Railsback hits the road again by bike – this time for Student Support Fund

Brian Railsback takes a break at Richland Balsam, the highest point reached by the Blue Ridge Parkway, during his pledge ride for Honors College scholarships in 2013. He recently hopped back aboard his bike to raise awareness about the Faculty Senate’s Student Support Fund through a 345-mile ride to Raleigh.

Brian Railsback completed a series of bicycle rides to raise scholarship funds for students enrolled in Western Carolina University’s Honors College back when he was the college’s dean, but now he’s seeking pedal power again and riding for a new purpose in his role as chair of the university’s Faculty Senate.

This time, the primary goal of the journey is to raise awareness of – and maybe a few dollars for – the Faculty Senate’s new Student Support Fund.

Railsback kicked off his latest ride Tuesday, March 6 – during WCU’s spring break – from his home in the Tilley Creek community near campus. He hopes to finish the 345-mile journey to Raleigh by Wednesday, April 4, when he has a 1 p.m. appointment to meet with N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper.

Railsback is working on the biking project in segments to avoid missing class time. He rode to Morganton over a four-day span during spring break, taking the scenic route – the Blue Ridge Parkway – from Balsam to Asheville. He returned to the road Sunday, March 18, to ride from Morganton to Newton, bringing his mileage total so far to 150.

Over the upcoming weekend of March 24-25, Railsback hopes to complete the route from Newton to Asheboro, and that will leave him a final 88 miles to complete over WCU’s Easter break, March 28 through April 1.

All nine bike rides for pledges that Railsback completed as Honors College dean had a goal of raising scholarship funds for the college’s students. The first of his pedaling journeys took place in the fall of 1997, the year the college for academically high-achieving students was organized, when he rode from campus to the top of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern U.S. The final Honors College ride occurred in 2014, and he left the deanship in June 2015 to return to the Department of English faculty as a professor.

The Faculty Senate’s Student Support Fund got off the ground earlier this year and is being used to assist financially independent students who face short-term financial emergencies such as paying for food, medication or rent. In addition to raising the public’s awareness about that fund and the need behind it, Railsback said he also wants to boost public consciousness about the good work done by faculty senates on University of North Carolina System campuses across the state – not to mention put a bug in the governor’s ear about that work and the needs of financially independent college students statewide.

Although he is not seeking pledges during the current ride, Railsback said he would be thrilled if any WCU faculty and staff members heard about the venture and decided to contribute to the Student Support Fund through payroll deduction, and if other individuals off campus contributed to the fund after learning about the effort.

Just as he did during the rides for the Honors College, Railsback is pedaling to Raleigh while mounted on an old, heavy mountain bike, instead of a fleet and lightweight road bike. “The mountain bike turned out to be a good idea due to the broken glass, screws, nails, road kill and other obstructions along the roads,” he said. “I can’t imagine how many times a road bike tire would have been punctured.”

Railsback is being assisted in his journey by his wife, Sandy Railsback, who drives the “crash car.” Darby Harris, an instructor in WCU’s Department of Biology with a long history as a competitive road cyclist, helped with mapping the route.

For more information, contact Railsback at brailsback@wcu.edu or 828-227-3933.