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Wilson rides in Belles on Bikes to help move past tragedy

Bike riders make their way south on Broadway Street in Natchez Saturday morning at the start of the Belles on Bikes cycling event. The female-only event featured rides of 16, 30, 50 and 60 miles. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
JAY SOWERS/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Bike riders make their way south on Broadway Street in Natchez Saturday morning at the start of the Belles on Bikes cycling event. The female-only event featured rides of 16, 30, 50 and 60 miles. 

NATCHEZ — Joey Wilson has been riding a bicycle for all of two weeks.

Her journey toward discovering a love for recreational riding, however, was two years in the making.

Tragedy struck Wilson two years ago when her son Tanner, then 19, took his own life. From then on, Wilson, a Natchez resident, had struggled with what she called terrible depression before a friend recommended taking up cycling.

It was only her second time to ride 30 miles when Wilson took the 30-mile trail in the annual Belles on Bikes recreational ride Saturday afternoon. The female-only ride was a much-needed chance to help get past a tragedy.

“This is the first time I’ve done anything since then, and this is the best thing that’s happened to me since I lost him,” Wilson said.

Her goal is to eventually work her way up to riding 100 miles and host a 100-mile ride in Tanner’s honor to help raise money for suicide awareness and prevention.

oey Wilson cycles past a brick building on State Street near the start of the event. Wilson picked up cycling just two weeks ago as a way to recover from losing a son to suicide two years ago. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
JAY SOWERS/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Joey Wilson cycles past a brick building on State Street near the start of the event. Wilson picked up cycling just two weeks ago as a way to recover from losing a son to suicide two years ago. 

Prior to her son’s death, exercise was a big part of Wilson’s life. And cycling has become a way for Wilson to get back into one of her favorite hobbies.

“I truly believe that people who go through stuff like that have to find their thing, and my thing is exercise,” Wilson said. “Doing this is so peaceful and beautiful. You can go with a group or go solo.”

Jackson resident Cindy Murphy was part of a group that traveled to Natchez from Jackson Saturday to take part in Belles on Bikes. It was Jackson’s second time to participate in the annual recreational ride, and Jackson said it was nice to have a female-only ride, since there aren’t many available in Mississippi.

“It’s nice not to deal with the testosterone and one-upmanship,” Murphy said. “You get to meet people from all around. In mixed rides, with men, it becomes about speed, and this is a lot more relaxed.”

Murphy said the group of people that run the ride do an excellent job, and being able to participate in a recreational ride — and not a race — makes the experience much more enjoyable.

“You can look around at the scenery and talk while you’re riding,” Murphy said.

Admiring the scenery is something Natchez resident Minda Calcote said was the best part of taking the ride’s 60-mile trail. Her Saturday-morning journey included a ride on the Natchez Trace, going around the Church Hill loop, getting back on the trace, riding through Natchez State Park before returning to the race’s starting point in front of Bowie’s Tavern.

“It was an absolute bluebird day,” Calcote said. “It was exquisite. I saw a hawk, some turkey… just everything in nature. There were some purple vines on the trees that smelled wonderful. All of your senses are working (when you ride).”

Rebecca Walley, left to right, Cindy Murphy, Rita Tuggle, Leslie Dunbar and Rhonda Armstrong smile while fellow rider Budda McCullin, far right, take their photograph before the start of the Belles on Bikes cycling event in Natchez Saturday morning. (Jay Sowers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Rebecca Walley, left to right, Cindy Murphy, Rita Tuggle, Leslie Dunbar and Rhonda Armstrong smile while fellow rider Budda McCullin, far right, take their photograph before the start of the Belles on Bikes cycling event in Natchez Saturday morning. 

Taking the 60-mile path was challenging for Calcote, who has broken both her fibula and radius in the past year.

“I haven’t been riding (because of that),” she said. “But it was a lot of fun.”

Wilson was the first person to make it back from the 30-mile route — something she said was a big deal for her.

“Considering I just started, it felt great,” Wilson said. “It wasn’t a race, but I felt like it was a huge accomplishment.”