Climbing the CN Tower

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CN (Canadian National) Tower is a 553.33 m-high (1,815.4 ft) concrete communications and observation tower in Toronto,  Canada.   It was completed in 1976, becoming the world’s tallest free-standing structure and world’s tallest tower at the time. It held both records for 34 years until the completion of Burj Khalifa and Canton Tower in 2010. It remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere, a signature icon of Toronto’s skyline, and a symbol of Canada, attracting more than two million international visitors annually.  Its name “CN” originally referred to Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower, following the railway’s decision to divest non-core freight railway assets.

The idea of the CN Tower originated in 1968 when the Canadian National Railway wanted to build a large TV and radio communication platform to serve the Toronto area.  As Toronto grew rapidly during the late 1960s and early 1970s, multiple skyscrapers were constructed in the downtown core and the reflective nature of the new buildings compromised the quality of broadcast signals necessitating new, higher antennas that were at least 300 m tall.  The CN Tower opened on 01 October 1976, but soon microwave communication and terrestrial TV/Radio transmissions were overtaken by satellite communication.  Now the tower is more of a tourist attraction and may be raking in more money than what it was intended for.

The 1,776 steps of the CN Tower’s main stairwell are climbed by over 20,000 people annually during two fundraising stair climbs for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the United Way raising well over $3 million for charity every year.  A trek up one of the tallest buildings in the world, the CN Tower Climb is one of the steepest physical challenges in the city.  Climbers face 144 flights of stairs with 1,776 steps, but the knowledge that all that hard work benefits a worthy cause like the United Way or the WWF, and with a bit of help from rest spots along the way, it’s sure to be a feat for over 10,000 climbers, who will look back on with pride.

Our family decided to undertake the feat on 21 April 2012, the day of the WWF climb.  We all practiced for a week by climbing up and down the two flights of stairs at home and going for a jog in the evening.  The children were enthusiastic about the feat, but were a bit scared about their parents.  Appa had left the army eight years before and added a few inches around his waist and Marina, a school days Kerala State 400m winner, had been out of physical activity for a long time.  So each one decided to take along each of the parents and proving Sigmund Freud correct, our daughter Nidhi decided to accompany Appa and our Son Nikhil decided to go along with Marina.  All set we took off early morning and reached the CN Tower.  We had to shed all our jackets at the registration counter and no loose objects like coins, keys, cell phones, water bottles etc are not allowed because in case anything falls off, it is sure to hurt someone climbing much below you.

There were thousands of people either climbing the tower or queuing up at the registration counters.  We commenced our climb after a frisking for any loose objects.  Marina was bit slow to begin with and Nikhil kept company.  Nidhi and self started well with Nidhi leading the way, until about 100 flights of stairs and then realised that Appa still had it in him and I reached the top, first amongst us in about 25 minutes.  Our daughter followed in a few minutes later.

The organisation enroute is worth mentioning.  There is a para-medic every four flights of stairs, to take care of any medical emergencies.  There were posters made by school children, bringing out the importance of wild life conservation and also about the climb, placed at the landing area after each flight.  As we reached on top, a bottle of water was handed over to each participant.  There were climbers of all ages – from kids to grandparents, disabled, amputees, veterans, etc.

After about 20 minutes we saw Nikhil pushing Marina out of the last step.  I asked him as to how they took 45 minutes to climb up to which he Marina said that Nikhil was all the way pushing and prodding her, and waiting with her when she took breaks and she would not have completed this climb without his assistance.  I felt really happy about his deed to take care of his mother and I asked him as to why he did not leave her and climb in good time as she would have somehow managed her way up.  To this Nikhil said that this may be the only time when Marina would climb the tower and he can do it in a shorter time later.  It was real moment of pride for all of us and I said to him that he did a great job in taking care of his mother and many teens would not have done so and I see a bright star in the sky in you.

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On reaching home in the afternoon, an Indian family friend called us to enquire about the climb.  He asked as to how much we paid and I said that we had to pay $100 per climber as charity to WWF.  To this he said that going up the elevator costs only $25 and you pay $100 to strain yourself and climb all the way.  I did not say a word in response.

In the evening another Indian friend wanted to know as to why I took the entire family for such an ordeal (in case you are mad, you could have done it yourself), and I said that it was aimed to boost self confidence and leadership qualities in children and also to encourage charity for a cause like WWF.  To this he said that he did not understand the connection between climbing 1776 steps and leadership qualities to which I did not respond.

Bicycle – Oh My Old Companion

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Our family friend took part in this year’s Tour De Mississauga, a 30/60/100 KM cycling event. This year it attracted over 1600 cyclists of all abilities from all around the Toronto Area. Cyclists of every age or ability, on every kind of bike (including electric assist), participated. The aim of the event is to familiarise cyclist with the various cycling trails and lanes available in the city, to develop a spirit of adventure and also to encourage cycling, both as a sport and as a physical activity. The event was well organized and truly lived up to its motto “THIS IS NOT A RACE – THE JOURNEY IS THE DESTINATION!”

As is the case with all such community activities in Toronto area like marathons, climbing the CN Tower, parades, etc, in this activity too there were hardly any participation by immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. When will we learn to amalgamate with the Canadian society?

Participating in such events will not only develop community spirit in the participants, but will also raise money for some charity. It develops leadership qualities in children and encourages the spirit of adventure in them. Preparing for the event and participation will keep everyone healthy and improve one’s confidence level. Completion of the event will give you immense pride and sense of achievement. It will prove to you that you are physically healthy to undertake such difficult ordeals.

The local governments are doing their best to encourage cycling as a daily activity. Most of the roads in the Toronto Area have either a bicycle lane or off-road cycling paths. Bicycle Lanes are typically 1.5 m to 2 m wide, and designate a space on the roadway exclusively for the use of cyclists. Motor vehicles are not allowed to drive, park or stand in the bike lane. Off-Road Paths include trails through parks and along the arterial roads. Cyclists, skaters and pedestrians often share these paths.

On arrival in Canada, I saw a something like a crash-guard which we have on the front bumpers of the cars back home on the buses in the Toronto Area. On inquiry I learnt that it is a cycle carrier to carry two cycles. Many commuters feel that cycling or taking the bus just doesn’t compete with the convenience of a car. But in Toronto Area, “biking and bussing” is easy. You can cycle to a bus stop or station and then bring your bike on the bus. By biking and bussing you’ll not only improve your health, but also help reduce gas emissions.

In Toronto, bicycles are permitted on buses, trains and subways at all times except weekdays during peak hours. Bicycle transportation is a growing activity in Toronto and throughout North America, due in part because of the many benefits cycling offers.

Transportation by bicycle is the most energy efficient mode of transportation, and generates no pollution, except in its manufacture. Cycling is often the fastest mode of transportation from door to door for distances up to 10 km in urban cores. Ten bicycles can be parked in the space required for a single automobile. Short distance motor-vehicle trips are the least fuel-efficient and generate the most pollution per kilometre. These trips have the greatest potential for being replaced by cycling and walking.

BIXI – Bike Share Toronto – is designed to be a convenient way to get around the city, and is ideal for short rides and one-way trips.  The members get access to 2,000 bikes across the city. They can pick up a bike at one of 200 stations, and drop it off at any other station when done.  One need to become an Annual Member or buy a Day Pass to be able to use Bixi. An Annual Member can insert a bike key into a dock to unlock a bike. Day Pass holders will get a ride code, which when typed into the keypad on the dock, unlocks a bike.  The first 30 minutes of each ride are included in the membership or pass price. One can keep a bike out for longer, but additional usage fees will apply.

Reducing auto trips will mitigate ozone depletion, the greenhouse effect, ground level air pollution, photochemical smog, acid rain and noise pollution. Cycling contributes to personal health by enhancing fitness and providing an enjoyable, convenient and affordable means of exercise and recreation. Increased physical activity, such as walking and cycling, can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and the cost of medical care, decrease workplace absenteeism, and maintain the independence of older adults. Cycling benefits one’s health regardless of the age at which one takes up cycling.

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During our training at the National Defence Academy, Pune, cycling was the only mode of transportation for the cadets, else one had to run. The Academy campus is spread over 7000 acres and to reach various training event sites, a cadet had to cycle an average of 20 km per day. While cycling, one had to maintain proper squad discipline and pay proper respects to passing senior officers. Any minor infringement ensured that the cycle was on you rather than you being on the cycle. Every semester begun with the cycle issue and always ended with the cycle return, after which was a month’s vacation. We used to have a weekly cycle maintenance parade to wash and repair the cycles. Thus even today, the cycle is the most ardent companion of every cadet at the academy, without which life would have been much more difficult.