- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Diane Bies will trace her roots down the Natchez Trace Parkway next month and she’s doing it on two wheels.

The Evansville woman will participate in the Fuller Center Bike Adventure, a 400-mile poverty housing ride from Nashville, Tenn. to Jackson, Miss.

Bies was born in Nashville 58 years ago.

When she was a kid, her grandparents lived in Greenwood, Miss., where the cyclists will make a pit stop to physically repair homes. Her dad grew up there.

“It’s really exciting to kind of go back home,” Bies told the Evansville Courier & Press (https://bit.ly/1doSNxu ).

She started riding with the Evansville bicycle club 15 years ago and since has put close to 18,000 miles on her old 2000 Trek 5200, which has a U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team paint job.

“I’ve been really riding like tons like thousands of miles for probably six or eight years now,” she said. “I love being outside. It’s the fresh air. It’s exercise. It’s mental therapy. Most of all, it’s the people I ride with. I’ve met so many people on a bicycle that I would have never crossed paths with and I mean literally cross paths with otherwise.”

Bies completed the same trek down the Parkway last year and said she remains friends with a lot of the other riders.

“My fondest memories are of the people on the ride,” she said. “The experience of being with 20 to 30 people for a week who you’ve never met before interestingly didn’t scare me. I didn’t know anyone going into it last year. But the people are so amazing the love that they have. The Christian spirit there is unbelievable.”

Along the way, communities open churches and homes to the cyclists. Bies said they often sleep on church pews.

The crew rehabbed homes in Tupelo, Miss. last year.

“One of the women, she was a councilwoman sounded like my grandmother,” Bies said. “The accent was the same. One of my greatest pleasures was listening to that Mississippi woman talk Mississippi talk.”

Four hundred miles in nine days doesn’t scare her.

“I’ve ridden a hundred miles in a day at least once a month for 37 months,” she said. “I do ride a lot and because I ride a lot, I’m able to ride comfortably for longer distances.”

Bies plans to take more time to sight-see this year.

Adventure Leader Melissa Merrill, of Americus, Ga., said Bies is one of the most helpful people she’s ever met and one of Fuller Center’s biggest supporters.

“I’m so proud to know her,” Merrill said. “She’s a cool lady.”

She said about a third of this year’s 39 riders are returning.

The Adventure is unique because it is missionary, Merrill said.

“We actually get off our bikes and volunteer,” she said.

The Center has raised more than $840,000 toward its $1 million goal.

Bies, a mom of three, does more than just ride. She substitute teaches for the Eastside Catholic Schools and works part-time at Junior Achievement. A certified public accountant, she does her friends’ tax returns for free. But children and the demanding hours led her out of the field full-time 29 years ago.

She is raising funds for Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa.

Her daughter took a mission trip to the country in the summer of 2012 with the University of Indianapolis and rebuilt a girl’s dormitory.

Bies said girls can’t go to school in Sierra Leone if they don’t have somewhere to live.

“A lot of times, people will take them into their homes,” Bies said. “But then the men feel like they have provided something for these girls, so the girls are supposed to give them sexual favors in return.”

Bies said she and her daughter, who also rides, raised more than $5,000 last year.

“Five thousand builds a whole home in Sierra Leone,” Bies said.

Bies is trying to raise another $3,000. She had raised just under $1,000 Feb 16.

“Habitat’s always been something I’ve wanted to be involved in and I’ve just never been able to make it fit,” Bies said. “But when you add a bicycle and poverty housing, it’s a pull for me. I have been blessed with a warm safe home all my life. I think about all those who don’t have that luxury and it makes me sad.”

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com

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