[updated Friday Feb 7 at 2pm to reflect new start time & additional photos]
Pikangikum’s Bike Skills Program (in summer), led by OPP Const. Adam Belanger Photo: Andrew Hibma, New Hope Community Bikes
The Groundhog Jog 5K run was held by Peninsula Adventure Sports Association (PASA) this past Groundhog Day in conjunction with the Wiarton Willie Festival, however the Jog is led by a number of friendly volunteers who are happy with whatever Willie predicts on Groundhog Day.
The reason for this is that outdoor sport doesn’t wait for spring, be it as scheduled or early.
For some of the Groundhog Jog’s volunteers & racers it was always going to be a quick pivot to their mountain bikes to continue training on two wheels, seeing as their next event was in Red Lake & Pikangikum this weekend, for the inaugural Ice Road Challenge. The 40 available spots in this 1-day, 100km extreme bike event, sold out in less than 6 months according to the event organizers, New Hope Community Bikes and a few of those spots went to local riders from the Beautiful Bruce. According to the Ice Road Challenge website, racers will “start cycling in Red Lake on their way to Pikangikum to deliver a dozen bikes to be added to the program and share a common passion for cycling.” Pikangikum has no year-round road access and most supplies need to arrive on the ice road that connects the community to Red Lake during winter.
The start of the Ice Road Challenge has been pushed back to noon Friday due to cold weather, but you can follow live updates with the instagram or twitter hashtag #iceroadchallenge2020 Instagram is of course curated for you here.
“Bikevocating” is not a new phenomenon; many causes have been fundraised for, and given exposure by, bike riding. Take the iconic coast-to-coast bike ride in Canada for example. Jack Van Dorp, a registrant for both the Groundhog Jog and the Ice Road Challenge, has done it, as have 2 of his siblings. PASA has also supported locals Carlin and Deb Val on their coast-to-coast ride Cycle2Save in 2012.
However there’s a stronger connection between the Bruce Peninsula and this extreme bike ride in Pikangikum. Volunteers from the Bruce started traveling to Pikangikum in 2017 after OPP Constable Adam Belanger invited some of PASA’s board members who had experience repairing bikes, building trails and teaching youth, to assist a bicycle skills component within a program called Project Journey. A few members of PASA have been traveling to Pikangikum ever since, bringing enhancements and momentum to the project. Whether they acknowledge the label or not, these Bruce volunteers are a breed of bikevocates.
PASA’s better-known event, the Bruce Peninsula Multisport Race presented by Bruce Power, has begun forwarding its proceeds to a local bicycle skills program for the peninsula. This new program on the Bruce is known as Ride Smart, and provides health & wellness benefits for youth involved in cycling here, promoting participation in an activity that encourages community interaction through group rides. It also provides an opportunity for youth to build on their self-worth by learning new skills like repairing their own bikes. According to Belanger, the philosophy behind this local program is that it allows youth “to be an individual”, if and when they choose to go for a ride on their own.
The Ride Smart program will run throughout 2020 with a number of stops on the peninsula. The program ran last year as well with indigenous youth participating in both Neyaashiinigmiing and the Saugeen First Nation. New Hope Community Bikes is set to announce the 2020 stops soon.
The Groundhog Jog raised $500 in proceeds for the Peninsula Shores District School basketball program, but for outdoor sport enthusiasts Willie’s prediction is always a bit of a red herring given the plethora of winter sport options available in the region.
For cyclists however, it’s increasingly irrelevant to take a side in the “Early Spring” or “6 More Weeks” debate. Fewer outdoor sport opportunities wait for the spring equinox.
The goal in organizing these events is typically the same: to have fun, and get people outside enjoying nature, but the events also create civic pride and empower people. This is done by connecting them to opportunity through programs such as Ride Smart, or by simply creating outdoor advocates or trails ambassadors that keep our area accessible to hikers. The interconnectedness of outdoor sport is strong in all four beautiful seasons of the Bruce Peninsula.
Participant Adam Akerman on the 2020 Ice Road Challenge north of Red Lake on February 7th.
Start of 2020 Pikangikum Ice Road Challenge on Feb 7, 2020