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

(Jocelyn Hamilton/Contributed)
Black bear spotted roaming through Black Mountain

The young bear was searching for food in the Black Mountain area

The temporary skatepark will be placed between the Capital News Centre (in the parking area) and H20, pictured here (Kelowna Skateboard Association/Contributed).
Kelowna skateboarders hope to get Lower Mission park

The Kelowna Skateboard Association is helping a group of kids get a skatepark for the summer

The Vernon Community Arts Centre is seeking member artist submissions for a summer exhibit called Enchanted: A World of Fantasy. Submissions are open until June 30, 2021. (VCAC photo)
Vernon artists’ fantasy worlds wanted for summer exhibit

Vernon Community Arts Centre is seeking submissions for Enchanted: A World of Fantasy

Mamas for Mamas worked with local roaster Tug 6 to create three special blends. (Mamas for Mamas/Contributed)
Kelowna coffee roaster partners with non-profit for specialty blends

Mamas for Mamas has three specialty blends sold from Tug 6

A TacoTime employee hands a customer their order. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Adiós, Taco Tuesday: Kelowna residents flock to TacoTime on restaurant’s final day

‘We don’t need another Starbucks. We need tacos on Tuesday, with extra hot sauce’

Sisters Audrey Cunningham and Donna Erdman, join the Vernon Kalamalka Chorus singing in their cars, tuned into the radio, under the direction of Debbie Parmenter. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
VIDEO: Okanagan choir steers around COVID with ‘carbershop’ twist

Singers find a unique way to practice during pandemic restrictions

A property crime map for the month of March shows the hot spot for crimes is centered around the area where the Victory Church homeless shelter is located. (City Submitted)
B.C. Premier asked to intervene in Penticton homeless shelter dispute

Mayor sends letter urging premier to reconsider Eby’s use of paramountcy powers

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

A woman is hoping that her dog Ginger ran away from the fire that erupted in her Osoyoos home Saturday night. The home caught fire twice in two days and is totally destroyed. (Contributed)
Dog missing after saving woman from huge house fire in Osoyoos

The woman escaped the burning home, but she hopes her dog Ginger ran away to safety

Logging is proposed for a portion of Mount Ida, with the industrial park to the right. The purple portions are the proposed cut blocks, the yellowy-green are city-owned properties and the red and black dotted lines are the proposed logging roads. (City of Salmon Arm image)
Salmon Arm council’s concerns eased over Mount Ida logging

Fire chief explains proposed cut complements wildfire risk reduction efforts

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

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

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Mounties battled various sex crimes in the North Okanagan

The local RCMP sex crimes unit has been involved in a number of investigations so far in 2021

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

Most Read