Monday, September 7, 2015

I've Caught the Swamp Rabbit Bug

This appeared in Midlands Life on September 26, 2015

My job involves working with SC cities and towns as part of an organization sharing information to help their leaders make their hometowns the best they can be. I really love what I do and particularly love the fact that I can often overlay my daily work with my personal interests.

Because of several articles I've written for work publications about the growth in and around Travelers Rest, I was recently drawn to try biking the Swamp Rabbit Trail. This nine-mile bike trail was built on an old rail bed that runs between Travelers Rest and Greenville. It has helped transform this small Upstate town into a biking mecca with great restaurants and retail shops.

Earlier in the year, I'd written about a local entrepreneur recounting his positive interactions with the city's mayor during a scouting visit that convinced him to locate his business in Travelers Rest. Both he and the mayor spoke with such passion about the niche their little town had created around the Swamp Rabbit Trail.

Back in June, I had rented a bike in Greenville one Friday afternoon after a meeting. I really just wanted to experience this trail that I'd heard so much about. I had no intention of riding the entire nine miles to Travelers Rest, much less coming back time and time again to ride the trail.

Because of that initial ride, I bought a snazzy yellow bike from the great folks at Pedal Chic in Greenville and have now ridden the trail nine times in the past three months.

During my most recent ride from Greenville to Travelers Rest, I realized how much my daily work can not only enhance many experiences like this, but sometimes - if I’m not careful -  it can also wheedle into my personal enjoyment of an experience. In spite of my best mindful efforts, those work eyes open when I should be looking at things through my "just enjoy the moment" eyes.

I had learned about the trail’s partnership involving the city of Greenville, Greenville County and Travelers Rest from research I did for my work article. During my initial ride I noticed the trail signage that indicated where the trail was running through Greenville, Greenville County or Travelers Rest.

This is probably a distinction most people wouldn't notice or even understand, but my work eye was drawn to the signs. That train of thought made me quickly realize I needed to shut down my curiosity about how this public private partnership made the trail happen and refocus on enjoying the sounds of the trail.

In a matter of minutes, the sounds along the trail can move from cars whizzing by as riders wait to cross a busy road to the laughter of a family of five with a bike buggy and two kids on training wheels. Or maybe I'll hear a dog with his tags jingling alongside his elderly owner, the chatter of college students out for a run or the peacefulness of birds in the trees.

Focusing on and enjoying this variety of sounds snapped me out of my work brain and back in to my “just enjoy the experience” brain.

As I passed the occasional black chain link fencing along the otherwise unfenced trail, my work brain sent me to the question of liability. I wondered what risks the trail planners saw that prompted them to build fences in the places where they were erected. Was the grade down the hill steeper than other places increasing the risk someone would fall and tumble off the trail? Who would have the liability for that fall?

I had to remind myself to stop wondering about the fencing and get back to enjoying my riding experience. If I'd been too muddled in the question of the fence I might have missed the simple wood ten foot cross with a bench in front of it. I couldn’t find a sign to explain why the cross was on the trail leaving me to imagine what brought it there. That made for much better musing than the liability of the fence.

I might have sped right by the rabbit made of recycled metal and cans reminding riders not to litter. Or I would have completely missed the Swamp Rabbit Teaching Garden where people in the area can come to learn about community gardening. I might have overlooked the Swamp Rabbit CafĂ© and Grocery that has the best cookies, local produce and popsicles made from fresh fruit. I might have never seen the cool piece of art recently placed in a field next to an abandoned rail car. 

As the trail hugged the back of the Furman University campus, my work brain turned to the university's recent annexation  into Travelers Rest. My mind wandered trying to recall the details of annexation process - when it happened, why it happened.

Then my “just enjoy the ride” brain kicked in again. It didn’t matter right then about the annexation. I'd never been on the Furman campus and was curious about this place many of my friends and their kids so passionately love. I veered off the trail and onto the road that snakes around campus.

I passed the signature white tower that is part of the Furman logo. I lulled myself into becoming part of the unrushed Saturday-ness of the beautiful campus while watching students leisurely swinging in makeshift hammocks while picnicking by the lake. I enjoyed the challenge of some fairly steep hills on the walking path that runs through the woods on the edge of campus.

Once back on the trail, I took in the tasteful sponsorship and advertising signs that showed up occasionally. The Greenville Hospital System uses simple green and white banners hung on the black fences to gently remind riders to wear a helmet or make a stop at the local farmers market. A nearby neighborhood subtly sells itself with understated signs telling riders if they love the trail they would be almost home if they lived in this development. My work eye saw these and wondered what regulations were in place for the signs, who oversaw their placement and upkeep.

Had I stayed in my work brain for long, however, I would have missed the old bike painted white that served as a memorial to bicyclists who had died on Greenville roads. I might not have stopped in the park tucked off to the side of the trail built in memory of two local brothers.

I knew I was close to Travelers Rest when I approached the slight upward incline leading into downtown past Trailblazer Park where I’d just missed the weekly farmers market. My work brain kicked in again recalling the award the town won for the park.

If I had continued the train of thought about that award, I might have pedaled right by the huge “Before I Die” sign sitting in the middle of the well-kept park on the edge of town. I stopped to refill my water bottle in the park from the fountain with subtle signage letting riders know the water is provided courtesy of the Greenville Water System. I spent a few minutes chilling in one of the park’s shady porch swings while I mulled over what words to leave on the “Before I Die” wall.

My stomach told me it was time for lunch as I smiled at the colorful campaign welcoming visitors to TR with signs that take off on the TR - TRendy shopping, TRail, TRendy restaurants. My work brain loved the clever branding to play on the town’s nickname.

Work again kicked in as I decided among the many diverse restaurants available for lunch. I’d been to TR enough times to have eaten my way through several trying crepes, salads, burgers and ice cream (and to call this great little town TR, like the locals do). This time I decided to try Sidewall Pizza

The restaurant is owned by the young entrepreneur I’d interviewed for a work publication. He had a back story that intrigued me about how he got to TR and decided to relocate his a canoe building company and open a pizza joint on Main Street. The open air seating in the converted tire store building appealed to me on a pretty Saturday, and the food didn’t disappoint. So this “work brain” invasion was actually a good one.

When I’m on my bike, I’m slowly teaching myself how to shut my work eyes and open my “enjoy the moment” eyes. I try to remember that, once my feet hit those pedals, all I need to see, smell and feel is the safe, free trail populated by hard-core cyclists, grannies on a no-speed bike,  in-line skaters and people like me just enjoying the outdoors. I don’t need to worry about how it was funded, why it’s safe or who regulates the signs.

Serious runners, families with strollers, kids on training wheels or skate boarders who share the trail with me might note in passing a bit of tasteful advertising, fencing where it is necessary, and a safe clean trail. And that’s all they need to see. Thanks to the vision of leaders in Greenville, Greenville County and Travelers Rest, that’s all any of us who enjoy this magical trail should have to think about. 

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