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

Rose Sawka, 91, reaches out to her son Terry Sawka, on a daily visit through the window, from inside Acropolis Manor where a COVID-19 outbreak took hold on Jan 19. Rose was vaccinated for the virus on Jan. 20 and as of Feb. 25 has remained virus free. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
No increases of COVID-19 at Acropolis -16 residents now recovered

Vaccinations have helped to stabilize Prince Rupert long-term care facility virus numbers

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Coastal GasLink begins COVID screening of pipeline workers

Construction is once again ramping up following Northern Health approval of COVID management plan

BC Bus North was implemented under the NDP provincial government in 2018 when Greyhound cancelled services across northern BC. The transportation funding expires at the end of March 2021. (Photo: B.C. Transit)
BC Liberals call for immediate govt. renewal of BC Bus North funding

BC Liberals spent years ignoring need for better transportation in the North - Jennifer Rice, MLA

Prince Rupert Tourism is benefitting from funding for new welcome and wayfinding signage from the COVID-19 Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program. McClymont Park on the gateway into Prince Rupert is one of the first things tourists see entering the city by road. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
$695,000 Community Economic Recovery funds to benefit local organizations

Prince Rupert Tourism and Gitga’at Development Corporation to receive COVID-19 recovery funds

Wainwright Marine Services Ltd.’s “Ingenika” tugboat went missing in the Garner Canal area south and east of Kitimat on Feb. 11, resulting in two deaths and the rescue of a third man. (Wainwright Marine Photo)
Tug union demands Transport Canada protect workers along B.C. coast and rivers

ILWU makes safety demands following the deaths of two men and the rescue of a third

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Kara Sorensen, diagnosed with lung cancer in July, says it’s important for people to view her as healthy and vibrant, rather than sick. (Photo courtesy of Karen Sorensen)
B.C. woman must seek treatment overseas for inoperable lung cancer

Fundraising page launched on Karen Sorensen’s behalf, with a goal of $250,000

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

Most Read