dor fea­tur­ing mas­sive elec­tri­cal tow­ers run­ning the kilo­me­tres-long stretch of the water­front, indif­fer­ent to whether their foun­da­tions stood on land or in water. 

Toward the end of the water­front trail, we passed by the out­door seat­ing area of a Greek eatery named Barangas On The Beach. Rec­og­niz­ing the name, Lily expressed sur­prise at its con­tin­ued exis­tence and rec­ol­lect­ed that it was an all-ages club back when she attend­ed high school in Hamil­ton. I can nei­ther con­firm nor deny the verac­i­ty of her state­ment, but the place claims to be in busi­ness since 1992. She also shared an unpleas­ant mem­o­ry of an old­er man rude­ly blow­ing cig­a­rette smoke in her face. Not cool, which, coin­ci­den­tal­ly, is an apt descrip­tion for adults that go to all-ages clubs. 

The east­ern edge of Con­fed­er­a­tion Park ter­mi­nates at a nar­row pas­sage through a chain link fence that leads to a res­i­den­tial street called Grays Road. We stopped on the res­i­den­tial side of the fence. Lily stretched, and Porthos con­tem­plat­ed pee­ing on a red fire hydrant. He opt­ed to avoid being a stereo­type. Then we start­ed our return jour­ney.

There was a very brief inter­val of strange rain as we rode back. It was odd because the droplets were large but sparse – so light heavy rain? The sun slow­ly re-emerged some way along, and we start­ed con­sid­er­ing beach spots. Since we pre­fer qui­eter places, that ruled out any­thing with­in walk­ing dis­tance of a park­ing lot, water park, or snack bar. We even­tu­al­ly found a suit­able spot along a stretch where fenced res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties backed up against the recre­ation­al trail oppo­site the beach, and we walked our bikes onto the sand. Even with Porthos out of his dog­gy char­i­ot, push­ing my bike through the sand took a bit of effort. But we soon found a spot to throw down our tow­els and assem­ble the chairs. 

Porthos has always been dif­fi­cult at the beach. Even though he’s 8.5 years old, he becomes rest­less quick­ly. He starts dig­ging, then rolling, then zoom­ing around like a mani­ac, ensur­ing every square foot of beach tow­el is cov­ered in sand. The only way to avoid this is keep­ing him busy, which at the water means throw­ing a ball or stick as far into the water as we can fling. This time, we brought a large Chuck­It! ball. We spent about 1.5 hours at the beach, and he was chas­ing and swim­ming after that ball most of the time. I man­aged to get two swims in while Lily kept him busy. Then, using tow­els for pri­va­cy, we changed into dry clothes, packed our things, and were on our way.

A few hun­dred metres out from the beach, Porthos did the unthink­able: he heard the call of the void and suc­cumbed to its temp­ta­tion. For the first time in his life, our sil­ly dog decid­ed that jump­ing out of a mov­ing wag­on was a good idea. It hap­pened quick­ly: I felt the sud­den shift in weight on my tail end, heard Lily’s scream, and glanced back to wit­ness Porthos do a slop­py cart­wheel, leav­ing behind two wet skid marks on the pave­ment. He flopped to a stop, rose on four wob­bly legs, and gave me that embar­rassed look com­mon­ly seen in cats after they mis­judge a jump and take a tum­ble. His ini­tial hes­i­ta­tion to walk toward me, or move at all, made my heart jump. I feared he injured him­self. He even­tu­al­ly wob­bled over, and we took a brief walk up and down the grass so that I could check his gait. His only notice­able injury was a gnarly scrape under his right nos­tril, but as they say, ’tis only a flesh wound. (I’m writ­ing this a week hence, and his lip has large­ly recov­ered except for some loss of pig­men­ta­tion.)

Our return to down­town Burling­ton was free of fur­ther mishaps. It was 5:55 PM when we pulled in near the Brant Street Pier. How­ev­er, I want­ed a lit­tle breather before head­ing to Burling­ton GO and deal­ing with ele­va­tors and the poten­tial stress of board­ing the train to Toron­to. We raced to a near­by LCBO to buy a cou­ple drinks and made it there with two min­utes to spare. I can’t recall the last time I bought alco­hol in such a hur­ry, but my choic­es panned out: a deli­cious gin­ger and lime mule and a trop­i­cal rum-based cool­er. 

We drank on the water­front near the arti­fi­cial beach from before, feed­ing the mos­qui­tos and observ­ing par­ents tend to their bedi­a­pered tod­dlers in the shal­lows. It rained briefly for the ride back to the sta­tion, but I was slight­ly buzzed and enjoyed the expe­ri­ence. When the train pulled in, the ‘bike sec­tion’ of the car near us was occu­pied with oth­er cyclists, so we booked it down the plat­form to the next one. After load­ing the bikes and dog, I sprint­ed back for the wag­on. Fear­ing that the doors would shut on me, I hopped onto the train and car­ried it through the cab­ins. 

Beyond that minor hus­tle, our train ride back into Toron­to was unevent­ful, and there was a notable lack of crowd­ing. There were sev­er­al moments when I almost dozed off in the seat. I’m not typ­i­cal­ly quick to fatigue, but a day full of exer­tion and stim­u­la­tion will even­tu­al­ly catch up. Tired legs make me drowsy.

Over­all, it was a ful­fill­ing expe­ri­ence. Lily and I enjoyed play­ing tourists in our home province; it felt like trav­el­ling abroad. Com­mut­ing by train con­tributed to that illu­sion in a way that haul­ing the bikes by car would not.

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