There is a right way and a wrong way to do a Buswalk Tour.
The right way is to plan for a weekend of calm weather. Stock up on supplies and sunscreen and make sure your camera battery is charged. Find a schedule and a map for the route you want to take and ensure that you can get there on time. In short: look ahead.
Unfortunately, the right way is also the least interesting way, and it simply discourages me. If I can actually ANTICIPATE the potential tedium, anxiety, and sunburn involved in the tour...well, I just won't go. I have learned this from experience.
A few Sundays ago I suddenly decided -- on my way home from breakfast -- that it was time to take a tour. I had twenty minutes to gather supplies and catch my bus to route three -- Ottawa South -- and of course I missed it.
So, at the central terminal, I waited for whichever bus would arrive next, which turned out to be route eleven, "Country Hills." Throwing all caution to the wind I climbed aboard the bus expecting to find a map, but as we chugged off I realized that all the maps were gone; I was riding into nowhere with a small, stinky boy and two wheezing alcoholics. The day was exceptionally hot and cloudless. I had no idea where I was going.
That was, officially, "the wrong way."
(For ALL the pictures go here...this blog entry will only show a few of them and give you an overall sense of what happened).
Here's the place where I got off. Having no map to guide me, I simply waited until I was suitably lost and until the drunk people left. Not a bad-looking neighbourhood, but a disconcertingly large number of robins bobbing around.
Every time I do a Buswalk tour I immediately come across a park which leads into a forest, and this time it was "Alpine Park," a depressing wedge of unsheltered grassland. The forest on the edge, however, was a magical tangle of paths and undergrowth and shade, with the occasional cryptically-vandalized tree.
On the other side of the forest, in a sprawling schoolyard, two men were playing with model planes while their children kicked a deflated volleyball around. Whenever you find two men playing with gadgetry you will be engulfed by giddiness and a degree of welcome that you wouldn't find if they were -- for instance -- fixing their cars. I stood with them and watched the planes fight the strong breeze which did nothing to cool any of us off. The children sulked with their neglected volleyball, kicking, bitching.
The second rule of a Buswalk tour is that I will eventually find a power corridor. This one cut between the enormous, low housing complexes that make up a large part of Country Hills. It lead me to the first of the many fences that would thwart my journey, forcing me to detour back and walk through the slightly crappy residential area for the third time.
Why do I say it was "slightly crappy?" Maybe it was the balconies covered in junk and bristling with satellite dishes. Maybe it was the huge parking lot, berefit of trees or benches. Maybe I thought the broken planters were a little sad, or perhaps I was most disturbed by the used maxi pad which lay a-droop on the newspaper box.
Mapless and feeling a little down, I decided it would be best to work my way back into the city. Since this required finding a way across the expressway, I followed Ottawa Street: my nemesis, choking traffic, exhaust fumes, the sun at its highest and hottest. Two chihuahuas in a beat-up pickup truck barked hysterically at me as I crossed the street, trying to leap out of the window and bite my shoetips; it was a strangely personal and sweet moment for all of us.
(Two days later the Kitchener/Waterloo Record printed a front-page picture almost identical to the one I took below, to highlight that this intersection really really sucks.)
I walked back along Ottawa street past aging bikers with beers nestled in their chubby crotches, staring at me, staring at the ugly neighbourhood. Warehouses, impromptu sidewalks, rusted metal, cars on blocks, great hot sky.
Near the intersection of Ottawa and Mill I found a set of railroad tracks. I am unable to resist railroad tracks; they are secret, forbidden places which show you the underbelly of the city. Walking on railroad tracks is like looking at the world's hidden bumhole. It is also generally without any shelter from the sun, and it can potentially be a trap.
I didn't see any good bumholes but I DID realize that I was walking into a trap: crossing BACK under the expressway -- going in the wrong direction, then -- and wedged between factories and the Rockway Golf Course. You do NOT want to tresspass on a golf course. Their security guards have little tolerance for shaggy, sunstruck vagabonds.
A brief moment to catch my breath under the underpass and view some not-so-bad graffiti, then I decided upon the Next Big Risk in my journey: I took advantage of an open gate to enter the forbidden and highly illegal expressway boundary.
So picture this: I was walking through the waist-high grass and brambles of the boundary. The highway itself was up a high slope to my right, and to my left -- across an eight-foot chain link fence -- was the golf course. Behind me were the railway tracks and ahead of me...who knows? I just knew it was the direction I needed to go.
It was a long walk. I was baking in the direct sunlight and beginning to feel light-headed. Across the fence, golf games stopped to watch my ridiculous trek through the grass. The fence turned inwards and I had no choice but to climb it, leaving me still sandwiched between two places I could not go, and then...
The stream. A cheery water feature which ran through the golf course and under the expressway, twenty feet wide, about a foot deep. Cutting right across my route, across which lay Courtland Avenue: the only street which could take me home.
While scouting under the overpass I found what appeared to be a loose line of rocks crossing the stream. I either had to go back -- over the fence and along an hour's worth of shadeless route -- or try to walk across the rocks.
The rocks it was.
Step by step I tested each stone. Some of them were unstable and a few were just clumps of submerged algae. I was carrying two heavy bags full of supplies and wearing the eyeglasses which distort my vision. There was simply no way I could get across without falling in.
At the other side, perfectly dry, I looked back in amazement. I was still a long way from home but least I hadn't toppled, gotten covered in goose feces, and ruined my camera. A testament to my ability to walk zombie-like through adversity; I would have been perfect machine-gun fodder during the first world war.
Up Courtland, past beautiful factories that I was too tired to take pictures of, I finally made it to King Street and sat down in the shade. The number seven bus would eventually come and take me far, far away from Country Hills.