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By Brittney Summerman

activity-biking-roadPush. Pull. Push. Pull. Over 80 miles, this mantra echoed in my head. Ascending and descending over the breathtaking and majestic mountains of the Blue Ridge Parkway gave me a sense of pride, exhaustion, and triumph unrivaled. A week and a half into a cross-country trek with the non-profit, Bike & Build, this Indiana Hoosier was entirely unprepared for the journey of epic proportions over one of the country’s most captivating landscapes. As I left Charlottesville, Virginia in the wee hours of the morning, I immediately began to prepare mentally for the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was the first time I had even come close to cycling up a mountain; at that time, I thought the southern Indiana hills upon which I trained were difficult enough. When I could see the “Blue Ridge Parkway” sign from a distance, I gathered up my strength, courage, and that tiny bit of lunacy one must have in order to enjoy trekking up mountains, and began pedaling away. Soon enough, I found myself gasping for breath- partly because of my physical shape, but more so because my breath was literally taken from me as I peered over the edge of the mountainsides. I was seeing Virginia, the country, and my own life from an entirely new perspective. The landscape was beyond gorgeous, and I could not believe how small everything looked from the tops of the Parkway’s climbs. In an instant, I related to the tiny objects below. I realized the enormity and complexity of life and what a tiny speck I must seem in the grand scheme of things. As I kept arduously spinning up the next pass, I realized that each of those “specks of life” below contributed to the immense beauty of the “big picture.” It was a moment of tear-jerking realization when it all suddenly made sense. We all have a purpose in the journey of life.

This realization was accompanied by beautiful memories such as June Curry, “the cookie lady of Afton Mountain.” For years, this amazing woman with a heart for cyclists has provided water, snacks, and a rest stop for bikers who travel from all over the world to cycle the Blue Ridge. Sitting and speaking with this down-to-earth, gracious woman, she did not talk of her own generosity, but of the generosity of complete strangers. After a stroke required her to employ a home health nurse for a period of time, cyclists from all over the world donated money and paid entirely for her healthcare. She tearfully recalled this experience, and many others, in which her “true family”, the bikers, aided her selflessly. Again, I was floored by the amount of good one person could do and the sheer volume of lives impacted by one woman’s passion.

Forty-five miles into the seemingly-impossible ride, I seriously doubted my ability to continue another inch up the road. Like a Providential ray of hope, I looked down and noticed the words, “Push. Pull. Keep going! You are doing great!” in bright purple chalk on the pavement. Our fearless ride leaders had left the simple, but inspiring message to remind us of proper cycling technique and to tell us, yes, we could do this. Up the mountains I went, slowly, surely, fearlessly, relentlessly. Much like life, the Blue Ridge Parkway takes you through valleys, only to ascend to heights far beyond your imagination. Struggling is part of the journey, but those trials make the reward all the more satisfying.

Push. Pull. Never give up, in cycling the Blue Ridge Parkway, and in life.

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