Returning To Niagara

When I made the decision to leave Toronto, I knew that I was leaving many unfinished journeys behind to begin a thousand new ones. With a few days left, I figured I would venture back to Niagara Falls to see it from the Canadian side. As I’ve written about previously, my last trip to Niagara Falls didn’t really go as planned. I appreciated the falls when I was there, but I knew I didn’t get the experience I was really hoping for. On my first visit; it was hot, crowded, bright and the views from the US side are generally accepted as the worse ones. I decided that I would spend my second to last day in Toronto going to have the Niagara Falls experience that I really wanted.

I wanted to go in the afternoon, I wanted to see the sun set through the mist of one of the natural wonders of the world. I found a bus that left from Toronto that was only $13 return, so I booked it the night before for a 4:30pm arrival at the falls. I booked my return bus to depart at 7:30pm from the Niagara bus terminal, around a 40 minute walk from the actual falls. I figured that if I walked each way, I would have almost 2 hours at the falls, enough time to sit and marvel at the power of the water surging over the cliffs. I boarded the bus with my backpack and camera, ready to finally truly see what all the fuss was about.

Being a weekday, there was some afternoon traffic as we left downtown Toronto. This was to be expected, and it was allowed for in the approximate duration of the ride listed on the website. As we got further and further from the city, the traffic did not seem to be thinning at all. We crawled along the highway, barely rolling as the commuters made their way home around us. I brought up the Maps app on my phone only to be met with a spiderweb of yellow and red, there were no green streets ahead. As we slowly moved forwards, so did the clock; it was almost 5pm and my phone was telling me we still had around an hour to go. I knew that there was a later bus, so I made the decision to call the company and change my return ticket to the later departure time.

You can imagine my confusion when I called the ticketing office and was told that the “modifications team” had gone home for the day. I queried what customer service was on offer at this time of day (4:40pm) and was told that only new ticket sales could be processed. I spent the next 5 minutes pleading my case with the lady on the phone, explaining that I had no time left to get this trip done and that due to the traffic I would surely miss out on any chance of seeing the falls and still making my return bus. She assured me that there was nothing she could do other than sell me a ticket for the later bus (at triple the price of my original one), and that I could call the next day to attempt to get a refund which she deemed unlikely. I politely (rudely) refused her offer, and made sure she knew how ridiculous it was that their customer service team was unavailable during normal business hours. I hung up on the call, opened Maps again and tried to devise a plan. Our estimated arrival time per the app was 6pm, although we had to make a stop before then which would push us out to around 6:15pm. The driver was very apologetic but this didn’t really help, I had to get to the falls.

I quickly googled the average walking pace of a human being (5.0km/h or 3.1mph) and assumed that I’d be a little faster than that. Based on these calculations I could make it to the falls by 6:45pm, have 15 minutes to get my full Niagara experience and then get back to the depot for my return bus. I was determined to make it happen, and I knew that I wasn’t going to let this particular inconvenience get the best of me.

I practically broke open the door of the bus as we pulled up, I had been waiting next to the driver for the last 5 minutes of the ride like some insane person. I decided that a brisk walk would not do and broke into a jog, my backpack bouncing behind me as annoyingly as possible. I had maps open in my hand, watching as the ‘distance to destination’ grew smaller. I was making good progress, but it didn’t take long for my body to remember I’m not a 16 year old athlete anymore and let me know via some painful cramping that I needed to slow down. I began to walk, not just any walk though – I swear on that day I could’ve won any Olympic speed walking event. Drenched in sweat, I rounded the final corner to be met by one of the most magnificent views I’ve ever seen.

I wasn’t quite sure whether I was out of breath due to my physical exhaustion, or whether the view had quite literally taken it away. As I said, I had been to the falls before, but I had never seen them in all their glory. I strode along the riverside pathway, unable to look away from the constant flow of water breaking over the rocks below. I had my earphones in, I can’t quite remember what song was playing but it wouldn’t have mattered – the moment was perfect.

In a funny way, my second attempt at seeing Niagara Falls was the exact experience I was supposed to have. When you travel, nothing ever really goes exactly the way you want or need it to. There are always little things that could’ve been better, things you could’ve done differently or situations you could’ve handled with much more dignity. But the rewards are always there, and my reward was one of the most beautiful feats of nature on the planet. Of course, I didn’t have too much time to take in the falls; I snapped some photos and sat on the grass as the sun set.

This sunset was a significant one, it was the last one I would see on my east coast journey. It was the sun setting on a really important and defining portion of my life, a time that I learnt what it truly meant to feel happy and free. As the sun rays danced through the mist of the falls, they illuminated the faces of all the people around me. We were all sat there in awe of Mother Nature, her raw power and unrivalled beauty on full display. As I began my journey back to the bus depot, I kept my head turned until the falls were completely out of sight. I didn’t want to miss a fragment of the beauty, I wanted every memory tissue being formed in my brain to remember this moment. I will always remember the feeling I had as I sat down in the bus to return back to Toronto and prepare for my departure the next day.

I learnt a valuable lesson that afternoon, that determination will always be rewarded. It may not always be the reward you want, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the one you need. I very easily could’ve put my feet up in a Niagara cafe until my return bus came, resigned to my Niagara bad luck. But I made the effort to go and see what I had come to see, and I don’t regret it one bit. It won’t be the last world wonder I will see, and it sure as hell won’t be the last time something goes wrong on this crazy journey.

 

Mitch Dale

 

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