The dean of Western Carolina University’s Honors College hopes to replicate a successful fundraiser from a decade ago when he begins a three-day bicycle ride to Mount Mitchell to raise scholarship money for the college’s students.
But he wouldn’t mind leaving out the snowy part this time around.
Brian Railsback plans to pedal from WCU’s Reynolds Residence Hall to the highest peak in the eastern United States over a three-day period – Saturday, Oct. 20, through Monday, Oct. 22 – and thus retrace his journey from 1997, the year WCU’s Honors College opened. Railsback is attempting the same 106-mile ride for pledges this year as a part of the college’s 10th anniversary celebration. All the money raised will go into a scholarship fund to provide tuition assistance to deserving Honors College students.
Railsback said many of the details of this year’s pledge ride will be the same as they were back in 1997. “I’ll be riding from Cullowhee to Balsam, where I’ll get on the Blue Ridge Parkway and follow the parkway to Mount Mitchell State Park,” he said. “The route is the same, but I’m not. I was 38 then and about 20 pounds lighter. It’s going to be ugly this time around.”
Railsback said he’s been following a “feeble” training regimen for the pledge ride, including making the 1,800-foot climb from the WCU campus to his home, but the trip to 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell involves cumulative climbing in excess of 10,000 feet. He’ll have a support crew of Honors College students during the upcoming trip.
Railsback’s November 1997 ride turned into a meteorological adventure. He rode through a thunderstorm the first day, and on the last day of the trip snow flakes began to bounce off his bicycle helmet as he made his way up the parkway from Craggy Gardens to Mount Mitchell.
The snow began to fall in earnest as Railsback left the parkway and cycled into Mount Mitchell State Park. He made it to the abandoned summit parking lot and sought refuge in a heated restroom.
In the meantime, Honors College students who were scheduled to pick up Railsback at the summit were blocked from their mission by parkway gates, which were closed due to the poor driving conditions. After waiting at the Mitchell summit for an hour, Railsback found transportation back down the mountain with a member of WCU’s Public Relations staff who had four-wheel drive and had convinced park rangers to let him through the gates. Railsback said this year’s ride was scheduled for October to make it more unlikely that he will see snow.
This year’s trip will be the sixth pledge ride Railsback has undertaken to boost the Honors College scholarship fund. The 1997 venture was followed by a two-day ride to Mount Mitchell with three students in 1998, and a third ride in 1999 involved an attempt by Railsback and five students to pedal from Cullowhee to Raleigh over a five-day period.
After a four-year stint as head of WCU’s English department, Railsback returned to the Honors College in 2004 and revived the fundraising ride with a two-day solo trip to Mount Mitchell. After a hiatus in 2005, last year Railsback joined members of the WCU Bike Team in a one-day, 56-mile roundtrip ride from Cullowhee to Richland Balsam, the highest point reached by the parkway. The riders made it to Richland Balsam, but abandoned the ride on the way back to Cullowhee because of torrential rain and high winds.
Over the past 10 years, the five pledge rides have raised about $40,000 for the scholarship fund, with 35 scholarships awarded to students, Railsback said.
When the first pledge ride took place, WCU’s Honors College had just been elevated to “college” status and about 250 students were enrolled in the program for academically high-achieving students. Over the years, the college’s enrollment has soared and now includes about 1,400 students. Railsback said he hopes this year’s ride will inspire pledges from current students, alumni of the college, and other supporters who appreciate what the college has meant to WCU over the last decade.
This year’s 10th anniversary ride will likely be the last Honors College pledge ride, as the college’s student board of directors is planning other fundraising initiatives in the coming year, Railsback said.
Anyone interested in making a pledge or learning more about the Honors College should
call its office at (828) 227-7383.
Maintained by the Office of Public Relations
Last modified: Monday, Oct. 15, 2007