Category Archives: Cycling

09 Dec

A Trek to Grand Island

Yesterday, with the good weather, I took a two-wheeled trek across the border and visited Grand Island for the first time. I know there are some of you who haven’t heard of this island that lies between Niagara Falls and Buffalo, but it offers many scenic trails for a cyclist.

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Luckily, the construction on Buffalo Avenue at the foot of the nearly mile-long bridge that has been ongoing for much of the summer had been completed, but the walk across this bridge was the biggest obstacle for me.

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I have a case of bridgeophobia and being in such close proximity to transport trucks on I-190 in the middle of the Niagara River did little to ease my anxiety. Fortunately, I made it across with little difficulty and I was even able to stop a couple of times to enjoy the view of the skyline on the Canadian side.

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Vehicles travelling on I-190 have to pay a toll upon entering Grand Island, but I didn’t. Just because it’s me.

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As you can see from this shot at the southern abutment of the bridge, there is a dedicated trail that goes underneath and proceeds south through Buckhorn Island State Park.

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View of the marsh restoration project.

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Welcome to Grand Island.

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This trail links up to Grand Island Boulevard and NY 324. Readers from the SPRM will notice there is not a speck of snow on the ground. It’s OK to be jealous.

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There are trails that cover the shoreline, but for today, I just stuck to Grand Island Boulevard and took advantage of the wide shoulders on both sides.

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Passing by Kelly’s Country Store. Mooooo.

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Past this roundabout is another dedicated trail that leads to the South Grand Island Bridge.

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This bridge is 600 feet shorter than its cousin farther north and connects to Tonawanda and Buffalo. I will save a crossing of this bridge and a return to Tonawanda for a future trip.

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In this midst of this 51.8-mile outing, I needed a place to stop. There were two Tim Hortons locations at opposite ends of the island, but neither one had a bike rack. This McDonald’s did and that’s why they got my business.

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Returning back to Niagara Falls, cyclists take the on-ramp for I-190 north and turn off onto the trail that goes back through Buckhorn Island State Park. NYSDOT again gives a helpful reminder that pedestrians, bicycles and horses are prohibited on I-190. If you want to ride your horse to Grand Island, you’re probably out of luck.

Since the pedestrian crossing on the eastern span of the bridge was closed, I had to cross on the western span where I was facing traffic while walking my bike. It was a little scary having those transport trucks coming at you and comedian George Wallace, who often jokes about the relatively minor difference between a Mack truck and a Ford Ranger, has obviously not walked across this bridge. Nonetheless, I made it back to the mainland and returned home without incident. As Arnold Schwarzengger says, “I’ll be back.”

04 Nov

Covering the Friendship Trail from Port Colborne to Fort Erie

Yesterday, as part of an epic 69-mile trek, I covered the Friendship Trail on two wheels from Port Colborne to Fort Erie for the first time. Knowing in advance that the entire journey from St. Catharines would be well beyond my range, I took Niagara Region Transit from the downtown bus terminal to Welland.

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Every Niagara Region Transit bus is equipped with a bike rack and I found it easy to use. Instructions on the front direct you to pull down on the rack, where to place your front wheel and hook on the lever so your bike doesn’t end up as scrap metal as the driver speeds down the 406. Between St. Catharines and Welland, the bus only stops at the Pen Center, Brock University, the Seaway Mall and finally, at the Welland Transit Terminal, where I got off. The ride took less than 40 minutes and I was soon headed south towards Port Colborne. Niagara Region Transit does offer a link to Port Colborne, but those buses are not equipped with a bike rack, so cyclists like me have to get there on their own.

 
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There were a couple of places where the “patway” was under construction south of Welland, but I went around them on side roads and was soon in Port Colborne.

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After a brief tour and some pictures, I made my way to the Friendship Trail, which is located at the south end of town, six blocks south of Killaly Street on the east side of the canal.

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The trail proceeds due east towards Fort Erie in a straight line along very Saskatchewanized terrain. Though you are not far from Lake Erie, you will see very little of it on the route. Instead, you see plenty of bush and farmland. For the benefit of my friends reading from the SPRM, it reminded me very much of Birds Hill Park.

Looking at the map before going, I had underestimated the total distance. It turned out to be a total of 28 km from Elizabeth Street in Port Colborne to Mather Park in Fort Erie, where pedestrians and cyclists can access the Peace Bridge and cross into the U.S.

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In Fort Erie, there are a number of public beaches easily accessible off the trail where you can get a good view of the lake. This was one such beach where I stopped for some pictures and a little rest.

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Waverly Beach in Fort Erie.

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The Buffalo skyline.

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The Peace Bridge.

Along the route, there are plenty of benches where you can stop and rest, but much like the Niagara Parkway that I followed on my return trip, there are no bathrooms. When in Fort Erie, do your business there or forever hold your peace. Or hold something else.

Simply because of how far it was away from home, I don’t think I’ll be frequenting it that often, but for those a little closer or with transportation, it is a very nice, well-maintained trail that is another significant asset for cyclists in the region.

06 Oct

Crossing the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge on a Bicycle

Yesterday, for the first time, I crossed the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge on two wheels. It was a relatively painless experience, but the procedure is not all that straightforward and I found precious few details online when planning my trip. Since many of my fellow cyclists may have the same questions I did, for the benefit of the cycling community, following is a detailed and illustrated synopsis of the procedure:

1. Canada to U.S.A.

Even though the U.S.-bound lanes on are the south side, cyclists approach from the north via Portage Road.

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There is clear signage from both directions on Portage Road and the nearby Niagara Parkway directing cyclists into the parking lot. Proceed around the barriers on the sidewalk towards the toll booth as shown:

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Go past the toll booth towards the Toll Captain’s office.

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The Toll Captain will give you instructions to proceed across the road past the orange cones and into the U.S.-bound lanes, see map below (click to enlarge):

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As the Toll Captain instructs, proceed with the cars in the “Autos” lane. Note that the lane for commercial trucks will be on your right, so I would advise staying a little to the left of the white line. There are a total of five lanes on the bridge and the middle lane is reversible, so the cars may or may not have more than one lane to pass you.

Once on the U.S. side, proceed to one of the lanes designated for cars at the Lewiston Bridge Port of Entry. After being cleared, take the first exit on I-190 for NY 104, see map below:

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On NY 104, you can proceed north towards Lewiston on NY 104 or south towards Niagara Falls. NY 104 is signed east and west, so Lewiston-bound traffic would use NY 104 east. Cyclists are prohibited on the adjacent Robert Moses Parkway.

2. U.S.A. to Canada

Fortunately, the procedure for Canada-bound cyclists is not as complicated.

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Take the turnoff to Canada from Upper Mountain Road, just west of Military Road (NY 265), see map below:

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As with the crossing in the U.S.-bound direction, proceed in the “Autos” lane. Commercial trucks and NEXUS card holders will be on your right.

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Proceed directly to Canadian customs, then to the toll booth. Pay the 50-cent toll, then turn off to your right and through the parking lot to Portage Road.

Cyclists with any further questions can send me an e-mail using the link at the bottom of the page and I’ll do my best to answer them. The pictures used were my own and the maps are courtesy of Google.

26 Sep

A Run for the Border

Yesterday, I made my first cross-border cycling trip since coming to St. Catharines. Many of you who know me might be asking what took me so long.

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At the crack of dawn, I headed southeast towards Niagara Falls and the Rainbow Bridge, where I planned to cross over into the U.S. I had been in the U.S. on two wheels in each of the last three years, but every time, my bike was stored away on a tour bus as we headed south from Winnipeg. This time, I would get there on my own power.

Since details are oddly hard to come by online, I was a little nervous about the procedure. At sites I’ve reviewed, everyone says cyclists can cross at the Rainbow Bridge with no problems, but they fail to mention whether you line up with the pedestrians or cross with the cars. I was later told that you can go with the pedestrians, but since signage at each of the other bridges clearly differentiate between cyclists and pedestrians, I decided to go with the cars. There were no problems in either direction using this approach and it proved to be the right choice. Unlike the Peace Bridge to the south and the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge to the north, commercial trucks are not allowed on this bridge, which makes it a little less intimidating for a cyclist. Furthermore, the Rainbow Bridge connects regular streets, not freeways, so it is clearly the preferred option for two-wheeled travellers like me.

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At the U.S. border station, the two lanes on the right are for buses and the others are for cars and cyclists. I got in line and was served promptly by a friendly border guard who even addressed me by name.

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I was through in no time and shortly began exploring western New York for the first time on two wheels.

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New York has a number of dedicated bike routes throughout the state and the route that ends at Niagara Falls is, fittingly for me, number 5. For those inclined to traverse the state, a detailed map is available at the Niagara USA Visitor Center.

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While stopping to get this picture, I could hear music blaring outside the Niagara Center so loudly that it sounded like there was a ghetto blaster right on the sidewalk. It was not a positive first impression and it would only get worse as I made my way through the city.

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Those of you who know me will not be surprised that the acquisition of pictures of highway signs was the primary motivation in my choice of routes. The first such route was NY 384 that follows to the southeast towards Grand Island.

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Seneca Niagara Casino.

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Though this may only interest me, this is an oddity I found throughout my travels on this day. On every state or U.S. highway I was on, without exception, a reassurance marker would be followed by another either in the same block or the next block. This is something I have never found in any province or state I have been in before and only officials at NYSDOT can explain the logic behind it.

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Niagara Falls, Canada is a world-renowned tourist destination. Niagara Falls, USA is an aging, dilapidated industrial town. The pictures don’t even tell the whole story. For anyone considering a visit to the area, there is no reason to cross the border unless, like me, you have ulterior motives that go beyond the more garden-variety tourist attractions.

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I point out this particular shot since it was in early July that I was taking a similar shot in Saint Paul of U.S. Highway 61. Less than three months later, I was at New York State Route 61. It was another stark reminder of just how far I have come since I left the SPRM.

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I took this shot at A Street. Not to be confused with B Street. Or C Street. Such imagination from city planners.

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A state historical marker from 1936. From the look of things, not much has improved in this area since that time.

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The only “wonder” about Niagara Falls, USA is that enterprising Americans have not done more to clean up the city and make it a more attractive tourist destination.

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One reader will understand why I stopped for this shot. The rest of you won’t.

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Sadly, this was all too indicative of what you’ll find on this side of the border in Niagara Falls.

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Someone with a little car trouble.

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After getting plenty of shots of NY 384, I returned to the area around the Rainbow Bridge before heading north along Main Street/NY 104.

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Smokin’ Joe’s Indian Trading Post. I can’t make up stuff like this. It ranks right up there with Big John’s Mine Shaft Tavern in Sioux Narrows.

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If they tried to build this sign assembly any higher, they would need to get clearance from the airport. I can imagine the confused looks from tourists as they approach this intersection and the planners at NYSDOT might well be advised to adopt the adage, “Less is more.”

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A helpful sign at the entrance to the Robert Moses Parkway. I’ll keep this valuable information in mind in case I ever think about bringing my horse.

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The U.S. Post Office.

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This particular shot has a story behind it. Immediately to my right was a group of scruffy-looking characters hanging out on a porch. The sight of this gringo coming around taking pictures of highway signs evidently aroused their curiosity and they all followed me out to the corner as I got some more shots around the nearby intersection. For all I know, they’re still scratching their heads wondering what I was doing there.

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The signs greeting visitors after crossing the Whirlpool Bridge. This bridge is only for cars and NEXUS card holders.

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I continued north towards DeVeaux Woods State Park. There is a marked change on the other side of the railway underpass and one for the better. Upscale, well-kept homes line the streets with lush greenery in abundance. From what my neighbor tells me and from checking out Lewiston on Google Earth, I suspect this is what I will find more of if I confine future trips across the border to the northern reaches of the state.

Interestingly, seconds after taking this shot, someone with New York plates stopped me and asked for directions. Once again, despite never having been in this area before, I was able to answer her questions accurately.

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I got some more strange looks from that cyclist who passed by as I took this shot on NY 31. Unlike the last group, however, he continued on his way and didn’t try to follow me around.

Rather than continuing north to the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, I turned around and headed back for the Rainbow Bridge. I was getting hungry and kept looking around for a Subway, but in retrospect, I was lucky not to have found one as I’m not sure I would have felt safe leaving my bike anywhere in the downtown area. Oddly, after checking online, the only Subway locations in the city are by I-190 near the outlet mall.

I made one last stop at the Visitor Center near the bridge, but not before being accosted by a couple of guys running a hot dog/hamburger stand next door. I don’t respond well to high-pressure sales and I would have sooner gone without food for the whole day rather than buy anything from them.

At the Visitor Center, I noticed there was only one person working there and she was tied up with a couple who had a long laundry list of items to cover. So I waited. And waited. And waited. When another mob of people came in, I just left. By contrast, the Ontario travel information center is fully staffed and they eagerly pounce on you when you get anywhere near the desk.

On the bridge, tolls are collected from Canada-bound travellers, including cyclists. The fare for cars is $3.50 US/$3.75 CDN, but cyclists are only charged 50 cents. I gave the guy two quarters and continued across the bridge to the Canadian border station. I was pleased to be greeted in the Canadian language rather than with a “Bonjour” and I almost said “Winnipeg” when the guard asked me where I lived, but I caught myself in time and responded with “St. Catharines.” Old habits die hard. He asked whether or not I had picked up any shipments or bought anything during my stay in the U.S. and after I said I didn’t, he sent me on my way.

Despite the overwhelmingly negative impression of Niagara Falls, NY, no doubt I will be crossing the border on two wheels again. I shot 183 pictures on the day, mostly of New York State highway signs, and there’s so many more out there for me to capture. As I’ve said before, no one squeezes more out of a travel dollar than I do and this outing was no exception.

08 Sep

Voyage South of the Falls

My most recent scenic tour of my new home region comes south of Niagara Falls. For this particular outing, I eschewed Google’s recommendations and took Taylor Road past the outlet mall and up the escarpment to Mountain Road.

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The climb up the escarpment was in two manageable stages and there were paved shoulders on both roads. In addition, the roads seemed well-maintained and were not littered with potholes, unlike what I’m accustomed to from my years in the SPRM.

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Passing Walker Industries. Disclaimer: I have no connection to this organization.

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Turning east at Mountain Road towards the QEW.

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From atop the escarpment, you can see all the way across the lake. In the distance is the C.U. skyline.

I proceeded south on Dorchester Road, east on McLeod Road, then south on Portage Road past Marineland.

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Everyone loves Marineland.

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I then headed through the village of Chippawa. As the sign says, Chippawa is the home town of James Cameron, a famed Hollywood director who worked on many films including The Terminator, a true classic.

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While taking some shots at the bridge over the Welland River, an older couple sitting on a nearby bench kindly pointed out the weasel. I talked to them briefly and they asked me if I moved to St. Catharines for school. Those of you who know me may pause for a moment to laugh hysterically.

After passing through Chippawa, I found the Niagara Parkway Trail and headed south. The sign said Fort Erie was 24 km away and that journey will have to wait for another day. Nonetheless, I did make it past Navy Island, cycling through scenery that reminded me of scenes from Gone with the Wind. I kept expecting to find Rhett Butler on his horse coming around the next bend.

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Pictures don’t do the area justice.

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I imagine this would be a popular golf course for those who are so inclined.

I turned around here and headed back to the Falls, stopping for more pictures along the way.

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This humble abode was for sale. $3.2 million or best offer takes it.

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The Willoughby Historical Museum. Curiously, the sign on the door said it was closed for the season. Since when is early September out of season in one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations?

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More homes along the route.

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The historical marker for Navy Island at the south end of the island.

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Clear water. It’s still a novelty to see, coming from the murky shores of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.

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Farther north on the trail, I stopped at the Chippawa Battlefield Park, site of another famous battle during the War of 1812, or more appropriately, the War of 1812-1815.

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The northern shore of Navy Island. Interestingly, Navy Island was once mentioned as a prospective site for the United Nations headquarters following World War II.

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The northern bridge connecting Grand Island to the mainland in New York State.

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Robert Moses Parkway. This is why the Canadian side of Niagara Falls remains much more popular than its American counterpart as my neighbor, a native of Niagara Falls, NY, can attest.

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Near Main Street in Chippawa, the trail cuts across the water towards the Falls.

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The Niagara Falls skyline. That’s mist coming from the falls, not the aftermath of an arsonist, one of the ten most popular occupations in my former home city.

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The dam as part of the hydroelectric generating station.

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Another couple of skyline shots.

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The mighty Niagara River.

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At Dufferin Islands, or “Daufferin,” as my late grandfather would say.

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I stopped by the Floral Showhouse, but I’ll save a trip inside for a future visit. The price of admission was a reasonable $5.65, but I was outraged to see that they want $5/hour for parking. There’s a difference between charging a fair price and gouging. This falls into the latter category.

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The incline railway and adjacent Welcome Center.

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Before heading inside to the Welcome Center, I had to hunt high and low before finding a rack to lock up my bike. Given the number of cyclists who traverse the Niagara Parkway, the lack of facilities for guests arriving on two wheels is a rather significant oversight that I hope is addressed in the near future.

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Once again, I know I was not alone. You may understand. You may not.

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I know one and perhaps only one reader will appreciate this.

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Elements on the Falls. Any connection to a former pair of colleagues from my distant past is strictly unavoidable. Most readers, even my close friends, will not understand.

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Tourists line the railing to get a good view of the falls.

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Still others want a more up close and personal look.

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Before leaving, I took a ride down Fallsview Boulevard and noticed a traffic jam in front of the Embassy Suites Hotel. I presume this is for the valet parking.

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The Fallsview Casino, an ATM for the government.

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I couldn’t help but stop to get a shot of this billboard. The farmer did not make my eggs today, a chicken did.

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A reminder of a piece of my past. I wonder if it’s a fighting moose or just a regular moose. One reader will understand more than most.

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Political incorrectness in its most egregious form.

It was an interesting outing and yet another positive experience. Once again, I only wish I had come here sooner.

05 Sep

Waterfront Trail – St. Catharines to Grimsby

Taking the lead of a friend and former colleague from the SPRM who recently paid me a visit in my new home, I decided to take a trek west and cover the section of the Waterfront Trail between St. Catharines and Grimsby.

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On the way, I noted this sign with particular interest as I passed through Port Dalhousie. I was most impressed to see that the city has a Clean City Committee and organizes activities like this. It was yet another pleasant reminder as to why we packed all those boxes and came all this way. I would ordinarily be the kind of person to see this as a waste of resources, but a fresh perspective has certainly made me appreciate being in a community that cares about such things. I don’t think readers from my new home city can properly appreciate that perspective unless they have spent any significant time in the degenerate capital of the SPRM.

Incidentally, I still find myself pronouncing Dalhousie as dal-HOW-zee. Old habits from the SPRM die hard.

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For the most part, the trail is well signed, but after leaving Port Dalhousie, it would be more appropriate to call it the QEW Trail instead of the Waterfront Trail since you end up seeing more of the QEW than you do of Lake Ontario.

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Nonetheless, there are some nice views of the lake as you pass by Charles Daley Park on the way to Jordan Harbor.

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At Jordan Road, the trail officially takes a detour into Jordan Village. I continued west on North Service Road, but I will check out the sights in Jordan Village in a future visit.

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Behind the Ramada Beacon Harborside Resort is Jordan Harbor.

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Even though the path of the QEW roughly follows the shore of Lake Ontario, this is one of the few places along the route where motorists can actually get a glimpse of the lake.

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Hidden away behind some brush is the rusting remains of “La Grande Hermine,” or “Big Weasel” that has been in Jordan Harbor since 1997. The full story of this abandoned vessel can be found here.

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Continuing west, I passed by the Lake House restaurant as the trail veers away from the lake.

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Prudhomme’s antique store and factory outlet.

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Prudhomme’s Landing Inn hasn’t seen too many landings recently. I don’t even think the buzzards bother to stop there anymore.

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Despite passing mainly through farmland, there are oases like this when you need to stop for a break. There’s also another such area in Beamsville a few miles to the west. Despite the ancillary traffic it brings, there are advantages to having the trail near the QEW.

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There’s more to Vineland than just a carpool parking lot.

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Another roadside attraction.

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I know one reader from the SPRM will appreciate this, even though I know it’s not spelled the same.

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I’ve seen these signs before, but never one at such close proximity. I know I’ve mentioned it before in a previous entry, but I unreservedly endorse these measures to punish reckless drivers. I do hope that, unlike the way it is in the degenerate capital of the SPRM, driving like a maniac is indeed a reportable offense.

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After putting on 19 miles, I reached Grimsby.

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I didn’t want to venture too much farther on this morning, so I turned around at Bal Harbor Park, but not before a little break to snap some more pictures.

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I imagine that second-floor patio gets a lot of use.

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The water was clear and didn’t smell like a sewage lagoon. This just in.™ This is not the Red or Assiniboine River.

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On the way back, I needed another break, so I stopped at Charles Daley Park, just west of Seventh Avenue Louth.

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View of 15 Mile Creek.

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Other views from the gazebo on the east side of the park.

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I noted this sign with interest especially having seen the signs in the washrooms along the Niagara Parkway advising that foot washing in the sinks wasn’t allowed. As a newcomer to the area, I don’t quite understand the fascination with foot washing in this part of the world. Maybe I’ll figure it out in time.

Going west from St. Catharines doesn’t offer the same quality of scenery as it does in the other direction, but it was a relatively non-contentious route, the kind of which I could only dream about when I lived in the SPRM. It offers a good view of the escarpment, but you won’t be climbing it, so it offers some of the easiest miles in the region for a cyclist. As Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “I’ll be back.”™

30 Aug

Getting Around

As I begin my fifth week in my new home, as many of you might suspect, I continue to get around and discover the area.

Earlier this week, I headed south for my first visit to Welland, the city whose name adorns the canal that bisects the peninsula. One of these days, I need to look into why it’s called the Welland Canal and not the Thorold Canal, Port Colborne Canal or the St. Catharines Canal.

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Upon reaching the Welland Canals Recreational Trail, I did a double take when I noticed the name of this ship. When I lived in Winnipeg, my home was backing the sewage lagoon otherwise known as the Assiniboine River.

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I continued down the trail, up the escarpment through Thorold.

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Between Thorold and Welland, the terrain mercifully Saskatchewanizes and, for the benefit of my friends reading from the SPRM, it very much reminded me of the area around Whiteshell Provincial Park, located at the western tip of the Canadian Shield.

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On the way, I took a side trip across Bridge 11 to Allanburg.

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As those of you who know me would expect, picking up more highway pictures was the motivating factor behind this particular diversion.

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I then retraced my steps, got back on the trail and was soon in Welland.

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The Main Street Bridge, under construction.

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Canal Terrace, a nice little place to stop and look out at the Welland Recreational Waterway. Again, I kept expecting to find bums staggering around a morass of broken beer bottles, condom wrappers and other assorted presents left on the sidewalk. Old habits from Winnipeg die hard. Instead, the area was clean and perfectly well civilized.

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I made my way to Main Street and the roundabout where King’s Highway 406 ends. Standing on the sidewalk, I was able to understand the instructions on this mammoth sign, but I can imagine how motorists not familiar with the area might throw their hands up in despair trying to decipher its meaning. It is thorough, but I think someone at MTO outsmarted themselves on this one. They might have been better off applying the K.I.S.S. principle. Winnipeg has a famous intersection informally known as Confusion Corner and I think Welland just got one of its own.

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The Main Street Tunnel. I will save my first trip through it for a future visit.

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I returned through downtown and stopped for a break at the Welland Transit Terminal.

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Like Winnipeg Transit, Welland Transit also operates a “Sorry” route.

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Continuing on, I passed Welland City Hall.

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Elsewhere in downtown Welland.

As I have noticed ever since I set foot on the peninsula, the people have been very friendly and Welland proved to be no exception. However, I must have stood out as an unfamiliar sight as I got a lot of “you’re not from around here, are you” kind of looks. Which is true. Sort of.

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I returned to the trail and headed north back towards St. Catharines.

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Crossing under both spans of the 406.

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This frog was in the middle of the trail and I luckily avoided him.

All in all, I enjoyed my visit and I look forward to returning when I have a little more energy to look around more. Because of the side trips I made along the way and being an experienced cyclist well aware of my limits, I knew I was at the end of my tether. I will have to make a point of studying the Welland Visitors Guide to see what other attractions the city offers.

Later in the week, I went to the Seymour-Hannah Complex to check out the training camp of the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs, likely soon to be my new favorite team.

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It was an impressive facility and had four rinks. For those reading from the SPRM, it was like the ChipmanPlex. Without Chipman.

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Before heading for Rink 1, where the IceDogs were working out, I stopped at the display for the City of St. Catharines Sports Wall of Fame. Of particular note for me was the name of Rudy Pilous, who was listed in the inaugural class. A Winnipeg native who had spent many years in St. Catharines, Pilous was once the coach and, later, the general manager of the Winnipeg Jets during their years in the WHA. His biography at scshof.com incorrectly states that he had coached the team in 1973-1974, but he did coach the Jets the following year and subsequently served as the team’s general manager until John Ferguson dismissed him on December 15, 1978.

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Stepping inside, my nose immediately told me that much hockey had been played in this rink as the stench of decades worth of fermented sweat shot right up my nostrils. However, the rink looked very well maintained and I was stunned to see clean, padded seats on both sides of the ice. I had expected instead to see rows of bench-style seating consisting of little more than roughly chipped plywood that had not had contact with the end of a paint brush in the last quarter century. Again, that was the cynic in me that many decades of living in Winnipeg brings to the surface.

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Action between the red and black teams. I was a little curious as to why they were sporting jerseys with the OHL logo rather than that of the IceDogs. Perhaps that’s one of those things I’ll learn as my fandom builds. While watching, I really didn’t know who many of the players were, but again, I’ll learn.

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The IceDogs braintrust, I presume.

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I noticed this ad on the boards and it was another pleasant reminder that I no longer live in Winnipeg. According to the Winnipeg police, if you are walking down a street and are hit and nearly killed by a car pulling out of a driveway, it is not a reportable offense. You can imagine how they would react to something as comparatively trivial as graffiti.

In my first real foray into the world of junior hockey, I was surprised to see so few young, female admirers fawning over their favorite players/would-be boyfriends. When I followed the Manitoba Fighting Moose during their years in the AHL, watching the fanatical behavior of these groupies/puck bunnies proved almost as entertaining as the games themselves. Perhaps that will come when the puck drops for real.

I didn’t stay all that long, but I am eagerly anticipating the junior hockey experience. Unlike the case in Winnipeg, where junior hockey barely registered on the radar even when they had a team, smaller communities such as St. Catharines really seem to rally around their team. This new fan experience intrigues me as much as any future action on the ice and the seeds of a future novel have already been planted. Our MP seems to have dibs on “Hockey Night in St. Catharines,” so I’ll probably call it something else.

A couple of days later, I rode out to Niagara-on-the-Lake. On the way there, I went out of my way to take Niagara Stone Road. It isn’t a route I would normally choose or recommend due to the high volume of traffic, but the opportunity to get some shots of the former King’s Highway 55 was the reason I went that way. There was at least a paved shoulder to keep me a reasonable distance away from passing cars and trucks.

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I know it’s a lousy picture, but this particular sign on Queenston Street struck me, one that obviously dates back to when Niagara Stone Road was King’s Highway 55. After the route was downloaded to the region, they must have simply stuck a regional marker over the provincial marker, leaving the rest of the sign intact. Even though it has clearly seen better days, the sign still serves its purpose and common sense dictated that it did not need to be replaced entirely.

In the SPRM, they adopt a much different approach. Evidently flush with cash, the province has been on a search-and-destroy mission over the past few years to replace signs such as this at a dizzying pace and for no apparent reason. In a case like this, crews would be out either repainting or replacing the entire sign, most likely on a Sunday or holiday to rack up overtime. Click here for a glaring example of how this practice works in the SPRM.

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Entering the Greenbelt. Oddly, the sign is in blue. Perhaps it should be the Bluebelt.

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The Great Mountain Center, one of the places along the route that offers grape and wine tours. This one also offers locally-grown ginseng and tea.

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I soon reached the community of Virgil.

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Crossing Four Mile Creek.

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At East and West Line, cyclists like me can take advantage of a shared pathway and get off the road.

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Picard’s Country Store, where you can buy Ontario-grown peanuts.

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I had to pull off the road and get this shot. On this specific day, on the occasion of the four-week anniversary of my defection from the SPRM and arrival in St. Catharines, I spotted an SPRM flag and a New Brunswick flag on the same pole. Immediately to my right as I took this shot was a Beemer.

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Not far from this spot was Anne Street.

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Later in the outing, I would spot this “C” on the ground near the spot where I took a particularly nice picture.

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During a break, I would also spot this Whirlpool Jet. Number 5.

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Across the river was the number 5 on this communication tower.

As always, I knew I was not alone. Some of you will understand. Most of you will not.

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I continued on into the Historic Old Town, a place I am quickly becoming very fond of.

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A clever sign.

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One of the many fashionable dwellings along the lake.

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Scenes in Ryerson Park.

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Niagara Boulevard.

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I got another shot of the floral display honoring the United Empire Loyalists. When I got there, there were two women taking turns snapping pictures of each other, so I offered to take a shot of the two of them together. Sadly, the only words of English they spoke were, “I’m sorry, we don’t speak English.” Nonetheless, through the use of some clever charades, I got my point across and they gratefully accepted my offer. I hope the shots I took worked.

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The post office. As I understand, this is the correct spelling of the town’s name, yet I would later find this sign that has a capital “O” and capital “T” in the “on” and “the,” respectively:

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I know I’m being a little petty here, but the town ought to spell its own name correctly.

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One of the many bed and breakfasts in town. It seems like there’s one on every street corner.

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Overlooking New York State as I stop for a break. I know you’ve heard this before, but I could get used to this.

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Visitors from Wisconsin. Or as they say, “Wiscahnsin,” in their catchy accent. If you haven’t recognized the symbol, the picture I use on both my Facebook and Twitter profiles is a Wisconsin state trunk highway sign.

These are just the latest in a series of adventures over the course of the more than 300 miles I’ve racked up on two wheels during my first month here. No doubt, there’s more on the way. Stay tuned.

22 Aug

Cycling to the Falls

As many of you who know me might expect, soon after my bike arrived from Winnipeg, I wasted no time in making a pair of visits to nearby Niagara Falls.

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Though I’ve studied plenty of maps, since I am still largely unfamiliar with the best routes to use, I decided to rely on Google to plan my first visit to the Falls since I was a young child on vacation from Winnipeg.

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Google recommended first heading south from St. Catharines along the Welland Canals Parkway into Thorold.

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As the sign says, Thorold is where the ships climb the mountain. It is also where cyclists climb the mountain, otherwise known as the Niagara Escarpment. Coming from the flatlands, the frequent changes in elevation are something I’m going to have to get used to.

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I took the exit at Regent Street and proceeded south along Front Street through Thorold’s “historic downtown.” That phrase carries a very negative connotation in Winnipeg, but Thorold’s downtown has a lot more appeal than Winnipeg’s downtown does. Once again, I found no bums and the streets were clean. Thorold’s downtown reminded me of Kenora, a city in the northwestern part of the province I’ve visited a number of times when I lived in Winnipeg.

Google’s recommendation took me through the Front Street Park and towards the Thorold Tunnel that goes underneath the Welland Canal.

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I promptly got off my bike and walked it through the tunnel along the pedestrian walkway, separated from motorized traffic by a concrete barrier.

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MTO says the tunnel is 840 m long, but it felt like five miles when I was in there. I am normally not claustrophobic, but it was a harrowing experience having speeding trucks whizzing past me at close quarters inside such an enclosed space. After reaching daylight, I was visibly shaken for much of the remainder of the ride into the Falls. On my return trip, I would ride through and shorten the amount of time I had to spend in the tunnel. I suspect the Thorold Tunnel won’t be seeing much of my shadow in future.

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Once out of the tunnel, I turned south on Davis Road, then east on Beaverdams Road, following it to Lundy’s Lane.

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Beaverdams Road passes through a golf course and a few homes, but mostly through farmland. It seems to be lightly travelled, but it had no paved shoulder. This is why I normally don’t rely on Google or other cycling maps. There’s really no substitute for experience.

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After reaching Lundy’s Lane, I crossed the QEW and made my way towards the falls. Not unexpectedly, there were tourists galore and when I next want to spend some time looking over the falls, I’ll park my bike somewhere and walk. Walking a bike through such a large crowd was rather awkward.

A few days later, I opted to rely on my limited personal experience for my next trip. I crossed the lift bridge at Lakeshore Road and made my way directly to the Niagara Parkway Recreational Trail using East and West Line. Lakeshore does see more traffic, but East and West Line doesn’t seem to be that busy. More importantly, there is a paved shoulder to give cyclists like me a little more comfort.

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Upon reaching the trail, I headed south towards Queenston and Queenston Heights, site of a famous battle during the War of 1812.

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As I noted in a previous blog entry, they don’t call it Queenston Heights for nothing. I made it up this incline without too much difficulty, but I had to get off the bike and walk it up much of the way through the town.

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Continuing south, I went under the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge towards the floral clock.

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After a brief break to snap a few more pictures, I passed by the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating Station.

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There are a number of spots where you can pull off the trail and get some shots, which I did.

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I noticed a sign for the Niagara Botanical Gardens and the Butterfly Conservatory, so I stopped in to check it out. Sadly, I was too early and the conservatory was not open yet, but I will make a point of getting there in a return visit. Given that this was the height of tourist season, however, I was surprised they were not open at the crack of dawn.

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I continued south on the trail towards the Whirlpool Gorge.

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I stopped for some pictures alongside a busload of people from Maryland. On this trip, in addition to many from neighboring New York, I would also spot plates from New Jersey, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Connecticut, Tennessee and Illinois.

After passing Victoria Avenue, cyclists have to go on the road, but there is a paved shoulder that takes you past the Whirlpool and Rainbow Bridges right to the falls.

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I stopped at the Not-So-Secret Garden before turning around and heading for home. This time, I planned a different route myself, wisely not relying upon Google.

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From the 420 junction, I took Stanley Avenue north across 405 to Niagara Townline Road. Stanley Avenue is a little busier, but again, there was a paved shoulder for most of the way.

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I took Four Mile Creek Road and made my way to the lightly used Queenston Road. Unfortunately, it did not have a paved shoulder, but there was far less traffic there than I found on Beaverdams Road.

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I stopped for this picture just north of the intersection of York Road. I’ve since found out what an “Unassumed Road” is, but the terminology seemed odd. At first glance, it sounds like they don’t want you to assume this is a road.

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Hello, my name is Coyote. Wile E. Coyote. Genius.

I followed Queenston Road back to St. Catharines and made it home safely. Overall, this route seemed to be a lot better than the one Google recommended, though much of the scenery to the north can be distracting.

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I’m sure there are other routes in the area to get to the Falls and back, perhaps better ones, and I look forward to discovering them over the coming months and years.

10 Aug

Discovering New Surroundings

As you can imagine, my first week in St. Catharines has been hectic, to say the least. However, I have managed to find the time to get out on two wheels and explore some sights in and around my new home city.

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Soon after my bike arrived from the degenerate capital of the SPRM, I took a run up to Port Dalhousie, where 12 Mile Creek, the original Welland Canal, meets Lake Ontario. Having seen it briefly during my exploratory trip last September, I was anxious to check it out upon settling here. I would not be disappointed.

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The marina.

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For the benefit of my friends reading from the SPRM, I can describe it as a cross between Gimli and Duluth. Except better. Those who know me know that Gimli, the tiny cottage community nestled along the shore of Lake Winnipeg, will always hold a special place in my heart and now I can get a reminder of it almost within walking distance of my front door. I could get used to this. Quickly.

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The Riverboat Mexican Grill. Sorry, but as they say in Texas, El Paso. Those of you who know me know that I am not gastronomically adventurous on land or on the water.

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The lighthouse on the east side.

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A swan feeding.

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Looking out towards Lake Ontario.

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And, of course, a spelling error. Bad spellers of St. Catharines are now officially under “surveilance.”

On Saturday, I headed east towards Niagara-on-the-Lake, rightly named the prettiest town in Canada. One of the real estate agents who we met with on our visit last year took us around the old town area and it was one of the first places I wanted to visit once I returned permanently. Once again, I would not leave disappointed.

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Waiting for a ship to pass at Lakeshore Road.

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Peach and pear trees along East and West Line and vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see.

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I guess you can call me a Niagara Nut.

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Jackson-Triggs Winery.

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I made for the Historic Old Town and toured the streets near the riverbank.

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A floral display commemorating the United Empire Loyalists.

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The Charles Inn.

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The Old Bank House.

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The Prince of Wales Hotel.

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Scenes from Queen’s Royal Park. Across the Niagara River is Fort Niagara State Park.

Unbeknownst to me, the annual Peach Festival was taking place, so I parked my bike at one of the many racks in town and walked along Queen Street.

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One of the exhibitors along the street was the Niagara Historical Society and Museum. This, along with the St. Catharines Museum at Lock 3, will be places I will be visiting soon so I can learn more about the history of the area.

I didn’t know how lucky I was that I was there so early in the morning. Later in the afternoon, crowds kept pouring into the tiny community.

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A line of cars headed for the festival. Sadly, there was nowhere left for them to park.

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Wanting to explore a little more, I headed south along the Niagara Parkway Recreational Trail towards Queenston.

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Scenes along the trail.

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Youngstown, New York. All the way down the trail, you can look out to your left and see the USA. With a slight easterly wind, I was even able to breathe some American air. I know one reader in particular will be especially jealous.

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The Queenston-Lewiston Bridge. Or the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, depending on which side of the border you are on.

The pathway was relatively deserted in the morning, but coming back in the afternoon, it was the cyclists’ equivalent of being on the QEW near the site of the recent Burlington Skyway closure. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised how well the trail users made it work. With some rare exceptions, courtesy and respect were in abundance. Many loyal readers know how effusive with praise I have been over the courtesy shown by the trail users in the Twin Cities. If anything, it was even better here. There were no unleashed dogs, I was not sworn at, threatened with bodily harm, swung at or dragged off my bike, like I have been in Winnipeg. This is definitely not the SPRM and I couldn’t be happier to leave the hatred and vitriol that permeated every nook and cranny of Greg Selinger’s sovereign republic behind.

One anonymous person from the SPRM who commented on one of my recent postings said that Ontario would eat me alive. If this is what being eaten alive is all about, Ontario is quite welcome to keep gobbling away at me.

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One of the many sights along the way.

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There were many parks with clean washrooms along the route. Inside each of them, I noticed this sign by the sinks. I can’t say I had been planning to wash my feet in the sink, but it’s good to know that they don’t allow it just in case I got the sudden urge. Thank you, Niagara Parks, for the heads-up.

Upon reaching Queenston, I saw a familiar sight.

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Green is the color, football is the game. We’re all together and winning is our aim. So cheer us on in the sun and rain. Saskatchewan Roughriders is our name. For the benefit of the husband of one reader, please do not throw anything at your monitor.

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I was ready for a break and the Queenston Heights Park provided such an opportunity. I was a little worn out after climbing the steep hill and you can take it from me that they don’t call it “Heights” for nothing.

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I wasn’t too bushed to notice this sticker on the back of the above sign. I suspect someone stuck it there as a joke, but it was interesting to see a USPS Priority Post sticker on the back of a Canadian highway sign. It’s one way to ensure the sign was delivered to the right location, since Canada Post can hardly be trusted.

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Hopefully someday soon, I will be one of those cyclists heading to the USA for an adventure on the east bank of the Niagara River.

The park itself was beautiful and, for the benefit of my friends reading from the SPRM, it reminded me of the Peace Gardens south of Boissevain.

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Butler’s Rangers.

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The monument to General Brock.

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Looking north from the scenic overlook near the monument.

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The fountain.

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I returned along the same path, but before returning home, I stopped at Happy Rolph’s Animal Farm, a little petting zoo as part of a scenic park along the shore of Lake Ontario, located east of the canal.

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One of the goats.

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Poultry.

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More poultry.

There is a nice walking path that follows the lake and I will be sure to explore more of it in a return visit.

My first week here has left me feeling so thankful to have been blessed with the courage and conviction to leave Winnipeg and come to St. Catharines. I look forward to exploring more of my new home in the weeks and months to come.

09 Jul

Farewell Tour of the Twin Cities

This past weekend, I was one of 30 passengers on a bus tour to the Twin Cities. The official purpose of the tour was to see the Yankees battle the Twins at Target Field, but I took my bike and instead used the time to tour the area once again on two wheels. Despite the sweltering heat, I would put on nearly 85 miles over the two days I was there.

During the four-day adventure, many others on the bus kept asking me if I made it to the games at all. Though there was a time when I was such a passionate baseball fan that I would regularly take a day off work to observe Opening Day, I attended neither game. I haven’t actually watched a baseball game since 2007.

I got on bright and early on Friday morning as the bus made various stops to pick up passengers. At one stop, our tour director had to call a couple of passengers who were late. It turned out they were sitting in the nearby McDonald’s and didn’t see the bus pull up.

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I can certainly understand that a bus of this size would be hard to spot.

At the Salisbury House on Pembina Highway, my heart nearly skipped a beat as I saw Dave, our driver, come on board to relive the driver who came from Brandon. He was the driver we had two years earlier who, as loyal readers may recall, put us in mortal peril with his many man-made distractions on the road. This time around, however, he was much more attentive and there were no major incidents.

Speeds were down to 80 km/h for a while as road work was going on north of Morris. PTH 75 is one of the worst highways in the province and badly needs the work, yet the government propaganda sign before the start of the construction reads, “Steady Growth, Good Jobs,” as if this is just a job-creation scheme instead of vital road maintenance.

We picked up the last six passengers in Morris. We first pulled up next to Motown Motors before moving on to Burke’s Restaurant.

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Does this mean they take ½ hour off each day or that it will take them 23½ hours to get to you?

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Hopefully the six of them enjoyed the “karaokee” while waiting.

With everyone aboard, our tour director gave us his usual spiel, skipping his time-honored line “if I can leave my wife behind, I can leave you behind.” It was likely not a coincidence that his wife was sitting across the aisle from him. Nonetheless, I’m quite familiar with the spiel, having gone with him six times previously. I’m surprised he doesn’t end it with the line, “this has been a recording.”

Once we reached the border, I took note of the new traffic light in front of the duty free store on the Canadian side. I swear there are more traffic lights per capita in the SPRM than anywhere else in the Western world. In a way, I suppose it’s fitting to put another one in as one last reminder of the province travellers about to leave.

Since we were travelling on Independence Day, I was expecting the third degree at U.S. Customs. When crossing the border in 2008, one day after September 11, all of us faced a higher level of scrutiny than normal. Luckily, it turned out to be the exact opposite. For the first time, I wasn’t asked any questions and it seemed like they couldn’t get rid of us fast enough.

Within minutes of crossing the border, our tour director put on his first movie of the trip. This one featured a bunch of older men chasing after young women in bars and strip clubs. I wish I had a better talent for tuning these movies out.

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It is a sight I’ve seen countless times, but I still grab a shot of the Crystal Sugar plant north of Drayton.

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At the Drayton exit, I made sure to once again catch a glimpse of the sign that used to have the word “CHICKEN” on it. I also thought of former colleague Steve Conner, who lost his wife and three-year-old daughter near this location in a tragic accident this past winter.

As we passed Sucker Town, my eyes drifted far to the east, well beyond the horizon. Those who know me will understand why. Though we had been on the road for over four hours, it felt like it only took us 15 minutes to get to Fargo and West Acres, our lunch stop.

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An unwelcome reminder that we’re still too close to the SPRM.

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As I’ve said before, anything Snoopy-related is always going to grab my attention. At least one reader was surprised none of these beagles came home with me.

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I picked up lunch at Subway and checked my e-mail before getting back on the bus. Following a detour to Happy Harry’s, where everyone but me loaded up on liquor, we headed east and crossed the frontier into the great state of Minnesota, where we spent the bulk of the time on the trip.

On our way, a couple on a motorcycle waved to us as they passed by. Unlike what normally happens in the SPRM, they used all their fingers. It was also a nice sign to see a school bus that actually has the words “SCHOOL BUS” plastered on the front instead of “ECOLIERS.”

I spotted a clever billboard that showed a man sitting on a toilet in obvious agony with the caption, “There’s got to be a better way. Get a colonoscopy.” The first misspelled sign I saw south of the border was a billboard for McDonald’s in Sauk Centre that said RV parking is “availiable.”

Our next stop was Albertville, the black hole of civilization.

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Albertville is the home of Albertville Premium Outlets, a massive collection of stores where people get slightly less gouged for brand-name merchandise they likely don’t need and walk away thinking they’re getting a bargain.

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Sadly, our tour director gave us two and a half hours at this miserable place. For some, it’s not nearly enough. For me, it’s two and a half hours too long. Before setting us loose, he went inside to pick up some VIP coupon booklets, but not one of them contained a “get out of jail free” card.

It was absolutely sickening to walk around seeing these teenage princesses in groups of three or four with armfuls of bags from the trendiest stores. As a good friend of mine put it, it is a cultural sickness. Perhaps it was only fitting that one of the vanity license plates I spotted was “PRESIUS.”

While stopping to jot down some notes, a couple came up to the drink machine next to the bench where I was seated. They seemed puzzled by how it works and asked me for help.

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It wasn’t that complicated, but even with my help, they couldn’t seem to figure it out and moved on.

Trying to kill some time as best I could, I walked around to wear off the bus legs.

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In front of Coach New York, there was actually a line waiting to get in. I don’t know what they sell, but I suspect they’d have to pay me to go in there.

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A typical Manitoban. This would make for a perfect submission to WpgParkingFail.com if only the site owner had decided to keep it up.

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I guess taking your dog for a leak qualifies as “Emergency Stopping.”

Having run out of places to walk to, I returned to the bus an hour early and waited for the rest of the passengers to return. Aside from me, there wasn’t one who didn’t have an armful of bags. After everyone was back on board, the weight of the bus might have been double what it was when we pulled in.

Several of my fellow passengers were showing off their purchases while waiting for the bus to leave. One woman took out a purple leotard with black polka dots that she bought for her daughter. Any self-respecting woman would have been embarrassed to wear it to bed and she likely paid more for it than I spent on the entire trip.

Every time I visit the Twin Cities, I always pay attention to the Pine Point Wood Products sign in Rogers. It has been there ever since my first visit and serves as my unofficial marker that we’re indeed here.

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I was incredibly disappointed to see that they replaced their iconic yellow sign with something more generic. Sacrilege.

This time, I’m not seated at the front of the bus and I can’t see many of the signs on the highway, but I’ve been coming here so often over the years that I can tell what suburb we’re in by looking at the street signs.

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We got in to our hotel at 7:45 and I saw their much-ballyhooed renovations for the first time. It has easily been the best hotel I’ve stayed at and I wondered why they needed to renovate. I appreciate the modernization, but the color scheme they chose is certainly not a step forward in my opinion.

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The following morning, after the complimentary breakfast, it was time to hit the road. Soon after getting to the trail, I made a brief stop to fill out a survey they were taking. I made sure to compliment them on how well they had done and mentioned a few of the horror stories during my many adventures in the degenerate capital of the SPRM.

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I made a point of stopping at Lake Calhoun, a scenic area in the western edge of Minneapolis. There is a nice trail that circles the lake as well as nearby Lake Harriet to the south, but since I had bigger fish to fry on this day, I continued east on the Midtown Greenway towards West River Parkway and Saint Paul.

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This was one of a few bike repair stations I found along the trail system. In addition to the pump, there are cables where you can raise your bike up and perform any necessary maintenance. The fact that it hasn’t been vandalized, wrecked, used as a toilet or set on fire is another strong indicator that you’re not in the SPRM.

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A repair shop and café along the Midtown Greenway.

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More scenes along the Midtown Greenway.

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Where the Midtown Greenway meets West River Parkway.

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While stopping here for some pictures, someone came up to me and asked for directions, which I was happy to be able to do.

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I crossed the mighty Mississippi at Lake Street into Saint Paul, the Capital City, as the sign says.

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So many people on the trails in the Twin Cities kindly yell “on your left” when passing. Little did I know that it’s a state law.

I proceeded south to Summit Avenue, where I turned east towards downtown Saint Paul in the dedicated bike lane.

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I planned to stop for some pictures at Snelling Avenue and get some shots of the MN 51 markers on both the south and north sides of Summit.

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After finishing with the pictures, the gentleman at right approached me and asked me why I was taking the shots of the highway signs. After I mentioned my Web site, he told me his father used to work for Mn/DOT and that he is one of a handful of contributors to the informative Minnesota highway pages on Wikipedia. We exchanged some stories that only fellow roadgeeks could appreciate and he invited me to a meet-up they were having in Como Park the next day. I would have loved to have gone, but I only had the two days there, so I had to decline. Nonetheless, this chance encounter was one of the highlights of the trip. This is something that would only happen in friendly Minnesota.

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I continued on and got this shot near downtown.

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The Cathedral of Saint Paul.

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The Xcel Energy Center. The WHA once had two teams in Saint Paul, but today, it is home to a team that plays in another major league.

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The former Saint Paul Auditorium, the original home of the first edition of the Minnesota Fighting Saints.

Continuing east through downtown, I stopped at a Subway.

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Need a bail bond to go with that sub?

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Snoopy in Lafayette Park.

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Mickey’s Diner.

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The Mexican consulate.

I turned around at the corner of 7th and Arcade and retraced my steps in making it back. The heat was taking its toll, but I made sure to stop for some badly needed fluids.

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A service station at the corner of Grand and Cleveland in Saint Paul.

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It’s Hennepin Avenue, not “Hennapin.”

All told, I covered 47.4 miles before putting on a few more after a rest at the hotel to go to a nearby grocery store to pick up some food for the next two days.

Next morning, I was crushed when I looked out the window and saw the rain coming down in buckets. Fortunately, it cleared up quickly and I was on the road again by 8:15, this time headed for downtown Minneapolis via the Kenilworth and Cedar Lake trails.

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I exited the trail and made a side trip to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

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After a little break, I crossed the foot bridge over I-94 to Loring Park

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While in Loring Park, a white squirrel came up to me and posed for a picture.

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Message sent. Message received. You may understand. You may not.

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Moving on, I made to Nicollet Mall and north to Cancer Survivors Park.

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For me, the park is always a must-see on every visit and many of you who know me understand why.

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View from the 3rd Avenue Bridge.

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The light rail. Real rapid transit.

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This is where the once-mighty Metrodome once stood, soon to be replaced by a palatial new stadium for the Vikings. The Metrodome may have not been one of the most legendary sports facilities in the country, but I think many of our tour participants were wishing the Twins were still playing under its air-conditioned, climate-controlled Teflon roof as they roasted in the mid-summer heat.

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Oddly, I found more beggars in downtown Saint Paul and Minneapolis than in any past visit, including this one, who was holding up a sign saying she was homeless and needed money. She should consider cutting back on her food bill.

I was hoping to go through the skyway and stop for lunch in the food court at Gaviidae Common, but, curiously, many of the stores weren’t open until noon. I realize it was a Sunday, but it was a Twins game day and Americans are, if nothing else, enterprising entrepreneurs. Where there are prospective customers, corporate America will be there to open their doors. Instead, I found an attitude that I would more expect to find in the SPRM.

When I finally did get through to Gaviidae Common, I was shocked to see that the food court that I had been visiting for years was gone. I had to move on and managed to find one of the few Subways open in the area.

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I had been to this Subway once before and their policy of needing to show photo ID to use the washroom was still in force, but I was one of the lucky ones who they evidently trusted with the key without needing to show ID. I felt so blessed.

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After a few shots around the Stone Arch Bridge, I got back on the trail and headed back towards the hotel.

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Heading underneath Target Field.

On the way back, a couple of teenagers passed me who were talking about sales and profit margins. In spite of Obama’s best efforts, entrepreneurship is still alive and well in the U.S. If I was in Canada, such talk would likely center around government handouts.

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I couldn’t resist this shot on 11th Street in Hopkins. Many of my former colleagues will understand the significance as it relates to our former employer.

After getting back to the hotel, I went for a little walk around the area.

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The significance is obvious in more than one way.

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Manitobans don’t have a monopoly on double-parking.

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On the north side of MN 62, I spotted this Caribou Coffee location alongside Einstein Bros. Bagels.

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On the other side of the street was another Caribou Coffee location. Canadians aren’t this bad with their addiction to Tim Hortons.

Since this was what is virtually certain to be my final visit to the Twin Cities, it was tough to leave the following morning. I had been going there since the days when I-394 was still Wayzata Boulevard and when the state’s pro sports teams were all playing out of Bloomington. I still remember both the Met Center and Metropolitan Stadium, long before anyone ever thought of the Mall of America. I’ve seen the Twins play at the Met in 1978, 1980 and 1981. Back then, I-494 hadn’t been finished and ended at MN 5, just past the airport. I’ve got a lot of history there, most of it good, and it’s sad to see it come to an end.

In any event, with the Monday morning rush hour traffic going in the opposite direction, we headed northwest and down the familiar path on I-94. Despite having taken that route so often, there seemingly is always something new for me to see. For example, there was a billboard offering laser therapy for arthritis. For pets. Groan.

I thought of a former colleague when we crossed into WRIGHT COUNTY. Most such signs in Minnesota are in mixed case, but this one was in ALL CAPS. I know at least one reader will appreciate the sighting and perhaps more than one. Even though I spent so long there on the way in, I didn’t notice that they finally made an exit from the westbound direction for Albertville until we passed it on the return trip. Oddly, one of the most popular exits in the state was not previously accessible in both directions.

Once again, I noticed an army of white trucks from St. Cloud-based Spee-Dee Delivery Service on I-94. I can’t imagine anyone in the state having more vehicles than Spee-Dee. A truck passed us in the opposite direction with the words “MEAN PEOPLE SUCK” emblazoned on the grill. Luckily for him, he was headed away from the SPRM. Near Fargo, there was a billboard promoting the Fargo Air Museum. It’s so good that they have places like this dedicated to preserving the legacy and heritage of their air.

Once we crossed the Red River and back into North Dakota, I looked out my window and south down University Drive. Feeling especially nostalgic on this trip, I couldn’t help but think of the Bowler, a place my parents and I used to frequent on our trips to Fargo. As its name would suggest, it was primarily a bowling alley, but it also had a popular smorgasbord that we often took advantage of. On one occasion, we sat down and drank some water before getting up to fill our plates. While we were away from the table, one family sat down at our table and unknowingly drank from the same glasses. We didn’t say anything and just moved to another table.

Just before arriving at West Acres, our tour director passed out the Je Declare forms for us to fill out for the border. While everyone else was madly totalling up their bills, I had nothing to declare and filled in a big, fat zero under the total value of goods purchased.

Aside from trying to tune out the movie, my last trip along I-29 proved uneventful. I laughed when I saw the billboard near Drayton that said “Be Kind.” It seems pointless to say such a thing to people headed back into North America’s toilet.

Our last U.S. stop came in Pembina, famous for the Duty Free shop.

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As you’d expect, I was the only one who wasn’t in line to buy booze or smokes. I’m proud of that. Oddly, while outside taking pictures, a GO bus whizzed by. For those of you not familiar with GO, it is a major transit system in the Center of the Universe and surrounding area. As for why it was there, Pembina is not just home to the Duty Free store, but to a Motor Coach plant.

At the border, we were served by a guardette who came on board to collect our Je Declare forms. She didn’t search through any of our possessions and was only making sure that all the boxes were ticked on the Je Declare forms. Only a handful of people even had to show their passport. Bureaucracy at its finest. Once again, I feel so much better knowing the security of our borders is in such capable hands.

As always, returning to the SPRM is depressing. Nonetheless, it was another tremendous experience. I want to publicly thank Tony Rinella and his wife Yolanda for all the great memories over the years as well as to all the great people in the Twin Cities who make coming there so pleasurable. I would also like to thank everyone at the Hilton Garden Inn in Eden Prairie for their hospitality.