We are now in Hog’s Back Park, following the bike path across a grassy meadow above the river until it rejoins it after a long S-bend descent designed to slow speeding bicycles on their way to yet another park, this one named for Canada’s first native-born Governor-General, Vincent Massey, and reached by way of an access road under the massive Heron Road bridge. This bridge collapsed as it was being built in 1966, and a memorial stone in the vast greenfield of the park lists the names of those who lost their lives there. The bike path is at the edge of the park, following the curve of the river still far below it, until it plunges into dense forest, a welcome break from the pitiless heat of the sun. Seeing a drinking fountain near washroom facilities, I stop to drink from my own cold flask, knowing that this city water is always unpalatably lukewarm. The park is empty, and the only sounds, apart from a distant hum of traffic, are those of birdsong and whispering leaves in the crown of its canopy above, open in places to the deep cloudless blue of the sky. As it is midsummer, the sound of the river’s flow is inaudible; in spring, however, it is a raging and dangerous torrent.
Refreshed, I continue my descent, as the bike path meanders down to meet the riverbank, threading its way between thick trunks of tall trees in a cool respite from the heat. You usually need to check your speed on the downslope, as small children at the mercy of inattentive parents often wander heedless across the path or rush out unaware from behind the trees, but today is a weekday, and none are present. As I pass under the O-Train railway bridge connecting the Carleton University campus with Confederation Heights, a diesel light rail train rumbles softly past overhead.
A groundhog pauses to watch me pass. The bike path is now level with the river, and soon will come a short steep incline that causes me to shift gears to manage it. Younger cyclists handle this with ease, but they are not carrying my burden of years. On the brow of the incline, the scene has changed from arboreal gloom to a miracle of light on water. Before me spreads the serenity of a wider river moving slowly under the George Dunbar road bridge carrying busy Bronson Avenue traffic north to downtown and south to the airport. Beyond this bridge, the river briefly takes on the illusory appearance of the Avon through Stratford: both vistas possess mown and treed green parkland combining reflective riverside walks with views of great pastoral beauty: a gentle narrowing of the river followed by curving riverbanks crowned with lush vegetation, numerous families of ducks, two small islets of roosting birds, and some ‘royal’ swans sailing in pairs down the river, the latter the progeny of an earlier gift of Her Majesty the Queen, and doubtless proud of their provenance. At Billings Bridge, I begin my return journey. I leave the bike path and cross the bridge. Here the water is shallow enough for me to see down to the riverbed. I pause mid-bridge to watch a couple of stand-up paddleboard novices who are trying out their boards on the millpond-calm surface watched by seagulls on rocks exposed by the river’s low summertime level. The sailors both look somewhat sunburned, but are gamely trying to make their way back to the riverbank, presumably to return their rented craft.