Avid birder and burgeoning cyclist Lena Gallitano has come up with an ambitious plan to combine two of her passions. Gallitano will take part in Cycle North Carolina’s annual fall ride. This year’s trek will be a modest 500-mile affair from Elkin, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Outer Bank’s Corolla.
Now I don’t know if it was a lack of oxygen to the brain from all that pedaling or an endorphin induced “biker’s high” moment of revelation, but according to Gallitano the idea came to her during one of her training rides this past spring. “On the greenways in Raleigh this spring, I did a lot of birding by ear while riding my bike which made me think … is there a way I can turn this challenging adventure into something more worthwhile? The birds made my training rides more pleasurable and I’ve been a member of Audubon for many years so that’s when it clicked: I could make the ride a fundraiser called Bike for Birds,” recounted Gallitano.
Of course, for those who know Lena it comes as no surprise that birds were in her ears, on her mind and in her heart as she was cycling Raleigh’s greenways. The North Carolina native has a long history of working on behalf of her feathered friends. Gallitano is a long-time member and past president of Wake Audubon Society. She has served on the boards of Audubon North Carolina and the Carolina bird Club. As soon as she retired from North Carolina State University, where she worked for the Cooperative Extension Service, Gallitano focused much of her time and energy working on environmental, educational and conservation projects that benefit birds and other North Carolina wildlife by protecting and enhancing the wild places they need to survive and thrive.
That hard work was recognized in 2004, when she not only won Audubon North Carolina’s 2004 Volunteer of the Year award for her grassroots efforts in opposing the U.S. Navy’s plan for locating an outlying landing field adjacent to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, but was also awarded the Governor’s Award as Wildlife Volunteer of the Year by the North Carolina Wildlife Federation for her work in helping to make the North Carolina Birding Trail a reality.
Did I say combining two of her passions? I meant combining three of her passions. Gallitano has also served on the board of N.C. Beautiful whose mission statement is: “To foster environmental stewardship through education and outreach to perpetuate the natural beauty of North Carolina.”
And there will be no shortage of natural beauty on this year’s Cycle N.C.’s fall ride. The tour will start in Elkin, where 1,000 or so riders will hit North Carolina’s scenic backroads for their trip to the coast. There will be stops at Autumn Creek Vineyards plus other venues in communities such as Mebane, Henderson, Rocky Mount, Manteo and Corolla. After all, there’s no rule that says you can’t have fun performing a good deed but remember, even through beautiful scenery 500 miles is still 500 miles.
If you want to support Lena, North Carolina’s varied bird life and/or Audubon North Carolina please contribute to her Bike for Birds fundraiser. You can mail your tax deductible donation to Audubon North Carolina, 123 Kingston Drive, Suite 206 Chapel Hill, NC 27514 please make your check out to Bike for Birds. There is also an online giving page at www.ncaudubon.org. Audubon North Carolina member and Bike for Birds supporter, Bon Parker has announced that she will match every $20 donation with her own $20 donation up to $1,000, so $20 will get you $40 – there’s a deal!
All donations will directly support the work of Audubon North Carolina, supporting its vital work of managing 19 coastal sanctuaries, monitoring 96 Important Bird Areas, protecting imperiled species like golden-winged warblers, cerulean warblers and the largest colony of beach-nesting least tern in North Carolina. Hope is a thing with wheels.
Seconds after I heard the doorbell, my little feet hit the stone floor landing that served to separate the front door from the living room. The cold temperature of the floor on my feet meant it was colder outside. Thanksgiving was only two days away, it was dark and Dad was late coming home from work.
It was my father’s good job with the railroad that let my mom stay home and take care of us kids. All I knew is that he left for work early in the morning and got home before it was dark; I was 7 years old then.
I wrapped both hands around the doorknob, turned, and the big metal door opened. There stood three men in full suits; they were the darkest clothes I ever did see. “Is Mrs. Corbeil home?” one asked. “I’ll get her,” I replied.
Mom was on her way from the kitchen because she heard the doorbell ring too. She invited the men in on the landing. I’ll always remember that smell, a man’s smell. The businessman’s pungent odor from the mixture of fumes from heavy cigarette smoke and the leftover cover scent cologne purchased at a discount store. The smell still resonates decades later; for I am now a man.
“Mrs. Corbeil, we are from the Railroad and we need to tell you of an awful accident that happened in the yard,” a rough and choked voice said. Neither of the three would look at me, the man who broke the silence first reached out with his hand to my mom.
“There was an explosion at the yard, four men were hurt and Ed, Ed was badly burned and did not survive.” Edward M. was my father. I took off running through the living room and down the hall. My bedroom was the last one at the end. When I reached my room I busted out crying, drove my head with open mouth into a pillow wailing, wailing like there was no tomorrow, wishing that doorbell never rang ... crying.
In our world today we have access to professional psychologists and counselors for the young and adults. There are organized support groups that can help a spouse begin to reason with the heartache, loneliness, anger, and guilt that can follow a person the rest of their lives from a tragic life changing event like the lost of a parent, significant other or child These structured support services often require financial resources to gain access.
Ten years ago 343 firemen and paramedics were killed from the attacks on the World Trade Center. A total of 2,819 people lost their lives either at one of the two Towers, at the Pentagon Building or on United Airlines flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania. It is estimated on New York Mag.com that 3,051 children lost a parent.
A decade later, I will be honoring those who lost their lives by bicycling 10 days on a memorial ride along the Blue Ridge Parkway. In our own region of the world there was another tragic explosion and fire that took the life of firemen Captain Jeff Bowen on July 28, 2011.
I have teamed with the Mission Hospital’s Healthcare Foundation to provide a path to accept donations to build the Fallen Firefighters Fund that will provide financial support for his surviving wife and three children. The days, months and years ahead will be accompanied with second-guessing, fear, and self-doubt. The Bowen family will need human support to cope with the loss of a husband and father; to live again sooner than later, to build self-worth and achieve total forgiveness moving forward.
If you find it in your heart to take action and join us, thank you! There is a link to a secured web site that will take you directly to the 9/11 Memorial Bike Ride with more information. http://support.missionfoundation.org/site/PageNavigator/911MemorialBikeRide.html. Once on the web page there is a link to a news article about the July 28 fire, along with buttons on the left side to follow my journey or learn more about our team, and donate.
Come join me in this 9/11 Memorial Bike Ride by showing your monetary support, or meet me at a Milepost and ride with me; add the link above to your favorites on your web browser then click on the button “Follow Keith on Twitter” for updates of the trip.
To mail a donation make your check payable to Mission Healthcare Foundation with a written Memo message of “9/11 Memorial Bike Ride” Mail a check to: Mission Healthcare Foundation, 980 Hendersonville Road, Suite C; Asheville, NC 28803-1740. To donate by telephone call Ms. Shaana Norton at 828.213.1052.
More than 400 riders participated in the second Blue Ridge Breakaway, held this Saturday (Aug. 20) in Haywood County. The Breakaway, sponsored by the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce, has four different rides for cyclists of varying fitness levels, including a 100-miler that takes participants on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
If you’re going to put on and sponsor what has quickly evolved into one of the region’s most popular road-bike events, it sure helps to have a qualified nutritionist on staff.
When it came to stocking food and drink at rest stops along the Blue Ridge Breakaway’s grueling 65-mile haul — with over 9,000 feet of elevation gain — the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce turned to its own Lois Beery, the chamber’s administrative assistant who teaches nutrition as a personal wellness coach on the side.
Beery is now in charge of the beverages and food bike racers will use to refuel when rolling up to the eight rest stops incorporated into the route.
Bike riders on the race committee imparted inside information on what they need to have good race outings, Beery said, which has helped her in setting up the rest-stop stations.
“You want carbs that are salty, because they’ll need the sodium,” she said. “Then, drinks such as Gatorade to provide magnesium and potassium.”
Protein, too, is important, but racers don’t have time to sit down and feast on steak dinners. They want items they can grab and eat and go, Beery said. That means offering them an array of snacks such as trail mix, peanuts and the ever-popular peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
As for after the race? Pasta — massive quantities — with an array of toppings will be catered by Nico’s, along with fresh salad.
Rides at the second-annual Blue Ridge Breakaway will begin and end at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center in Haywood County. There are four routes, geared for beginner through advanced riders. The centerpiece race is the 105-mile century ride that ascends through Haywood County to the Blue Ridge Parkway before descending back to Lake Junaluska.
Bill Jacobs of Cashiers is a returning racer. He got into the sport after participating in the grueling 50-mile Tour de Cashiers 15 years ago, in his 50s.
“I said, ‘never again,’” Jacobs said ruefully. “Didn’t work out that way.”
Jacobs has come a long way since that first, painful experience. For one thing, he knows now to focus carefully on the fuel he feeds his body — not just at rest stops during the race, Jacobs said, but all year long.
“I follow a healthy overall eating approach,” he said. “I’m careful about meaty fats, and eat lots of vegetables and fruits, and some carbs — (also) nonfat dairy and wholegrain breads. I do eat meat, but I tend toward selecting fish.”
Jacobs, unlike some riders, isn’t particularly overzealous about selecting a particular race-day breakfast — he wants some protein in it, so he’ll likely eat eggs.
“I really don’t do anything extreme,” the Cashiers resident said.
“Concerning diet, cyclists burn a lot of calories and some of us have to be careful not to lose too much weight,” Jacobs said. “So I eat a lot.”
Last year, Jacobs rode coast-to-coast in 35 days of cycling.
“On the cross-country ride I actually gained a couple of pounds, by eating pretty much all the time, both on and off the bike,” he said.
A moderate, thoughtful approach to fueling and training — in addition to eating well and in a balanced fashion, Jacobs most weeks gets in a 60- to 70-mile bike ride, plus mixes in some shorter outings and workouts at the gym.
You can’t control every variable in bike racing, however, and one thing about racing up to the Blue Ridge Parkway is that you never know quite what the weather is going to bring. Last year, Jacobs bailed out at Balsam Gap and took a back way back to town. It started raining, and several racers became hypothermic, forcing rangers to shut the parkway to them for safety reasons.
“That’s just the risk you take,” Jacobs said.
CeCe Hipps, executive director of the Haywood Chamber of Commerce, said the rest stops are supplied with ponchos, trash bags and newspapers (good for stuffing inside those thin racing outfits and cutting the wind). The ponchos and trash bags will be there, she said, if like last year rain pours on riders in the Blue Ridge Breakaway.
“These stops are an oasis in the desert,” Hipps said, adding that six to eight volunteers will staff each rest stop.
“It is very detailed to put on,” she said. “A lot of logistics are involved with this.”
Despite the bad weather last year, racers’ after-race reviews were overwhelmingly positive, Hipps said.
That’s important, not only because you want racers to enjoy the event, but because Blue Ridge Breakaway is also serving to market the region.
“If they have a good experience, this will be a special place in their minds,” Hipps said in explanation.
Typically, August is a fairly slow month for tourism and visitation in Haywood County. That’s why the chamber targeted a road-bike event for this time of year, Hipps said.
“It’s a passion for these people,” she said of the racers. “And many are of a generation who have means, and disposable income.”
Calculating that the bikers drive approximately two hours to participate in Blue Ridge Breakaway, they’ll probably opt to spend the night, she said (it’s no fun trying to drive home after cycling more than 100 miles). Roughly speaking, the chamber expects each racer to drop about $150 a day in Haywood County.
As of Monday, 270 people had signed up for the ride, double the pace of entrees as of a week out last year. There were 300 total participants last year, with as many as 500 expected this year.
• The routes goes from Lake Junaluska through Jonathan Creek, on to Fines Creek, then back through Clyde. From there, metric-century and century riders go through Bethel, Sunburst Trout Farm and past Lake Logan. One hundred-mile riders climb all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway and then stay on it until Soco Gap, descending through Maggie Valley and back to Lake Junaluska. If you’re in an automobile in these areas on Saturday, Aug. 20, please keep an eye out for cyclists.
• The Blue Ridge Breakaway starts at 7:30 a.m. Please be careful of riders if you are in the Lake Junaluska-Jonathan Valley area at that time, as large groups of riders will be on the road together to start the ride.
• Riders may register on Saturday, Aug. 20, from 6-6:30 a.m. at Lake Junaluska.
In Western North Carolina’s thriving outdoors community, mountain bikers have long been at the center of the action. But now, they’re looking to make their presence official by kicking off a local chapter of the Southeast Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA).
The new SORBA chapter that local bikers and shop owners hope to create will focus on the Tuckaseegee River Watershed area, where Tsali Recreation Area is the mountain-biking crown jewel.
“It’s the powder skiing of bikes,” said Kent Cranford, owner of Motion Makers Bicycle Shop, who has stores in Asheville and Sylva. Cranford has been coming to Tsali since the late 1980s when he traveled over the state line from Tennessee to ride the trails with friends.
“Tsali was the one place where people could come spend a whole day riding on single-track trail,” said Cranford, and that’s why he and others in the area are keen to band together to ensure the trail’s continued glory.
“That old gal, she needs some loving out there,” said Andy Zivnisky of the 39-mile trail system in Graham County. He’s the co-owner of Bryson City Bicycles, and he, along with other enthusiasts, wants to help make sure the trail can be as good in the future as it’s been famous for in the past.
“As a group, we’d like to get together and recreate Tsali,” said Zivinsky. “The idea is to turn Tsali back into the place that everybody remembers.”
The true impetus for the group’s formation was some recent work done on the trail, and local riders want to be more involved in that maintenance in the future.
Forming a rider group like a SORBA chapter would also bring more money and opportunities to the area’s mountain bikers. According to Cranford, the National Forest Service — which is charged with maintaining and operating the trail system — stands a much better chance in competition for grants and other funding when there’s a volunteer group like a SORBA chapter backing them. It provides a built-in organizational framework for trail workdays and the manpower to help lay in the funds grants can provide.
And those benefits would extend beyond Tsali to the other trails in the area that mountain bikers use and want to make better.
Nathan Brock, manager and buyer for Nantahala Outdoor Center’s bike shop, said he’s long heard the request from customers — both locals and visitors — for a user group to serve the area.
“I hear it on a weekly basis, ‘what can we do to build more trails, what can we do to enhance the trails we already have?’” said Brock. “People are willing to come even from out of state.”
And now that the rumble is growing into action and a group is taking shape, he and other area professionals hope that the long-term effects of a SORBA chapter will grow the economic impact of mountain biking on the region.
One of the other oft-cited requests heard by bike shops is directions to more local trails like Tsali, or just more local trails. And while there are efforts taking shape at Western Carolina University and elsewhere to bulk out the region’s offerings, the thought is that a dedicated group of riders ready to work them can only make things better.
Local rider and business owner Robert Williams, who owns The Chocolate Factory in Dillsboro, said he’s stoked about the prospect of a new SORBA chapter. He’d love to see new bikers and business come to town for bike-centric events and better trails. And as a long-time mountain biker, he’s ready to pitch in to make it happen.
“Me and my family, my kids, we all use them and it’s important that the end user can support and keep trails open on public land,” said Williams. “There’s fewer and fewer dollars going around, so a lot of trail work is really done by clubs and organizations, and not by park employees.”
Andy Zivinsky agrees, and with the formation of a SORBA chapter and the cohesiveness it could bring to the area’s mountain biking community, that could, he said, translate into more dollars for the area and more fun and challenge for cyclists.
“We would all like to see there being more trails, a bigger trail network that drives business, drives new people into riding,” said Zivinsky.
There are other SORBA chapters in the area, but they’re geared towards the Asheville area or north Georgia, and the far-western region is lacking any kind of unified effort to create and sustain cycling opportunities.
For Cranford, that’s a void just waiting to be filled in an area brimming with potential to be more of a biking destination than it already is.
“If we can establish more cycling stuff in this area, we’re going to have more people that are good visitors — they spend the weekend or spend the week and aren’t afraid to spend the money for our restaurants, our music scene, our bookstores our arts and crafts, because that’s what they’re into, too,” said Cranford.
But increased business or not, he and his cohorts see this as an opportunity to support and further the sport they love, and they’re calling on other enthusiasts to join in the effort to keep maintain the joyous mountain ride that brought them here to begin with.
Haywood County cyclists – and would-be cyclists – will soon be able to breathe a little easier and peddle a bit more freely, thanks to a comprehensive plan in the works to address a range of cycling issues.
The plan, spearheaded by local group Bicycle Haywood N.C., will look at a number of issues facing the area’s cyclists including safety, accessibility and awareness among both cyclists and drivers.
The idea got its genesis when members of the newly formed group decided last year that Haywood was lacking in formal communication among cyclists, the community and local and governmental organizations that could be working with them, like the Department of Transportation and the Haywood County Recreation and Parks department.
So, said George Ivey, the group’s vice chair, they sought out funding and approached the various groups about codifying a bicycle plan for the county, the first in Haywood and one of the few targeted towards the state’s more rural areas.
The plan is founded on what the group calls its five “Es:” engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation and planning.
Ivey said that while engineering is an important component — encompassing things like designated bike lanes and racks in downtown areas — educating the public about bike safety while cycling and road awareness is just as vital.
One of the goals of the plan is to educate drivers to get accustomed to bikes on the road, and show residents that cycling can be a viable option for them in a number of different ways, as a commuter, a recreational rider or anything in between.
“I think the plan’s going to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” said Ivey. “For some people, it may be a way for their kids to commute to school. For adult commuters, hopefully it will make it a lot easier for people to commute to work or the bank or the post office.”
Haywood County Recreation and Parks Director Claire Carleton agrees. She said that, from a recreational standpoint, the benefits of a bike plan could be brilliant for Haywood County families.
“It would be such an asset for the citizens living in Haywood County, as well as tourists,” said Carleton. “If it connected with local greenway trails and the plans that we have for that, it would provide such a wonderful network for families to take part in.”
And because there are such multi-facted uses and benefits of cycling in Haywood – and because of the challenges presented by the region’s geography and topography – Ivey said his group isn’t trying to get too specific in what they want. Instead, it is working with a plethora of outside groups and citizens to come up with a plan that provides residents with the most flexibility and usability.
Currently, the group is accepting applications for someone to spearhead the planning efforts, which will begin in April. But Ivey said he’s hopeful that the collaboration and cycling interest will continue happening long after the plan is in place.
“None of us expect every single road to have bike lanes, but we do want to have those options nearby,” said Ivey.
And according to Carleton, that meshes beautifully with the comprehensive plan drafted for her department several years ago that highlighted the need to move towards more cycling-friendly planning, both in terms of road building and growth corridors, as well as emphasis on education and increasing cycling use and awareness.
The plan is being funded largely through a grant from the French Broad Metropolitan Planning Organizations, along with matching pledges and a smaller grant from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.
Bicycle Haywood N.C. meets to discuss the plan at 6 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the Waynesville Inn at the Waynesville Country Club.
More information can be found at bicyclehaywoodnc.org.
Barring relentless rain and a couple of mishaps, the inaugural Blue Ridge Breakaway was a resounding success, according to ride organizers.
About 300 avid cyclists headed out early on Saturday, Aug. 21, for the newest long-distance bike ride in Western North Carolina. More than half of them came from more than two hours away to participate.
“It’s huge for a first-time event to have that many people, very unusual,” said Ken Howle, chair of the organizing committee. “We’re larger than some already established rides.”
With rave reviews and scores of promises from riders to return next year with friends, Howle anticipates the ride will grow to 600 or more cyclists despite its poor luck with weather this year.
Officials closed down the Blue Ridge Parkway portion of the event in the early afternoon due to the downpour and poor visibility. At least three cycling accidents were reported on Saturday, with one rider landing in a coma.
Blue Ridge Breakaway’s 25-, 40-, 60-, and 100-mile options drew riders from all across the Southeast, including North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. The farthest travelers hailed from England and Guam.
Organizers estimate that the one-day event has delivered an excess of $100,000 in economic impact to Haywood County’s doorstep. Howle says with so many riders vowing to bring back families or take a weeklong vacation in the area next year, there could be an additional $200,000 to $300,000 annual impact in years to come.
Shell Isenberg, innkeeper at Waynesville’s Oak Hill on Love Lane, can already attest to the event’s success. Isenberg’s bed and breakfast was packed with cyclists last weekend.
“It’s great. We’re sold out,” said Isenberg. “It’s an off time. Whatever event that will bring people to the area, I think is great.”
All of Isenberg’s guests booked at least two nights. Days before the event, he’d already made dinner reservations for nine people at a local restaurant.
“It was an overwhelming success,” said Lynn Collins, director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. “It brought several hundred people to Haywood County on an otherwise slow weekend.”
Selecting August for the ride was a strategic decision, according to Katy McLean, marketing and communications director at the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce. Breakaway organizers pored over a calendar that listed all rides in the Southeast.
“What we noticed is that August kind of looked empty,” said McLean. With tourism low in the area and cooler temperatures, organizers thought it’d be the perfect time for Haywood to welcome an influx of cyclists.
Giving local cyclists a major say in formulating the rides was crucial, as was aggressive marketing. The official Blue Ridge Breakaway webpage was linked to 24 other cycling websites, McLean said.
Accidents were few but somewhat inevitable during Saturday’s inclement weather.
One cyclist suffered a cracked rib and scratches after taking a curve too fast and running into a briar patch. Another contracted minor injuries after being struck by a cattle trailer making a right turn at a stoplight in Clyde.
The most serious accident occurred on Stamey Cove Road. The cyclist suffered a broken nose, a collapsed eye socket, broken pelvic bone and trauma to his brain. He was taken to Mission Hospital in Asheville and is now coming out of a coma.
“It was very, very tricky conditions,” said Chris Hipgrave, who took up the 60-mile ride on Saturday and witnessed the Clyde accident. “You put a hundred people into a bathtub with water, someone’s going to fall.”
But the risks involved won’t keep Hipgrave from signing up next year. Hipgrave has took part in many rides around the area. He says the Breakaway rose far and above.
“It was awesome, by far the best one I’ve done,” Hipgrave said. “It was a really, really fun loop. The food was awesome, which always helps.”
Howle said many riders were thankful for the volunteers’ enthusiasm and appreciative of the professional way in which organizers handled the less than ideal weather conditions. Dozens of cars made rounds picking up drenched racers after the Parkway was shut down.
“It was the best example of Western North Carolina hospitality that I’ve ever seen,” said Howle.
Early surveys show cyclists were overwhelmingly pleased with all aspects of the Blue Ridge Breakaway. Next year’s ride has been penciled in for Aug. 20.
“Most of the feedback we’ve gotten is not to change anything,” said Howle. “The riders want to make sure we keep it as good as it was this year.”
The latest long-distance race to join the local cycling scene is the Blue Ridge Breakaway on Aug. 21, the first of its kind to be held in Haywood County. Organizers hope to attract top caliber riders from across the South to enjoy the topography of the highest county this side of Colorado.
“The cycling community in Western North Carolina is huge. It’s a hobby, a sport, and a lifestyle here in the mountains, and we wanted to bring the cycling community together to lead us through it,” said Katy McLean, of the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber Director CeCe Hipps hatched the plot for a ride that would showcase the county’s terrain, but she relied on the cycling community to pull the event together.
While the ride will feature a 32-mile stretch on the Blue Ridge Parkway and a breathtaking descent from Soco Gap into Maggie Valley, perhaps its greatest feature is its accessibility for riders of all skill levels with 25-, 40-, 60-, and 100-mile options.
“One of the things that’s unique about this ride is there are four different routes, and it really has something different for every type of rider,” said Ken Howle, chair of the organizing committee.
Larry East, an avid cyclist and a regular in weekly group rides around Waynesville every Wednesday, took on the challenge of designing the course. It runs through wide mountain valleys, up narrow coves, and along the Blue Ridge Parkway, where it reaches its highest elevation at 6,100 feet.
It was East’s job to make sure the rides were safe, full of right-hand turns, and scenic. East tipped the 40-mile loop as the prettiest ride.
The century loop features an astonishing 8,000 vertical feet of climbing over 105.72 miles that traces a ring around the county and finishes with the drop into Maggie Valley from Soco Gap.
“Make sure your brakes are working,” East said.
Howle has high hopes for the ride’s future, which he believes will solidify the county’s place as a cycling destination among the already burgeoning WNC scene.
“Our long-term vision is to grow it into a destination ride that will attract between 600 and 1,000 riders,” Howle said. “It’s a great time of year for folks from the low country to come riding in the mountains.”
This year, organizers expect between 200 and 400 cyclists. The event has permission from the National Park Service for up to 500 cyclists on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The riders already registered for the event come from as far away as Michigan and Ohio, but many are from Atlanta, Spartanburg, and Charleston. Howle thinks destination cycling is becoming an important part of the tourist economy in the mountains.
“We’re going to be bringing a kind of tourist that Haywood County doesn’t normally attract,” Howle said. “And I think it will establish this area as a destination not just for paddling and rafting but for cycling.”
MedWest hospital system has underwritten the event, which has also had major support from bike outfitters like Liberty Bicycles in Asheville and the Nantahala Outdoor Center bike shop in the Gorge.
Kent Cranford, owner of Motion Makers in Sylva and Asheville, is excited about a new ride, especially since Jackson County’s Tour de Tuck won’t run this year.
“It is always good exposure for the region's great riding when a good cycling event traverses some of our landscape,” Cranford said. “The Breakaway has been very organized from the beginning, and I'm sure that they are going to pull off a great event, especially with so many options to ride. Obviously, the long options that get on the Blue Ride Parkway are going to be the most breathtaking.”
For Howle, the strong local support in the event’s first year has been a vote of confidence.
“The thing that’s really surprised me is the overwhelming support we’ve had from the community and the sponsors,” Howle said. “It just proves that people see this as the type of event we should be doing in Haywood County.”
Meanwhile, the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce has accomplished the task of opening up new terrain in destination marketing while taking care of its hometown community.
“We just have such a great cycling community and there are so many riders around that we needed an event like this in Haywood County,” McLean said.
For more info, visit www.blueridgebreakaway.com.
Weekly road bike rides
• Bryson City: Wednesday around 6 p.m. Depart from the East Swain Elementary school in Whittier on U.S.19 of exit 69 from U.S. 23-74. All levels. 800.232.7238, ext. 158.
• Bryson City/Sylva: Women’s ride on Mondays at 5:45 p.m. Departing from Whittier Post Office. Three groups do 8-mile, 13-mile and 17-mile rides. No one will be dropped. spinderellas.ning.com.
• Sylva: Tuesday at 6 p.m. Depart from Motion Makers bike shop for a tough 25-mile ride up to the Balsam Post office via back roads and back into Sylva. 828.586.6925.
• Franklin: Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. departing from Smoky Mountain Bicycles at 179 Highlands Road. Geared for all levels. 828.369.2881.
Ever since the launch of the Yellow Bike Project in late August, a new bike culture has quickly sprung up around campus at Western Carolina University.
The student-led initiative, which makes a fleet of fixed-up bikes available to anyone who wants to get around campus, has worked well under an honor system.
Chris Holden, co-president of the WCU Cycling Club, said he and the other organizers had anticipated that some of the bikes would go missing, but said he hadn’t seen any bikes leave campus so far. Moreover, students seem to be respectful toward their borrowed rides.
“I see people trying to take care of the bikes. I haven’t seen people trying to beat them up,” Holden said.
Sophomore Jimmy Pease said he had used yellow bikes about 30 times before they had been out for even a week.
“I love it,” said Pease. “I will honestly look for one of these things rather than walking.”
Holden said within the first 10 minutes of the first day, he saw three people already riding by on the bikes, which operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.
“They’re a hot commodity,” said Holden.
The project’s success can be attributed to the hard work of three students: Stephen Benson, who graduated from WCU earlier this year, along with Holden and Zach Heaton, the other co-president of the WCU Cycling Club. The trio worked for nearly a year collecting donated bikes, many from the police impound on campus, and making repairs.
The final step was spray painting the bikes yellow, a color chosen because of its visibility and closeness to gold, one of WCU’s school colors.
Holden hopes the project will promote an active, healthy lifestyle, as well as provide a benefit to the environment by reducing the amount of driving on campus.
Benson’s other goal is to bring bicycles to anyone in the WCU community who has always wanted one.
“I have a lot of friends who want to get into biking. They just cannot afford a bike to ride,” Benson said. “This is a good way for people who don’t want to invest in a bike to have the opportunity to ride and figure out if they like it.”
Although there are about 10 bikes out on campus now, Holden hopes to see a fleet of 30 or 40 by the end of the year.
The program has already received an influx of donated bikes.
Despite the popularity of these yellow bikes, they aren’t exactly in excellent condition.
A sticker on the bike lets riders know what number to dial if any maintenance is required. Holden said within the first week, he received calls about flat tires and tune-ups. One bike lasted a mere 5 minutes after being launched.
While Pease said he wishes the bikes were in better condition, he is grateful that they are even available.
“These are perfect for what you need,” said Pease.
Whether it’s for fitness, for fun or to save the planet, there’s plenty of reasons to bike to work. There’s also plenty of excuses not to.
This week, The Smoky Mountain News sought out two people who make biking to work part of their lifestyle and asked them how they do it. Turns out, they have a perfectly good solution to excuses laid on by the rest of us — and some extra benefits we hadn’t thought of.
Odell Thompson is one of the few bike commuters with long-distance fans.
While sitting in his architect’s office in downtown Sylva last Friday, an email popped up from his parents in Texas who caught a glimpse of Thompson riding into work that morning on a web cam trained on Main Street.
“We saw your yellow bike go by on the web cam,” they wrote.
When Thompson started biking to work almost five years ago, it changed his life in ways he didn’t expect. Initially his impetus was exercise. Thompson’s bike ride from Cullowhee to Sylva takes about 30 minutes, compared to a 10-minute drive. But the extra time on this bike three days a week is what he should be spending on exercise anyway. Thompson likes to think of it as killing two birds with one stone.
“I am getting to work and getting home, and by the way I am getting an hour of exercise a day,” said Thompson, 49.
But what surprised Thompson was how much it added to his outlook on life.
“Riding to work gives me a good way to clear my mind before the day starts. At the end of the day when I need to decompress, riding home gives me the period of time and physical exertion to leave work at work and take care of myself mentally,” Thompson said.
Thompson doesn’t mind riding in the rain or in the cold of winter. It’s all about the right clothing, be it rain gear or warm layers. He carries his work clothes in a satchel on his bike and changes at the office. On hot days, he freshens up by taking a washcloth to his face and neck.
A common excuse among non-bikers is that they need their car during the course of the workday. While it is indeed a deal killer for some, Thompson knows ahead of time what days he has appointments out of the office and what days will be spent at his own desk, and therefore schedules his rides accordingly.
While it’s impossible not to worry about cars when riding a bike, Thompson takes several precautions to reduce the risks.
“My bicycle is very visible. I have yellow bags and yellow fenders and flashing lights all over it. I feel like I am visible enough and the cars will see me, but you are always aware,” Thompson said.
As an added perk, Thompson likes the fact he’s not using fossil fuels, especially last summer when a gas shortage led to long lines and high prices.
“I would pedal by and just look at everyone in line at the gas station and smile,” Thompson said.
Thompson believes he is doing his part for a more sustainable society.
“We need to adjust our thinking about everybody being able to drive everywhere in their own little hermetically sealed capsule, in particular here in the mountains because there is not a lot of flat land to build new roads,” he said.
Thompson said while saving the planet is a worthy cause, exercise remains his top motive.
Thompson’s final piece of advice: commit yourself for at least a month before throwing in the towel.
“The first time your butt will be sore and you will say, ‘I don’t want to do that anymore. That sucks.’ But if you do it religiously two times a week for a month, after that you are hooked,” Thompson said.
When the Mast General Store launched its “Mast Transit” program last year, offering a bonus of $4 a day to employees who biked to work, the timing couldn’t have been better for Jay Schoon.
Schoon, who works in the outfitters department of the Mast Store in Waynesville, was already contemplating a “bike to work” New Year’s Resolution.
He had a dilemma, however. He lived about 20 miles away from work in the rural Fines Creek countryside. The distance wasn’t an issue, nor a killer climb along the way. Schoon’s problem was the narrow country road with no shoulder during the first part of his ride.
Until a solution dawned on him. Why not drive half way, park his car at a roadside truck stop and bike the rest?
“I was being stubborn about living too far away,” Schoon said. “It just dawned on me I could drive part way.”
Mast compromised and gives Schoon $3 a day instead of $4 since he is still using his car some.
He actually applies the $3 to a life insurance policy that he probably would cut from his monthly budget otherwise.
“It pays for my life insurance in case I do get run over.” said Schoon, who’s 39.
As an added precaution, Schoon has a rearview mirror on his sunglasses to keep an eye on cars behind him.
He also stumbled upon a lovely shortcut that departs from the road and follows a newly created greenway from Lake Junaluska into downtown, making the majority of his ride very pleasant and car free.
“I love my bike ride,” Schoon said.
Schoon would recommend the drive-part-way, bike-part-way solution to anyone facing a similar stumbling block.
“Find a killer route, even if it is not on your way,” he said.
Schoon doesn’t wear special bike attire. Working at an outfitters store, a fleece sweatshirt and hiking pants are accepted work apparel, and ideal for pedaling in to work as well. Schoon is a self-described “lifestyle biker.” He’d always ridden his bike as a preferred mode of transportation — including on his first date with the woman who’s now his wife — and didn’t like giving it up just because he moved to the rural countryside far from town.
The time on his bike in the morning and afternoon has made a world of difference in his life.
“I was missing something. Part of my lifestyle was not quite right,” said Schoon.