Local Advocates Prepare for Coast-to-Coast Bike Ride

From Oregon to Virginia to raise awareness for suicide prevention? Bring it on.

About 3,700 miles stretch between the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park in Oregon to the Air Force Memorial in Virginia. Plugged into Google Maps, it’s an approximately 43-hour drive (without stops, obviously).

Now imagine biking it.

That’s exactly what Tom Harris and Dyar Bentz plan to do during the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation’s Light the Trail event, a bike ride that starts Sept. 3 and ends Nov. 11. The event is meant to raise awareness for issues like depression and suicide, both of which have hit Harris and Bentz personally.

Harris, the co-founder of the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation, is the father of the organization’s namesake, Jordan Harris, who committed suicide about five years ago at the age of 22. Bentz, Light the Trail’s program director, was a friend of Jordan; they had attended senior prom together. The foundation was formed in 2014, and since then, it has raised about $265,000 for depression and mental health research, as well as suicide prevention training and support programs.

Now the team is looking forward to Light the Trail — a ride meant to not only raise money and awareness, but also start conversations with community members about ways to help people dealing with depression, mental health and suicide prevention.

The topic can be “very awkward,” Harris said, but the foundation hopes to change that notion.

“When you talk about mental illness, suicide and depression, we’ve got to get the conversation to a point where people are comfortable talking about their loved ones, talking about their friends, talking about themselves, if they’re struggling,” he said.

The route is the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but backwards (many historians believe that Meriwether Lewis’ death was a suicide). Among the stops are Great Falls, Montana; Pierre, South Dakota; and Chesterfield, Missouri. The last stop is the Air Force Memorial, where the team hopes to spend Veterans Day.

Harris will be riding along with Bentz and foundation board member Isaac Manning, as well as other participants who have signed up to ride part of the way. Harris’ and Manning’s wives will travel as well, driving support vehicles alongside the riders.

Bentz, who has experience on long bike rides (he once rode the 4,000-mile Texas 4000 to raise money for cancer research), has been training the crew.

He says he can’t wait to get going.

“I know from my own personal experience that being on a bike and riding into a community is the best icebreaker there is,” Bentz said. “You ride in, somebody asks what you’re doing, where you came from, why you’re doing it, and we have a really great answer.”

How to follow the trail:
More information on Light the Trail can be found at lightthetrailride.org. The riders will also be documenting their adventures on Facebook, facebook.com/lightthetrailride, and Instagram, @lightthetrail.