Cross Canada trek

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Four friends biking across country to raise money for HIV research

Saturday was a well-earned day of rest for a quartet who are riding across Canada.

Neil Schmitke, left, Chris Davidge, Yanir Levy and Tommy Spriet are riding across Canada to raise money for the Canadian Foundation for HIV Research.

Chris Davidge, Tommy Spriet, Yanir Levy and Neil Schmitke set out form Vancouver on May 9 with a goal of riding 6,604 kilometres across the country for the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR).

"It's mentally and physically exhausting but we are proud about how far we have come so far," Schmitke said. "When we got here to Moose Jaw on Friday, we knew that we have one more part of our journey complete and we're getting closer towards our end goal of arriving in Nova Scotia."

"Going through the Rocky Mountains presented it's own challenges on the physical side of things with the elevation changes that you go through while riding," Davidge added. "On the other hand, you have to make sure that you are mentally focussed when you are riding through the pirates as there isn't a lot of changes in the scenery and we have had to deal with a pretty bad head wind."

The ride is the brainchild of Davidge, who got the inspiration for the trek after spending time teaching in Kenya in Feb. 2014.

"I taught at the schools and orphanages over there and I found out as I was leaving that 90% of the kids there are infected with HIV, and many of them won't reach their 20th birthday," Davidge said. "I wanted to help make a change in some way and I looked into what is happening in Canada and I found out that 71,000 people in our country have HIV and around 25% of that group don't even know that they have it.

"After I knew that, it was pretty easy to get my friends on board. I went to high school with Neil in Stony Plain, Alta. and I go to Western University with Tommy and Yanir, and we are all up for a big adventure."

So far, the ride has been a major success as they have already surpassed their initial goal of raising $10,000.

"We changed our goal now to raise at least $15,000 but we like to reach the $25,000 mark," Levy said. "If we can raise that much the money will go towards funding a research grant and that would be an amazing accomplishment."

"We just want to see that total continue to climb and see how much we can end up raising," Spriet added. "The amount of strangers that we have met along the way has been amazing. So many people have asked about what we are doing and they have been really interested in helping out."

The group rode to Regina on Sunday to start stage four of their trek, which will see them arrive in Portage la Prairie, Man. at the end of the week.

They hope to arrive in Sydney, N.S. on July 3.

"We set small goals for ourselves to keep going and take things one day at a time," Levy said. "When you look at the entire trip, 6,604 km's is quite a lot, but when you break it down it's 500 km's for each stage and each day is about 100 km so it works out well.

"Those goals and the funds we are raising is what keeps us going on the road."

Donations to the ride can be made online at

CANFAR thrilled with ride's success

With the Cycle 4 CANFAR ride raising more than $10,000 to date, the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research couldn't be happier with the trek's success.

"It's something that's really unique for us to be involved with," CANFAR manager of communications and marketing Stephanie Rullo said. "Often you see rides like this only go for a couple of hundred kilometres over a certain location but it's very rare to see someone go across the country like these guys are."

CANFAR was approached by Chris Davidge last year as he prepared to go across the country with his friends Tommy Spriet, Yanir Levy and Neil Schmitke.

"Chris said that he and the other guys were looking for a charity that was hoping to end HIV and help people in cities across the country," Rullo said. "As we focus on research here in Canada, it was a perfect fit."

CANFAR was formed in 1987 with goals of increasing awareness of HIV and AIDS along with developing funding sources to support HIV and AIDS research activities.

"The funds that are raised from this ride will go towards two things," Rullo said. "They go towards funding more research projects and it will also go towards our education and awareness campaign that sees us go to 3,000 schools a year to educate students on safe sex practices and removing the stigma around HIV and getting treated for it."

Lucas Punkari can be reached at 306-691-1260 or on Twitter @lpunkari.

Organizations: Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research, Western University

Geographic location: Canada, Vancouver, Moose Jaw Nova Scotia Rocky Mountains Kenya Stony Plain Regina Portage la Prairie Sydney

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