Karli Zschögner hasn’t lived in Inuvik for a year yet — this is her first winter.
But that didn’t stop her from hitting the Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway last week to bike the 138 kilometre road to raise over $4,000 and counting for the House of Hope project — a grassroots effort to combat suicide in Tuktoyaktuk.
“I’ve never done anything quite that far,” she said. “Usually I’ve only bike maybe two-to-three hours at a time. But I decided to take the challenge.
“When the suicides happened in June and into September, it hit. I’ve lost a close friend to suicide — you feel a little helpless.”
After spending a week preparing in Tuktoyaktuk and organizing the fundraiser, Zschögner set out early Nov. 10 with a solid headwind on the marathon bike ride.
Plowing her way through miles of uphill gravel, she finally ran out of sunlight and set up camp for the night. While she had brought safety equipment for wildlife encounters, she said the creatures of the tundra let her be for the night.
But the winds were significantly worse the following morning, enough that Zschögner said she nearly second guessed herself.
“The biggest thing was keeping warm. I really didn’t want to take any stops because once you stop, your sweat makes you chilly,” she said. “So I really just biked until it got really dark, then set up a tent.
“The second day, I could feel my bike being pushed to the side. I woke up at 6 a.m. and was able to finish putting all my tents together by 7:30. The wind was so strong, I was trying to put my tent back in and everything was blowing away.”
Fortunately, with the help of her friend Wanda McDonald, who made several trips down the ITH to check up on her and provide her with hot soup and tea, Zschögner was able to keep herself moving and finally pulled into Inuvik at 5:15 p.m., raising $4,475 and counting in the process for House for Hope.
A place for young adults
Currently operating out of Kitti Hall, House for Hope is the brainchild of Nathan Kuptana, Agnes Krengnektak and Blaire Bernhardt.
Kuptana said he started the project to give young adults a safe space to talk about issues troubling them. He’s been doing the service for about a month and it operates from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. from Sunday to Thursday and from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
“It’s a place for young adults to hang out if they’re not feeling comfortable or feeling down,” he said. “It’s a safe place for people to catch up with friends, play ping pong and card games and have someone to talk to.”
Eventually, he said he would like to have a dedicated building for the organization. But for now the office at Kitti Hall is doubling as a private counselling chamber.
Already several people have taken advantage of House for Hope to get issues off their chest, which Kuptana said he hoped would help people who are combating suicidal thoughts.
Noting the House for Hope isn’t just about counselling but also providing safe and sober activities for young adults, Kuptana said he would like to expand into a music program. He added he was planning to put the money raised by Zschögner towards musical gear, such as a piano and some guitars.
“We have a lot of young adults who are over 18 now that I’ve seen play piano and they’re pretty good,” he said. “So it would be great to get a piano.”
Kuptana said he also wants to establish an on the land program to connect young adults with Elders so they can pass on their knowledge.
He said learning essential skills for survival would be helpful for both people’s mental health and spirit.
“Our generation and the upcoming next generation, we’ve forgot who we were as Inuvialuit people,” he said. “I want Elders to remind us of who we are. In my point of view, I see them as heroes because they know the ways of life.
“Not all of us young adults know how our lifestyle was long ago.”
Noting the project has been well received by the community, Kuptana said he hoped to access more training for counselling for himself and his peers. He’s already completed ASIST: Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.
In the meantime, he said the best way people could help out is by reaching out to him if they’re struggling.
“In the past four weeks I’ve had about five or six people open up to me and talk to me private,” he said. “I try to make them feel as comfortable as they can and try to give them good advice.
“If someone’s feeling down, they can either talk to me or someone else in private.”
Kuptana added he hoped other small communities could establish similar initiatives to combat suicide in their communities.
Now recovering in Inuvik, Zschögner said she’s learned a lot from the experience.
Noting her knees were particularly sore, she reflected on others who did a lot of conditioning before making the trip. Proper eye-wear was also a must-have if she were to make the trip again and making sure proper fuel and lighters are on hand is essential.
“I think a lot of people are just a little afraid to put themselves out there and try things,” she said. “So I encourage to test themselves. We’re capable and it's amazing what the body can do when it has a will to do something.”
Zschögner said she’s planning to do other fundraisers for House for Hope in the future and has kept her GoFundMe for the cause open. Visit https://gofund.me/1dbcb83c to donate.