A friend of mine still in her 20s living in Durham is a kindred spirit of sorts.
She has that blend of discoverer and deliverer that is the foundation for entrepreneurial spirits who are able to build and sustain innovative organizations.
She, too, sort of backed into her career and like I was at her age, curious about why she has so quickly been labeled an innovator.
Recently, I shared with her some of the kindred spirits who reached out to me when I arrived in Durham 26 years ago to build and grow what would be my fourth start-up in a long ago concluded career in a field different from hers.
I’ll share who they were in another essay some day, but like I am to her, they were old enough to be my grandparents. I guess innovators can identify one another across generations.
But I wonder if one of my young friend’s early influences was her decision after college to bicycle with some friends on a route from coast to coast.
Let me explain why such a trip should also be a job requirement for anyone hoping to be involved in community destination marketing, as I was.
My friend and her companions biked east to west roughly following the old Bikecentennial route pioneered 40 years ago by a handful of other entrepreneurial innovators.
Back then, more than 4,000 cyclists to bike took part in portions of the route during the summer of 1976, 2,000 of whom completed the entire journey.
That was the year after I took the helm of my second startup, the first truly as the executive and a full-fledged community marketing organization.
It was an endeavor that would span the remainder of my career and beyond. Today, 8,043 miles have been established involving 16 states with 40 states overall working on various routes. Propelling it to its completion is still that original startup.
The transcontinental route my friend took is a slight variation of what is now U.S. Bicycle Route 76.
I was surprised to learn that the toughest mountainous segment was not the 68.6 mile, 3,341 ft. climb from Fort Collins over the 8,063.45 ft. pass on the southern route to Laramie.
Nor was it climbing over the Continental Divide in the Wind River Mountains or up along my native Tetons or then across the Bitterroots or up over the mile-high Lolo pass and through the canyons of the Clearwater.
It was just north of Durham in the southwestern Virginia portion of the Appalachians where, the Messersmiths, a line of my ancestors, had settled in the 1700s before heading west.
It was the hardest segment, not just because it was only a few days into their ride but, because the roads were so windy and the grades so much more difficult.
But the toughest portion of the whole journey was the relatively flat variation on the route they took down the Washington state side of the Columbia River Gorge before crossing over to Portland, due to riding against the wind blowing up the Gorge from the Pacific that makes it a haven for windsurfing.
When you discuss routes to the coast in Oregon, people usually refer to them in relationship to a series of colleges stretching down I-5. Cannon is across from Portland State and Lewis & Clark College.
The beach at Lincoln City is across from Willamette University in Salem where I started law school. Newport Beach is across from Oregon State in Corvallis.
UBR 76 ends at Florence Beach, across from the University of Oregon in Eugene but my friend’s more than 4,000 mile ride ended on Cannon Beach with its picturesque Haystack Rock.
These beaches are seared into my memory just as they were on 9/11 during a visit. I first saw news about the initial plane crashing into the World Trade Center as I came in from watching the fog at Bandon.
It was eerie driving up the coast along each of these beaches on a bright, sunny day. Each of these little towns almost seemed deserted including during an overnight at Cannon Beach.
Hearing about her journey across Kansas reminded me of the jestful lyrics to a song entitled Nickels Worth of Difference:
“There ain’t a nickels worth of difference in Kansas and Nebraska
A lot of wide open spaces, every now and then a tree
But I suppose if you were born and raised around there you might beg to differ
Yeah but I’m from Oklahoma, it looks pretty much the same to me”
While singer-songwriter Tom Skinner was playing off the ribbing that goes on between states, he puts his finger on how geographic stereotypes can predisposition some of us to miss distinctions.
They are clear as you drive cross country in a Jeep as my English Bulldog and I have along various routes at least eight different times since I retired. I can only imagine how much more clear they are when viewed from a bicycle or walking.
Research shows that the vast majority of us are drawn to these distinctions when we travel while a much smaller share is drawn to places that look and feel indistinct or to replicas of where they live.
It is a bit like the difference that distinguishes the small number of executives who are “innovator-deliverers” from the vast majority who, as just “deliverers,” ultimately create stagnation.
In sense-of-place parlance, it is the difference that distinguishes “stayers” who safeguard the communities in which they live from “boomers,” otherwise reasonable people who lacking those sensibilities seem to trample or homogenize it instead.
I’m getting the itch for another cross-country trip with Mugs.