Monday, September 28, 2009

Mountain Biking Discovery : Narrative

During college, Sam, Mike, and Brad started the tradition of mountain biking on the trails of the Blue Ridge Parkway on the second Saturday of each summer month. Although three years have passed, and life has taken them separate ways, they still manage to join together and load up the car with everything necessary for a mountainous off road adventure. Brad is now a businessman living in Charlotte, Sam lives a low-key lifestyle just west of the North Carolina border in Tennessee, and Mike works at a bike shop near the coast. These college buddies still crave adventure and are always happy to reconnect with each other and nature during their trip.

Their routine has never wavered; after a long day biking, they settle down for dinner and a few beers on the patio of an Asheville pub catching up on their lives and sharing old stories. The drive up Interstate 26 to Asheville wasn’t more than 15 miles from the trail, but right after the guys got back into the car the battery light clicked on again. Brad’s new electric SUV wasn’t going to make the trip to town so the car located the closest recharging station off of the interstate. Brad is not always the most prepared and forgot to charge the battery the night before. Earlier, he told Sam and Mike not to worry about the blinking battery light, as they were all excited to hit the trails. They pulled off the road right into a recharging station as soon as they saw the rest area sign. These signs were familiar, of course, but they had never thought to stop to use the facilities.

The off ramp seemed familiar, but there was something noticeably different about the site plan when they arrived. They pulled straight into a refueling stall in front of the building. They did not have to walk across the parking lot dodging other cars or semi-trucks. While Brad plugged in the car, Mike and Sam gave him a hard time for forgetting to charge it the night before, and made their way to the restroom.

Upon entering the building, the travelers remarked that it did not feel confining and instead was as open and welcoming. Natural light filled the entry from clerestory windows and a large curtain wall. The restrooms were fresh and clean; not only from a maintenance standpoint, but also in another unexplainable way. Waterless urinals and automatic fixtures made the process quick and sanitary. On the way out, Sam caught a glimpse of a picnic arbor out a slim window in the restroom entrance. Beautiful natural vegetation filled the rather large gap between the building and the picnic arbor as if to keep them separate.

Mike and Sam found Brad in the atrium of the building downloading the latest maps and some local podcasts onto his iPhone. He was standing in front of an immense digital screen that could pull up more local information than imaginable. Just in a few short minutes of standing there, he checked Asheville’s weather to make sure a storm wasn’t brewing nearby, searched for a new pub to try, and confirmed that there was no traffic that would impede the final leg of their journey. Mike eagerly took over the touch screen after Brad had finished mapping their route and scrolled through the information on current events. Sam, who has not done much bike riding lately, sat down on a unique wooden bench to rest his legs and read about the regional history on placards lining the walls.

Music filled the lobby, but not loud enough to drown out the prattle of summer travelers making their way in and out of the building. Some stopped to check their email on small digital monitors, and others simply passed through after using the facilities.

Knowing that the SUV fully charges in about thirty minutes, Sam suggested they take a break at one of the open picnic arbors around the corner. On the way they stopped along the brick path at the vending machines. Elated that the vending machines were not stocked with Twinkies, the tired bikers each choose a frozen treat from the local Biltmore Village Creamery. The view from the arbor captured the building as well as the majestic mountains. The vending machines were camouflaged by a vertical garden, and the rest of the building made a bold statement but was situated in a natural way as if it were delicately placed on the site. Native vegetation and indigenous plants followed the contours of the brick paths mimicking the curves of the land.

Brad, Sam and Mike didn’t put much thought into analyzing their break at this rest area, but subconsciously they left with a greater recognition of the region and cultures they come in contact with during their summer bike trips.

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