By Korie Marshall

Last week when Vernon Pawloske decided on the date for his momentous bike/hike trip from McBride to Mount Robson and back, he’d already raised nearly $5000 in pledges for the library expansion. Not only did he finish the incredible trek this weekend, he’s raised a lot more.

Pawloske recently turned 70, and said he’d been talking with many people about his plan to bike and hike 200 km from his home outside McBride to the very top of the Berg Lake Trail (right up to Adolphus Lake, which is actually in Jasper National Park) and back in one day. He says he spoke to some tough young guys who said they’d never be able to do it.

“I feel tough and young,” said Pawloske before the day, outlining some of the training he’d been doing, including timing himself on bike trips and chopping stacks of firewood for his friends and neighbours.

“If I can do it, nobody has the right to call me old!” Pawloske says with a hearty laugh.

But he’s never had a doubt that he could do it, though he knew it would be a very long day, and he’d have to be ready to keep going in the dark. Pawloske’s friend Leah Redmond said she was a bit worried, because his approach was so different.

“Most athletes would be doing practice runs and eating a specific diet – and he was eating a lot of ice cream!” says Redmond. He was also cycling into McBride several times a day, but she was worried that the hills closer to Mount Robson would be a challenge, since it is relatively more flat near McBride.

But Pawloske had it all figured out. He said leaving early when it was cool would be good for the way up (though there are certainly some downhills!) and the trip home after his hike would also be in the cool of the evening, and more downhill than up. He expected it might take him 18 hours, but was prepared for longer. The only thing that was going to stop him would have been a strong headwind or some disaster. Still, it was a tense day for some, waiting for word when the hike would be done and wondering where they could meet up with him to show support and encouragement.

Pawloske started his trek at 3:00 am on Sunday June 21st, and finished just after midnight. He had both support and company for most of the trip, including a succession of people welcoming and cheering him on along Highway 16 at the end of the day. Redmond followed him on the highway with his spare bike and helped keep everyone updated on the progress of trek, at least while she was within cell service. Glen Stanley and other friends accompanied Pawloske on the Berg Lake Trail. And despite being the longest day of the year, it was well after dark when he finished the return bike ride, with waves and well-wishes along the highway and on social media.

“When we met him at 10km on berg lake trail at 6pm he was ready to go dancing in McBride,” said Librarian Naomi Balla-Boudreau. She says he was still swearing he was fine, 21.5 hrs after his journey started. “Thank you Vernon Pawloske for your vision and your drive.”

“I wanted to do something for them, and this is something I can do,” Pawloske told the Goat when he announced he was going to take on the challenge to raise funds for the proposed expansion of the McBride library and museum.
Pawloske uses the library regularly, and with help from staff and friends he’s met there, he’s learned to use computers, the internet and Facebook, his camera, and his first mobile phone.

“The Library means a lot to me, and is an asset to McBride and is a very busy place,” says Pawloske.

“If I did anything ordinary and easy, I probably would not get much support. I am used to hard work all of my life and am tough.”

Elsie Stanley, who helped him with printing the pledge forms, said he was trying to keep the fundraiser a secret from the library society for a while, but once he got the forms he was out there working to collect pledges. He’d raised nearly $5000 by last week, when he picked the date for his trip, and many people were anxious to pitch in more when the day came. The Library is also setting up a PayPal account for people from outside the community who’ve heard about Vern’s incredible trek and want to support his cause. Look for a link on their website soon, or give them a call.

Sunday was a long, late day for Pawloske, his supporters, and supporters of the library expansion. The Library hosted a gathering on Tuesday afternoon to celebrate his incredible achievement with some cake, and if they know Vern (which they do), there would have been some ice cream too.