As I begin this post, I must admit that I’m not sure where it is going or where it will end. I do feel compelled to share my experiences with Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of The Path Less Pedaled fame over the past weekend as they graciously flew across the country to participate in the 3rd Annual Blue Ridge Breakaway.
(Photo by Roca: Outside TTR Bikes as time to depart was upon us.)
There are probably a number of levels upon which to consider the weekend…
First, there is the easy one – the business relationship. Our contact with each other around the Breakaway goes back to when they were touring New Zealand. I had just received permission from the event organizers to contact them and begin a dialog about bringing them here. Thus directed, we began an email back and forth that was sporadic given the nature of their travel and connectivity.
In the meantime, I was continuing to follow their progress via their blog posts so it was interesting to know where they were and what they were doing while at the same time knowing email was somewhere in between. Upon their return home, we had occasion for more consistent email contact as we discussed the focus of the two presentations we were asking them to provide. Next up technologically speaking was a Skype video conference, which added the first face-to-face interaction to our relationship even though it was 2D. Well, it was face-to-face until the system froze up and I could see them but they couldn’t see me. (Does that make it 1D?) Still, we had live voices rather than bits and bytes of email. Finally, we did a Skype Video conference with the editors of our two local newspapers. They interviewed Russ and Laura for advance publicity of their visit. This worked well except for an unruly image of the London Bridge (I think) that kept replacing my video feed.
(Elected officials and business owners at the Friday Lunch ‘N Learn)
Both presentations they provided were top notch and hit every nail on the head that I had hoped would get driven home. The Friday Lunch ‘N Learn for elected officials and business owners was excellent. Their roughly 45 minute presentation made great use of their experiences and their knowledge and demonstrated how cycling can be an incredible economic development tool.
(Russ and Laura entertaining the pre-ride Friday night crowd!)
The evening presentation at Lake Junaluska was under the open air gym. I had initially worried that the setting sun would prohibit attendees from seeing the presentation but a wonderful big cloud came over the mountain just as they began and blocked the last rays of the sun. The 60+ members of the audience were engaged throughout and clearly enjoyed the dynamics of the presentation.
Any community would be privileged to have them come and help educate the populace on bike travel and cycling issues. DO NOT hesitate to contact them! (Note: I did not go into the specifics of their presentation so that you, dear reader, would be curious enough to raise the money and bring them to your hometown!)
The personal relationship - So, throughout this email, phone, and video conferencing, I was aware that a relationship was being built. This was interesting because I’ve been following their exploits for a couple of years, which has created in my mind a sense that I know them. Of course, that is a one way street. They had very limited ideas of who I was. I also realized that I knew them much in the way I know Jennifer Anniston.
(Photo credit: tocsinmag.com)
That is to say, I don’t know them. I know Jennifer Anniston’s as the characters she performs but I don’t really know Jennifer Anniston. (I am open to the concept in case Jennifer Anniston should read this!)
Russ and Laura arrived on their bikes on Thursday after having ridden up from Charlotte, NC and the Southern Spokes event and after having spent the night with my friend Don Kostelec in Asheville. I actually went out on the road looking for them but missed them as they took a short break in nearby Clyde. We finally met in the real physical universe as they checked in at the Lake Junaluska Welcome Center.
Thus began, for me, a relatively new experience of developing a friendship with someone that I thought I already knew. Of course, you develop fantasies of what you think the person(s) will be like so there is this overlay of reality meeting fantasy that gets to be worked through as time goes by.
My experience of them was that they are both very personable and “down to earth.” This being the first time I’ve hosted international celebrities, I wasn’t sure what to expect. (Well, there was that time of the secret summit meeting in my home between Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela but who counts that???”) As international celebrities go, Russ and Laura were a piece of cake when it came to demands and needs. Actually, there weren’t any demands and needs.
As human beings, they were fun folk to be around: they were like a double chunk of your favorite ice cream pie on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon. They were like a big ‘ol basket of your momma’s best fried chicken on a picnic blanket. They were like the sun hitting your face after being in the northwest drizzle for too long. In other words, being with them was better than expected.
They are the kind of people that draws someone to ride a bicycle from Knoxville, TN just to see them and then return home the next day, Right, Jon? They are the kind of people that you met in Brooklyn a few years back and somehow your paths happened to cross in Lake Junaluska at the Blue Ridge Breakaway (Bryan?). They are the kind of people that draw a Charlotte rider up to the mountains in two days on bicycle only to come up short in Asheville. (Why didn’t you call, we’d have gotten you to Lake J.!)
We had the opportunity to chat about community and sense of belongingness over the few days we were together. Being a relatively limited traveller in my life, my sense of community is pretty well set and centered in Western North Carolina. I essentially know who I can call upon in time of need and have a high level of confidence that my community of people would respond. I was interested in Russ and Laura’s sense of community because it is so different.
Their sense of community in many ways is a community of world wide contacts, a Warm Showers host here or there, a stranger met on the road, or a reader riding up the Cherohala Skyway in Western North Carolina just to bring them a pastry and a drink. Their community in many ways is a transient one although I’m sure they develop more lasting relationships in Portland or wherever they decide to “sit for a spell.”
When all was said and done, I am pleased to be part of their world wide community and hope that, as time goes by, they will realize that the Navigator and I stand ready to be part of their local community here. My only disappointment was that I could not talk them into buying my mountain house that is for sale. Won’t somebody please, please buy my mountain house?
With a nod to Bob Hope, Russ and Laura – Thanks for the memories!