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By: Jamie Hall, Edmonton Journal
Edmonton doctor cycles through winter for health
Darren Markland talks about the joys and the pitfalls of cycling to work every day of the year, even in the dead of winter.
Darren Markland is an intensive care doctor at the Royal Alexandra Hospital who cycles to work 365 days a year, even in the dead of winter.
Darren Markland’s colleagues at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital often joke — as only doctors can — that his insistence on cycling to work regardless of the weather will one day land him in the unit where he conducts his daily rounds.
The intensive care doc says it is he who gets the last laugh, especially on days when snowstorms turn city roads into skating rinks and commutes into hair-raising endurance tests, as was the case last week. When his cohorts arrived late to work, nerves jangling, knuckles still white from their death grip on the steering wheel, he was already there, relaxed, revitalized, practically serene.
Edmonton streets are not bicycle friendly during the winter.
“I got to work before half of my colleagues did,” he says with a chuckle, “and I had already enjoyed the best part of my day.
“The thing about living in Edmonton is that we have some of the best terrain and the most beautiful vistas. We have to take advantage of that.”
Treacherous city streets after the first snow fall
Markland, 41, has always been an avid cyclist, but two years ago he made a commitment to ride his bike in Edmonton year-round, even during winter. So far, so good.
Christopher Chan says while Markland may be among the more hardcore cyclists — not everyone can pedal through an entire Edmonton winter — he is definitely part of a growing breed.
“More and more people are extending their cycling season to include winter,” says Chan, the executive director of the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters’ Society.
Darren Markland on his way to work
While the City of Edmonton hasn’t done a bicycle count survey recently, the one conducted in 2005-06 showed that 25,000 bike trips were made each weekday, up from 10,000 the previous decade. It’s hard to know how many of those were winter commuters, says Chan. But, he says, the society has put on winter cycling seminars and do-it-yourself studded tire courses for several years now and their popularity continues to skyrocket. So much so, in fact, that in recent years they’ve been forced to turn people away.
Chan credits the current city council with embracing a winter city strategy that has seen the city’s extensive trail system plowed and cleared, usually within 24 hours.
“They’re really trying to make the city more livable year-round,” says Chan.
Edmonton streets in the winter
Markland agrees. “There are way more people on the trails than there used to be,” he says. “It’s a mixed blessing, really, because one of the things I like about winter cycling is that I’m by myself. Now there are more people out there, and you get to know them because they’re very like-minded.”
In snowy weather, Markland brings out his “tank,” a custom 29-inch carbon fibre studded single-speed bike with hydraulic brakes.
“It’s a slow plodder, but it has great traction,” says Markland.
He and his wife Julia Ackland-Snow and their two sons Liam and Aidan live in Glenora. Most of his five-kilometre commute to work — which usually takes about 30 minutes — is on the trails through the river valley. “The final bit is a bit dodgy, though,” he adds. “There’s no easy way to get through the inner city.”
He makes sure to make eye contact with motorists, and is quick with a wave.
“Everyone says Edmonton drivers are a difficult breed, but they’re pretty respectful,” he says. “You have to follow the rules of the road. I think people expect cyclists to be jerks — and there are a fair number of them out there. I call them out when I see them breaking the rules; there needs to be more pressure on them from cycling advocates to be responsible.”
Shift work is unavoidable when you’re a doctor, but Markland pedals day or night, no matter what the season. It’s all about having the right gear, and wearing the right attire. It’s only been recently that he’s discovered the glory of merino wool, for instance, which keeps you warm but wicks sweat away from your body.
“It’s just amazing,” he says. “You don’t want to get too hot and sweaty because then you cool off too much. Wool is the perfect modulator of moisture.”
More than just a statement about personal health and fitness, Markland says when he cycles he’s modelling a lifestyle as a parent, a physician and a citizen of the world.
He says he doesn’t see the city as a sustainable place to live with its plethora of too-big vehicles that often drive short distances and idle incessantly.
Edmonton streets in the winter
Riding a bike, he says, is a simple way for him to reduce his carbon footprint, and teach his sons responsible values.
“Plus,” he says, “it provides ammunition when I talk to patients about losing weight and doing regular physical activity because it’s something I do myself.
“What’s the saying? Never trust a skinny pastry chef or a fat doctor.”
Photography by: Greg Southam, Edmonton Journal
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