ALTON — Cycle Across Illinois is an arduous 300-mile bike ride that takes cyclists through rolling hills and monotonous flat prairie.
It will take stamina and grit to finish and they must be willing to ride in all sorts of weather. During their journey, the 50 riders will face some of their darkest moments of self-doubt and fear.
But they know their temporary suffering pales in comparison to the permanent pain experienced by the families of officers killed in the line of duty, for whom they ride.
“Illinois is not flat,” Sgt. Jim Pancetti said. “The hills of Illinois make it physically demanding but the ride is emotionally demanding as well. Just like the hills, there are ups and downs along the way as we ride for the fallen and meet the officers’ survivors.”
Pancetti is a state trooper and chair of Cycle Across Illinois. The group raises money to support COPS, Concerns of Police Survivors. COPS provides services to survivors, such as mentoring and camp scholarships.
The ride begins July 14 in Alton and ends four days later in Woodstock, northwest of Chicago. Riders will average 93 miles the first three days, and arrive in Woodstock on the fourth day.
Cycle Across Illinois was founded in 2004 by Wheaton auxiliary police officer Mark Hannan, who participated in a similar ride the previous year with Gary Dudley of the Indiana State Police. Dudley was killed during a ride in 2006.
“When Gary was killed, he was wearing his red helmet and that’s why our shirts have a red helmet rider,” Hannan wrote in an email. “For the past several years, the ride has enjoyed incredible support in the Alton area and we have decided that this will be our annual starting-off point.”
Betsy Smith, 69, is a fifth-year cyclist. Cycling is her “R&R” and she’s participated in charity rides in the past. When she found out no one from Alton had ridden in Cycle Across Illinois, she signed up to join the group.
“I’m doing this out of the ability to ride but also because I commend our police officers and firefighters,” she said. “These people have special personalities. Their families never know if they’re loved one is coming home.”
Riders have to maintain a 12- to 17-mile per hour pace and must raise a minimum of $600. Smith said even though she trains, it’s still a tough ride. She’s raised $33,000 to $35,000 over the years, with about $1,500 raised so far this year.
An advance support team will pull trailers so riders can take a break. David Parks, an employee of The Cyclery in Edwardsville, is the ride’s bike mechanic. The group will be led along the route with an escort vehicle immediately in front of the riders and another behind them, followed by a car. The group picks up other escorts in towns that block intersections.
“We’re quite a procession,” Smith says. “We’re motorcaded from the Clark Bridge to (Woodstock). We don’t stop for any red lights.”
The group will make several stops along the way to read a dedication for each memorialized officer. Beginning this year, the ride will honor officers who were killed in other states but whose families live in Illinois.
“The services are touching and humbling,” Smith said. “I’m blessed to be able to raise money for them.”
This year, Cycle Across Illinois rides will memorialize:
- Deputy Sheriff Craig S. Whisenand, Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office, died Aug. 11, 2015
- Trooper Chad H. Wolf, Michigan State Police, died Aug. 28, 2015
- Deputy Sheriff Dwight D. Maness, McHenry County Sheriff’s Office, died Sept. 14, 2015
- Patrolman David R. Tapscott, Springfield Police Department, died Dec. 26, 1979