Meda Kessler 2017-08-29 07:25:52
POINTS OF LIGHT Friends hit the road to keep the conversation going about suicide and mental health. Map courtesy of lightthetrailride.org This Labor Day, a special group of people will begin a 3,700-mile journey on bicycles that will allow them plenty of time to think above love. And life. And loss. Loss is something they have experienced together and is the reason two middle-aged men and their wives will leave Oregon on Labor Day and pedal to Washington, D.C., by Veterans Day. They will do it for love and life. They will do it for Jordan. Jordan Elizabeth Harris — daughter to Tom and Ellen Harris and family friend to Isaac and Libby Manning — took her own life in the spring of 2012 after depression overwhelmed her. “Once we could breathe after Jordan died, we started sharing our story,” says Ellen. “We realized we needed to break the stigma surrounding suicide and depression.” With the help of friends like the Mannings, Tom and Ellen moved forward. The inaugural fundraiser of the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation quietly raised $200,000 in one hour. Since then, it has funded research grants and helped create new positions for mental health workers. “Depression is a sickness that we need to find a way to treat,” says Tom. “We also have to be OK with talking about it.” Isaac, who is on the board of the foundation, was weary of grieving for young people who took their own lives. It made him think long and hard about what else they could do raise awareness, to get people talking. He knew of explorer Meriwether Lewis and his great journey 200 years ago. Lewis died at age 35, and historians believe he committed suicide. “I was looking for a trip with meaning,” says Manning. “And I had found it.” Light the Trail became a reality. A key player in this plan is Dyar Bentz, friend of the family and a classmate of Jordan’s. “We hung out together, and I came to realize that for someone to take their life who was so successful in life and had so much to give back that it had to be a very bad disease.” Dyar has completed an Austin-to-Anchorage charity bike ride as well as a 14,000-mile trip from Alaska to Argentina. His proficiency with still and video cameras as well as bike tools made him the perfect program director for Light the Trail. For the past couple of years, Tom and Isaac have been training when they can, thankful for jobs that let them get away. Dyar had them testing their endurance and legs in the hills of Austin at one point, and they also enjoyed a training trip in Maine. Ellen and Libby, Isaac’s wife, plan to do short trips on bikes but admit they are there as “the crew.” It’s the guys who will be pedaling five days a week for 70 days on a route that is an approximation of Lewis and Clark’s trip done in reverse. They will ride only in daylight for safety reasons and will have vans at their disposal for use as “sag” wagons. Weather could be an issue as they cross the Appalachian Mountains, and they will have some steep climbs but also some open roads with beautiful scenery. They have taken just-in-case CPR courses, too. Along the way, they plan stops to spread their message and encourage discussion about suicide and depression. Guest riders are welcome to join them, and as they near Washington, D.C., they plan to meet up with members of 22Kill, a veterans group that addresses suicide among military members. They’ll all ride into the city together. It’s an ambitious plan, but these are people on a mission. “Not a day goes by that we don’t think of Jordan,” says Tom. “We just want to keep the conversation going.” THE DETAILS Light the Trail Stay updated on the riders’ progress via lightthetrailride.org, and learn more about their mission at jordanharrisfoundation.org. Follow along via social media at facebook.com/lightthetrailride and Instagram @lightthetrail.
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