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

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
65 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Overall, B.C. is seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases

FILE - In this April 19, 2021, file photo, Keidy Ventura, 17, receives her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in West New York, N.J. States across the country are dramatically scaling back their COVID-19 vaccine orders as interest in the shots wanes, putting the goal of herd immunity further out of reach. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
5 more deaths, 131 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

Those 18-years and older in high-transmission neighbourhoods can register for the vaccine

District of Clearwater meetings are open to the public. The meeting agendas and past meetings minutes can be viewed on the DOC's website. Every meeting has time allocated at the end for comments from the public.
District of Clearwater hires new chief adminstrative officer

The new CAO will arrive at the end of June.

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

FILE PHOTO
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police “E” Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday April 13, 2018. Indigenous leaders are calling for an investigation into the conduct of Mounties on Vancouver Island after two police shootings of members of a small First Nations community in three months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Indigenous leaders call for clarity, investigation into RCMP after B.C. shooting

The RCMP declined to comment on the requests by Indigenous leaders

Colleen Price, Vancouver Island University’s bachelor of science in nursing program chairperson, says she is impressed with how students have persevered through the COVID-19 pandemic. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Next generation of B.C. nurses already showing resilience

University program head says learning had to be adjusted amidst pandemic

Two-year-old Kashius Weme rides at the Steve Smith Memorial Bike Park in Nanaimo on Tuesday, May 11. The youngster’s precocious bike-riding ability is already attracting cycle sponsors. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
2-year-old B.C. bike rider already attracting cycle sponsors

Nanaimo’s Kashius Weme has a knack for extreme cycle sports

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

Most Read