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Riding to remember

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REMEMBERING: Marsha Ayers displays her late husband’s business card. Indiana State Police Trooper Joe Treeswas killed in a car accidentafter four years with the agency.
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READY TO RIDE: With escorts helping them along the way, cyclists set out for a nearly 100 mile ride from Lapel to Bluffton, with a brief stop in Upland.

BY Samantha Oyler - soyler@chronicle-tribune.com

Some avid cyclists might find it soothing to go on a long ride. Fitness enthusiasts think it’s a good way to stay in shape. But one group of Hoosiers sees cycling as a way to honor fallen law enforcement officers.

Cops Cycling for Survivors is a not-for-profit organization that gathers members for an annual 13-day bicycle tour around Indiana.

According to the group’s website, the ride first began when a group of police officers decided to ride from Indianapolis to Washington D.C. in honor of officers killed in the line duty and in support of those who survived them.

Bryant Orem, a member of the board of directors, said the trip is roughly 1,000 miles.

He began riding after his best friend from high school was killed in the line of duty.

Orem said he’s been riding for 10 years now.

Although some drivers might not be thrilled at the idea of trailing behind a line of cyclists, Orem said the riders are always greeted by smiles, waves and even some small donations.

“There’s such an outpouring of support from the public. … But it fades. It’s still a fresh wound for the survivors, whether it’s been a year or 50 years,” he said.

Nearly 50 years after her husband was killed in the line of duty, Marsha Ayers still feels that wound.

Ayers, who has since remarried, said her late husband, Indiana State Police (ISP) Trooper Joe Trees was killed in an accident during a high speed pursuit on June 26, 1972.

She found out about Cops Cycling for Survivors through ISP.

“For me, it’s an honor to see them do this because of his sacrifice and our sacrifice,” Ayers said.

For years, Ayers thought her husband was the only law enforcement officer buried in Jefferson Cemetery in Upland.

Thanks to this organization, she learned that there was another officer buried there as well.

Ayers carried her husband’s old identification cards with her while visiting with the cyclists.

She wasn’t the only one present to remember Trees — Philip Wietholter, Trees’ best friend and fellow officer, came to show his support.

Wietholter said his first roommate at the police academy quit immediately. Then, on July 2, 1968, Trees became his roommate. They became friends and ended up living only 10 miles apart.

Other officers also turned up to keep the memories of their brothers and sisters fresh.

“This is a fairly spiritual group,” said Jim Mendez, who has been in the group for about two years. “A lot of brothers and sisters are here.”

“We go through a lot of emotions on these tours,” Steve McCarley added.

Though the emotional aspect can be tough, riding as much as 110 miles a day can take a physical toll too.

McCarley said he tries to stay in shape all year so he is better prepared to hit the road.

The group’s stop in Upland was one of many and only day two of the tour.

The cyclists started in Indianapolis and will travel through several cities and towns before heading back to Crown Hill Cemetery for a closing ceremony.