Mid day sunshine beat down on the long row of motorcycles, warming the earth and white gravel surrounding the Chariots of Fire Customs’ back pavilion. A plethora of leather and jean clad riders meandered between assorted vendors, a spa-like hand scrub station, and a hot dog table around the covered cement pad, waiting for raffles to be drawn and the third annual American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Ride to begin.
The fundraising event, hosted by Chariots of Fire Customs LLC, an independent motorcycle dealership a few miles north of Troy, and the AFSP Lincoln County Regional Council, attracted 84 riders to participate on Sunday, June 14. Registration, $20 per rider, opened at 11 am and the ride started at 12:30 pm. Far from just raising money, anyone who came to the event saw a space that fostered openness and support on what can be a difficult topic to broach in normal settings. This atmosphere was present both before and during the ride in multiple ways.
Vendors included PeaceTree Farms, Bakers Bisque & More, and Bikers Against Bullies USA- all businesses/organizations that offer services or product that can help in the fight against suicide or recovering after losing a loved one. Across from the vendors was the memorial wall. Pictures of people from all walks of life were clipped to a string that zig zagged across the garage door it was attached too, every photo an honored memory of someone who died by suicide.
“People can text or email me pictures of their loved ones, and we take them to every ride and every walk.” said Pam Seng, a counselor and leader for the AFSP who spearheaded organizing the event with Chariots of Fire’s co-owner Reine Knobbe. In front of the wall was a table with large poster boards and pens that invited anyone to leave a message to a loved one they have lost. Seng took a moment to simply stand in front of the wall, as many others did that day, in silence.
“We first started with the loss of our daughter Emilie in October of 2016.” Seng said, going on to explain how she got involved with AFSP after connecting with their grief support and then attending the organizations Out of Darkness walks every year. “As Reine and I got talking, you know there’s a whole different environment with bikers, and yet they're still affected by it. And so we decided to do a Lincoln County ride. Which we’re welcoming cars they just haven’t come.” Seng noted with a laugh.
“Motorcyclists can get on a bike and ride for free. Instead, they go to events across whatever area they live in.” said Knobbe, commenting on the fundraiser aspect of the event. “There’s people who do fundraisers for cancer for individual persons. They do fundraisers for if a child needs money to get an operation or something, riders just give. This subculture is a very giving culture and we just happen to be an outlet where they can do that.”
The ride itself imitated a poker run, with riders getting directions to 3 different stops in Hawk Point, the Katy Trail entrance in Tree Lore, and the riverfront in Washington. Instead of collecting cards though, riders collected education on how to recognize symptoms of depression, anxiety, and when someone might be struggling with suicidal thoughts, and then tips and tricks on how to decrease those symptoms.
“Something that Pam and I want to hold true to this event is bringing awareness to self-care. Self help, self care, taking care of your own mental state and then you can be more aware in helping others.” said Knobbe.
The first stop was at the motorcycle dealership in the form of the hand washing station. Riders, Knobbe made sure to encourage men and women to go visit the station through an announcing megaphone, learned about essential oils and their benefits. The next stop in Hawk Point was a body scan.
“It’s a narration that a volunteer is going to read to them. They can sit or stand, and ‘close your eyes, and tighten your hands and what does that feel like? And reduce, can you feel your muscles relax?’ And they’ll do that through their whole body.” Seng described. Knobbe added that besides the grounding activity riders got some basic information on different pressure points that can help calm. The Katy Trail stop asked riders to do a scavenger hunt during a short walk.
“The last experience was, it sounds silly but, blowing bubbles. Just that breath. It’s so important to sometimes just to breathe to get through a stressful situation.” Knobbe said.
All money raised at the event through registration and raffles will stay in Lincoln County. The AFSP Lincoln County Regional Council has created care baskets that are available in every school counselors office, and they hope to expand to doctor’s offices and hospitals as well.
There’s two types of baskets. One is geared towards someone currently struggling with suicidal thoughts and has a journal, aromatherapy and other items to offer support along with a card that can connect the individual to the local council. The other basket has items to support a family that has lost a loved one to suicide. Bakers Bisque & More, Halo & Wings, The Mercantile Outlet and Tammy's Natural Essentials are the businesses that offer bulk discounts on different products that go in the baskets.
Seng and Knobbe continue to seek effective ways to utilize the funds raised at the annual ride and their annual AFSP Out of Darkness walk, which takes place on September 12 this year.
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and is no respecter of age, race, or gender. The word itself can feel like a slap in the face. Yet events like this shine light and hope in the face of despair.