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Tommy Thompson Park, or better known as the Leslie Spit… or as we like to call it, Trash Isle. A quick getaway away from the city, in the city, made from the destruction of the city.

We ride stolen land. Let’s acknowledge the land we inhabit and ride on is the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples and is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We also acknowledge that Toronto is covered by Treaty 13 with the Mississaugas of the Credit.

A trip to the Spit for us, means getting to the lighthouse. Along the way, you can choose your own adventure with different routes along with countless points of interest, hideouts, wildlife-watching spots or gravel grindin’ goodness. Lots of fun, with no cars. The Spit has something for everyone, on any type of bike, at any riding level. Follow-along and we’ll chat: the ride, coffee outside, history of the Spit, eco-system, wildlife & habitat, bikes and we’ll cap things off with a homage to the demolished ‘Scrubland’ singetrack route

The Ride

Difficulty: Easy-Moderate | Topography: Flat Terrain: Asphault, Gravel,Rocky, Grassy

Let’s jump into the ride. One of the most unique parts about the Spit is the different types of terrain that you can find and ride — road, packed gravel, loose gravel, rocky(!), grassy narrows and just plain old dirt. You can choose one or choose them all, depending on your tire set-up. If you want to be ready for it all, we’d suggest riding with a minimum of 35-38mm width tires. Don’t worry, we tested lots of tires here and have the flats to prove it…ha. Don’t let the lack of chunky tires stop you, just be mindful and take an alternate path if you need. As you continue through this read, you’ll find examples of the following different types of terrain: 

ROAD / PACKED GRAVEL / LOOSE GRAVEL / ROCKY / GRASSY

The Spit is nice and flat, so you don’t need to worry about having a million gears. Construction is ongoing, so keep an eye out for notices.

There’s two routes to get into the spit, Leslie Street directly or the Martin Goodman Trail passing through Cherry Beach. We enjoy the MGT route, even if it means taking the long way — it’s much more scenic and adventurous. Check the map right below for some points of interest on the route, and our Strava map will take you through a more adventurous time through the nooks – highly recommended. The Strava map will give you lots of dirt and gravel riding, with some scenic rest spots and secluded views, and very ridable for all levels. 

Depending on the time of the year that you visit the peninsula, the routes available to you will change drastically. We were lucky enough to ride during the dead of the winter, when the water between Cherry Beach and the Spit froze solid. It was surreal to ride across the lake. Check out some pics of slippery stretch: 

Coffee Outside & Camera kit 

Counter clock-wise from top-left:

  • MSR stove pot (0.75l)

  • 4oz fuel canister

  • Butane lighter 

  • MSR pocketrocket 2

  • Porlex mini

  • Aero Press GO kit (2 pc)

More on Coffee Outside later!

 

 

 

 

 

We kept the camera setup relatively simple this time, opting for a more portable & quick-shooting combo in the Sony a7III kitted out with the 28-70 mm lens from Sony. The 3-point camera strap from Outer Shell made sure we were ready to shoot whenever.

 

 

 

History

Tommy Thompson Park, the Spit colloquially, is the flip-side of the urban sprawl coin. While Toronto grew rapidly in the 60s, 70s and 80s in every direction, the City was suddenly faced with an abundance of demolition and excavation waste. What to do? Build south, Trash Isle. 

As we highlighted in our story on the Toronto Islands, Lake Ontario has always been unkind to the shores of Toronto Harbour and threatens, consistently, to swallow up its urban expansion completely. To address this, along with a mis-forecasted shipping boom, the city relocated tonnes of waste simultaneously, leveraging concrete, bricks, tiles and miles of rebar to create a peninsula east of the harbour, serving as a buffer between the wide-open lake and the urban sprawl to the North. At its most southern tip, a lighthouse.  

Today, there’s no escaping this origin story. Almost every stop on the island is accented by crumbling red bricks underfoot, becoming a fine silt in places and twisting, slithering mounds of rebar jutting from the earth. Artists from the city, wildlife and visitors alike have repurposed the various human debris and have left their mark on the park over the years. One particular keeper of the peninsula shared his love for cycling and The Spit with a, one-of-kind, single-track route that captured the playful spirit of The Spit perfectly. 

The single track has since been taken down by the City. More on that later…

The Spit began as a human bi-product of our urban expansion, but today, Tommy Thompson Park is teeming with life. The destruction of wetlands across North America has eliminated many species and displaced others. The scarcity of wetlands means that there is a premium on nesting habitats for birdlife of all kinds. Double-Crested Cormorants have made the park and it’s Willows home. You can see the impact that this invasive species and its basic feces has on the park by a quick look at the sparse treelines along the North-Western shore. 

Invasive species = not cool. Conversely, the park is also home to a successful Trumpeter Swan breeding program that has brought these swans from the brink of extinction to endangered status. Next time you’re taking in the views, try to spot trumpeter swans without tags, these are born and raised examples of the success of this program. 

I’m sure you already noticed the series of half-chewed trees littering our photography of the peninsula. It wasn’t us, and it sure wasn’t the Cormorants either. Beavers chomp away at the trees, so much so that conservationists have resorted to using protective tree guards to prevent the loss of trees too quickly.

316 species of birds including: 

Cormorants 

Trumpeter Swans 

Mute Swans

Caspian Tern 

American kestrel

Larger Wildlife: 

Beavers 

Coyotes

Snapping Turtles 

Eastern Milk Snakes

The Bike

The Diamonback Axis, one of the do-it-all bikes. This MTB from 1992 shred the spit all winter with us and fell in line with the motto, no fancy bikes needed for big adventures..but fat tires, 26×1.75 and good gears are nice! It’s such a fun ride and being stable, it delivers. 

Check out the drivetrain, super simple and fun. 3 gears in the back and two in the front. The gearing isn’t set up for high speeds, but it’s great for flat trails and quick acceleration. Simple and fun.

Coffee Outside Continued

Coffee is a bike adventure’s greatest companion for us. To be in the forest or on the water and brew a fresh cup of your favourite hot drink is a treat. We’re not out here trying to set any PRs, so enjoying the ambiance while having a cup of coffee adds a layer to the adventures that have been, just so lovely. Don’t we all need to slow down a little? 

Our kit has grown, and not all these are essential! When we started, we just had a camp stove, small pot with a fine stainer along with two plastic cups, ground coffee in a zip-lock from home. Now…things have changed a bit and we’re grinding fresh beans and have an aero press…but you don’t need all that! A stove, basic pot, filter and pre-ground beans will do you just fine.

Scrublands Tribute

 As promised, here’s the homage and heartbreak story of “The Spit Single Track”…

A keeper of the trail, built this treasure over 2 years with a few buckets, some shovels and a lot of elbow grease. The single-track was located on a largely unused portion of the peninsula with no significance to the migratory birds in the surrounding area. Basically, the single-track was about as out of the way as you can be in the park.

The City of Toronto decided to demolish the Spit Single Track, the Scrubland Trail.  We were lucky to blaze this trail for a few years and it was just…special. It was a place where we’d always share good conversations, exchange smiles and shred some hills. A short, hills, turny, sometimes rocky, sometimes risky little stretch of run riding. RIP.

We were lucky enough to ride the track one last time, on its last weekend in existence at that. We rode that thing 10 times over. We met the architect, a day before destruction – gathering his tools, maybe saying goodbye so we said thanks and kept it short. Here are just a few shots we hope will immortalize it and the keeper, we hope they make you smile and then tell the city to get a life.