Now and Then: The kid, the bike and the Everest Challenge

I pity those unfortunate kids who live in the prairie towns and cities. We Flin Flon kids had (and have) great opportunities for fun, especially when it came to bicycle riding and the challenges of the hilly terrain.

I was around nine years old when my brother taught me how to ride. He got me on the bike, told me to pedal and then gave me a shove. I wavered and drove directly into the side of a parked truck. Oh, well! Get up and try again.

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Riding a bike meant freedom. A single-speed thirdhand bike. No fancy gears. Push the pedals hard and fast and you go faster.

If you were going up one of Flin Flon’s numerous hills, then it was push harder and go slower. Thus, I developed great strength in my legs, heart and lungs that benefit me to this day.

We had great times in the 1940s and ’50s when our Church Street boys would gather on a summer Saturday or during the holidays to go on a “bike hike.” We’d take a lunch and explore any number of bush roads or just tool around town.

The Big Divide and the Everest challenge that faced any Flin Flon kid on a bike was the daunting steep and lengthy ascent of Third Avenue Hill.

As is the case with gravity, going from uptown to “below the hill” was effortless, save for the energy required to maintain a death-grip on the handlebars as the bike gained speed.

There was also the fearful thought that a car coming off Sipple Hill would enter the intersection at the bottom or that an oncoming car would make a left turn at that corner.

Car drivers and pedestrians don’t often pay attention to bikes – and even when they do, they don’t expect a bike to be coming at them at 600 miles/1,000 km per hour! (My exaggeration made for point of emphasis!)

Of course a Flin Flon kid would not be satisfied with just coasting down the hill or even consider braking to reduce the breakneck speed. Indeed, a real, true-to-Flin Flon kid would actually pedal like mad while sailing along with gritted teeth. We were Flin Flon kids, remember? We just did stuff like that.

Well, going down The Hill was adventure, but the greater challenge was the challenge of pedalling non-stop UP Third Avenue Hill. The plan. Start at the top of the hill at Scarth Street and pedal like mad to gain as much speed as possible.

Again, there was the concern about errant vehicles and pedestrians getting in the way, but if all went well one could reach the one-third mark up Third Avenue Hill before the heavy pedalling began.

At age 12, my one and only attempt to do a non-stop went well as my clunky old bike and I reached the bottom of The Hill. I soon lost momentum and had to “stand-pedal” and work hard to keep moving.

I was barely moving at the halfway point and was about to stall when I had a brainwave. Why not tack from side to side as hikers or skiers would do on a steep rise? Yes! I began my meagre increments of forward motion all the while praying to the Bicycle God that a car wouldn’t appear over the crest when I was struggling on the left hand side the road. There is a Bicycle God!

Whew! Push hard on those pedals, Vincie. Remember The Little Engine That Could – and Did. Careful your foot doesn’t slip off the pedal on the down stroke – thus discovering your impending manhood. Keep your balance. Push!

Back and forth across the road I went in states of: 1. Terror about being hit. 2. Exhaustion 3. Exhilaration – as I progressed toward the top. “I made it!”, I exclaimed to myself puffing for breath while gazing back down The Hill. Mission accomplished – but with rubbery legs for a few days following.

There is no plaque at the Top of the Hill to mark my achievement. There is this wonderful memory, though. Perhaps you belong to this exclusive club!

Hey, you Prairie Flatlanders. Let’s see YOU try it, eh?

Vincent Murphy-Dodds is a former Flin Flon resident now living in Regina. His column appears the
first Wednesday of the month. Your comments on his column are welcomed. Contact vincent.murphy@sasktel.net.

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