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Finding solace outside

Teacher's aide turned to cycling, outdoor pursuits after COVID shut down her gym.
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Brrr! Charlene Marklund prepares for a bike ride in Kingswood Park on a nippy Saturday morning in late October. RACHEL NARVEY/St. Albert Gazette

When you can’t go to the gym, there’s always an adventure waiting for you in the vast outdoors. 

That’s the attitude Charlene Marklund — a St. Albert teacher’s aide — adopted when gyms closed down due to COVID-19, and one she has kept ever since. 

Last year, Marklund walked 2,276 kilometres in five months, the equivalent of walking from St. Albert to Colorado. This year Marklund picked up one of her former favourite hobbies — cycling — and traveled a total of more than 3,500 kilometres, roughly the equivalent of going from St. Albert to Houston, Texas. 

“I did Jasper, the cycle from Kelowna to Penticton, out to Villeneuve from my house,” Marklund said. “Whenever I can get on my bike and be outside, I do it. It’s so good for my mental health.”

Marklund said she appreciates the options afforded by the varied terrain in both Alberta and British Columbia, listing Elk Island as a particular favourite place to go cycling. She said she also enjoys riding out along Alberta's highways, and has found cars are often considerate and give her space. 

“I rode out to Westlock, and I actually got stopped by the RCMP,” Marklund said. “The officer warned me it was a bad highway to ride on at night, but it was the morning and I was only going there for coffee at Tim Hortons.”

With winter fast approaching, Marklund said she'll be leaving the lengthy coffee trips behind and turn to another means of exploring outside: snowshoes. 

“I always pick the hard hikes off all trails to get a good challenge when snowshoeing,” Marklund said. “There’s nothing that beats being in the mountains.”

When asked what other adventures she has planned, Marklund said she has pegged climbing Machu Picchu as a bucket-list goal. 

“I would love to do that one, but I would definitely want to go with a group,” Marklund said. “I’ve got one friend that’s willing so far.”

The 57-year-old said she’s also partial to hiking, and noted she’s found Facebook groups especially helpful for learning tips and discovering the best routes.

For those just starting to cycle, Marklund said joining a similar online group can be helpful, noting places such as Cranky’s Bike Shop also have riding clubs that cater to different experience levels. 

“It’s a great way to meet people,” Marklund said. 

Having a fancy bike isn’t important, Marklund said. Instead, St. Albert or Edmonton buy-and-sell groups can be a good place to look for a deal. 

“Once you have a bike you don’t need much other than a helmet ... maybe a good pair of padded shorts!” Marklund laughed.

After remaining motivated throughout the pandemic, Marklund said her determination to get active and explore has begun to rub off on long-time friends of her and her husband, Doug. 

“Friends of ours just got into biking, and we motivated them to go a bit further than what they were riding by themselves,” Marklund said. “The four of us would easily ride 40 kilometres.”

While the year has been full of ups and downs with the ongoing pandemic, Marklund said she is thrilled to have an outlet in such a fulfilling activity. 

“Things can seem so daunting and difficult,” Marklund said. “It’s so nice to get moving and think about nothing other than your surroundings.”


Rachel Narvey

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