A summer bike trip for a man and his dog has turned into a year-long experience in the north and now he’s giving back to the community he’s called home since last fall.
In 2021, Paul Hayes and his dog Cinder made the 3,230 kilometre trip from Victoria, B.C. to Tuktoyaktuk, reaching the Arctic coast on Aug. 23. But as it turns out, that was only the start of the journey.
“When I arrived after the bike trip I ended up spending time in the community,” he said. “I spent seven days and throughout the trip, I realized that I was seeking a life more of less comfort. Coming from the south we have a lot of comforts that are our fingertips.
“In that seven days I got to spend some time with locals, got to see the school and it just became like appealing to me, in the sense of seeking change.”
Within a month of visiting Tuktoyaktuk, Hayes had rented out his house in Victoria, taken a leave of absence and accepted a position at Mangilaluk school. He’s been living in the community since October.
It was a bit of an adjustment from the comforts of life in Victoria. For one, Hayes arrived just in time for the community to be forced into lock-down because of Covid-19. That, coupled with the endless nights of the Arctic winter, Hayes admitted, was a challenge to work through.
But once the restrictions were lifted and life returned to normal, Hayes fully integrated himself into the community, volunteering with a dog mushing yard, organizing community bike trips and even calling out bingo numbers.
“I have a snowboard so they’re all excited about potentially having snowboards here,” he said. “They had a skating program Monday, Wednesday, Friday that I was attending. And we have a little bit of a bike crew as well in the community. So there’s been a lot of ways to get involved in more on the active side.”
People have been so welcoming and kind, Hayes said, he felt compelled to give back to the community which has taught him so much in the past seven months. So he did what he does best — he biked.
Noting the Jason Jacobson Youth Centre hosts a variety of excellent community programs, ranging from sewing workshops to hunting trips, Hayes decided to set up a fundraiser for the centre and opted to do a bike ride to kickstart it.
This time the distance was far more modest — his journey took him from Tuktoyaktuk to Aklavik over the course of two days. On the other hand, this time the temperature was about 50 degrees colder too, so this time Cinder stayed home.
“So the first day I went, it was probably like minus 30 with a windchill. It was cold,” he said.”I went by my own. Usually I cycle with my dog, but we didn’t have my chariot with us.”
But while he was alone on the bike, he wasn’t alone on the trail. From the start of his journey onward, Hayes was met by travellers, supporters and cabin-dwellers who helped him out with food, warm drinks and conversation.
“Everybody was just so kind they would stop, have conversations and make donations. E Gruben’s was hauling gravel. So they were communicating with me constantly making chatting in like there just was a really awesome type of community and dialogue that was happening on the road that day, then a woman by the name of Wanda, she came when I was 40 kilometres out of Inuvik with food and hot buns and she even offered me tea.”
On the ice road itself, which Hayes said was slippery but manageable, people even drove out from their cabins to say hello.
He finally pulled into Aklavik on April 17 just after midnight, where a crowd assembled for the Mad Trapper Rendezvous community dance gave him a cheer.
”I was running on a pretty thin tire to like I was running on like a 700 by 38,” he said. “So not that thick of a tire but I had a studded tires.
“But with the more sun exposure that’s been happening as of late, there’s less areas on the road for traction. So, there was a lot of sections where you just don’t work your brakes.”
He’s not done yet, though. So far, he’s raised close to $4,000 out of a goal of $10,000. So to get closer to his five-digit goal, he’s running a 50/50 and a bake sale at the Beluga Jamboree this weekend.
Having literally dropped everything in his life to come live in the north, Hayes said he was heading back to Victoria this summer to deal with unfinished business. Not sure if he’ll be back this way next fall or not yet, Hayes said he was grateful for the lessons he’s learned in Tuktoyaktuk since his arrival.
“It’s been very cool just to understand like how thriving the culture is up here and how so much of it is land based education,” he said. “I’m so fortunate to work with some amazing women that are seamstresses or hunters. The energy from the students, the youth and children of this community is what really got me excited to be able to just to be involved.”