Like the tires of a bicycle, life moves in cycles: What goes around, comes around.
That’s the mindset of the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation, as it begins its second suicide prevention and depression awareness bike ride, called “2022 Light the Trail.”
The 1,800-mile ride connects riders with local community members in each city along the route, providing educational opportunities and resources about depression and suicide awareness, according to the project’s website. Spanning from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico, covering 14 cities, the trek began in Lake Itasca, Minnesota, on Saturday, Oct. 1, and will end in New Orleans on Oct. 14.
“The goal of the ride is to raise awareness of resources available for those who are struggling with mental health, so that they can easily get treatment without barriers,” Tom Harris, founder of the Fort Worth-based Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation, said. “It allows us to spread our message in multiple communities, while also raising funds for the cause.”
Raising awareness about depression and suicide prevention is central to the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation, whose work includes partnering with HOPE Squad, a peer-to-peer suicide prevention program that’s in 1,200-plus schools across the country and connects student leaders with students who are struggling and may need counseling.
During the 2021 school year, HOPE Squad referred 577 students to mental health counseling, Harris said.
Harris, who lost his own daughter, Jordan Elizabeth Harris, to suicide in 2012, says the foundation’s work is in her honor. The Light The Trail bike ride is one piece of his advocacy.
“As bad as it was losing Jordan, and as tragic as it is to share Jordan’s story … it’s very unusual to not get a story back from whoever we’re talking to,” Harris said. “The only way to deal with this stuff is to talk about it, and I think if we do we can start to make a difference.”
Isaac Manning, a co-founder of the Elizabeth Jordan Harris Foundation and who had the idea of “Light The Trail,” shared a story about a Montana town of 300 people, coincidentally named Jordan, where a woman had been struggling with depression for 10 years.
“But in that town, she couldn’t talk about it,” Manning said, “so her husband literally had an hour-long conversation with us. … It became crystal clear to us that nobody wanted to talk about it, and the ride really became the excuse to.”
Harris, Manning and their two wives were the only riders who also took part in 2017’s inaugural edition of “Light the Trail,” which stretched west-to-east, starting in Fort Clatsop, Oregon, and ending in Washington, D.C.
Manning said that race’s starting point commemorated Merriweather Lewis, who was one of the most respected and well-known men in the country after the Lewis and Clark expedition. Lewis committed suicide two years after returning to Washington, D.C., and his death showed Manning that depression and suicidal thoughts affect even those in great positions of influence.
“His level of performance and leadership getting these guys out and back was so profound, and, yet, even the guy that was the most famous in the United States succumbed to depression and suicide,” Manning said.
The stigma that revolved around mental health centuries ago persists today, Harris and Manning both said, and it’s why they’re trying to stop it.
“One of our missions, as an organization, is to rid this country, and this world, of the stigma attached to talking about suicide and mental illness,” Harris said, “and what we want to accomplish on our ride as we move down the Mississippi from state to state is to be able to engage with people along the way and have that conversation.”
This year, the ride consists of eight groups of four riders, and stretches north to south, starting in Minnesota and ending in Louisiana.
In only five years, “Light the Trail” has grown from four riders to 32, and Harris and Manning are grateful they don’t have to cover the whole route this go-around, they said.
“I still can’t believe that we were able to do that,” Harris said.
Much of this growth is credited to Fort Worth residents, as Manning wanted to include more Fort Worth representation.
“Our goal for the second ride is to get more of the community involved before and during the ride,” Manning said.
The plan has culminated in 10 Fort Worthians riding alongside Harris and Manning during the project, and the rest will come from many different corners of the country.
But, even more Fort Worthians can support and take part in Light The Trail, online through the Light The Trail website, lightthetrail.org.
“We’d love people to participate and join in on the conversation,” Harris said.
For the next week-and-a-half, Harris and Manning will ride on, spreading awareness, lighting the trail, through sunshine, rain, sleet, or snow.
How can you participate in the ride?
- Submit a “We Ride For” on the Light The Trail website for a lost loved one, which Harris and Manning will read before the day’s ride.
- ‘Ride With Us’: The website has each day’s mile count, elevation, and duration, so you could ride with Light The Trail, and join on your own bike, or stationary bike/Peloton.
- Donate: A spot for donation can be found on lightthetrail.org