‘Just Keep Pedaling:’ Biker rides coast to coast to help end stigma surrounding mental health and suicide

Denny Ying rides through Granby on his way to Winter Park. His total journey will about 3,800 miles from San Francisco to Boston.
McKenna Harford /

When Denny Ying pedaled into Granby on Saturday, he was over 1,000 miles into his mission to bike from San Francisco to Boston while raising awareness for mental health and suicide.

But Ying said he stopped tracking miles long ago, his journey isn’t really about that.

“I used to care about the numbers a little bit more but then I realized who cares about the miles it’s the conversation we’re having and the lives we’re touching,” he said. “The reason why I’m riding is to connect with people so we can raise awareness.”

Ying, a 36-year-old, California-native, started his trip in August. But the idea began to form long before then, when he was facing some personal and professional struggles. Ying had never experienced such serious doubt and began to question his decisions.

He needed change. Not just physically, but mentally too. He came up with the idea to travel from coast to coast to raise awareness and start conversations about mental health because he feels strongly that it affects everyone.

“Last time I checked I’m human and last time I checked I have feelings and whenever there’s a human with feelings, mental struggle is going to be there,” he said. “While it is devastating, while it is overwhelming, we have to be that beacon that we seek to see in the world.”

So he sold everything and bought a bike, some gear and some bike packs. First, Ying rode from Denver to Chicago, which he said could be called a practice ride for his current journey, since he didn’t train before setting off.

At that time Ying was riding to raise awareness specifically about veteran suicide, but he heard so many stories, some about first responders, some about young teens, some about parents, that he felt his larger goal should be to help spark community-wide change.

“The goal is to encourage the community to keep having these conversations and reach out if they need help,” he said.

Ying said these conversations also have an impact on him and that he’s learned a lot from his travels so far. He’s learned it’s ok not to be perfect and to make mistakes. He prioritizes and is learning his limits.

While the goal is to get to Boston, Ying said he’s not worried about a timeline anymore. He’s just doing what he can each day and remembering the priority is the being there for people along the way.

“Perhaps we can learn to enjoy the process and know it’s ok if it’s not perfect,” Ying said. “I have learned to give myself the permission to not have everything figured out.”

Ying tries to start conversations at all of his stops, usually with first responders, local mental health groups and media to help spread his word. He also posts to a Facebook page and has a group for people to share stories and experiences.

But he knows he is only one guy so, ultimately, wherever he ends up after completing his ride, he wants to start a cycling team for anyone struggling with mental health or suicide to continue building a safe place for people to open up.

“Once that is built it could live forever and I won’t, I’m perishable,” he said with a laugh. “This takes a whole community to do, this is so much bigger than I am.”

As for the more short-term future, Ying is riding to Denver from Winter Park on Sunday where he is meeting up with April Paige, founder of the Check-In Foundation, which aims to spread suicide awareness through cycling and sports communities.

But even when Ying doesn’t have a partner, he never rides alone. He always carries a shirt and a biking sleeve, which carry the names of people who died by suicide whom he has learned about on the way.

This journey continues their memory by helping others in need, Ying said.

“When people are struggling we feel that we’re not important or that the world is better without us, (…) but the better question is – is that the truth,” Ying asked. “And so the goal is to remind people who are still with us and struggling that while all those things that we feel are very real and very painful, they are not the truth.

“The truth is there is a possibility that life could be amazing, not only that we can survive, but that we could have the opportunity to thrive and shine, if we give ourself the chance and our life the chance.”

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