Iliajah Pidskalny’s bicycle journey across Western Canada to raise money and awareness for the country’s overdose crisis began in Saskatoon on Jan 1.
Twenty-nine days and 1,670 kilometres later, he achieved his goal, making it to Jack Poole Plaza at Vancouver Harbour, and raising more than $23,000.
“By the time I got to Jack Poole Plaza I felt really good about the whole charity itself, the awareness and the fundraiser,” Pidskalny said via Zoom from Vancouver.
Although Pidskalny hasn’t dealt with an overdose on a personal level, he chose to back this cause due to the level of addiction he sees in his everyday life.
“I haven’t had anyone in my immediate life overdose, or have any encounter with fentanyl,” he said. “To me, I just see issues regarding depression or anxiety, or depression among a lot of people I know.
“To me, it’s ultimately similar except we grew up in a community where our mental health manifested itself in a different way. Instead of reaching out to hard drugs, like opioids, we had other ways of coping with our emotions.”
The money earned through social media posts and a crowdfunding campaign will be split between the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and Moms Stop the Harm.
Moms want more done to curb overdose deaths
His goal is to be able to provide help to all who need it.
“I think the best way to go about this is to re-look at drug policies,” he said. “Not only does it expose socioeconomic issues that need to be addressed, but it will also help us better understand mental health.”
Moms Stop The Harm advocate Marie Agioritis, whose son Kelly died from an overdose in 2015, agrees.
“Some people may never (recover) and some people are still going to die from it, but right now we have people dying unnecessarily because there is so much poison on the street,”
Armed with a bicycle, cooking supplies, layers of clothing and a tent, Pidskalny braved the chilling elements that took him through the Canadian Rockies. His toughest elemental test, he said, actually came earlier in his quest, in the prairies.
“The wind, physically, (makes) biking so challenging — it’s so much more challenging than any hill,” he explained. “I mean, Rogers Pass, I’d do it 10 times before I have to bicycle against those prairie winds again.”
As physically demanding as the trek was — riding roughly six hours daily, while covering an average of 100 kilometres — Pidskalny says the mental preparation was even more important.
“I was doing a lot of meditating before this,” he said. “Actually, a lot of meditating in the cold, sort of anticipating this. To me, that was the training I needed. Physically I knew I could do it, but mentally it’s a whole other battle.”
Even though his bike did take a beating and required a rim replacement along the way, his body never wavered, even on a modest diet that consisted largely of peanut butter and rice noodles.
“Sometimes when I was feeling really ballin’ I would get a can of tomatoes or vegetable juice,” he chuckled. “But, otherwise, it was pretty much consistently (peanut butter and rice noodles), and it seemed to work.”
With files from Nathaniel Dove.
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