There's a head wind blowing, a constant reminder that every mile is not without effort.
It blows in the faces of the leaders of the cycling peloton. Those behind barely feel it, shielded in the slipstream of the riders ahead of them. Looking at the group it could be a bike ride anywhere: 18 riders from their 20s to 60s spread out down the road, with colorful jerseys, water bottles racked, heads helmeted.
But get a little closer and it is clear this is no average ride. The jerseys are the first tip-off: many have “Ride to Remember” emblazoned across their backs. Move even closer and one can see the picture buttons of law enforcement officers, faces frozen in a flash of time, lives now just memories.
The Cops Cycling for Survivors 10th annual ride around Indiana was headed down U.S. 27 through Decatur on Wednesday morning, on their way to the Advance Auto Parts store. That's where State Trooper Cory R. Elson, 26, was shot during a routine traffic stop April 3, 1999, only four months after graduating from the Indiana State Police academy.
A plaque on the side of the store remembers Elson, and it was there that the riders gathered. Elson was shot with a fully automated AKA 47—the driver continued to shoot as many as 36 rounds, fatally wounding him. The shooter, Mark L. Lichtenberger of Decatur, was picked up the next day while having Easter dinner with his parents. Lichtenberger, 38 at the time of the shooting, pleaded guilty to murder and is serving a life sentence in the case.
Elson was the second of three troopers to die from the same graduating class that year.
The Cops ride was started in 2002 to raise awareness of the dangers that law enforcement face every day as well as remember those who have fallen in the line of duty, and the people they leave behind. During the 13-day ride, which started Monday in Indianapolis, they will make stops around the state, remembering those who had fallen and visiting the survivors.
About six of the original riders still take part every year. At least 18 of the riders this year will be doing all 13 days, nearly 1,000 miles around the perimeter of Indiana. Unlike most bike tours, they ride on some of the main highways, because they are escorted so motorists easily see them.
For the first time this year the ride has become its own nonprofit 501c3. They still fully support the Cops organization but Master Indiana State Trooper Rich Crawford said there is less red tape for them to go through when organizing the ride.
It takes eight months to set up the event with a 13-person committee organizing it. Crawford said they work with 40 law enforcement agencies around the state to set up escorts from town to town for the riders. The riders spend about 50 percent of their sleeping time in motels and the other half in churches, schools and F.O.P. lodges.
“We eat a lot of good food,” said retired Allen County Police Officer John Heath, 61.
Heath has been making the full ride for the past three years.
“We passed a little boy waving a full-sized American flag yesterday,” Heath said smiling.
Heath said a lot of people honk when they go by. He is not sure they know exactly what they are honking for, but the show of support is wonderful. Heath said he enjoys participating in the ride because of the awareness it brings to the public, and the honor it brings to those lost in the line of duty. Of course, he admits, keeping up with officers half his age on his bike is a pretty good feeling, too.
This year the ride honors Terre Haute Police Officer Brent Daniel Long. Long was shot and killed July 11, 2011, as he and other officers served a felony warrant at a house. Long had served with the Terre Haute Police Department for six years. He is survived by his wife and two children. A large banner of Long and his canine partner, Shadow, who was also shot but survived, decorates the side of the tour support truck.
The ride is free for participating law enforcement officers. The ride will end July 21 at Crown Hill Cemetery's Heroes of Public Safety Section, where the riders will reunite with their families and law enforcement survivors.