Geez, I’m a little behind on posting, wouldn’t you say? No excuses, just a part of life…I find that so many things ebb and flow over time…interests, energy, time management skills, etc. The last couple of months have brought an incredible number of opportunities and experiences into my life; I enjoyed the processes, the learning about myself, and the freedom to choose how to spend my energy. Unfortunately for this blog, and the attempt at consistency, writing posts didn’t make it to the top of my list.
So, what did make it on the list? Bicycling and the surrounding culture that comes along with it. Late last year I was honored to have the opportunity to join the Bike Florida Board of Directors. Members of the board have the responsibility to oversee the running of this statewide non-profit who’s mission is “To promote safe and responsible bicycling through support of the Share the Road campaign, education, public awareness, and bicycle touring. As an organization, we are dedicated to making a positive economic impact in the regions and communities that support our tours and programs.”
With a motto of “Tours with a Purpose”, this year’s Spring Tour really knocked it out of the ballpark by immersing riders, volunteers, and staff into the area of Florida that was benefiting from the economic impact of the tour. The Armstrong, Florida community has worked tirelessly to take advantage of the multi-purpose trail running through their town by creating a trailhead that provides users and the community with restrooms, a pavilion, playground equipment, and open areas for play. Local officials and citizens all recognize the economic impact a trail provides and partnered with Bike Florida to move their vision forward. Of the proceeds from the Spring Tour, Bike Florida pledged $5000 to the community towards their efforts to purchase a small pieces of land they can use to develop a community center that will welcome cyclists and other trail users. Additional funds were raised through donations from riders and local residents selling food at the tour campsite.
If you are interested in trying out bicycle touring but reluctant to go it alone, I highly recommend the spring tour. The 2018 location will be announced soon, but no matter the area, you can be guaranteed it will be beautiful (March in Florida), and you will travel in style…at least for camping. Although I slept in a tent, there were ample restrooms available, a shower truck with hot water, freshly brewed coffee in the morning, catered breakfasts and dinners (the food was amazing), and fun entertainment in the evenings. Oh, and a beer tent. As if all that wasn’t enough, there were seven days of bicycling through some of the most beautiful areas in Florida…exploring the oldest city of St. Augustine, riding down A1A with blue waters on both sides, the charming town of Palatka on the St. John’s River, even an ice cream social on the last day where riders could indulge in one last treat while saying goodbye to new found friends. I think everyone should join us on next year’s tour, but I might be a little biased.
In addition to having a really fun time hanging out at the campgrounds and riding my bike, I learned a few things too.
- It takes a village. Without Bike Florida’s amazing staff, interns, board members, and volunteers this event would not have been so successful. I believe passion about cycling really motivated people to do whatever it took to make sure riders and guests were happy.
- Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. The average age of the 619 riders was 64. Many of them slept in tents at night, and most of them passed me on bikes while out on the road during the day. I know I need to ride more to be as fit as many of them, but I also know that it is possible to ride your bike no matter what your age.
- Know thyself. Spending so much time with people (24/7) can be draining, especially for an introvert like me. In order to be my best self in this situation, I allowed some alone time to recharge my batteries, without guilt. These times, whether they were spent reading at my campsite, going into town to shop, or even riding alone, were integral to my well-being and ability to enjoy myself when interacting with everyone.
- Never underestimate the power of volunteering to run the beer tent. I quickly became known as the “Beer Lady” and thoroughly enjoyed sharing my knowledge of beer with the other riders. Plus, I got to meet just about everyone, well…everyone who drinks beer. It really was alot of fun, and I hope the volunteer position will be open on next year’s tour.
Finally, perhaps the highlight of my week was a simple exchange with one of our participants. It started with crafting at the beer tent. I make earrings out of used bike chains and in addition to bringing finished earrings, I also brought the supplies so I could teach others how to do it. A few of us were making them at the beer tent when two ladies walked up and asked what we were doing. I couldn’t convince them to stay and make their own earrings, so I gave them each a pair I had already made. They expressed their gratitude and left the tent while we continued on our crafty task.
The next day, one of those ladies came up to me while I working at the beer tent and told me that she had worn my earrings on her ride that day and they brought her luck because she had completed her first century ride – that’s 100 miles on a a bicycle, and it was on a hybrid (read: heavy). She was so proud of herself, and rightfully so, and she wanted to share her gratitude for the earrings. I was so touched that she shared her feelings, I still get goosebumps thinking about it, especially now while writing about it. As we all often ponder our purpose in life, I like to think that providing simple moments like this in someone else’s life is why we are here. Some may do big and grand things, but the little things really matter too.