Friday, February 17, 2012: Almost famous. I was interviewed about the epic trek by CBC  News Nova Scotia, featured in a short clip on the tv news and a longer clip extolling the awesomeness of the bridge on the radio. 

For a lot of reasons, I spent yesterday walking across my hometown of Halifax:

  • I had a class at a college campus on the opposite end of town
  • I choose not to own a car (=more money for travel)
  • There’s a transit strike underway
  • One-way cab fare is approximately $25

I had options for dealing with a very minor transportation issue. I have a job that affords me vacation time, which I used to attend the class and make the trek, I am in good health, and I have the resources to pay for a cab. A lot of people in my city don’t have those options, yet, somehow, are still getting along during this strike. When I got home last night, I took the $50 I could have spent on taxis for the day and donated it to Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank, a great organization that does important work in our community.

Halifax isn’t much of a walking city. I’m certainly among the minority of people who actively eschew car ownership. This is unfortunate, because we have so many interesting things to see and do here, and most don’t see any of it.

Undeterred, I struck out on my journey. One way, the trip was estimated to be 8.5 to 9 kilometres. I gave myself a little more than two hours to do it, knowing that I’d stop and take pictures long the way.

It doesn't look as long as it felt.

Historic North End Halifax

I started in my favourite part of the city, the historic North End. Despite its undeserved reputation as a rough neighbourhood, it has some of the most interesting architecture in the city, with the most extreme contrasts between rich and poor.

Crossing the MacDonald Bridge

Two kilometres in, I hit the MacDonald Bridge (a/k/a “The Old Bridge”) between Halifax and Dartmouth, the only pedestrian connection between the two communities during the transit strike. I’ve walked across the bridge many times – for the novelty, the quick access to Pho Hoang Minh, my favourite Vietnamese restaurant in the city, and to test out my vertigo. (Intact!)

For sightseers, this is also the best view of Halifax and Dartmouth, though you wouldn’t know this from reading a travel guide. It’s free and rather marvelous.

Halifax side, looking over Canada's East Coast Navy
Halifax side, looking over Canada’s East Coast Navy
Dartmouth side, over some nice folks' houses.
Dartmouth side, over some nice folks’ houses.

I find the bridge infinitely interesting. Our harsh, salty climate means it requires constant repainting and repaving. It’s a suspension bridge, which somehow involves science, but also means it moves as traffic goes over it. Since it’s a bridge, unfortunately, it also gets used for … other reasons. Focusing on the positive, however, it is a fun walk and there’s plenty to see in 1.3 km.

Welcome to the Darkside

Dartmouth is full of contrasts. The bridge starts in a very commercial area, but a few steps away, it’s completely residential. My route took me up and down some remarkable hills, including Maple St, the most notorious running hill in the city. I also got to walk along Lake Banook, mostly frozen, but normally the site of Olympic-calibre canoe training. I was getting kind of punchy by this point. When I saw seagulls sitting in icy lake water, I couldn’t help myself. “What’s wrong with you seagulls? Don’t you know you can fly?!”

Just past the genteel splendour of one of Dartmouth’s 23 lakes, you find the part of the city best described as “gritty.” Burning the Hooters down kind of gritty. The pedestrian route takes you along a six-lane highway, through a rusty cage pedestrian overpass, past the only strip club I’m aware of (amateur night coming up!), pawn shops, and the requisite fast food offerings.

As my journey neared its (presumed) end, I stopped at a fast food place, which I will not promote, for a refreshing beverage. It was 50% Diet Coke and 50% Coke Zero, which I called the Dartmouth Triumph, because I was in Dartmouth, still had some gas in the tank, and triumphed over my aging body.

I won’t lie, when I got to the campus, I strode confidently up the hill, arms pumping in celebration. I’m terribly sorry if you were driving in Dartmouth and had to witness it.

main street dartmouth akerley campus Nova scotia community college

My class was well worth the walk. It was a futuristic guest speaker-video conference with five other campuses. Some of my classmates had questions about how to make money off of travel writing. Through the travel writing research I’ve done to date, I expect to make no money from my travel writing, and I’ve been very successful at it.

After class, Plan A was to grab a cab home. I called. And called. And called. And called. For twenty minutes. No answer, no luck. Watching the light fade away outside, I gave up and marched outside, back down the hill, back through gritty Dartmouth, at what can best be described as “rage pace.”

Back at Lake Banook, I regained some perspective, and started enjoying the beautiful winter sunset. In fact, the return ended up being the best part of my trek. People were walking home, walking their dogs after work, going for a run. It was cool, but not cold, clear, dry, and absolutely lovely. The adrenaline from the rage-walk kept me going, and I chatted with anyone or anything passing by – dogs, commuters I vaguely recognized, and the bridge patrol trying to control the chaos of rush hour.

 

I’ve never crossed the bridge at night on foot. There can be safety concerns later at night, but 5:30 pm on a weekday seemed pretty safe to me. Along the way, I discovered the netting under the bridge serves as the nest for hundreds of birds that were definitely not there during the day. The bridge is also dramatically lit at night, making for a rather wonderful walk. I’m glad I missed out on the cab.

I was still a few kilometres from home at the end of the bridge, but at this point, I was no longer concerned with the distance. I was starving. Imagining all of the different kinds of food that I could have delivered to my house sustained me through the next couple of kilometres. Taking a different route back through Halifax, I cut through the Halifax Common hoping to check out the skating action on our free outdoor skating oval. Ice maintenance was underway, so while I missed skaters, I got to enjoy the Zambonis.

Much like traveling in my real life, the very end was completely unremarkable. I got myself home and up a couple of flights of stairs, ordered some food, and stretched for a good thirty minutes.

Mapping out the trip, I surprised myself with the final result: 18.35 kilometres. A long day, to be sure, but I wasn’t as exhausted as I thought I’d be, plus, it was on par with the daily distance I’m planning to do when I do the Camino de Santiago in two years. I mentioned on Twitter I was disappointed to walk that far only to end up back at my house, which is still true, but I marvel at what I was able to see and do in a city I live in almost every day of my life.

Friday morning was rough. There was never going to be another 18 kilometers on Friday, but it will happen again soon. There’s simply too much to see here.

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