Coming home

Riders with the Cops for Kids return to Kelowna along Highway 97 in this file photo from 2015. Participants in this year's ride, nearing the scheduled mid-point, have been taken off the road because of heavy wildfire smoke.

Cops for Kids has gone up in smoke.

Hazardous air quality has forced organizers to cancel the on-road portion of this year's fundraiser, which normally sees off-duty RCMP officers pedal 1,000 kilometres across the B.C. Southern Interior.

"The air quality has been 10-plus which can represent a real hazard to health, particularly if you're outside exercising," event organizer Courtney King said Tuesday.

"Not one of riders complained, though, and in fact they all wanted to keep going," King said. "But we need to look out for their health and safety. As I told them, 'Perhaps  your hearts are bigger than your brains'."

Instead of cycling long distances between towns and cities, riders will be asked to use stationary bikes indoors to cover the route virtually. "We're not quitting, just modifying the ride," King said.

The decision to move the event indoors came Monday in Nelson. Air quality was rated 10+, with conditions not expected to improve significantly in the next few days.

There's a chance the last leg of the ride, from Vernon to Kelowna on Sunday, will take place as planned along Highway 97 if air quality improves by then.

The COVID-19 pandemic had already forced some changes to the ride. Instead of a group of 30 RCMP members completing the entire route, 10 groups of six different cyclists were scheduled to ride each day.

Even with that, however, the risk to officers' health was deemed too great because of the strenuous effort required to cycle 100 km over greatly-varying terrain.

In recent years, Cops for Kids has raised as much as $500,000 annually, with the money going to help children with special needs or unique challenges.  King hoped this year's event would still raise at least $400,000.

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