You’ll never guess who just discovered the joy of winter
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/02/2022 (195 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
This probably will not surprise longtime readers, but I am not one of those hardy Manitobans who courageously embraces outdoor activities during the winter months.
No, I am one of those surly people who bravely embraces their blankets and then pulls them over their head and refuses to get out of bed when the temperature plummets to the point where your medically valuable organs freeze if you are foolish enough to venture outside.
In contrast, my wife cannot get enough of “fun” winter activities, such as cross-country skiing and walking and building snow persons and sitting around the backyard fire pit with a steaming mug of hot chocolate while snow accumulates on the top of her head.
Which explains why every Sunday morning, while I hide under the covers, my wife will join up with our outdoorsy friends Cathy and Paul to engage in some manner of winter adventure. Last Sunday, as I pretended to be asleep, my spouse flicked on the lights and explained it was time for me to get up.
“You’re going with us!” she declared. “We’re going to walk along the river trail to The Forks and check out all the warming huts.”
“I’m already warm,” I explained in an effort to use logic against her.
“It’s going to be fun,” she insisted, “and after we finish walking along the river we can go for breakfast.”
I pondered this obvious bribe. “So if I go walking with you I can have bacon?” I asked.
“You can have as much bacon as you want,” she replied, rolling her eyes.
“OK,” I grunted, throwing back the covers. “I’m in.”
Which is how, just after 8 a.m., I found myself standing on the frozen Assiniboine River at the foot of the Hugo Docks with my upbeat wife and our extremely perky friends, Cathy and Paul.
In a sincere effort to keep my internal organs warm, I was dressed like Scott of the Antarctic, decked out in a down-filled parka large enough to shelter a family of four, extra-large winter boots, fleece-lined mittens and a tuque with a fuzzy pompom bobbling on top.
Unlike my walking companions, I was also sporting a scowl to signal to passers-by that walking along a frozen river trail was not my idea of an excellent pastime, at least not for people who consider themselves to be sane.
As we trudged along the Nestaweya River Trail on our way to The Forks, it became apparent that my wife and friends were not the only Winnipeggers who had developed a positive relationship with the great, albeit frozen, outdoors.
Dozens of skaters zipped past us on the frozen trail alongside the bustling walking path, and every few minutes we had to make way for happy knots of joggers in high-tech running gear and fluorescent toques, not to mention squads of helmet-wearing cyclists pedalling furiously on fat-tired winter bikes.
I am not the fastest walker in the best of conditions, and at one point we were passed by a pair of cheerful, fast-striding older women who recognized my grouchy face and tried to cheer me up by shouting: “Smile, Doug, it’s a beautiful day to be outdoors!”
“Ha ha ha!” is what I replied in a sincere effort to prove I was doing my (bad word) best to fit in with the rest of the winter enthusiasts.
In an effort to boost my spirits, our friend Cathy explained that her two-and-a-half-year-old grandson had just become a “real Canadian” by experiencing a traditional rite of passage — sticking his lips onto a piece of frozen metal at the playground.
The little guy survived with his lips intact, but Cathy went on to say that he was just a chip off the old block because, when she was his age, she couldn’t resist touching her tongue to frozen hunks of metal.
“I licked the mailbox, a fire hydrant and the baseball backstop at the community centre,” she recalled, laughing. “My family had to follow me around with a cloth soaked in hot water.”
On our way to The Forks and back, we checked out dozens of incredibly imaginative warming huts — none of which was especially warm, but all of which showcased a whimsical sense of humour and a sort of pioneering Prairie spirit. We got loud in the Sounds Crazy Caboose, essentially a repurposed train car created by legendary children’s entertainer Al Simmons and filled with homemade musical instruments.
Near the Legislative Building, I found myself drawn to an architectural marvel, a warming hut that appeared to be made from gigantic Lego blocks to resemble a huge golden bison. It is theoretically possible to wriggle inside this structure if, unlike me, you have the flexibility of an Olympic gymnast.
I don’t want to sound like a Hallmark card, but as we trekked the frozen river trail — about 12,000 steps or around 10 kilometres — I chanced to look up and took in a breathtaking view you can only enjoy during the winter — hundreds of apartment blocks and stately buildings and snow-covered trees towering over the riverbank with a sort of eerie majesty.
As hard as this is for me to admit, I really enjoyed this three-hour winter odyssey along a frozen river. It was inspiring to be surrounded by a throng of warmly clad Winnipeggers also abandoning their cosy beds to celebrate our city’s frozen landscape.
When we got back to the car, my legs were exhausted, but the early-morning trek warmed my heart, not to mention my stomach, because the post-walk bacon couldn’t have been more delicious.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.