Like most kids growing up in the 60s, I loved to ride my bike. It was the freedom to move. To travel unencumbered in the world. To see new places, away from the watchful eyes of our parents.
I was lucky enough to grow up in a wonderful neighborhood called Woodhaven. Even the name was charming. It was a little pocket of childhood perfection bordered on one side by a creek and another side by a river. The third side was bordered by St. Charles Country Club, which was and is one of Winnipeg’s most prestigious and historic golf courses. It features a golf course designed by Alister MacKenzie, who was perhaps the most influential golf architect of his time. Of his many famous golf courses, he is likely best known by North Americans for his design of Augusta National Golf Club, which is the home of the Masters.
Every summer, gangs of us would ride our bikes around Woodhaven. We would ride up and down the hills and through the park, stopping by the river or the creek. We would make a daily pilgrimage to the Dairy Queen for an ice cream or a dilly bar. As we got older, we would venture further afield, making the trek to Assiniboine Park, which is the big city park in Winnipeg. We would wander around the zoo, checking out the monkey cages or the industrious and comical prairie dogs and have candy floss and play on the swings.
It was a near perfect childhood, and a bicycle played a large part in the fun.
Like many of us, the bike lost its luster as I moved into the teenage years and then adulthood. I’ve always had a bike, but rarely found the time as an adult to ride it, occupied instead with a career, family and friends.
This all changed one day rather serendipitously. I’d gone to my local gym for a workout, where I happened to see a notice on the bulletin board advertising a thousand mile bike ride called the Cycle of Hope, which was a fundraiser for the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. I had recently retired from work and was looking for a new challenge. I’d always been active in sports, and this seemed like a wonderful way to reconnect with something that I had loved so much as a child.
It was already the middle of May when I first saw the poster, and the ride started on July 1st. It was a huge commitment to make with so few days to train. The bike I owned at the time I had had for about ten years. It only had 1000 miles on it, and here I was contemplating a ride that would cover that many miles in two weeks. It seemed like a crazy idea, and I reasoned that I needed to test out my legs and see if they were up for the challenge of the trip.
One sunny Sunday morning, I hopped on my bike and ventured out of the city. I was feeling quite proud of myself as I clicked along at 20 kilometers per hour, hardly breathing heavy. Things were looking great until I turned around and started to head home. Only then did I realize I was being helped by a lovely tailwind all the way out. Pedaling home into a strong headwind, the best I could manage was 14 kph.
Given my then current physical condition, I figured the Habitat for Humanity ride was a little bit too much to handle that year. Instead, I would spend the winter and the early spring training for the ride the following year.
July 2011, I found myself with 45 other riders in St. Louis, Missouri ready to trace the path of the Mississippi River to its headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minnesota. Some days were truly difficult with the heat and humidity of the summer and all of those hills! Growing up in the central prairies of Canada, I had never experienced hills like this before on a bicycle. For some reason in my inexperienced mind, I never imagined that the shore of the Mississippi River would be so hilly. The river is flat, right?
In spite of the challenges, after two weeks, the love of my bike was rekindled. I had rediscovered the childhood joys of seeing new places and experiencing life on a bike.