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Food for the sole: Calgary man strides toward goal of walking the entire city

Mark Shupe goes through a pair of shoes about every four months; he prefers his Salomon Speedcross 5s.

Walking an average of 15 kilometres per day has a tendency to wear away at the soles.  

Shupe, who just turned 60, began a quest back in 2018 to walk all of Calgary’s streets. The goal was to try to complete it in five years.  There have been setbacks, but Shupe still has his sights set on seeing all – or most – of Calgary on foot.

Initially, he and his family, who had moved to Calgary in 2006, got to know the city by travelling to the different rinks for either hockey or ringette.  He’d use that as his base for further community exploration.

“There’d be some time where we’d wait for kids to have their game or get through the practice, and I would just walk around the neighbourhood,” Shupe said.

Shupe, an Imperial Oil employee for 30 years, was two years and thousands of kilometres in when he had his first heart attack in February 2020. That required triple bypass surgery. Initially, he was supposed to have quintuple bypass surgery, but some of the arteries weren’t fit to do the graft.

Once recovered, the doctors encouraged him to keep going.

Shupe is working on a book called HA, HA (Heart Attack, Heart Attack): How to recover from two heart attacks with a sense of humour.

“You’ve got to keep moving, they told me,” Shupe said. So, he continued on.

Then, Shupe said, one of the original bypass grafts failed, resulting in a second heart attack in November that year.

“That’s what caused the heart attack and (doctors) said there was nothing that they could do.”

One of the things that helped him was he had a world class vo2 – which is heart/oxygen uptake – before the heart attacks. Shupe said his heart’s suffered damage, “but I had some room for error.”

Method to the madness

Calgary has roughly 16,000 lane kilometres of roadway (all lanes combined). Shupe isn’t walking the main arteries like Deerfoot, Glenmore, Crowchild – areas where the walking infrastructure doesn’t exist or isn’t safe. 

He’s already walked most of what’s north of 16 Avenue NE – minus Valley Ridge. He said construction in the area has made it challenging to access easily. He’s done a number of areas in south Calgary but still has some to go. He has larger areas like Chapparal, Cranston and Copperfield still on the list.

Shupe tries to mix things up; he’d walk one day in the northwest, then another day in the northeast. The next, he’d do a day from his office location in Quarry Park, before his retirement last year.

He learned quickly that you had to do it contiguously or he’d work himself into a corner, then see that he still had to hit a couple of side streets.  

“Then, I’ve got to get in the car again and go someplace else,” Shupe said.

Shupe avoids going back to neighbourhoods on consecutive days – though sometimes he does go back to community if there’s a small area to finish.

“Yes, some days it’s boring. But it’s always those days of surprise and something you never expected that make it worth your while and it makes it so interesting,” he said.

“It’s not like going around the same neighbourhood and seeing the same thing every time, every day. It’s something new.”

Calgary’s nooks and crannies

Shupe’s been surprised by the number of hidden parks there are around Calgary. That’s been one of the highlights. He’s also partial to those streets that give a view of the city and the river valley.

He said there’s a view in McKenzie along the boundary of Fish Creek Park that combines the river valley, the city skyline and the mountains.

“That’s a spectacular view,” Shupe said.

One of the views Mark Shupe has encountered on his walking adventures throughout Calgary. COURTESY MARK SHUPE

The street behind the Calgary Herald building that overlooks Deerfoot Trail and has a view of the entire city is another favourite.

“Anything along the Elbow River is gorgeous, and you get to see some of the backyards of places that you wish you could live in,” he laughed.

He recently journeyed in Aspen Woods and thought that was a nice area, but he wondered about the impact of having Stoney Trail in the area. Shupe has also enjoyed the walks along 11 and 12 Avenue with the murals and Inglewood’s funky shops.

The number of small community cultural organizations has also surprised Shupe.

“That’s great to see that all of those communities are alive and got their own community,” he said.

“There’s one for Denmark. There’s one for Czechoslovakia and you go on and on. I thought that was quite interesting.”

You can’t walk 10,000 kilometres without a hitch

While most of Shupe’s adventures have gone stumble-free, he has found himself in a few tight spots… literally. 

One of those was a walk into Discovery Ridge, which he later found out had a private gate. Once he’d done the neighbourhood walk, he came back to the gate, and it was closed. 

“I had to crawl under the gate, which was about six inches of room, and then I’m at least eight inches thick, so I kind of scraped my back trying to crawl under this gate,” Shupe recalled.

Another he called the “The Anderson Trap” typified some of the common troubles he runs into. These are long stretches of road that are generally fenced with no gaps. He’s run into a few situations where he’s had to find small gaps so he can walk new ground without backtracking.

Shupe said he would have had to backtrack three kilometres because he was fenced into ‘The Anderson Trap.’ He managed to find a way out. COURTESY MARK SHUPE

Add in a few snow slips and the odd strange look from residents to round out some of the tribulations.

COVID also presented a bit of a challenge with his heart condition. Shupe said he’s been careful and goes at low traffic times, when possible, and often wears a mask.

Mostly, people give him a smile and a nod, sometimes the odd conversation. Most think his goal to travel Calgary on foot is pretty cool.

Having walked so many of Calgary’s streets also makes one a bit of an expert in the city’s pedestrian infrastructure. For the most part it’s decent, Shupe said. 

Some suburban areas have no sidewalks, some have one. Many subdivisions are set up to be driving areas, he said.   

Shupe also said it would be nice to be able to stroll along Crowchild or Shaganappi or Sarcee Trail.

“That would be my one complaint is some of the bigger trails you can’t walk along,” he said.

Four months behind

Shupe said the recovery time has put him four months behind his original target.

Still, he estimates that he’s about 10,000 kilometres into the journey, with another roughly 4,000 to go.

He’s on beta blockers and he can’t raise his heart rate to more than 142 beats per minute. Doctor’s orders.  Some of Calgary’s hilly terrain forces a pause to catch his breath, but for the most part the health condition hasn’t slowed him down.

Barring a cold and snowy winter, Shupe thinks he can still come close to his five-year goal. Maybe springtime he’ll finish. Definitely by June at the latest.

He encourages other Calgarians to get out and explore their neighbourhoods and other parts of the city.

“It’s fantastic because you see things that you wouldn’t otherwise get to see. And you see it at a pace that you can appreciate,” he said.

“It’s been a terrific way to see the city.”

Tips if you head out on an ‘urban hike’

Shupe refers to it as urban hiking – so you need to prepare like you would for a hike in the foothills or the mountains.

  • Bring a change of clothes, the weather can change quickly in Calgary
  • Bring a cellphone; he often uses a map to mark his path, but the smartphone maps come in handy if you need a location.
  • Make sure you have water. “There’s long stretches between some gas stations and little convenience stores,” Shupe said.
  • Credit or debit card – for emergencies.