Remember the Tour de Paltz? A few decades back, some local folks who already didn’t much like Donald Trump tried to steal the thunder of his wannabe-world-class bicycle race by organizing one in our own neck of the woods. It didn’t last more than a couple of years.
But that doesn’t mean that New Paltz being the starting point of a marathon cycling tour was a bad idea. We certainly have the scenery to draw serious riders from all over the world, if someone can get the thing organized and marketed properly. That someone may have surfaced, in the person of Brooklyn-based attorney Mac Dorris, who has had a weekend home in our town since 1990. “I’ve been an avid recreational cyclist for over 40 years, and I raced a bit while I was in law school,” he says.
Dorris’ brainchild, the first annual Ride for Mental Health, launches from Hasbrouck Park this very weekend, with 25-, 50- and 100-mile options setting out around 9 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, June 24 and 25. There are two 50-mile loops, one heading north toward the Ashokan Reservoir and the other going south as far as Walden; truly ambitious riders can combine the two to make their century. Part of the package is a barbecue dinner at the Slingerland Pavilion at Spring Farm on the Mohonk Preserve.
Sound enticing? There’s a catch: You have to fundraise, signing up sponsors as you would for a walkathon. The stated goal is $1,000 per rider, in addition to the $100 registration fee. Noting that pretty much everyone knows people who have suffered from mental illness, Dorris suggests using social media to find 50 friends willing to contribute $20 each.
The event organizer is thinking big for compelling reasons: “the education, research and treatment of mental illness including anxiety, borderline personality disorder, depression, eating disorders and substance abuse” and “to end the stigma surrounding mental illness through education and awareness.” All funds raised through the Ride will go to the McLean Hospital outside Boston, the largest psychiatric teaching hospital of the Harvard Medical School.
McLean was where Eric Dorris, the middle son of Mac and his wife Ginny, was being treated — seemingly successful — at the time of his death from an accidental drug overdose early last year, at the age of 21. “Eric was a wonderful young man: super-smart, artistic, creative, with a good sense of humor. He was very kind and generous. But he got dealt a bad hand,” Mac recalls. “He became a different person. McLean was making really good strides with him, but he just didn’t make it.”
Seeking to build something positive for others out of their personal tragedy, the Dorris family decided to create a philanthropic foundation, known as Eric’s Ride. And Mac is thinking big: He wants the bicycle rally to raise $100,000 for psychiatric research in its first year, and says, “My dream is that 15 or 20 years from now, the event raises ten million dollars a year, to support facilities that can make a real difference.” His model is the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, whose primary strategy is to invest philanthropic venture capital in small research firms that don’t get R & D money from Big Pharma.
Dorris believes that the timing is right for a large-scale event with broad appeal and national sponsorship that focuses on increasing awareness of mental health issues: “People are more accepting around mental illness, more open to discussion.” And he’s convinced that the New Paltz area is the right place for it to happen. “It’s a great destination for people to come to. And it’s a great cause that’s not getting as much attention as we think it ought to…. We want to shine some attention on this topic.”
As of presstime, 80 cyclists from all over the Northeast had already registered to participate in the Ride for Mental Health; a total of about 150 is anticipated. “Now our job is to create a good experience and have people want to come back,” says Dorris. To sign up to ride, volunteer, sponsor a rider or make a donation, visit the website at www.ericsride.org. To see maps of the routes that riders will be taking (no road closures will be involved), visit https://ridewithgps.com/users/949514/routes.