Canadian resident riding Highway 93 from start to finish!
By Lukas Eggen Ely Times Staff Writer
It was about two years ago that Canadian Fire Chief Greg Van Tighem read in his local newspaper about Highway 93, which stretches from Wickenburg, Ariz. to his hometown of Jasper, Alberta.
Van Tighem, a cycling enthusiast, was immediately drawn to the challenge.
“In the back of my mind, I thought that would be a good bike trip if I could go from Jasper to Wickenburg,” he said.
But Van Tighem isn’t just riding for himself. Seven years ago, Van Tighem met a fellow fire fighter who had Multiple Sclerosis.
“I knew him pretty well and we got to be good friends,” Van Tighem said. “When he passed away, I decided that I was going to choose MS as my mission. I also knew a lot of people in Jasper who had MS and I thought it was one disease that needed more exposure. Not just money, but awareness.”
Van Tighem joined MS bike tours and worked to raise money for research into treatments and for a cure for MS. He also began visiting different places to talk about the disease.
“I’ve gotten to do public speaking to different groups and I’ve met probably about 100 people who have MS,” Van Tighem said. “And probably 10 of those people are some of my best friends. You get to hear their stories and it made me more motivated to do what I’m doing.”
With the lure of Highway 93 calling to him and a cause to ride for, Van Tighem made the decision to ride from Arizona to Canada along Highway 93.
“I started researching on the Internet and calling all the fire departments and MS offices I could find,” Van Tighem said.
Because of his work schedule and weather, he decided to start in Arizona and drive to Canada in the spring to avoid the hottest part of the year and not have to contend with heavy snowfall in the winter. His goal is to raise $93,000 during his ride and help to raise awareness about the disease and about what people fighting the disease face.
It was then that his ride became more than just a fund-raiser.
In White Pine County, Highway 50 gets much of the attention as the “Loneliest Highway in America.” But when Van Tighem’s hometown found out about his planned ride along Highway 93, they saw an opportunity.
“The tourism department of Jasper found out what I was planning to do and wanted to partner with me,” Van Tighem said. “Their big push is to promote the tourism and we’ve reached out to people along Highway 93. It’s a good way to get the word out and it’s just grown and grown.”
When he stops, Van Tighem said he tries to visit the local fire department to trade badges and learn about each community.
“In Ely, I cycled around and checked out the back streets and went downtown and checked out the museum,” Van Tighem said. “I try to learn enough about each town so I can tell people on my blog about each place.”
Part of his hope is this will help inspire people to travel along Highway 93 and showcase the places located along the highway as tourist destinations.
When Van Tighem arrived in Ely on Sunday and Monday, he was about a third of the way through his trek. He is chronicling his journey at www.endms93.com, where you can also pledge support.
His quest is gaining notoriety. His blog has more than 9,000 followers. But his trip is not without challenges. Van Tighem is riding without a support team. That means he’s dealing with the ride on his own. That hasn’t been the simplest task.
Often times early in his journey, he was forced to walk his bike because of narrow roads with no bike lanes and large trucks threatening to blow him over.
“From Alamo to Pioche, it was very narrow and I actually had to ride on the left side of the white line,” Van Tighem said. “But the traffic got busy and I was always getting blown off my bike. I don’t recommend it for cycling, it’s not safe.”
It was along this stretch that Van Tighem had an unexpected visitor.
“A motor home pulled over with Alberta plates,” Van Tighem said. “It was a guy whom I’ve met before and he and his wife stay in Phoenix and go back and forth. He knew about my ride and so he said he was looking for me. He brought me in, made me lunch and said here’s no way you can ride the next 20 miles because it’s not safe, you have to come with us. So they kidnapped me and got me through the pass there past Caliente.”
Facing at times uneven terrain and, along one stretch of his trip, 40 miles-per-hour headwinds can make riding by himself difficult. But Van Tighem said it’s at those points he remembers the big reason why he’s riding.
“I compare it to someone who has MS,” Van Tighem said. “They have a lot of unknowns in front of them and real with daily issues like fatigue, pain, uncertainty and in some cases depression. Sometimes they lose hope because they don’t seem like there’s ever going to be a cure for them. In a way, I’m mimicking some of those things. I deal with fatigue sometimes, pain and certainly uncertainty.”
Meeting people along the way also helps Van Tighem remain motivated. He wasn’t sure how people would react to someone riding along Highway 93, but the people are his most pleasant surprise, Van Tighem said. He’s received vocal and emotional support. A couple let him spend the night in their trailer, free of charge. Others encourage him to keep going.
“I met these two bikers with Harley Davidsons with the leather suits and everything outside of Las Vegas,” Van Tighem said. “They were big tough guys and I came up with my two wheel pedal bike and started talking to them. As soon as they read my business card, they said you’re doing a cool thing, that’s awesome and they wanted to take a picture with me. I didn’t know what the people would be like, but the people I have met are very friendly, outgoing and helpful…it’s really easy to get down. But someone who is positive can pick you up and get you going again.”
As Van Tighem rides to promote tourism and help to raise money and awareness for MS, Van Tighem said he’s taking things one day at a time. That’s because, like the people he’s riding for, Van Tighem is bound and determined to show he can overcome whatever challenges lie ahead.
“My goal is to finish this no matter what,” Van Tighem said. “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m not looking at Montana or Jasper. I’m looking at the end of the day, finding somewhere to camp, eat and then sleep, get up the next morning and go again.”