Cycling close to 500 kilometres to Hay River isn’t something you wake up one morning and decide to do out-of-the-blue.
But more than 40 riders took up the challenge to do just that as part of the annual YK2HR Bike Ride, organized once again by Andy Wong.
The group of riders gathered at the Fred Henne Park day use parking lot early Friday morning to set out on their three-day trek to Hay River and everyone managed to make it to that community’s Don Stewart Recreation Centre by early Sunday evening.
One of those who did so was Michael Gilday, who was taking part in his first ride.
He decided to take the plunge this year simply because of the change in date, he said.
“I did it because it was moved to July,” he said. “Before, it was in early June and I have many friends who have done it who ended up injured because they weren’t able to get in sufficient training before going out.”
Gilday is correct in that the old date was the first weekend in June. The change was something Wong had originally resisted but then agreed to.
In a previous interview with Yellowknifer, Wong said he finally gave in and pushed it back to late July.
“One of the issues that was raised was that June was too early,” he said. “The highway would be clear from winter around mid-May and that only gave people about two weeks to train and get ready for the ride.”
The later date allowed for more training time with Wong organizing multiple rides along Highway 3 to get people used to what they would encounter.
Gilday trained as well but he said he did it on his own schedule.
“I would go out when I had the chance,” he said. “I’d ride for hours on the bike and go short or long, whatever I could get in. I’d ride with increasing distances and get comfortable with being on the bike for a long period of time.”
The first day of the ride saw the cyclists take on 180-km of Highway 3 before bedding down at a campsite by the side of the road.
Gilday said for him, day one was the most challenging.
“For starters, it was really hot, around 30 C in the late morning,” he said. “We had a good tailwind heading toward Behchoko and once we made the turn around the North Arm (of Great Slave Lake), it became a stiff headwind. The last 75-km was the most challenging and it was a bit of a slog.”
He was exhausted but the fact that he was riding in a big group made things easier, he added.
“I was tired but the camaraderie and friendliness of people helped out a lot,” he said. “You’re trading battle stories with others and talking to people all through it because it isn’t a race but more of a challenge and so you ride along with some people, talk to them and then roll out and find others to talk to. You share interests and commonalities and it’s just great to chat with people.”
After a night’s rest, it was off and biking with day two Saturday morning.
Gilday said some people, like himself, got going at 8 a.m. while others left at 8:30 a.m. if they were planning on going faster.
“The weather and temperature were perfect,” he said. “We had a great tailwind and that gave us a boost. I think we ended up ahead of schedule a bit because we arrived at a rest stop for lunch and it hadn’t arrived yet so it got pushed ahead to the next stop. The conditions made things easier and we got a bit lucky because everything went our way with the weather.”
Night two’s accommodations were the Lady Evelyn Campgrounds and when everyone woke up, it was off for the final leg of the journey to Hay River.
Like day two, the conditions were quite favourable, said Gilday.
“It was a good start but it felt like for me, it was tiring but the end was in sight,” he said. “The last section was 38-km and that’s the turn-off at Enterprise. You get sucked into the finish line because you start seeing all the signs and the houses, which start about 10-km outside of town.”
There was no swimming to be had – just a quick shower at the aquatic centre and back home, said Gilday.
With his maiden bike voyage along Highway 3 complete, Gilday said he could see himself doing this again next year because it’s a different way to see something he is used to seeing by car.
“Most of us have driven it before and it’s a beautiful drive but biking it, you see some things you may not have seen before because it’s all at a different speed,” he said. “I would do it again because of the group aspect. It’s a fun group to ride with.”
“It’s well-organized and the Wong family and all the volunteers did a great job. They were like clockwork with the organizing and they made it all work. We did the riding and the eating, they fed us and gave us a smile and told us we were doing great.”