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Van Tighem’s journey comes to an end


T. Nichols photo

There were days when he pedaled against “60 mile an hour headwinds” through blizzard-like snow. There were days when he slogged through rivers of slush, arriving at his destination soaked to the bone. There were days he changed three flat tires in a row, his hands cramping from the bitter cold. But, despite it all, Fire Chief Greg Van Tighem has made it home.

Van Tighem took off on a fundraising fat bike tour that saw him pedal the entire 3,000-kilometre length of Highway 16, starting in Haida Gwaii on March 5 and ending in Winnipeg, in support of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.

He undertook the journey on a Kona Wo fat bike, with thick tires and a special frame designed for biking through deep snow or sand.

On April 7 he finished the tour, rolling into Winnipeg to end the second stage of his ride.

By April 11 he was back in town, and on April 12 he was the guest of honour at a welcome home party held in the curling lounge.

More than 100 people showed up to the event, organized in part by Rich Potter.

That night, Van Tighem circled the room, going from table to table giving out handshakes and hugs.

As everyone settled in, Mayor Richard Ireland stepped to the front of the room and took the microphone.


T. Nichols photo

“It is so fantastic that in this community we have someone like Greg to lead the way,” he said. “Here’s a guy who takes his vacation time, at the worst time of the year, picks a highway that’s over 3,000 kilometres long, with horrible head winds, jumps on a fat bike—known to have about the worst rolling resistance in any bike in existence—and goes to where? Winnipeg?

“It’s absolutely incredible what Greg undertook,” he added, as the crowd laughed in appreciation. Shortly after, he passed the mike off to the “local hero,” who explained what made him take on such a staggering challenge.

Van Tighem said that after he rode the length of Highway 93 as a fundraiser for MS last summer, he “needed to kick it up again.”

“Anybody can ride a touring bike in proper conditions on good highways, and everybody does it,” he said. In the past, Van Tighem has said that while raising money is fantastic, in some ways, raising awareness about MS is more important to him. So to maximize his exposure, he decided to make a trip when no one else was doing it: in the middle of March.

Van Tighem realized his trusty road bike wouldn’t be up to the task, so he decided to make the journey on a fat bike—a choice that was sure to turn heads, because while a fat bike is a practical choice for slogging through snow, it’s not built for extended rides.

As Van Tighem pointed out, “a fat bike is basically like pedaling a tractor.”

After training for most of the winter, he set off from the town of Masset, B.C. on March 5.

April 12, as he flipped through slides of pictures from his journey, he told the crowd stories from the road.

He recalled sleeping on couches that were too short for him in Vanderhoof, B.C., getting the stink-eye from senior citizens after walking into a seniors lodge that agreed to put him up for the night, and chowing down on Ukrainian lunches brought to him by friends on the side of the highway.

Near the end of his trip, just outside North Battleford, Sask., Van Tighem said he was scheduled to meet some friends to escort him into town with a procession of fire trucks.

But when he arrived, one of his friends “was beside herself because the fire trucks weren’t there.” They continued on anyway, and later as they rounded a corner closer to town the fire trucks showed up. While thanking the crew, Van Tighem was then pulled aside by the captain.

“I’ve got to tell you about this Chief, I’ve got to tell you what this lady did,” he said. He then carried on to tell Van Tighem the woman had called 911 to get the fire department to show up.

Later, Van Tighem approached his friend.

“You’re not serious; you called 911?” he asked her, to which she apologetically replied “what else can I do, their number isn’t in the phone book. I thought once I called and explained they would realize it wasn’t an emergency.”

And while Van Tighem said most of his memories are positive ones, there were days—particularly when he was frozen on the side of the highway changing his third flat tire—when he questioned what he was doing.

“There was days when if I could beam up a truck to pick me up I would have done it,” he said. “But I look back now and I don’t remember those days, I remember the journey.

“I’d rather look back at my life and say I can’t believe I did that, rather than looking back and saying jeez I should have done that, because then it’s too late.”

Although he’s still adding up all the donations he received on the road, Van Tighem estimates he’s already raised well over $10,000. Between donations at the door, as well as money raised through a 50/50 and horse race at his welcome home party, he can also count on another $2,200 or so.

Like last year, his goal is to raise $93,000, and he’s planning to put on a number of fundraising events through the rest of the year.

To read more about Van Tighem’s adventures on Highway 16, or to donate to his cause, visit his blog at or like “Endms93” on Facebook.

Trevor Nichols

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