Retired cop to bike 4,200 miles for police suicide awareness
Chris Lowrance will fly to Oregon to start his 90-day ride across the country
By Gavin Stewart
GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — A retired Gaston County Police officer plans to spend this summer bicycling across the United States while raising awareness for suicide among law enforcement officers.
Chris Lowrance filled a number of shoes in his 28 years working at Gaston County Police Department. The former patrolman, sergeant, K-9 handler and SWAT team member officially retired from law enforcement in December 2020, but has served as a school resource officer at New Hope Elementary since then.
Lowrance picked up cycling from his late father-in-law. Since then, he’s embarked on single-day trips up to 100 miles, as well as Cycle North Carolina’s annual Mountains to Coast ride, a week-long journey across the state.
Aside from finishing the construction of his two-car garage, Lowrance has been planning something big in celebration of his retirement – trekking more than 4,200 miles from Oregon to Virginia, a journey known to cyclists as the TransAmerica Trail. The trail is broken down into 12 segments, ranging from 220 to 420 miles each.
“I joked with my wife and told her I thought it’d be cool after I retire to take a bike and ride all the way across the country. She looked at me and said, ‘go do it,’” said Lowrance, who has been planning for the 90-day bicycle ride over the last year and a half. “There’s a lot of logistics to it.”
With his world-touring bike built by Brantley Smith and the staffers of Ride-A-Bike shop in Gastonia, Lowrance will witness many different landscapes from the backroads of America over the next three months. He chose the TransAmerica route specifically so he could travel through the Rocky Mountains, a place he has yet to explore in person.
Lowrance will take an airplane to Portland, Ore. Saturday and travel to Astoria, Ore. to begin his journey on Sunday.
As if pedaling his own weight plus 100 lbs. of gear and equipment up and down mountains in the summer wasn’t difficult enough, Lowrance plans to avoid the leisure of hotel rooms and settle for less-than-cushy campsites along the route.
He plans to also keep his spending under $25 a day, meaning he will often cook for himself or settle for an uninhabited wooded area to catch some shut-eye.
“I’m going to be on the road for three months so I am taking some creature comforts with me,” he said. “I have a really good recipe for sardines and rice.
“If I stop at a campsite that is $20, I’ve got to make that money up somewhere.”
No Gas Wheels based in Lincolnton built a custom front wheel for Lowrance’s bike, which will charge his phone and other electronic devices as the wheel spins.
Though he hopes to reach Yorktown, Va., in August, Lowrance’s only strict deadline is to make it to Yellowstone National Park by June 1, where his wife, Melanie, and three children will meet him for a five-day break.
During the planning of his trip, Lowrance came across Blue HELP, a nonprofit which aims to rid the stigma of talking about mental health in law enforcement through education while supporting families who have lost a law enforcement family member to suicide. HELP stands for honor, educate, lead and prevent.
Blue HELP co-founder Karen Solomon, who has several family members in law enforcement, was compelled to start the nonprofit as she learned about the lack of help police officers receive.
“Certain events throughout time have made me realize how little support officers get when they are emotionally injured, and even less support goes to the families after an officer dies by suicide,” she said.
Lowrance teamed up with Solomon to launch a fundraiser named “A Penny for Their Thoughts” to raise money for the organization ahead and during his cross-country trip. So far, more than $5,000 has been raised, which goes directly to Blue HELP.
“I wanted to do something that supported to law enforcement officers,” he said.
Lowrance was moved by Blue HELP’s mission because he agrees that mental health is often overlooked and stigmatized in his former profession. Recalling times from his career, officers are what people see on their worst days.
He doesn’t have a fundraising goal, but he hopes he will meet people and see the better, more positive sides of life while bring awareness to officer suicides. Lowrance will meet Blue HELP families along his trip.
Fifty-three law enforcement officers have taken their own lives in the United States in 2021, according to Solomon.
“Things need to change, and maybe this will bring a little bit of awareness to it,” Lowrance said.
Those interested in Lowrance can donate funds to Blue HELP by visiting bluehelp.org/a-penny-for-their-thoughts.
Funds will go directly to Blue HELP, which helps pays for care packages for families who are grieving the loss of a family member in law enforcement, mental health and suicide prevention training for police departments and an all-expenses-paid trip to unite affected families each year.
Those interested in keeping up with Lowrance this summer can join the Facebook group, "A Penny for Their Thoughts."
(c)2021 Gaston Gazette, Gastonia, N.C.