Greg Van Tighem is on a mission to end multiple sclerosis (MS).
The fire chief from Jasper, Alberta, left Masset, BC at the western end of the Yellowhead Highway March 2. His goal: Ride a “fat bike” the entire length of Highway 16 and raise $93,000 for MS research.
He could have picked a better time of year and a sleeker ride, but that was all part of the design. His reasoning was that facing the treacherous conditions of a winter ride through the mountains and across the prairies would elevate the profile of the trip and increase his fundraising potential.
The fat bike, basically a mountain bike without shocks and fitted with five-inch balloon tires, offered him more stability and traction in conditions such as snow and soft terrain. It also raised the challenge, however.
“You have to keep the pedals going to keep moving,” he said.
That was particularly true right from Day 1 when he encountered a blizzard on the eight-hour ride from Masset to Charlotte City. Then there was the wind tunnel that slowed him down between Prince Rupert and Terrace followed by Hungry Hill, a monster climb halfway between Smithers and Houston that is difficult enough to do in a small car, much less a fat bike with 80 pounds of gear attached to it. He said it was fun going down the other side, though, when he reached 56 km/hr, his highest speed of the entire trip.
Nevertheless, he made it to Foam Lake by Day 23 in world record time for a fat bike and over-nighted at the La Vista Motel.
A strong headwind the next day, April 3, turned his estimated five-hour trip to Yorkton into an eight-hour ride.
“There were a few tough days in Saskatchewan and Manitoba,” he said. “It seems like everywhere I go there’s a black cloud over me.”
His reception in Yorkton took a bit of the sting out of the wind, however, as the fire department escorted him into the city, provided supper and a bed in the dorm at the fire hall.
Van Tighem was impressed.
“It is without question the nicest fire hall I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in a lot of fire halls,” he said, adding the caveat that he had not visited a lot of “big city, professional” departments.
This is not the first time Van Tighem has done a tour like this. Last year, he rode Route 93 end to end, from Wickenburg, Arizona to Jasper.
Since he started fundraising for the MS Society of Canada six years ago he has raised more than $250,000.
On Monday, the fire chief arrived at his final destination, the famous corner of Portage and Main in Winnipeg having raised around $10,000 en route. He will continue to collect donations from the ride and run other events such as barbecues, car washes, a golf tournament, whatever it takes to reach his goal by October.
He is confident it can be done. At the end of his Route 93 trip, he only had about $8,000, but went on to collect $96,488 in 2013.
Yorkton Fire Protective Services is helping out by receiving donations at the fire hall on Smith Street for the next couple of weeks.