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Up the Dempster, down with MS
Alberta fire chief cycling the length of the Dempster Highway to raise money to fight disease

Andrew Livingstone
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, February 19, 2015

When people hear about the grueling cycling trips Greg Van Tighem has been on, some would say he's a sucker for punishment.

NNSL photo/graphic

Greg Van Tighem will start his 930-km trek by bicycle from Dawson City to Tuktoyaktuk on March 30 to raise money and awareness in support of the MS Society of Canada. Van Tighem hopes to reach Tuktoyaktuk by April 16. - photo courtesy of Greg Van Tighem

The Jasper, Alta. fire chief has cycled the length of Highway 93 from Alberta to Arizona, some 2,700 km with parts spanning the scorching heat of desert; he's also pedalled through blizzards and frigid temperatures on Highway 16 from Haida Gwaii, B.C., to Winnipeg - a distance of 3,000 km.

He isn't a sucker, though. He's driven by the desire to help fund research and raise awareness for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, and in April he will do it all again.

He plans to cycle the 930-km length of the Dempster Highway to Inuvik and continue on the ice road to Tuktoyaktuk.

"I'm doing it for MS because I've got a number of friends who have (the disease) and I lost a friend who passed away because of it," he said. "So six years ago I made a commitment to raise money and raise awareness and make a difference for people who have it."

Van Tighem's first epic bike rides began four years ago on Highway 93, which started in Jasper and ended in Wickenburg, Arizona. The chambers of commerce in both towns had become sister groups so Van Tighem thought it would be good for the relationship to do the ride as a fundraiser for MS and raise awareness for the tourism route. Speaking at a conference in Calgary in fall 2014, Van Tighem was asked what his next trip would be and he asked the audience to submit their ideas for his next trek.

"People started stopping and talking to me at the end of the conference and someone threw a piece of paper on the table and it said 'ride the Dempster Highway in the winter on your fat bike,'" he said. "I'm very familiar (with) the stories of the region and have always had an attraction to the Dempster and the area, and I thought 'that's what I'm going to do.'"

Without knowing what to expect travelling the Dempster Highway in early April, Van Tighem, who's brother to former longtime Yellowknife mayor Gord Van Tighem, started to tell people he was doing it. It's become part of his strategy - if he tells people he's doing it, he can't back out, no matter the challenges he may face.

"Once I tell people, now it's out there and now people are going to look at me and question and push me and it's hard to back out once it's out there," he said. "I started telling people I was going to do it and then I started doing the homework."

Van Tighem has spent long hours researching his trip online.

"I spend nights online watching videos of guys doing running and skiing in extreme winter, and with camping, I researched as much as I could," he said. "Now it's shifted gears where I'm starting to plan the safety side of it and spending time on having the right gear and the safety equipment."

The weather is the biggest concern and the biggest unknown, he said, and he plans to be prepared for the worst.

"I do have some safety features built in, and you don't have a lot of time if something goes wrong," he said. "Daily, I will have people know what I'm up to and stop and make sure I'm okay. I'm looking forward to the beauty of the Dempster and getting to meet people and experiencing the culture and seeing the river crossings and the mountains. I'm hoping, strongly, for good weather."

In each of the previous two cycling trips, Van Tighem set a goal of raising $93,000 for the society on each ride. He reached the goal in 2013, but fell short in 2014, raising approximately $50,000.

Van Tighem begins his trip March 30 in Dawson City and hopes to complete the journey to Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk by April 16. He said anyone travelling the highway who sees him should stop and say hello.

"Maybe people can carry an extra bottle of water if they're travelling," he said.

"I'll be boiling snow to build my water supply for the trip."

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