by Stephen Dafoe
It has been many years since Roger Champagne was gunned down in Las Vegas by a man looking to feed his drug habit. But the Morinville man, well known for his kindness in the community, has never been forgotten by friends, family or the hundreds of Morinville Community High School (MCHS) students who were born some years after the man’s passing. Such is the legacy of Roger Champagne whose memory is honoured each year by MCHS students who take to the mountains for a bike ride that carries his name. For many of those years, the Champagne family has presented a bicycle to a student to take on the annual trip.
Roger Champagne was one of the original people to organize the annual mountain bike trip, and he built a tandem trailer to haul the bikes and supplies to the starting point of the trip. After the riders had begun their journey, he’d follow the students in his vehicle, offering help and a ride to those who encountered trouble along the way – if he couldn’t fix their bikes himself. Champagne, well regarded for his skills in the kitchen, did much of the cooking on the trips.
Twelve students ranging from Grade 10 to 12, accompanied by some teachers and adults, will participate in the 25th Annual Roger Champagne Memorial Bike Trip from Kootenay National Park to Jasper between May 17 and 21.
MCHS teacher and trip organizer Greg Boutestein said he has taken part in the bike trip since 1997.
“It’s a big year for us. It’s kind of special,” he said, adding they added an extra leg to mark the five-year increment of the trip. “It’s a four-day tour this year. The kids will cycle close to 300 kilometres.”
This year the cyclists will follow the same 220-kilometre route they have used for the past decade, plus an extra day trip to get to that route. They will leave May 17 and start the second day with a 70-km ride on Thursday. The last three days will see the students ride the regular 220-km route.
“They’ll start in Kootenay National Park; then they’ll ride through Kootenay over to border into Banff. From Lake Louis, they will head north to the Ice Fields, which is our normal route.”
Boutestein attributes the quarter century longevity of the trip to its appeal.
“I think it is a really unique opportunity for kids,” he said. “Obviously, John Henderson set up a phenomenal trip all those years ago, and any time a trip extends beyond the life of the school it started in – this is one of the only things [remaining] that started at Primeau when it was the high school. I think John and Roger put something together that was really special and even if the numbers are lower, there is a core group that goes. They get hooked and want to go back. It’s to convince kids – as John used to say – to step outside their comfort zone to take a challenge, to take a risk, and kind of scare yourself a bit.”
In addition to the annual Roger Champagne Memorial Bike Trip, the school is planning the 4th Annual Fred Scharmann Memorial Hiking Trip, which takes place in the same vicinity as the bike trip. The hike honours local business owner and Bike Trip supporter Fred Scharmann, who was a long-time support truck driver on the Roger Champagne Memorial Bike Trip before his death.
Boutestein said with the two excursions, the school is seeing some crossover between events. “I’m hoping that will continue over the next few years,” he said. “On the bike trip, we discuss the hiking trip and on the hiking trip we discuss the bike trip as well. Hopefully, you are going to get to get some cross traffic, but really an opportunity like this doesn’t come along a lot.”
The teacher said the trips took a large amount of support from longtime and new volunteers to make it possible and to allow students to make a special journey for about $200.
In preparation for the ride, Boutestein has been organizing Saturday morning training runs. “We require that the kids do four training rides out of six,” he explained. “The kids just have to make sure they are there for four, and we’ll do rides anywhere from 35 to 40 kilometres on the Sturgeon loop. The biggest one we do is a 70-km loop out to Busby Corner in Westlock County, and we come back through Legal. If the kids have done all the training rides plus the bike trip; these kids have ridden an excess of over 500 kilometres.”