The annual STIHL Tour des Trees featuring about 80 bicycle riders made a swing through Surry County — which would’ve included a scheduled appearance Monday morning in Mount Airy had the cyclists not missed a turn.
Similar to Bugs Bunny failing to go left in Albuquerque during one of his cartoon adventures, the bike riders did not turn right at the Municipal Building after pedaling through the downtown area with a city police escort.
A special tree planting was planned near Blackmon Amphitheatre on the City Hall grounds as part of a program that also included a presentation of books about trees to the Mount Airy Public Library.
The only thing missing was the cyclists, who were participating in an annual week-long event that began in 1992 to benefit the TREE Fund, which helps save urban forests by supporting educational and research efforts to control diseases and insects.
After passing the Mount Airy Post Office, those at the front of the large group of cyclists seemed unsure about what to do next, which was accompanied by shouts of “where do we go?” by several riders.
An onlooker then yelled at them to turn right, into the Municipal Building entrance, which the cyclists did — but then those leading the pack inexplicably made a U-turn and headed back out, prompting others riding in to do the same. The group then pedaled down South Main Street, and out of sight forever.
City and Tour des Trees officials waited in vain in back of the Municipal Building for the cyclists to return for the scheduled 8:30 a.m. program — at last report they were said to be cruising down Westfield Road (N.C. 89) en route to another appearance in Walnut Cove.
There was speculation the lead riders might have thought they were in the wrong place after turning into the City Hall entrance, since only a handful of people were on hand there at that point. And by the time the mistake was realized, the cyclists had ventured too far to turn back.
Mary DiCarlo, director of philanthropy for the TREE Fund — headquartered in Napierville, Illinois — was at a loss to explain the situation, pointing out that the riders are using GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates to guide them during their journey.
She said it was an apparent case of human error. “One person in the front goes the wrong way and the rest follow.”
Their visit to Mount Airy was the first leg of a seven-day, 610-mile ride through the Carolinas which began Sunday when the cyclists arrived in Surry County from Charlotte. From here the Tour des Trees itinerary called for reaching Greensboro Monday, then on to Raleigh; Southern Pines; Camden, South Carolina; and back to Charlotte on the final day.
Mount Airy had been a stop for the Tour des Trees once before, in 1995.
After realizing that the cyclists were not going to make an appearance, the program on the Municipal Building grounds went on as planned after a slight delay.
It was attended by city elected officials, department heads and others, including local representatives of the Southern Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture headquartered in Mount Airy, which is hosting the 2016 Tour des Trees.
Mayor David Rowe thanked a group of representatives and support staff of the STIHL Tour des Trees and the TREE Fund who were in attendance for the exposure given to Mount Airy. “We’re glad you chose to make Mount Airy part of your tour,” Rowe said.
The mayor also joked that this city might be the most-pleasant stop along the route, given the urban areas still to come. “As you proceed south and down east, I think you’ll wish you had stayed a little longer,” Rowe said.
DiCarlo said Monday’s program mirrors a Tour des Trees goal of interacting with the communities the riders visit during their trek.
This included a donation of copies of the children’s book “I Can Name 50 Trees Today” to city Librarian Pat Gwyn, which in a fun way teaches how to identify various species from leaves and other characteristics.
Another highlight of Monday’s program was the planting of a ginkgo tree on a hill near the library, led by Professor Elwood Pricklethorn (aka Toronto arborist and veteran tour rider Warren Hoselton).
“This is a tree family — I know it’s corny,” Hoselton said as the visitors, local tree stewards and supporters gathered around the tree waiting in a plastic pot.
“Every time we plant a tree, we transfer energy,” he added while explaining that it needs positive reinforcement to flourish.
To that end, Hoselton asked everyone there to raise their arms and wiggle their hands, theoretically creating heat and energy he then asked everyone to direct toward the ginkgo sapling.
“Grow, tree, grow,” Hoselton said, before paraphrasing the lyrics of well-known rock songs for the crowd to sing, including, “the roots, the roots, the roots are on fire” and “all we are saying, is give trees a chance.”
California cyclist enthused
In addition to devoting a week of their time to ride in the Tour des Trees event, participating cyclists — who come from all parts of North America — commit to generating at least $3,500 each to the TREE Fund through pledges from their companies, families and other sources.
With money raised through the bike tour, researchers have discovered better ways to propagate, plant and care for urban trees, making them more resilient, more resistant to pests and less prone to failure. The tour also funds educational programs aimed at connecting young people with the environment and career opportunities in green industries.
One rider who actually made it to the Municipal Building grounds for Monday’s program was Brian Bishop, a veteran participant from San Diego.
“Over a 10-year period, this is my fourth tour,” said Bishop, who owns a tree service.
In explaining why he takes part in the Tour des Trees, the Californian said that while people hear a lot about the need to “think globally and act locally,” the annual ride stresses the big picture.
“Sometimes you have to act a little globally,” he said of the social responsibility aspect involved with saving forests.
“I’m immensely passionate about this — I love what I do.”
Bishop does not consider participating in an event on the other side of the U.S. from his home to be a hardship, but a break from his regular job.
“Honestly, it’s a real blessing, because I work my ass off — it’s a little bit of a sacrifice, but I don’t see it that way,” he said.
“And it’s such a damn good group of people,” Bishop added of fellow riders.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.