High Park – nature’s refuge in an urban jungle

Old man with a long beard -- in a tree

In University I met my dear friend, Kathy. Aside from teaching me how to speak some phrases in Persian (which came in handy when dating a Persian woman!), she’s shown me that you really can just see someone a couple of times a year and feel “at home” with them. Kathy and I knew we would be friends from the moment we laid eyes on each other. It’s like a love story — a platonic love story. After graduation from University we no longer see each other as much as we used to, but when we meet up it’s like no time has passed at all.

Earlier this month, Kathy and I met up for our annual stroll through High Park, Toronto’s largest public park right smack dab in the middle of the city. This place is what the entire city would be were it not for the 3 million people who live here. It’s got hiking trails, sports facilities, playgrounds, a dog park, squirrels and other creatures who call it home. It’s gorgeous and it makes me love this city. These pictures tell you why.

Feeling peaceful

Bonus: I introduced Kathy to geocaching while we were out for our annual High Park stroll. She found her first cache! Curious about geocaching? It’s as geeky as it sounds, but hella fun.

Perty, ain't they?

Impromptu gluttony on a Sunday afternoon

Enraptured crowd listening to a Toronto Mexican band

In order to stave off Sunday night blues, I gave my bestie a call and invited her to join me on a walk. I’d intended to just stroll around our neighborhood and bitch about how filled with rage and sadness work makes me. Because nothing beats the Sunday night blues more than complaining about Monday morning misery, right?

In the park across the street from her home, we happened upon the Inti Raymi Festival – an Andean folk music and dance festival celebrating the Summer Solstice. There was (bad) music, (embarrassing) dancing and (fried & delicious) food at the festival.

The options for fried food had this glutton overwhelmed with the choices in front of her. Rather than choose one and later regret my decision for what I’d ordered and wish for this, that and the other thing, I decided to go for the whole enchilada. Except I didn’t have an enchilada. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this (but not enough to not go public with it), but I ate an empanada (yum!) and a steak sandwich served by someone who was quite possibly the nicest festival worker I’ve ever met, washed down with a chocolate syrup-filled churro and Diet Pepsi.

You can take the girl out of Central Pennsylvania, but you can’t take  Central Pennsylvania out of the girl, apparently. Because despite having lived in a few multi-cultural cities in my adulthood, I never had a sweet clue what a churro was until today. To say I was missing out is an understatement. If you don’t know what one is, all you really need to know is that a churro is fried dough. Having been born and bred in Central PA means I’m very familiar with fried dough of many varieties, but none quite as good as the churro.

After having sufficiently gorged ourselves on bad foods, Sarah and I slowly made our way back to our respective apartments. Sunday night blues were pushed aside only temporarily, but I have a feeling the evidence of that churro is going to be hanging out on my ever-expanding love handles for a very long time.

Fried goodness filled with chocolate goodness

The Sassy Unicorns take on City Chase Canada: Toronto #1, 2011

Getting photo-bombed pre-Chase

Today my best friend and I (the one who dubbed me Chancy years ago) ran our 3rd City Chase competition in Toronto. We came in 14th – the 4th all-female team to cross the finish line. Actually, I hobbled, coughed and sputtered over the finish line, but that’s neither here nor there. 

Backstory: We ran our very first chase in June 2010 and came in 11th place! We were proud, damn proud. And immediately knew we were bitten by the “City Chase bug”. That was our first race, but we weren’t about to let it be our last. Our second chase in August 2010 landed us in 24th place; we blamed an injured leg (Sarah’s) and an illness (mine) on our “poor” finish.

Present: After 3 hours and 1 minute of running, holding tarantulas and eating dog food, we came in 16th place. Out of 499 teams in this city, we are 14th best. Not bad for a couple of 30-something women who haven’t exercised in months.

Fortunately, Lady Luck was on our side, because our team number was 1121 this year.  Sarah and I both believe that the number 11 has significance in our lives. Good things come to those who see 11, in other words. If it wasn’t for the slow TTC streetcars holding us up, we are certain we would’ve done even better. So we can blame the slow “rocket” and our shitastic cardio for not coming in Top 10 like we’d hoped.

Here’s a little description of some of the Chase Points we earned today.

Earn $50 (or more) for your first Chase Point. We raised $150 this time around for Right to Play, which goes to children in Malawi. Right to Play is a fantastic organization and it was relatively easy to raise the money. Using Facebook as a means of reaching out to family & friends was the key to success for us.

Blind taste test: I was blind-folded and had to guess if Sarah was feeding me dog food or human food. She fed me both. Yuck!

Creepy crawlies: After sticking my hand into a bucket full of mice and pulling out a blue pebble, Sarah had to stick her hand in a blue box and hold the contents — a tarantula! Check her out, all zen-like and smiling while that creature crawls all over her! Gah!

A brave soul

Guess the flavors or eat a cricket: hop over to the local ice cream parlour and guess the flavors of ice cream you’re sampling! Wrong answer? Too bad! Your partner now has to eat a cricket! Fortunately for me, the crickets had already been eaten and a lucky few escaped. This mean I had to instead consume a dog biscuit. I got my nutrition in the form of dog food this Chase, that’s for sure.

Make like Demi & Patrick: in the movie “Ghost” they shared a pretty sexy scene with clay. In Toronto’s City Chase, we had a pretty sweaty (and very non-sexy) challenge with clay. We worked together like a well-oiled pottery machine and were done with that challenge in no time.

These stilts are made for walking: we paired up with another team to pretend we were all “slalom-skiing” on a wooden board. Four people, two planks, hard stuff. From there, we tried our hands (or feet?) at walking on stilts. Sarah did pretty well, but I thank my years of playing on a pogo stick in my childhood for mastering this task very quickly and moving right along.

The day went by so quickly that I can’t even remember the other challenges at press time. But you get the idea. Adventure, smiles, getting you out of your comfort zone — that’s what City Chase is all about.

I didn't feel nearly as stupid as I looked

Hints for newbie Chasers:

  • Sometimes they repeat challenges, sometimes locations are repeated. We are learning this after having participated in 3 Chases. But more important than the challenges is your strategy. If you don’t have a strategy planned, get one if you want to place well.
  • Don’t panic when given your clue sheet – take the time to figure out which clues you want to (or can) decipher
  • “Phone a Friend” – an idea taken straight from “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” is so very important. Fortunately for us, Sarah’s girlfriend is a master Googler and was our 3rd team member, essentially.  Thanks, Sarah! 
  • Map out where you’re going to go and in which order — it is imperative to success.
  • Either run like hell or cross your fingers that the TTC is going to be reliable for once. We know for certain we would’ve done better if we’d been in better shape. We would’ve opted to run a lot more and skip waiting for streetcars and subways (yes, even for long distances) – we figured that we wasted about 25 + minutes just waiting for public transit. We were only 31 minutes behind the winning team…if we hadn’t waited for the TTC, we would’ve guaranteed a better finish time.
  • HAVE FUN! Most of the fun comes from seeing your partner eat dog food, make a silly face while dancing & singing Pokerface, talking to other Chasers and of course, holding your partner’s hand as you cross the finish line. Or, if you’re me, eating his/her dust as you cough & sputter. Whichever!

City Chase is incredible and I tell everyone I know about how wonderful it is. It wouldn’t be quite as wonderful if I didn’t have my favorite person in the world running along next to me, slugging down protein gel packs as we move from station to station. Will The Sassy Unicorns return to City Chase again? You bet! And you should participate, too!