Drive through any neighborhood during the summertime and you’ll see plenty of youth riding bikes, chatting with friends or racing.
The likelihood you’ll see more than 20 pre-teen and teen bikers decked out in cycling gear and spending two weeks of their vacation riding more than 700 miles is slim to none.
But if you happened to be on U.S. 17 Monday, you might have caught a glimpse of just that. As part of the Path to Freedom Tour, 21 students and 12 adult coaches cruised through the area as they explored the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.
The corridor itself starts in Wilmington, N.C., and stretches all the way down the coast to Jacksonville – and these folks are taking it all in.
Starting in Durham, N.C., on July 11, members of the BRAG Dream Team of Atlanta and the Triangle Bikeworks’ Spoke’n Revolutions Youth Cycling group from Chapel Hill, N.C., kicked off their daily rides. Over the last week and a half, they’ve explored, camped and learned, immersed in the history brimming from the corridor.
The group stopped in Brunswick at the Elizabeth Correll Teen Center before heading down to St. Marys. The kids were eager to share their experiences and meet new people, said 17-year-old Camilo Hernandez, one of the young bikers.
Inspired by his friend who’d been riding for three years, he wanted to join in on this inaugural event and has been touched by it so far.
“Being able to explore the South and the culture, I didn’t really expect it to be this educational. But really, going down the corridor and stopping at so many places has shown me a lot,” Camilo said.
Aside from learning about the heated temps in Georgia firsthand, he shared facts on some of the locations they visited, like the Geechee Kunda Cultural Center in Riceboro.
“Where we just came from, the Geechee Kunda, it was definitely the best place for me spiritually. Just being there, I was just able to feel happy because it was such a nice place, everyone there was great and I felt so welcome. They told us our new home is in Riceboro, Ga., and we can just come back whenever,” he said.
Camilo said he and the others were looking forward to not only continuing south into Florida, but meeting with more new people and sharing different experiences. He said that’s what the trip has been all about, pointing to the opportunity he had to step into the shoes of others while the group stayed in Charleston, S.C., visiting the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The church was where nine African-Americans were slain in June.
“It was very emotional for me. I could feel it … I definitely shed a few tears,” he said.
Sharing those types of experiences with other kids and discovering more about themselves are just a few of the reasons behind establishing the trip, said Coach Kevin Hicks of Triangle Bikeworks’ Spoke’n Revolutions.
“It’s a chance to experience culture, history, physical activity, and it’s both mentally and physically challenging. These kids are solving problems as they cycle,” Hicks said at the teen center. “It opens the world up to them … It’s no longer just on the TV.”
On past rides, he said he’s had students discover lifelong passions or learn to be leaders, pointing out that Camilo himself has continued to take on a leadership role that’s helpful to the other riders.
He’s hoping that inspiration carries on to the other kids the group comes into contact with, much like those at the teen center Monday.
That idea was shared by Brian Dolan, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Georgia.
“For young people to interact with different types of people no matter where they’re from, whether it’s regionally or from a different country, is just a real bonus for both groups of kids,” he said Monday. “It’ll be a nice learning experience.”
The 21 dedicated young cyclists were also serving as inspiration to the adults around them, like Lisa Nelson, a North Carolina resident who’d met the coach of the BRAG Dream Team, Atibe Mbiwan, during a biking event in Jamaica.
“If you ask (the kids) to help out, they step up to the plate. I think the adults have whined more than the kids,” she joked. “Not one has complained. Every day, they’re pushing to do something they haven’t done. If they were at the back of the pack the day before, they’re pushing to be in front the next. They help each other. They make each other laugh.”