'A pretty bold statement': Albertans embark on motorcycle trek on ice road for good causes

A group of bikers set off on what's sure to be a cold journey Thursday morning, riding their motorcycles down an ice road from Fort McMurray to Fort Smith, NT.

'You’re very limited on who is actually willing to take this on — who wants to freeze their butt off'

Nine people are embarking on a three-day motorcycle ride on the Fort Chipewyan winter road. (Matt Short Photography)

A group of bikers is embarking on a what's sure to be a chilly journey Thursday morning, riding their motorcycles down an ice road from Fort McMurray to Fort Smith, N.W.T.

Some of the bikers are more familiar with tackling fire than ice. Six of the group's nine riders are first responders, including Fort McMurray firefighter/EMT Mike Haberoth.

He's one of the people who came up with the plan to take on the Fort Chipewyan Winter Road on motorcycles.

"We started it last year ... pretty much just to see if we could do it," he said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

But the group, Ride North Moto, learned a Fort McMurray firefighter had been paralyzed in a motorcycle accident and was raising money for stem cell treatment.

"We figured we might as well do it for a good cause while we're at it," Haberoth said.

The ride will be a cold one, but the bikers are dressing for the weather, and are driving alongside four support vehicles. (Matt Short Photography)

This time around, they're hoping to raise $5,000 to split between Fort McMurray crisis centre Waypoints and Sheepdog Lodge, a cabin retreat for first responders and veterans.

Everyone in the group has been touched by the work of first responders, Haberoth said, and many felt the impacts of the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

"It affected everybody in certain ways, and everybody needed a resource," he said. "Waypoints is one of those, and is able to give people an outlet as to what direction to go."

The team that travelled the winter road last year included three riders and two support vehicles, Haberoth said. This year, nine riders and four support vehicles will brave the cold.

"You're very limited on who is actually willing to take this on — who wants to freeze their butt off," he said.

"Also, in the northern communities, you kind of have a lack of resources. So there's great hotels that we're staying at, but you're limited ... as to how many people can take part in this."

It's a pretty bold statement as a group of riders to go and take on something like that in these winter conditions.- Johanna  Poultney

They'll fight the freeze on the three-day trek by dressing in snowmobile gear.

"The clothing isn't such an issue, it's more getting the bike set up to work on ice and snow," Haberoth said, highlighting the need for accessories like studded tires and heated handlebars.

Seven of the riders are driving off-road motorcycles, but Johanna Poultney and her partner are driving Harleys equipped with heavily studded tires. The Red Deer couple is new to the ride.

"It's a pretty bold statement as a group of riders to go and take on something like that in these winter conditions," said Poultney, a paramedic.

"Everybody who rides motorcycles has … a really good, strong sense of individuality and a yearning for adventure."

Johanna Poultney testing out the studded tires on her bike on Sunday. (Andy Dawson/Are you Social)

She anticipates the group will be driving in -17 C temperatures at a cruising speed of 50 to 80 kilometres an hour.

"My biggest concern is visibility. If there's any snow or really low light, that would be difficult because you can't see any ruts in the road or the ice," she said.

"But I think the best thing you can do is just ride within your ability and always just practice a lot. Be aware, be responsible, make good decisions. Because at the end of the day, we only have one life to live and ride motorcycles."

She's hoping to get a glimpse of northern wildlife on the journey, like last year's team.

"We got surrounded by a flock of ptarmigans as we were riding. So there was close to 50 birds that flew right with us, like beside our head, because they didn't know what we were and we could only just keep going because it's ice," Haberoth said.

Last year's group was also hoping for a bison sighting.

"It's like watching a tractor go through the bush. There's just a big line of destruction even in the winter. And sure enough on our third day on our return home, there was half a dozen of them kind of grazing in ... the side of a creek," Haberoth said.

The bikers expect to be back in Fort McMurray on Saturday.

With files from Ariel Fournier