A 25-year-old Saskatoon man is passing through Kelowna while riding his bike from Saskatchewan to Vancouver in the middle of winter.
Iliajah Pidskalny started pedalling west on January 1. The idea for this trip started when he was bike riding in Quebec and Ontario last year. He met people who were homeless, sleeping on the streets in the harsh winter cold.
“It sucks. It really sucks being out there in the cold and I was doing it optionally so it just clicked one moment, I thought ‘wow this is pretty challenging and it’s optional. If this was not optional, it would be really really tough," Pidskalny says.
After talking to people who were living on the streets, Pidskalny learned that addiction and mental health were the biggest issues they were facing.
"I had nice conversations with them about struggling to quit or other reasons people fall into the grips of homelessness which is ultimately still mental health if no drugs are related, so I started to think about the war on drugs and our current drug policies – it just started to click," he explains.
Pidskalny's goal is to raise money and awareness for the Canadian drug policy coalition and moms stop the harm. Although the overdose isn’t something he has a personal connection to, it certainly has impacted families all over Canada.
Today, two mothers named Pam and Ann-Marie met Pidskalny outside of the Kelowna Visitor Centre to show their support. Both women lost children to overdoses and are a part of Moms Stop the Harm.
"He's actually doing this to bring awareness to people who have lost their children," said Pam. "And to call on the government to step up and help this crisis that has taken over so terribly bad."
"It can happen to anyone and anyone's family," adds Ann-Marie. "It could be a child who is experimenting for the first time in their life that end up having fentanyl."
Pidskalny has been riding for 22 days. The coldest day on his trip so far was a temperature of minus 18 degrees, but he refers to his tent as a luxury compared to the streets.
He says on the painfully cold mornings it can be hard to get out of his sleeping bag and start biking, but he reminds himself about all of the people that are dying because of drug overdoses and it helps push him.
Pidskalny has seven more days to go before his final stop in Vancouver. He’ll be leaving Kelowna Saturday, so if you see him on the road, give him a honk and wave, but don’t stop him to talk because he says it can be very unsafe for him to stop and he is trying to keep his body temperature up.
To support his cause, click here.