CHARLESTOWN — A team of officers from around the state are heading to the finish of a 13-day, 1,000 mile bike ride to honor fallen law enforcement and meet with their families and departments.
The group started the tour July 8 in Indianapolis, and will end the tour there July 20 at Crown Hill Cemetery.
Thursday morning, more than a dozen riders with Cops Cycling for Survivors traveled from Jeffersonville to Charlestown, a city that's still hurting from the recent pain of losing an officer. They'll end the day in Madison.
In December, Charlestown City Police Sgt. Ben Bertram lost his life while pursuing a suspect believed to have stolen a car. His photo was among the several displayed on the truck that travels with the cyclists.
"They are so gracious to come to town," Charlestown Chief Keith McDonald said adding that he feels it's a great way to memorialize the officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their communities.
"For them to come out here on such a warm day like today, that takes a lot of heart and determination to do that for those families. It's truly something special."
Jeffersonville officer Craig Jackson has been involved with the ride for several years, but this is his first time riding all 13 days. Growing up in Charlestown, he knew Sgt. Bertram and remembered him from working high school basketball and football games early in his career.
"So this hit close to home," Jackson said. I went to my police department in Jeffersonville and I said I want to ride all 13 days for Ben Bertram and they said 'go for it.' I'm here obviously to honor all fallen officers but especially this year for Ben."
Over the course of the 13-day ride, the group stops at memorials, grave sites, police departments, and cities and towns where fallen officers are from. They leave flags that say "Never Forgotten" with the people those officers left behind.
On two occasions, the tour has had to stop and continue in trucks when passing through bad storms.
"It's been tough," Jackson said. "Some days are pretty grinding – you're hurt, you're tired, it's hot. But the pain we feel on these bikes is nothing compared to what the survivors go through every day.
Chief McDonald said the tour has been a way to bring officers closer to families who have lost a loved one — including those outside of the local community.
"It's been an emotional journey," he said. "The message that we give [the families] is that our home is their home. We never really realized how strong that bond is among law enforcement and their families. Now they have an extended family."
Since Bertram's death, there have been local and statewide efforts to honor the officer in meaningful ways. Among them is the bipartisan Indiana law to rename a portion of highway after the officer, and the new K-9 in the department, Hurley, who is his namesake.
McDonald said these types of things, community support and time have helped in the healing process. But Bertram will never be forgotten.
"They say time heals," he said. "It does get a little better as time goes on, but you never forget. I still have those moments when the emotions come back. You just miss him, you just love your brother."