Advocates plan 1,200-mile VA-NC Greenway Ride to raise awareness

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Dave Connelly (left) and Steven Hardy-Braz at the I-440 bridge on the Reedy Creek Trail in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo by Liza Hardy-Braz.

By Jessica Reid // Contributor

Note: Follow Steven and Dave's journey via Instagram: @transmutationalcycling

Two long-time, North Carolina-based cycling advocates will travel 1,200 miles on the East Coast Greenway through Virginia and North Carolina in April to promote cycling and its many benefits to communities. 

Steven Hardy-Braz and Dave Connelly are slated to ride about 50-80 miles per day April 1-20. They will start in Durham, North Carolina, on Thursday, April 1, ride north to Richmond, Virginia; east to Jamestown; south to Wilmington; and, ultimately, northwest back to Durham. They plan to meet with local government leaders, visit local and state parks, connect with historical sights and visit local bike shops along the East Coast Greenway.

“The routing that Steve and I have chosen is kind of a natural loop with the two parts of the East Coast Greenway between Richmond and Wilmington,” said Connelly.  

They describe their journey as “a pedal-powered ride connecting people with places to promote havens of happiness, health and hope.”

Throughout the 20-day journey, they will be “supporting local businesses and speaking with community leaders, transportation officials and healthy living advocates,” all while encouraging people to see, support and enjoy greenways, trails and cycling tourism.

Hardy-Braz has seen the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on people’s physical and mental health. He sees the ride as a way to practice self-care and promote his passion, cycling, as a way to help people feel better physically and mentally. 

During a challenging 2020, the East Coast Greenway, a developing walking and biking route stretching 3,000 miles between Maine and Florida, hosted 50 million bike rides, runs and walks to become the most popular park in America. With people flocking to trails for equitable, active transportation and recreation, the Greenway corridor is ripe for federal Greenway Stimulus infrastructure investment.   

According to Hardy-Braz, the East Coast Greenway “connects people to places and gets you out and connects you back with nature and [lets you] see the beauty and humanity of both people and places.”

Along the ride, Hardy-Braz plans to continue a tradition of spending his signature $2 bills to support local businesses throughout the region. These interactions can spark conversations that allow Hardy-Braz to promote the economic benefits of cycling. From the journey and these conversations, Hardy-Braz and Connelly are hoping to help people see the connections between active and equitable transportation, tourism, economic development, environmental stewardship and health. 

Moreover, they aim to gain at least 20 new East Coast Greenway Alliance members during the journey - one new member per day. They also hope to get a collage of photographs of an East Coast Greenway sign by every town name. 

All new members who join the East Coast Greenway Alliance in April will receive a free Greenway neck gaiter/face shield. Vist www.greenway.org/donate for more information. 

After departing Durham on the American Tobacco Trail from the East Coast Greenway Alliance’s headquarters, Hardy-Braz and Connelly will be involved in an East Coast Greenway dedication ceremony in Greenville, North Carolina, on Friday, April 9. 

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The East Coast Greenway route through Virginia and North Carolina.

These cycling advocates encourage people to join them on parts of their ride (in a safe fashion on their own bicycle(s) wearing helmets). Connelly said he is a “pragmatist,” so he is bringing his car along the journey. Other people can do the same so they can join the ride for whatever distance is convenient for them. 

Although cycling can involve challenges, Hardy-Braz finds that “the biggest challenges end up being the wrapping for the biggest gifts.” For example, downpours can lead to rainbows and experiencing the empathy of strangers opening their doors to dripping cyclists. Hardy-Braz and Connelly want to promote the Warm Showers program so that future cyclists have places to stay in rural areas.

From Farmville, North Carolina, Hardy-Braz is a League Certified Cycling Instructor, school psychologist by training, author, interpreter, researcher, international trainer and a passionate avid cycling advocate who promotes safe, accessible riding for all ages and abilities. He led efforts to establish the annual North Carolina Bike Summit (now Bike/Walk Summit led by BikeWalkNC). In 2016, he pedaled across the U.S. to celebrate his 50th birthday meeting people, visiting towns of all sizes, and camping at national and state parks throughout multiple states.

Hardy-Braz is also a sign-language interpreter and recently served in that role for the League of American Bicyclists' National Bike Summit, which included a talk from Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Click below to view this video. 

A Durham, North Carolina, resident, Connelly is the past chair of the Durham Open Space & Trails Commission (DOST). He advocates for bicycle-and-pedestrian greenways, especially rail-trails. He has led bike rides since 1987 and has been on the North Carolina committee for the East Coast Greenway since its inception in 2000. He also helped design the current travel routes for the North Carolina to Virginia section of the Greenway. He is a retired Duke University library assistant.

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