WEST JEFFERSON — For 26 years Ashe County companies and organizations have been goodwill ambassadors for the County by manning the rest stops for riders in the Blue Ridge Brutal bike ride. Volunteers provide water, food, and assistance to the riders at rest stops along the course of the ride. In recent years two new groups staffed the rest stops: the Ashe Memorial Hospital (the Hospital) and American Emergency Vehicles (AEV). In 2015 AEV volunteers worked at the last rest stop, on Highway 194 at the Baldwin Community Church. In 2014 and 2015 the Hospital had the rest stop on Jesse Davis’ property on Highway 221. This site is on a straight section so the volunteers can see the riders coming at a distance.
Garvey Pennington, an AEV employee, is a rest stop veteran, to put it mildly. He was a volunteer for some 10 years when Gates Rubber sponsored a rest stop. Why does he keep working at the rest stops? He says he enjoys meeting people from all over the state and the country. As a welder by profession and a contestant in auto and motorcycle races, he is fascinated with the mechanics of the bikes. He said, “A few years ago a high end bike arrived at the rest stop. It was a bike for three riders: the father, the mother, and a young child, and the great thing about it was that all three of the riders could pedal.”
Pennington has always been impressed with the generosity of his employers, Gates and AEV, in sponsoring the rest stops. “The managers would always just give me a credit card and tell me to buy what was needed, “he said. The supplies ranged from canopies to cutting boards and apple corers. Riders always wanted water or Gatorade, and their favorite foods were bananas, watermelon, and fig newtons. Some riders just wanted to stop and take a nap. There have been wrecks, flat tires, and skinned knees; Pennington has seen a lot in all those years. Some riders put on band aids and go on; others wait for a ride to take them back to the Ashe Civic Center, the starting point of the ride.
AEV, like many local employers, supports other community activities. The company was awarded the Ashe County Commissioners’ Business Volunteer of the Year award in 2016. AEV has a unique employer-employee charitable
contribution program in which employees make contributions through payroll deductions to charities chosen by the employees. The employee gifts are matched by the company. In 2015 the total contribution was around $35,000. AEV also participates in charity golf tournaments and supports various sports teams in Ashe County.
Jeff Dreyer, Director of Manufacturing at AEV, said, “AEV is proud to sponsor a rest stop for the Blue Ridge Brutal. Our employees are very active and receptive to community and individual needs. As long as we’re able, AEV will continue to be a good steward not only to the Brutal but to all the other programs we support here in Ashe County.”
Melissa Lewis, an RN and Director of Outreach at the Hospital, loves volunteering at the Hospital rest stop. “I’m very impressed with how nice the riders are and how much they appreciate the rest stop volunteers. They say how beautiful the countryside is and how well organized the whole ride is.” The first 50 riders are not interested in stopping, Lewis noted. She continued, “The rest of the riders love to stop and get food and water and talk. They want to tell us their life stories. They are so happy for the chairs and the canopy. Some of them are surprised to find out that the Hospital is the only one in the County.” One volunteer brought her 6-year-old boy, and the riders loved talking to him. He was quite an entertainer. One rider stayed and visited with the volunteers for an hour. He left but was back in 30 minutes because he had lost his debit card and wanted to look for it at the rest stop. He couldn’t find it, and the volunteers helped him by calling and cancelling it.
The first year, the Hospital volunteers took a survey on what the riders wanted to eat. Chocolate milk got lots of votes because it prevents muscle soreness. Other requests included soft drinks and chocolate doughnuts.
The Hospital sponsors and cosponsors other events for the community. This spring the Hospital was a partner in providing free EKG’s to 516 Ashe County High School athletes to ensure that they were able to participate in sports. The Hospital also provides free concussion examinations to the athletes. The Hospital is a food pantry site. On “Ladies Night Out” free mammograms are offered at the Hospital. Melissa Lewis organizes many health screenings during the year.
Laura Lambeth, the CEO of the Hospital, said, “We are so grateful to the Ashe County Board of Commissioners for the three years of financial support to the Hospital. Our sponsoring a rest stop is another way to give back to the community. It’s the least we can do to support the Ashe Civic Center. The Blue Ridge Brutal brings people to Ashe County and shows them what this area has to offer. When they see how beautiful it is, they will want to come back.”
Others who will be operating rest stops in 2016 include Screen Specialty Shop, whose owner Gary Prange has been active with the Brutal since its inception. United Chemi-Con is another long time sponsor, and Edie Miller claims that some of the riders stop there and say, “We just stopped to listen to you talk in that mountain accent.”
This will be the sixth year for GE Aviation. Its volunteers are located at Three Top where Buffalo Road meets Ben Bolen Road, where the riders are so very grateful that they have finally reached the top of the hill. Gates Rubber was a long time sponsor of a rest stop. For five years the Mount Jefferson Presbyterian Church Women’s Fellowship hosted a rest stop. The Ashe County Little Theatre will man a rest stop for the first time this year. They will be at the rest stop at the Baldwin Community Church where church members have for many years been kind enough to offer the church facilities and parking lot, with its welcome shade tree, to volunteers and riders.
The Blue Ridge Brutal, held this year on Aug. 13, is a fundraiser for the Ashe Civic Center, the nonprofit group that operates the Ashe Civic Center in co-operation with Ashe County, which owns the building.
Sam Yearick, the Ashe County Manager, stated, “We are very fortunate to have so many volunteers and sponsoring organizations that care so deeply about giving the riders of the Blue Ridge Brutal the opportunity to experience the beauty and culture of Ashe County. They are truly our goodwill ambassadors and a shining example of what the community means. Best of luck to all the riders, and we hope you return to experience more of what our County has to offer.”
Fowler Bush, the Vice-President of the Ashe Civic Center and a rider in the Blue Ridge Brutal, commented, “The rest stop sponsors provide an essential lifeline to our riders. Without their employees and volunteers the Brutal ride would not be possible. Feedback given by riders over the 26 years make us aware that the folks volunteering at rest stops provide a very valuable service.”
There are many other volunteers who make the Blue Ridge Brutal a success. If you are interested in volunteering, contact the Ashe Civic Center at 336 846 ARTS, 336 846 2787.