Joan Robinson tells tales of two wheels

Tamara Vineberg - 02 September 2021

Joan Robinson is out on one of her cycling adventures.

Joan Robinson is the divisional director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. We talked about her passion outside of work一cycling.

Why do you love working in the Department of Pediatrics?

When I was an intern, a family physician advised me to avoid pediatrics as he had worked in several countries and wherever he went, the pediatricians squabbled like children. That has not been my experience in Edmonton. The physicians and administrative staff “ do unto others as they would have them do unto themselves” and put the interests of patients ahead of their own.

We heard you are an avid cyclist. How did this start?

I was six years old and my dad came home from the Innisfail Auction Mart with a bike that he bought for $10ーmaybe my favourite gift ever. I had never thought of the possibility that he considered me while bidding on steers and heifers. When I was nine years old, I could spend some of the profit from selling my first 4-H beef calf to buy a purple “mustang” bike (with high handlebars and a banana seat). I didn’t deserve the money as I never once fed that calf or the five that I had in subsequent years, yet more than once won the bookkeeping prize for documenting what my dad and older brother Larry fed my calf. I rode that bike many miles on gravel roads, picking up beer bottles in the ditch to return for the deposit. It was very exciting when in 1970 they added a deposit to pop cans. I cycled a little once I outgrew that bike.

Joan Robinson on her first bike in 1967.

However, we were interns at the Royal Columbian Hospital when my husband, Rob, came home with a $10 second-hand bike for me. It had five speeds but stuck repeatedly in the second-from-highest gear, leading to my bad habit of cycling uphill in too high of a gear (strangers cycling by me have been known to point it out, but one just last week gave me ill-deserved positive reinforcement by calling me “a machine”).

The day before I started my residency at the British Columbia Children’s Hospital in 1985, out of the blue, I tried riding my $10 bike the five kilometres to the hospital. It was easier than I imagined and I became hooked, although the black ice in the winter was treacherous. It was slightly uphill all the way to work, but one just had to point the bike towards home to get there when you had the post-call blues. Starting as a fourth- year resident, I spent 10 years of my life pregnant or breastfeeding our four kids (now aged 24 to 32) and cycled little. Again “out of the blue”, one Saturday after leaving the University of Alberta Hospital, I was at the Strathcona Farmers’ Market and in a manic moment wandered into United Cycle and surprised Rob by arriving home in our minivan with a 21-speed bike and roller blades. I fractured my humeral head while rollerblading and gave the roller blades away, but still love that bike. It is aluminum rather than steel and I could not believe how much easier that makes it to get up the hills.

In about 2000, Rob bought me a folding bike on his trip to China. The first time that I took it on a plane was in the by-gone era when you could check two pieces of luggage for free. On the way to Toronto, despite it being a legal piece of luggage, Air Canada charged me $50 because it was a bike. On the return trip, when asked what my canvas bag contained, I stated that it was a personal mobility device. The Air Canada agent did not want to admit that she was not familiar with it, and I got my bike home for free.

Why do you love cycling?

You go at the right speed to notice everything. I notice the flowers and trees and people and Rob notices the vehicles and the unique camping trailers.

How often are you on your bike? Where do you ride?

I cycle the 10 km to work unless there is ice, or the rain is bouncing off the sidewalk. During the pandemic I’ve been working from home for some days and what could be more luxurious than a mid-day spin on the bike “sans luggage”.

What is the longest distance you have gone on a bike? Why?

Rob and I cycled the Bow Valley Parkway last fall as it was closed to vehicles from Banff to Johnston’s Canyon with minimal traffic beyond that (130 km return trip).

What are the hidden cycling trail gems in Edmonton?

I love the three unique footbridges that were built across the river in recent years (the one near Fort Edmonton and the two south of that) and the trails that lead to them. Keillor Road is a great way to get from the university to the Fort Edmonton Bridge. Just beyond the bottom of the road, a majestic bridge crosses Whitemud Creek, near where it flows into the river. This spring, my son Emery and I found impressive graffiti in southwest Edmonton. It is off-trailーI would encourage you to cycle until you find it.

What challenges have you faced when cycling?

It is a challenge when I am paged on a wintry day and must reluctantly remove my mitts to dial and aim to get to the punch line. Let’s not talk about my crashes, all of which were my fault.

How else have you been keeping busy?

In the winter, Rob and I make cross-country ski trails in the field across from our house. Being a farmer’s daughter, I grow vegetables and flowers and dream of a better crop next year.