Iliajah Pidskalny, a Saskatoon cyclist who is raising money and awareness for homelessness and the opioid drug crisis, has made it to his destination in Vancouver.
He left Saskatoon on Jan. 1 with a goal to make it to the west coast in 30 days and raise $20,000; he accomplished both, arriving in Vancouver on Friday.
“I remember leaving Drumheller one particular morning when it was -18 C and it was particularly tough, but I was thinking about what I was doing and the issue and this cause and saying, OK, I can do this, I know physically I can do this,” Pidskalny told CTV News.
The University of Saskatchewan geology graduate travelled just under 1,700 kilometres in the biting cold, the mountains with ice and snow, then into British Columbia.
He spent his 25th birthday on the road on Jan. 11 and treated himself to some vegetable juice in which to cook his rice noodles, instead of water.
While he trained physically for the gruelling trek, the mental training was most important. He says he did a lot of meditating to strengthen his mind.
“The mind is the biggest thing. I was doing this trick to myself saying, the hills are going to be so bad, it’s going to be so cold, so by the time I got out there, I was like, it isn’t that bad. I was always going to tell myself that it’s only going to get colder. It made me thankful for any weather,” he said.
He started a GoFundMe page which rose to almost $25,000 from $300.
He has cycled around Canada and North America before, but this particular trip had some unique challenges and required more planning to ensure he was in a town or city for the night to set up his small tent, sometimes in a parking lot, or on the side of the road.
He even spent one night in a Wal-Mart parking lot and one night without setting up a tent. That night he slept in the bleachers of a sports stadium in Princeton, B.C. where he had to deal with a prowling coyote.
He was thankful that his bike held out with only one major issue that needed fixing.
While he cycled through a milder than usual January in Saskatchewan, the wind still posed problems.
“You wake up in your tent and you are warm in the sleeping bag but knowing that I have to put on my frozen boots, socks, mitts and then to bicycle against the wind. There’s just nowhere to hide from the wind, so you just keep pushing and pushing because if you stop, the wind will stop you instantly.”
When he made it to Calgary he had a strange feeling because while he’d been there many times before, being there with only a bike and tent was an eye opener.
“It’s daunting and there’s something scary about the city because you’re like, where do I sleep? Where do I stand? If I stand somewhere too long, it attracts attention. Even trying to use a bathroom in the city is tough and you feel like this enemy. It’s very bizarre.”
He says this clearly demonstrates challenges of homelessness.
He plans to continue exploring his geology roots and do some volunteer teaching.
He also wants to continue cycling while raising awareness about social issues.