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Five Things I Learned While Going Outside with Jeromy Farkas
Annalise takes a walk with one-term-councillor/runner-up in 2021 mayoral election/avid fundraising hiker/Pacific Crest Trail finisher
(To our non-Calgary readers, or folks who read our work to escape politics, apologies for this week’s entry.)
I know a lot of people who love to go outside — people who love to hike, people who are avid adventurers of trails long and short — who don’t make the news.
And then there’s Jeromy Farkas.
Farkas has been in the headlines regularly since he ran for mayor in the 2021 Calgary municipal election, finishing second with 30 per cent of the vote share. First elected as a Calgary city councillor at age 31, the conservative politician was a divisive figure around the council table.
Headlines from his four years (2017-2021) on city council such as ‘Council votes to eject Farkas from meeting after 'dishonest' Facebook post or Nenshi calls on Farkas to apologize for ‘skimming’ comments have recently been replaced with very different news articles.
In March 2022, Farkas announced he would spend 100 days running the 4,300-kilometre Pacific Crest Trail to honour his late Granny and raise $50,000 for local non-profit Big Brothers Big Sisters Calgary and Area. Reporters interviewed him throughout the journey and there were several stories when he finished the gruelling trail in late August, after 168 days and more than $200,000 raised.
He was in the news again this January, when he embarked on another fundraising adventure — this time by climbing 25 peaks in 25 days in hopes of raising $25,000 for The Alex.
“His peaks will vary in length and difficulty…They’ll be anywhere from three hours roundtrip to 10. Anyone adventurous enough is free to join him, Farkas said.”
I read the above quote in a Livewire Calgary news article about Farkas’ winter hiking plans. I was reminded of the fun I’d had interviewing city councillors while doing activities with them (like biking or driving around the suburbs) during my time as a city hall reporter at the Calgary Herald.
And so, despite the fact I am no longer a reporter, I reached out to Farkas and asked for a hiking interview for this Substack newsletter.
He kindly agreed and we quickly made plans to carpool and hike Yamnuska for one of his 25 peaks. Sadly, those plans were last-minute thwarted by the daycare plague, and instead we rescheduled for January 27, which was the day after Farkas successfully completed his 25 peaks goal. I dusted off the recorder I used when I covered Farkas on the city hall beat and we enjoyed a snowy walk.
Here are five things I learned while going outside with Farkas, on a 90-minute walk in Calgary’s Bowmont Park:
#1 He hasn’t changed
When I told people about my plans to hike with Farkas, it led to a reoccurring discussion: has he actually changed? This fundraising Farkas feels so different than the combative Farkas we knew from his time in politics. Is the hiking just a publicity stunt?
Farkas’ answer to this question in previous news stories has been that there’s a lot easier ways to get back into politics than running across a continent. This a message he repeated on our walk, also stating: “Every fundraising campaign is a publicity stunt.”
In my own conversations with people in my orbit about the ‘has Farkas changed?’ question, answers were mixed. How could you not change after spending nearly 200 days hiking and reflecting for hours on end? some wondered. This good guy fundraising Farkas is just an act and you’re falling for it by giving him attention and he simply has not changed and he had opportunity to use his platform for good when he was on Council, others said.
For what it’s worth, during our walk, Farkas himself says more than once: “I don’t think I’ve changed,” even after all that time alone on the trail.
“The challenge is for some people, on the left, who like to demonize their opponents, maybe there is more to me than they initially thought,” he tells me.
The outdoor side of him isn’t new, it’s just something that wasn’t well-known before his Pacific Crest Trail adventure.
“By my tenure of council, I probably hiked at least 250 Rocky Mountain peaks, certified wilderness first responder, volunteer, very passionate about a lot of these other elements,” he says.
“But whether it was you in the media, or whether it was the public, or whether it was even me leaning into that sort of bad boy, like I would not paint myself as a sympathetic picture where you know, there’s this great guy who’s not being painted in the right light.
“I understood a lot of how my communications would portray me in a certain way and I leaned into that foil against the mayor for so long because I thought it was to my political advantage.”
While Farkas doesn’t think he’s changed, he also says “I don’t think I’m the same,” and he later adds, “I don’t think it’s for me to answer.” So, dear reader, I’ll let you be the judge. Read on.
#2 He hasn’t eaten peanut butter since the Pacific Crest Trail
“I think I ate my body weight in peanut Butter,” says Farkas, estimating he consumed 300 one-pound jars of the calorie-dense spread during his five months of hiking through deserts and snowy mountains. While he used to love peanut butter, he says he hasn’t had any since he returned.
A photo Jeromy Farkas took on the Pacific Crest Trail (courtesy Jeromy Farkas)
On his recent winter summits, he’s enjoyed warm drinks in a thermos and snacks that have low water content and don’t freeze. “I like Quest Bars but they start to freeze so I’ll eat chips,” says Farkas. “I love chocolate – not too heavy of a chocolate because it will shatter your teeth. I love candy bars. My girlfriend is a dietician, so she doesn’t love my snack choices.”
#3 He cringes when he looks back at past versions of himself — both on council and on the trail
Farkas says when he set out to complete the Pacific Crest Trail: “I was so cocky, I was so arrogant. I thought 100 days — a marathon every day — I was going to get it done.”
When he started the journey at the Mexico border in March 2022, he had a few months to reflect on his defeat in the October mayoral race and still had a severely bruised ego.
“I left alone, with a chip on my shoulder, wanting to prove to myself that I am still capable of great things,” says Farkas. “It’s just so embarrassing thinking of that version of myself as I set out because I had no idea what I was doing.”
In addition to regular blog posts about the trip, Farkas recorded more than 70 hours of footage during the five-month journey (which he edited into a 37-minute film). Farkas says watching back his reflections from the beginning of the trip was cringeworthy. “It’s sort of like reading a journal of yours from elementary school.”
There are decisions from his time on council that also now embarrass Farkas, he says, listing his vote against a parental leave for city councillors and a “big brouhaha about a naked swim night,” at the beginning of his term.
Your writer wrote several news stories about the naked swim night and Farkas now acknowledges that his involvement and position (“I felt I needed to get involved because of family values”) escalated the issue.
“There’s times where I was sort of embarrassed about the positions I took but I did because I thought they’d be the good conservative one,” Farkas says.
Farkas also admits to grandstanding.
“Every politician is a grandstander no matter what, but I did go into certain situations hoping for a fight and I think that’s the wrong way to go about it,” he says.
He says he’s happy to itemize “the dumb shit that I’ve done,” and the first to admit he’s not happy with everything he did during his time on council.
However, “I think it’s absolutely lazy and wrong to say that every single vote I did was mean spirited or trying to hurt people,” Farkas says.
A photo Jeromy Farkas took on the Pacific Crest Trail (courtesy Jeromy Farkas)
#4 He’s not ruling out a future mayoral run
While he’s ruling out politics in “the immediate term,” including a run for MLA in this year’s provincial election, Farkas isn’t against a future mayoral run.
“I think it’s the absolute best job in the world,” he says. “I would run again in a heartbeat, but I think I need to have more to offer people. If I just ran again, I’d lose again, probably for the same reasons.”
Does your image now give you something to offer? I ask
“It’s life experience, it’s not perception,” Farkas answers.
“I think the best candidate won. And even she has got 20 years of experience on me so who’s to say I can’t go out there, live a good life and try to help people, and maybe in the long term, but I’m not thinking about politics these days.”
#5 Politicians are people and people are complex
One of the stories Farkas has repeated in previous media interviews (and he told me on our walk) is that after the mayoral election, people he thought would be there for him no longer picked up their phone, and that former Mayor Naheed Nenshi (who he sparred with around the council table) was the first to reach out to him and get him out of the house.
I’ve noticed in comments and group chats and on social media that people seem to really love this story and I think it’s because it demonstrates that these two former politicians are, at the end of the day, just people.
Since leaving daily news journalism in 2018, I’ve worked with several (left-leaning) politicians, and I can confirm: politicians are just people.
However, I think this is something many of us forget in today’s hyper-charged political environment. It’s especially easy to forget when we have politicians who deliberately raise the temperature and play roles in public, like the bad boy, or the grandstander, or the shit-disturber.
Farkas says that, like actors, politicians “have to lean into certain elements.”
At the beginning of our walk, Farkas is recognized (“You were great on CBC this morning,” a fellow walker says, referring to his regular Friday radio appearance with Nenshi.) Being recognized is something that happens daily in Calgary, Farkas says. On the Pacific Crest Trail, this wasn’t the case.
“I really loved that I could have an interaction with somebody who knew nothing about me and could just judge me based on our immediate interaction, rather than any sort of preconceived notion,” he says. “I loved that I could just lean into the aspects of myself that I like more.”
I think that’s exactly what Farkas is now doing. He’s leaning into aspects of himself, in the public sphere, that he didn’t when he was on council. And he’s finding an audience that’s eating this up and happy to support him.
Farkas says the question of if he has changed assumes a “fairy-tale story of villains who can turn into heroes and vice versa.”
“The truth is a lot more uncomfortable,” he says. “It’s asking, well, are you willing to support people who are those you disagree with when they try to do better?”
We have an update to our recent post on when to book your 2023 camping trips. Parks Canada has announced reservations will open in March, with different dates depending on the park you’re hoping for a spot in. Their reservation system is moving to a new platform, so there are some special instructions to follow.
⛰️🥾️ Go Outside is written by Annalise & Cailynn — writers, outdoor enthusiasts and sisters who’ve been hiking, biking and skiing near Calgary since childhood and continue to be happiest outside.
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