Stop the Harm: Saskatchewan cyclist riding for a cause passes through B.C.

Iliajah Pidskalny’s bike is adorned with a sign advertising his cause. He has raised $21,000 for Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and Moms Stop the Harm. (Photo/Iliajah Pidskalny)Iliajah Pidskalny’s bike is adorned with a sign advertising his cause. He has raised $21,000 for Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and Moms Stop the Harm. (Photo/Iliajah Pidskalny)
It was common for Iliajah Pidskalny to camp out in his tent during the nights along his winter cycling journey, such as this picture taken at Rogers Pass on Jan. 18. (Photo/Iliajah Pidskalny)It was common for Iliajah Pidskalny to camp out in his tent during the nights along his winter cycling journey, such as this picture taken at Rogers Pass on Jan. 18. (Photo/Iliajah Pidskalny)
Iliajah Pidskalny has been riding from Saskatchewan to Vancouver to raise awareness and funds for change in drug policies and mental health help. Having passed through Hope this week, He is pictured here outside of Agassiz on Wednesday and expects to complete his journey to Vancouver on Friday. (Contributed Photo/Iliajah Pidskalny)Iliajah Pidskalny has been riding from Saskatchewan to Vancouver to raise awareness and funds for change in drug policies and mental health help. Having passed through Hope this week, He is pictured here outside of Agassiz on Wednesday and expects to complete his journey to Vancouver on Friday. (Contributed Photo/Iliajah Pidskalny)
Iliajah Pidskalny rides down Wallace Street in Hope. (Photo/Adam Louis)Iliajah Pidskalny rides down Wallace Street in Hope. (Photo/Adam Louis)

Cyclists make long trips across Canada all the time during the warmer months. Only a few bike Canada’s roads in the winter, but Iliajah Pidskalny braved the cold for a cause, recently passing through Hope on the last leg of his journey.

Pidskalny is raising money for the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, aiming to raise awareness and advocate for a human rights approach to drug policies, shedding light on socioeconomic and psychological problems that may lead some people into a life or drugs or crime. He has been on the road since the beginning of January.

The recent college graduate fell in love with cycling while attending the University of Saskatchewan.

“I got hooked on cycling [in college] and I first did a cycling trip from Saskatoon to Vancouver – this exact [route], pretty much – with a buddy of mine when I was 19,” Pidskalny said. “That’s when I first fell in love with it and have done a trip since every single year.”

READ ALSO: Hope mental health advocate shares story and message: ‘You are not alone’

On this latest journey, he’s passed through Drumheller, Calgary, Revelstoke, Kamloops and Hope, to name a few.

On his travels, Pidskalny said he’s spoken to a number of people living on the street who have struggled with drugs and some who ended up homeless without struggling with addiction but rather with untreated mental health issues.

“Living on the road like this started to expose only some of the challenges involved with being homeless,” he said. “Of course, what I’m doing is totally luxury compared to that because it’s optional and heavy gear. I started to realize if you stand in the wrong place too long, it’s illegal. If you sleep anywhere outside, it’s illegal. All these things started to pop up.”

In Pidskalny’s view, the “war on drugs” has overlooked underlying mental health issues for decades, and he said it’s time for a more empathetic approach.

His reasons for biking in the winter are dual: because it draws more attention to his cause and because that’s when he had the idea to do it.

“I really take this issue seriously, and I really wanted to gain as much awareness about it as possible,” Pidskalny said. “Even though it’s extremely challenging and I really hate the cold I was like, ‘Okay, I know I can do it.’”

He said he did a test run, biking east in October and November.

The wind has posed the biggest challenge for Pidskalny so far.

“It’s always the same with any of these bicycling trips, the headwinds,” he added. “They kind of had stopped after Canmore and I feel like I’ve been moving pretty quickly since then.”

Pidskalny has kept in good shape throughout the journey, suffering frostnip – an injury just shy of full-on frostbite – on his toes. He’s survived on rice noodles, peanut butter and energy bars of his own creation made of dates, peanut butter, chocolate and nacho tortilla chips.

“I’d first done it without the tortilla chips, and I was like ‘Man, this needs some more [substance],” he said. “It clicked; it’s so good. Slightly salty, slightly crunchy.”

Pidskalny is no stranger to living on the road, having lived in a tent for several summers. His original pre-pandemic plan for the past year was to bike from Saskatchewan to Mexico, but COVID-19 curbed that dream for now.

Aside from the ongoing fundraiser, Pidskalny said he has no immediate personal ties to the cause.

“Meeting people on the street, every conversation is personal, Every person is a person. I don’t think everyone should wait until they lose a loved one to start to care about this,” he said.

There’s a lot of people working really hard at this and have been looking at policies for decades,” Pidskalny added. “I couldn’t describe the detailed policies. I know decriminalization at least with possession of certain amounts of illicit drugs seems to be a good starting point, that way people are not criminalized for this issue and they can start to reach out for help.”

Pidskalny surpassed his fundraising goal of $20,000. As of Wednesday morning, his GoFundMe page states he’s raised $21,379 from 276 donors.

Up until he spoke with The Standard on Tuesday, Jan. 27, he’d believed he was somewhere around the $15,000 mark.

“Whoa! Really?” he exclaimed when he learned of the total. “I swear it was $15,000 yesterday. Holy, that’s a big jump! That’s awesome.”

READ ALSO: Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Pidskalny said the journey so far has been filled with memories.

“I feel like I could pull a day out of a hat and claim that as my most memorable, and that’s what I want out of life,” he said. “I just want each day to be this memorable day, even if the day was full of nothing, even if I just sat at the top of a mountain and slept all day, that could be memorable. I don’t think I could choose something without changing my mind later.”

After Pidskalny wraps up his fundraising trip, he plans to head to Vancouver Island.

“It’d be really cool to just volunteer and keep living like this as long as I can, but I’ll pretty quickly need to start taking care of myself,” he said. “I make a lot of soaps, I thought about selling soap. I don’t know, something weird and niche. I don’t need much to survive, so I’d be pretty content doing something like that.”

While Pidskalny will still support the message behind his cause, he has yet to decide what his next step is when it comes to activism and volunteering.

“This [undertaking] was a lot,” Pidskalny said. “I think I’m just going to pull back for a bit and try to figure myself out before I take the next step.”

Pidskalny expects to finish his ride on Friday, Jan. 29, at Jack Poole Plaza where the Olympic Cauldron burned during the 2010 games.

Pidskalny chronicles his travels at twitter.com/IliajahP.

Drugsopioid crisisoverdose crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Arrowsmith Search and Rescue members, before descending into a gorge near Nile Creek to rescue an injured woman on Sunday, May 2, 2021. (ASAR Twitter photo)
Arrowsmith SAR crews help rescue hiker who plunged 10 metres onto rocks near Nile Creek

Helicopter with winch system required for technical operation in remote location

The courthouse in Nanaimo, B.C. (News Bulletin file)
Nanoose Bay man sentenced after causing a dog unnecessary pain and suffering

Kiefer Tyson Giroux, 26, given six-month sentence after beating pet he was supposed to be caring for

The graph provided by the City of Parksville in a release issued on May 4, depicting a balanced financial budget for 2021. (submitted photo)
City of Parksville announces a balanced budget for 2021

Penalty date for property tax payments extended from July 2 to Oct. 1

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O���Connell photo)
Clash between loggers, activists halts forestry operations over Fairy Creek

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Following a one-year pause due to the pandemic, the Snowbirds were back in the skies over the Comox Valley Wednesday (May 5) morning. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Video: Snowbirds hold first training session in Comox Valley in more than 2 years

The team will conduct their training from May 4 to 26 in the area

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

Most Read