And so, all good things must come to an end. I woke up this morning knowing it would be a bittersweet day that would be over all too quickly. But even with the long trek home and the awaiting Hurricane Matthew damage weighing on my mind, the end of the Tour hit me like wave of cheer and accomplishment, followed by a hollow, lost undertow. What am I supposed to do now that my legs aren’t spinning endlessly round and round in a kind of exhausting zen; now that I’m not eating delicious, wholesome meals prepared by the Wandering Forks; now that I’m not meeting kind, inspiring people every day and being supported by a wonderful crew? The prospect of waking up tomorrow morning and having to make more of a choice than which spandex to put on seemed a bit overwhelming—And nobody back home was even going to get what I meant when I say my butt hurts. (I’ll just have to suffer in lone silence…) But inevitably, at some point, the thought crosses your mind, “Why can’t I always have this much of a purpose? Why can’t every week be this fun?”
And that’s when you must recognize that that hollow, lost feeling that was tugging at you after accomplishing such a feat, is the call and the inspiration to take pieces of the Tour home with you and incorporate them back into your everyday life. (Maybe you can’t have THAT much fun while working so hard in one week, but you can get pretty close.) It could be anything from small to large… Be kind. Help others. Laugh too much. Eat good food. Exercise your body and your mind. Share your passion. Spend some time with trees. Smile a lot. Be part of a team. Enjoy the wind in your hair. Remember that with every uphill, there is a downhill. Remember that you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to, and the world is a little bit better for all of the hard work you have put in.
The last day was a beautiful one. Our fearless Tour leader, Paul, took us on a 7 mile loop around Charlotte, through the beautiful old trees on Queens Road, ending at Latta Park where the Professor Ellwood Pricklethorn (P.E.P.) put on one last stunning performance, to a number of old and young awestruck faces. Local organizations and tree companies had tents and tables set up on the green grass to celebrate “Oaktoberfest.” The weather was perfect as Eric (the TREE Fund president) took the microphone and began recognizing outstanding riders and teams who helped us reach a grand total of $367,545 raised for the TREE Fund. (You can keep donating to these folks ‘til December!) It is exciting to know that every last penny will go to tree research and education, and help the TREE Fund to grow into its future endeavors. After the big check presentation, we planted a Swamp White Oak in the center of Latta Park and blessed it with the usual chanting, singing, wiggling fingers, and swaying from side to side that I’ve come to expect from these spandex-clad arborists. Being a brand new rider this year, I could tell that I had come a long way in just one week judging by the fact that I wasn’t afraid to join in and not feel the slightest bit embarrassed by our uniquely vibrant ritual. This was the 17th tree we had planted along the tour, and the 5th P.E.P. program done. Add that to the 610 (ish) miles we rode, supported by wonderful stops along the way, and the tour has impacted so many lives.
From the incredibly challenging first day, the “lumpy and breezy” road to the appropriately named Mt. Airy, to a night on the town in Greensboro. From the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, to the arborist-style putting competition in Southern Pines. And from the impressive Steeplechase Museum in Camden, back to Charlotte with lunch Andrew Jackson State Park along the way. It feels like we traveled the world over in some ways, and it feels like I rode with friends I’ve known for ages. One thing is for sure-it was a ride that helped me grow as a person, with people I will never forget.
Written by Tour Rider, Cheyanne Quigley.