Wilkesboro native Ricky Love, two fellow soldiers and a veteran will make a five-day bicycle ride from one end of North Carolina to the other next week to raise awareness of war veteran suicide and how to prevent it.
Love is an Army chief warrant officer II and geospatial engineering technician stationed at Fort Bragg. He will be joined by his cousin, Tim Williams, an Army 11B Co. Airborne veteran from North Wilkesboro; and Russell Hill and Christopher Bratt, also Army geospatial engineers at Fort Bragg.
Their 430-mile journey starts at 5:30 a.m. Monday near the Tennessee-North Carolina state line, and they expect to finish at the Outer Banks, near Nags Head, by 5 p.m. Friday. The route through Wilkes County Monday is on or parallel to U.S. 421 East.
Love, a 19-year Army veteran, said he organized the ride because he has veteran friends who took their own lives. “It hits me hard because I feel (veteran suicide) could be prevented by good leadership and friends, as well as seeking help when you need it.”
Love said he had a hard time adjusting when he returned from deployment to Afghanistan a year and a half ago.
“I swallowed my pride and disregarded the mental health stigma and sought out counseling,” he said. “After counseling I was able to sleep, interact positively with my family, and started having a normal lifestyle again.”
Love said he wanted to pick a hobby to help keep his mind in a positive place, so Williams suggested he buy a road bike like his. Love said Williams was also recovering from a tour in Afghanistan and used cycling as an outlet.
“I rode a couple times and got addicted to it,” said Love. “I wanted to step it up a level and learn how to freestyle swim so I could compete in triathlons. I taught myself to ride and swim in just a couple weeks.”
Love said he was soon competing in triathlons and sticking to a daily training regimen. He suggested an across-state bike ride to Williams for training and to help raise awareness of the alarming suicide rate among war veterans.
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reported in 2016 that an average of 20 U.S. veterans a day die from suicide, about double the rate of U.S. civilians.
Riders for a cause
Each day of the cross-state ride consists of four 22-mile segments in remembrance of soldiers, some of whom were close to Love, who took their own lives. On the first day, they’re riding in memory of CSM Fernan Castelo and SFC Abraham Cruz.
The four cyclists will later memorialize Robert Burgett, Sgt. Dante Scott, Sgt. Mark Cofield, Sgt. Renanta Rock, SSG Dana Lee, SSG Michael Mantenuto, Cpt. Neil Landsberg, Brandon Caserta and SSG Kerry Anderson.
Love said other cyclists are welcome to join the group for support and ride as long as they can. He said cyclists, supporters who wish to donate to the cause and families or loved ones who want their fallen veterans remembered during the ride should sign up on the group’s story map, at https://arcg.is/8ebnv.
The group initially had a support van to carry supplies. Now, they plan to restock food and beverages and buy meals along the way. Donations will be used for food, drinks and bike-packing supplies. The team plans to donate leftover money to Mission 22, a veteran suicide prevention organization.
The bike route
From the starting point at Mountain View Church in Butler, Tenn., Love’s group is scheduled to ride U.S. 321 and N.C. 105 around Boone and then down the U.S. 421 mountain to arrive in Wilkesboro around 2:30 Monday afternoon.
They will take U.S. 421 Business (West D Street) into North Wilkesboro and then jump on the Yadkin River Greenway until its intersection with Wilkesboro Avenue.
When the four arrive at Anchor Coffee in North Wilkesboro, they expect to be joined for a segment by Love’s old classmate at West Wilkes High School, Matt A. Blevins of Millers Creek.
They’ll then ride East Main Street/Old U.S. 421 to N.C. 115 and go from there to Old N.C. 60, Antioch Church Road, Red White & Blue Road and then Wilkes-Yadkin Road into Yadkin County.
Day one will end just east of Yadkinville at Maplewood Baptist Church. On Tuesday, they’ll ride from Yadkinville to just south of Burlington. The trek Wednesday will take them from Burlington to about 10 miles west of Wilson.
On Thursday, they’ll ride through Wilson and end up just south of Plymouth. The final day will take the group to the finish line at Nags Head, after making major water crossings of the Alligator River and the Croatan Sound.
After reaching Nags Head, Love said the group will camp overnight on the beach with whatever gear they biked in with.
The ride is sponsored by Maplewood Baptist Church, Spring Friends Meeting in Snow Camp, Stork’s Rest Farm in Sims, Plymouth Country Club and the Bicycle Shop in Fayetteville.