Before the football teams from Western Carolina and Appalachian State universities begin their battle for the Old Mountain Jug, the dean of WCU’s Honors College will be engaged in a struggle of his own as he pedals his bicycle to the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway to raise scholarship funds for Honors College students.
Brian Railsback plans to hop aboard his bike early Saturday morning, Nov. 11, and cycle his way from WCU’s Cullowhee campus to Richland Balsam and back – a total of 56 miles – in a pledge ride to benefit academically gifted students.
Accompanied by Joe Mullins, an Honors College student and member of the WCU Bike Team, and other bike team members, Railsback expects to leave the university’s Reynolds Hall at 7 a.m. on Nov. 11 and ride the highways to Sylva and Balsam, where the group will turn off onto the Blue Ridge Parkway. They will follow the parkway north for 12 miles to an elevation of 6,053 feet just below the summit of Richland Balsam — the highest point reached by the parkway in its entire 469-mile span through Virginia and North Carolina.
The 47-year-old Railsback will be supported on his ride by members of the Honors College student board of directors.
“Every cent pledged for our ride will go toward providing tuition assistance to deserving Honors College students,” Railsback said. “I hope a lot of people will honor our efforts by helping us in this cause.”
The Honors College scholarship fund already has received a big pre-ride boost totaling $2,500 in donations from members of the Honors College Advisory Board, which is composed of a group of Highlands residents. Plus, the college’s student board has pledged $500, Railsback said.
After reaching the parkway’s highest point, Railsback and bike team members will turn around and head back to Cullowhee, where they hope to arrive around 3 p.m. – one hour before the WCU-ASU kickoff in E.J. Whitmire Stadium.
This is not the first time Railsback has scaled mountains on his bike to raise money for Honors College scholarships. The first pledge ride took place in November 1997 as he cycled from Cullowhee to a snowy Mount Mitchell over a three-day period. Three students joined Railsback for a two-day ride to Mount Mitchell in 1998, and the third ride in 1999 involved an attempt by Railsback and five students to ride 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 fund-raising ride with a two-day solo trip back to Mount Mitchell. After a hiatus in 2005, Railsback decided to schedule a ride for this year.
When the first pledge ride took place in 1997, WCU’s Honors College was brand new, having just been elevated to “college” status, and about 250 WCU students were enrolled. Over the years, the college’s enrollment has soared and now includes about 1,300 students. Railsback said he especially hopes Honors College alumni will join in the fund-raising effort to provide scholarships for current students.
Anyone interested in making a pledge or learning more about the Honors College should call its office at (828) 227-7383.