Sarah Murray had finished work for the day in downtown Whitehorse, and was about to go unlock her brand new e-bike and ride home.
"Already I had my bag that was going to go in the panniers, my helmet in the other hand, and my bike's not there. And you think, 'is this some kind of sick joke?'" Murray recalled.
"I did a loop of the building, like, 'is someone pulling my leg?' And then had to realize that it's gone. It's really gone."
This wasn't just any old bike that was stolen — it was a $5,000 e-bike that Murray had bought just two weeks ago. It had replaced her old Pontiac Vibe as her main mode of transportation.
"This was my car. This is my getting-around-town vehicle," she said.
It's a bad time to lose a bike, anywhere — the pandemic has caused a global bicycle boom, increasing demand and disrupting supply chains for retailers. It can be tough to find a quick replacement.
RCMP say the theft of Murray's bike was particularly "brazen" — it happened in the middle of the day, in front of her downtown workplace. But police say bike theft has been a growing problem in Whitehorse in recent years.
"Our reports that we've received over the last few years of bike thefts, they have gone up," said Insp. Lindsay Ellis with the Whitehorse RCMP.
"It is a huge issue. And it's a big issue across Canada, and I will say even in North America."
Ellis says the impact of bike theft is also greater with more victims, like Murray, having relied on their bikes as their main vehicles.
"Also people who have, you know, very high-value, high-end mountain bikes that are being stolen, you know, right off the back of their their campers or trailers when they're here visiting the Whitehorse.... Sometimes they're in it, sleeping," Ellis said.
Murray says she's also heard lots of stories from other local cyclists, about bikes being stolen from unexpected places.
"There was always the problem, if you left your bike out, someone might walk off with it. But now it's locked bikes, or bikes from a garage, or things that people had taken care of to make sure that they were safe."
Tied to drug trade, RCMP say
According to Ellis, there's a "direct link" between bike theft and the drug trade. She says stealing bikes is often an easy way for a thief to make a quick buck, "usually for drugs."
"We used to see, you know, maybe somebody would take a bike and they'd use it to get from A to B in town here. We don't see that anymore. We're seeing where folks are taking bikes, they're fencing it for cash, quick cash," Ellis said.
Stolen bikes are often collected and shipped out of the territory to be sold elsewhere. It's "organized crime," she said.
"Usually there's one or two people who are behind sort of the collection, and the what I would call 'fencing' of these bikes."
Other times stolen bikes are just stashed away for a while, to be quietly sold later.
She cited an investigation a few years ago that found "dozens and dozens" of stolen bikes on Kwanlin Dün settlement land in Whitehorse. The First Nation's land stewards found the stash and tipped off the police.
RCMP have been able to return some of those bikes, she said, but others have not yet been claimed or the owners identified. She says anybody who's had a bike stolen in the last few years should call RCMP and maybe get it back.
Murray is still hoping her erstwhile e-bike — a teal blue Benno Boost with a back rack — turns up somewhere, somehow.
"But [I'm] not holding my breath that will happen," she said.