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Hiking challenge beats the COVID-19 blues

Wild Flour Bakery and Little Wild Coffee keep the stoke high and not just with coffee.
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Wild Flour Bakery employees Lucie Mihálová and Garry Gonis celebrate their win, after climbing Tunnel Mountain 90 and 88 times respectfully, in a friendly morale-boosting competition throughout May

Employees at two Bow Valley eateries reached new heights in a friendly morale-boosting competition last month.

Wild Flour Bakery general manager Nick Veriker challenged staff to summit Tunnel Mountain, also known as Sleeping Buffalo, a 4.3 kilometre roundtrip hike, as many times as possible throughout May in hopes to boost morale. The competition also included staff at the sister store Little Wild Coffee by Wild Flour.

“It was to encourage the staff to increase their energy levels, lower stress and improve overall physical and mental health with regular physical activity,” he said. “It was really trying to encourage them to go out and either do it on an individual basis or with colleagues. It was to boost everyone’s spirits.”

IMG-20210531-WA0004Final summit in the 31 day challenge period. Photo by Wild Flour Bakery

Lucie Mihálová, who works in the Wild Flour Bakery kitchen, won the challenge by summiting Sleeping Buffalo 90 times with as many as nine climbs in a single day. 

“I was like, I can win this,” he said. “It’s an easy one.”

Mihálová, who’s been working at Wild Flour Bakery for three years, is part of a running group with friends from the Czech Republic.

“I was like, I can do both, but it turned out to be quite hard because Garry (Gonis, a fellow employee) was trying to go there as many times as possible,” she said. “On the last week I was going five times per day. I would go up quickly and run back down.”

Mihálová made some trips with co-workers and others with her partner.

Wild Flour Image Library-500 Photo by Wild Flour Bakery

While she revelled in the challenge, Mihálová said she’s managed to keep a positive attitude despite the struggles Wild Flour Bakery faced with the frequent closure of in-store dining throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I just was like, 'okay, that’s how it is and it will pass in the future,'” she said.

Gonis, who summited Sleeping Buffalo 88 times, a close second to Mihálová, was stoked when he learned about the challenge.

“I was like, 'this is awesome,'” he said. “It’s right there. Anyone can do it and it gets people outside.”

The lifelong hiker, who’s been working at Wild Flour for eight years, said it was a great way to stay positive during such a trying time.

A musician with the country rock group The Ramblin’ Hey, Ho, Ha’s, Gonis went from playing 125 gigs a year to none the past 15 months.

Despite the lack of gigs and watching Wild Flour’s door close to indoor seating again and again, Gonis feels that staff remained in good spirits overall.

“The staff have been sharing hours and doing what they can to keep it going,” he said. “The competition was just something different to maybe shake things up. I was feeling physically better every time I went up.”

The determination of employees like Mihálová and Gonis caught Veriker by surprise.

“My expectations was for the winner to have done it roughly 35 times,” said Veriker, who made the trek himself 26 times. “I’d see them on the trail all of the time.”

Throughout the challenge, Veriker noticed a change in mood amongst participating staff members.

“It became something to talk about, other than the current state of affairs, as a shared interest,” he said. “The general vibe is a little more upbeat. It’s just been nice to be able to engage with the staff and have this friendly competition with them.”

To celebrate, the staff participated in a collective hike up Sleeping Buffalo the final evening of the challenge, while adhering to COVID-19 safety protocols.

Veriker said he plans to continue with morale-boosting activities for staff in the future.

“We will continue to evolve on the idea,” he said. “Always finding some kind of motivational activity for staff is important.”