“Are you insane?”
Jasper’s Greg Van Tighem fields that question a lot these days.
That’s because the 53-year-old fire chief hasn’t backed down from the fundraising challenge he set for himself back when the weather was warm and the roads were clear: biking the entire length of the Yellowhead Highway in the name of the fight against Multiple Sclerosis.
That’s 3,100 kilometres.
During the winter.
On a fat bike.
“I don’t want to be the guy who looks back on my life and says ‘I wish I did that,’” he explained while looking at a digital map of the distance that stretches between Masset, on the Queen Charlotte Islands and Winnipeg, Manitoba. “I want to be the guy who looks back and says ‘I can’t believe I did that.’”
To get there, however, he’s got to believe. He’s got to believe that he will be able to withstand punishing cold, huge hills and transport trucks whizzing by his elbow. He’s got to believe he’ll be able to find a warm place to stay when he leaves one destination with sights set on another more than 100 km away. On a tour bike in the summer, 100 kilometres in a day is no problem. On a fat bike, in the winter, it’s a different story.
“I’m a believer that if you put it out there, things will take care of themselves,” he said.
On this journey, a lot of things have to work themselves out. For example: where he’s going to ride if he runs out of shoulder on snow-caked highways, who’s going to pick him up if he can’t make it to a town or city before dusk or what he will do if he can’t find a decent IPA between Fort Fraser and Vanderhoof (heaven forbid).
“The craft beer availability looks a little sparse in some places,” he laughed.
But GVT says he will overcome. And he has a lot to drawn upon.
Last spring, he biked 2,800 kilometres in 21 days from Mile Zero of Highway 93, in Wickenburg, Arizona, to Jasper. Then in the summer, he completed a 24 Hours of Adrenaline race despite getting concussed half way through. This ride, however, will put Alberta’s top MS fundraiser into a new world of hurt.
“I know what I’m getting into,” he said. “I know there’s potential for frostbite. I know there will be really long days in the saddle going really slow.”
As much as he knows what to expect, it’s the unknowns that keep GVT interested. The weather, the rest-stops, the scenery—Van Tighem can’t wait to see what unravels.
“In a weird way, I kind of like not knowing what will be around the next corner.”
Last year, Van Tighem used his tour bike to help him turn the corner on his fundraising goal of $93,000. This year, Freewheel Cycle donated a fat bike to help him to do the same. The choice to go fat will mean making a mile will be slower—but it won’t slow down his efforts to raise awareness for MS.
“I hope people embrace this and treat it in the spirit it’s supposed to be: an average guy doing something a little different for a really good cause,” he said.
Van Tighem leaves Jasper for Masset on February 28. He plans to be back here two weeks later, at which point he’ll take a week off to work before getting back in the saddle for another three weeks, en route to Winnipeg.
Follow his journey at: