Photo and Article by Dan Davidson
THE ADVENTURE DAWNS – Greg Van Tighem waves goodbye and he heads out of Dawson City.
Tuk trek aims to raise money to foil MS
DAWSON CITY – Shortly after 10 a.m. last Saturday, Jasper, Alta. Fire Chief Greg Van Tighem rolled his fat bike out of the yard at the Dawson City Fire Hall/Town Hall and began the first leg of his planned trip to Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.
Aside from his day job, Van Tighem is the one of the top fund-raisers for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.
In 2013, he set himself the goal of raising money to help battle MS by going on epic bike rides. He hoped to raise $93,000 each year.
In the first year, he took in $96,000 riding the 3,000-kilometre length of Highway 93 from Wickenburg, Az., to Jasper. That made him the top fund-raiser in Canada.
His next trek was longer, a 3,500-km trip on his fat bike from Mile Zero of the Yellowhead Highway in Masset, Haida Gwaii, to Winnipeg. It was a success, though he raised only $50,000, less than he’d hoped.
This year, Van Tighem is beginning this trek with a plan to pedal 735 km northeast from Dawson City, across the Arctic Circle on the Dempster Highway to Inuvik. If conditions permit, he will continue on from there on the ice road to Tuktoyaktuk.
This is a shorter trip than his last two, but will be just as much of a challenge, given the rugged road conditions he’ll be facing once he gets just a few kilometres beyond the junction of the Klondike and Dempster Highways.
His goal is to manage 100 km per day, though Saturday’s late start, caused by a lack of bungee cords and a misplaced cellphone, meant the first day would be shorter.
Van Tighem has driven the Dempster as far as Tombstone Campground, and prepared himself for the look of the rest of the highway by following Google Streetview on his computer for as far as it goes.
He says the Dempster plan was hatched after he had openly asked for suggestions for his next challenge while speaking at an event and talking about his previous treks.
“I was asked what I was going to do next, and I didn’t know, so I said, ‘Maybe you guys can come up with something for me.’”
“One fellow just handed me this piece of paper and walked away. When I looked at it later, it said ‘ride the Dempster Highway on your fat bike.’”
Van Tighem cycles unsupported, carrying his supplies and camping gear strapped to his heavily loaded fat bike.
He expects the trip to take him 12 days, but he has a three-week vacation if he needs more time.
“I must expect extreme conditions in what many consider one of the world’s last wilderness highways in North America. I will winter camp along the way. Who knows what the weather conditions will bring?”
Van Tighem has friends in the RCMP and amongst the trucking fraternity who will be looking out for him along the way.
However, he is aware that conditions on the Dempster can lead to the road being shut down by wind and snow, and is prepared to pull the plug on this trip if it gets too dangerous.
He has read accounts of people who have done winter trips successfully, as well as some by people who have failed.
Van Tighem started doing endurance biking eight years ago as part of a fund-raising team doing long distance rides around Hinton, Alta. He found the exercise got him back into good shape and lost weight while raising around $30,000 annually for MS research.
When one of his friends died from the disease, Van Tighem promised the man’s daughter that he would increase his fund-raising efforts, and so the long solo treks began under the slogan “end to end to end MS”.
He’s travelling with a satellite phone and a spot tracker device which, if it works properly (it was giving him problems the day before he left) will enable him to post his location and brief text messages back to the young man in Jasper (himself an MS sufferer) who is posting updates to his Facebook (endms93) and Twitter (#endms93) accounts.
Van Tighem doesn’t take donations along the way, but encourages people to donate to the cause online.