Riding Highway 89 to Benefit Cancer Research


By Kelly McPherson — Lifelong rider Shem Flitton, from Kaysville Utah, has been thinking of riding the length of historic Highway 89 from Canada to Mexico for a very long time, ever since someone in college mentioned riding it through Utah. It was a crazy idea, but it stuck. It’s crazy, because it is more than 1,750 miles and, instead of going over the flatlands of the US, it goes over the Continental Divide and along the Rocky Mountains giving the ride its almost 68,000 feet of vertical climbing. As insane as this is, this idea has been churning in his head for many years.

Shem Flitton on Guardsman’s Pass. Photo courtesy Shem Flitton

Originally, Shem thought he would plan to do this ride after his youngest child graduated high school, but then in January of 2019, he was watching “Inspired to Ride” with his family when two of his children, Quinn and Hannah (who were 11 and 13 at the time), told him that they would like to do the ride with him. That support from his family set the idea to motion. Shem put together a five-year training plan so that they could complete Highway 89 in 2024. He and the kids rode a 50-miler in 2019 and a 75 miler in 2020. They were going to do a two-day, 150-mile ride in 2021, but as often happens with kids, they found other interests. Shem decided to ride Highway 89 this year and get it out of his system. Hannah, now 16, still plans on riding parts of 89 with him.

Planning began in earnest. As the idea became more than just a bucket list item, Shem felt the need to ride for more than just him and his bike. After losing his mother at the age of 56 to Hodgkin’s lymphoma, losing friends and neighbors to cancer and even his own scare with thyroid cancer, he decided to ride to benefit the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Shem is not new to riding to benefit cancer research. In 2012, he rode a 1985 steel-frame Fuji in the Huntsman 140 and raised $1,100 and rode LOTOJA in 2014, raising $4,300 for cancer research. Currently, his goal is to raise more than $17,000 through his Highway 89 ride, $10 per mile.

In October of 2021, Shem posted to the Utah Cycling Community Facebook page asking if anyone would be interested in riding with him. Kelly McPherson responded with “interested.” Shem followed up with her via private message and within a couple of weeks Shem and Kelly were riding a 75-miler around the Kaysville area to see if we could get along. The ride went well and Kelly joined the team.

Kelly McPherson at the start of the Salt Air Time Trial. Photo by Kelly McPherson

Kelly McPherson, from South Jordan, Utah, has been part of the cycling community for a long time, ever since she was diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes 20 years ago and had made the decision to not go there and made significant lifestyle changes. Having completed a big cycling goal of her own the previous year, she was looking for another challenge to help her stay focused on her health goals when she came across Shem’s post and responded. She has a bucket list item of riding from Boston, Massachusetts to Newport, Oregon and thought ride Highway 89 would be a good intermediate goal.

Having had friends and family affected with the disease and her own breast cancer scare a couple of years ago, raising funds to support cancer research strongly appealed to Kelly. Her father passed away last year, and while it was officially COVID that took him, his weakened immune system from Merkel cell carcinoma that had moved to lymph nodes and his lungs, played a significant role. Kelly hates the powerless feeling she gets as she watches loved ones struggle. Riding Highway 89 gives her a sense of being able to do something to help those who need it.

Shem and Kelly, with great support from their spouses and families, will begin their ride at the Canadian border on July 11. They will ride 6 days per week, resting on Sundays, and are planning to arrive in Nogales, Mexico, 16 riding days and 1,753 miles later, on July 28.

Preparing for a ride of this magnitude takes a massive amount of planning and preparation. There is a lot more to do than just pack a bag and a bike. Shem and Kelly, who both work full time, Shem as an editor for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Kelly as a high school health teacher, have often found that it is difficult to balance their work and family lives with the need to plan logistics with the need to train and physically prepare for the ride. The route is planned and where they will stop and camp each night is almost planned. They are starting to get some nutrition sponsors on board. Thank you, Beetroot Pro!

The website, https://ride89.org and the Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Rideon89, are up and starting to gain a following. They still have a lot of work gathering equipment and supplies, planning, and preparing food, finding enough bike gear for the duration, reserving places to sleep, planning, and executing fundraising opportunities and events as well as a lot of training. The next few months will be busy ones for this already busy pair.

If you would like to follow their progress, please follow them on their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Rideon89, and sign up for emails on their website/blog, https://ride89.org.

If you would like to contribute to their Huntsman Cancer Institute fundraiser, please go to https://hope.huntsmancancer.org/diy/ride-89

If you would like to help Shem and Kelly with cash or in-kind donations, please reach out to Shem at [email protected] or Kelly at [email protected]


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