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Glenbow Ranch Park unicyclist turns heads, stewards acre of land

A Bearspaw resident who has taken up unicycling along the trails of Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park (GRPP) during the COVID-19 pandemic recently expressed his appreciation for the park by partaking in the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation's Steward an Acre fundraising program.

A Bearspaw resident who has taken up unicycling along the trails of Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park (GRPP) during the COVID-19 pandemic recently expressed his appreciation for the park by partaking in the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation's Steward an Acre fundraising program.

Since the start of the pandemic, 62-year-old athlete Stephen Bennett has replaced trips to the gym with time spent hiking and traversing the park’s many trails. In the fall of 2020, he rekindled an old love and found a further connection to the Bow River Valley when he discovered mountain unicycling.

According to Bennett, unicycles are not the circus prop some people think they are – in fact, the sport of unicycling has changed considerably since he first picked up a one-wheeler at the age of 15.

“My neighbour was unicycling, so I bought his unicycle and learned how to do it,” he said of his introduction to the sport. “It took me about three weeks, and it was just a 20-inch unicycle, which I still have. Over the next 45 years, I barely touched it.”

After watching a few videos online of unicyclists manoeuvring rocky and mountainous terrain, Bennett said he decided he would give the activity a go. He purchased his own mountain unicycle featuring a 27-½ inch diameter wheel and 3-¼ inch tire.

While at first Bennett struggled to ride his new unicycle more than a few hundred yards at a time, after a few months of practice, he was able to average eight kilometers, with his furthest attempt totalling 18 kilometers.

“The quality of exercise is way up there for getting your cardio going and your heart up,” he said, comparing it to the likes of cycling and swimming. “The quality of exercise you get from [it] is absolutely incredible.

“It’s extremely physically demanding on your thighs and torso area.”

He added catching a mountain unicyclist in the act is a rare sighting, because it is an incredibly difficult sport to attempt.

“I trained the whole summer to be able to unicycle up the big hill at Glenbow Ranch and at the end of the summer, I finally got it,” he said. “Once I mastered it in October, I started doing cycling regularly at Glenbow Ranch Park because it’s the best place – the trails are quite interesting.”

As a result of his $150 donation, Bennett ensures his chosen acre of land – located in the Aspen Quadrant of the park – will be maintained and preserved for three years.

He said the acre of land he sponsored serves as a favourite lookout point to watch ice flow down the Bow River into the ice jam downstream, an area called the narrows.

“It’s freezing cold in there, but you see the ice packs up and you can see the steam coming off the river and hear the loud ice cracks,” he said. “While I was there, coyotes way up on the cliff were watching me go by.

“It’s a beautiful place. It’s quite a stark atmosphere, but I kind of like that – it's just so open and I like seeing the extremes of weather,” he said, adding he has unicycled at the park in -20 degree weather.

According to Bennett, his favourite elements of Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park include the open landscape that provides a view of the best and worst of weather conditions, and well-maintained paths that are never crowded, even if the parking lot is full.

He added the scenery at the park keeps him going back repeatedly, adding it is conducive to relaxation.

“It’s very peaceful there and it’s a great place to get outdoors and see the nature and exercise at the same time,” he said, adding the park is only a 20-minute drive from his home. “It’s just a very pleasant atmosphere with beautiful views and you can see nature and go as far as you want, far enough to be totally exhausted.”

Bennett said he tries to visit the park on his unicycle every other day, and when he does, he often receives comments from passersby.

“Some of the comments I get are quite hilarious,” he said. “One guy said, ‘Well, now I’ve seen everything.’”

In addition, Bennett recalled a pair of bird watchers who one early morning were guffawing at the sight of his unicycle.

“I cycled by and said hello and they turned to me – you could see them spending a few seconds registering what they were looking at,” he said. “And then out of my peripheral vision, I see their cameras turn towards me to get a clip.”

He added other comments he receives from visitors at the park include remarks that he must have lost a wheel, which he responds with ‘I’ve just grown out of the training wheels,’ he said with a laugh.

Carmen Cundy, AirdrieToday.com

Follow me on Twitter @carmenrcundy




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Carmen Cundy

About the Author: Carmen Cundy

Carmen Cundy joined the Airdrie Today team in March 2021.
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