Railsback completes 110-mile bike ride for scholarships

CULLOWHEE – A Western Carolina University faculty member endured intermittent rain and fog, several close encounters with recreational vehicles and one particularly nasty pothole to complete a 110-mile bicycle ride that will help provide scholarship money for students in the university’s Honors College.

Western faculty member Brian Railsback pedals up the Blue Ridge Parkway on his way to Mount Mitchell.

Western faculty member Brian Railsback pedals up the Blue Ridge Parkway on his way to Mount Mitchell.

Brian Railsback, interim dean of the Honors College, started the two-day ride for pledges from Western’s Cullowhee campus to the summit of Mount Mitchell on Wednesday morning, Oct. 27. It didn’t take long for things to get unpleasant, Railsback said, as he hit heavy rain by the time he got to Sylva, just five miles down the road.

Railsback followed U.S. 23-74 to Balsam Gap, where he turned north onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. He pedaled his way up to the parkway’s highest point, 6,053 feet at Richland Balsam, and continued on to Mount Pisgah before making the long downhill run to U.S. 25 at Biltmore Forest, his stopping point for the night.

Railsback mounted his bicycle again at 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, to begin the 30-mile grind up the parkway to Mount Mitchell, at 6,684 feet the highest point in the East. Heavy rain and dense fog descended upon him in the Craggy Gardens area, and Railsback reported the most nerve-wracking part of the trip occurred on a long downhill just north of Craggy Dome. He was rolling along at about 25 miles per hour on his mountain bike, with foggy glasses, when he hit a pothole, but he managed to avoid crashing to the pavement.

After a nine-hour ride slowed by rain and fog, as he approached Mount Mitchell ‘s summit, Railsback suddenly saw a figure emerge in the fog beside the road.

“I didn’t know if it was a tree or an animal,” he said. “It turned out to be Joel Stroup, president of our Honors College student board.”

Stroup was holding a sign that said, “Congratulations, Brain,” a purposeful misspelling of Railsback’s first name. Stroup and several other Honors College students greeted Railsback at the summit and the group returned home to Cullowhee.

Funds generated by the pledge ride will go into the Honors College scholarship fund for academically gifted students. This year’s pledges haven’t been totaled, but three previous pledge rides led by Railsback produced about $13,000 for the scholarship fund.

Anyone interested in making a contribution may call the Honors College office at (828) 227-7383.