Rise in homelessness inspires epic cycling trip

By The Active Age | May 1, 2024

From left, Cassidy Cheray, Marty Johson and Tyler Branine are raising money to fight homelessness by biking the Tour Divide (bottom left).

A trio of bicyclists who enjoy riding around Wichita spotted a disheartening trend: more homeless people than ever camping near the city’s bike paths that run along the Arkansas River.

“You just notice more and more homelessness in the area, and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” avid cyclist Marty Johnson said.

Now Johnson and two friends — Tyler Branine and Cassidy Cheray — and hoping to raise money for an organization that helps homeless people by completing an epic ride along the Continental Divide. The annual ride, known as the Tour Divide, starts in Banff in Alberta, Canada, on June 14 and finishes in Antelope, N.M., at the U.S.-Mexico border.

It’s 2,750 miles of mostly unpaved roads, unlevel terrain, heat, cold and — near the start — the occasional grizzly bear. Participating cyclists are advised to take along bear spray.

“I’ve seen a couple grizzlies through the years,” said Johnson, who’s completed the trek three times previously. “If there are (bear) cubs around, you want to be careful.”

In 2016, Johnson used the Tour Divide ride as a fundraiser for Living Water International, which drills water wells in Third World countries. He raised enough to refurbish a well in India.

This year, he said, “We were talking about something local we wanted to raise money for.”

The trio hope to raise $100,000 for HumanKind Ministries, formerly known as Interfaith Ministries, which has several programs for people struggling with poverty.

“A lofty goal, but unless you ask for it, you’ll never get it,” Johnson said. 

The trio have set up a GoFundMe page called Ride the Divide for HumanKind. Donations can also be made at johnsonsgarden.com (click on “events”). Johnson’s company, Johnson’s Garden Centers, will match HumanKind donations made at their registers with purchases at both of their locations through June 30.

The difficulty of the Tour Divide may be seen from the fact that Johnson has twice started and failed to finish it. According to bikepacking.com, the Tour Divide roughly follows the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and “is the most recognized and important off-pavement cycling route in the United States, if not the world.”

Johnson said most of the route is gravel, similar to forest service roads with a terrain like the Flint Hills, where he often rides. He alternates between camping and staying in hotels along the way, carrying enough food and water to get him from one town to another to resupply. It’s generally taken him 26 to 28 days to finish, averaging about 100 miles a day.

He fully expects the younger Branine and Cheray to finish before him. The Tour Divide requires no entry fee or formal registration, and there are no prizes for finishing. But donors will be able track their progress using an app called trackleaders.com, Johnson said.

“When you’re doing it, you’re like, ‘What the hell am I doing out here?’ And then we’re you’re done, you think, ‘When’s the next one?’”