My passion for road riding began in Winnipeg when I was in my early teens. Since those early halcyon days riding the prairie flats, I’ve since cycled the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Coast and other myriad highways. But it was riding along Portage Avenue and around Assiniboine Park, which were a part of my wonder years, that helped open my eyes and ready my legs for the miles to come.
My favorite short ride began cycling south from home on Vimy Road beneath the cool shade of the ash/elm trees and east on Portage Avenue. I was typically in a hurry and would bomb as fast as I could to get to Assiniboine Park. I would cross over the footbridge at Overdale Street and, before turning onto the walking/cycling path, take in the fields teeming with people playing a pick-up game of soccer, tossing a frisbee, or sun-bathing. In those days sun-tanning was cool and cycling with a helmet was not.
Then I would begin my ride. I would alternately accelerate on the straightaways, coast through the corners and always soak in the sunshine and the sights. The lazy Assiniboine River flowed to my right and was a reminder that the ride didn’t always have to be hard to be rewarding. I would always slow down whenever the bike path approached the zoo, straining to see animals that I hoped were as curious to see me as I was them, but this was an infrequent occurrence. I would also have to be careful not to collide with people who were similarly enjoying the park either on foot or on a bike.
The path crossed Corydon Avenue to the south and swung back east, running parallel to the Tuxedo Golf Course. I recall my parents telling me to keep an eye out for errant flying golf balls, but this was never a concern. My ride would then take me towards the Pavilion, a building I most likely under-appreciated as a teenager, but I must have somehow felt its majesty and always found my bike swerving towards it so I could just sneak in a peak. Then it was a quick spin through Old Tuxedo and Wellington Crescent before beginning the ride home.
I always appreciated my neighbourhood more on the way back, likely because I was beginning to tire and also because there was so much to see. Various landmarks I recall include the Silver Heights Restaurant and the mural that says "54 more miles to Portage. It’s a long tramp." The mural is a city landmark and is nearly 100 years old. I’ve sometimes thought of it during long hard rides and I suppose it served as inspiration to hang in there and not give up.
Just afterwards was Grant’s Old Mill, a mill from the mid-19th century that was restored in 1973. At the mill, I would often take the path along Sturgeon Creek, a waterway where friends and I would test (sometimes unsuccessfully) ice thickness by jumping up and down on it. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The path passed in front of the fields of the Grace Hospital and under Sturgeon Road. It continued along the east side of the creek, over the wooden bridge and towards the playground near my old elementary school, which has long since been torn down and replaced by a Superstore. Then I would cycle the few remaining blocks home.
The sights may have changed in the 35 years since, and I don’t visit as often as I should anymore but the fond feelings remain the same thinking back to riding my favorite route in Winnipeg.
After years of effort, Jon eventually rid himself of his training wheels and rode the road less travelled off into the sun. He has worked as a climbing guide, trained and coordinated search and rescue and is now the Associate Dean of Law at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C. He spends as much time as he can outside trying desperately to keep up with his two kids.