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Seeing the Unsung: Our "Other" Trail Users


Last week I had the pleasure of attending TEDxMileHigh up in Denver. TEDx events are the regional off shoot of Ted.com, who's tagline is "Ideas Worth Spreading". I've been hooked on watching TED for about 2 years now, so it was sort of a dream come true to be in row 4 of such an event. Bonus: the networking group I started, Denver Young Professionals, was a partner of the event and one of our members....it's founder.


I've been a big fan of TED because it's about thinking big. Big ideas change the world, meetings/committees don't. Someone once said "They never built a statue or a memorial or named a highway after a committee". A true fact if I ever heard one. TED has helped me think a bit further than I did before, to look at problems a bit deeper, to think beyond just the niche you serve and ask harder questions. And it's taught me that in the end, you get stuff done by doing it...not just talking about it. See at TED...you can just have an idea to get up and speak at their talks...you have to actually have done something. Made a difference.


I like that.


That all said, much of what I've watched on TED has been about technology and weird stuff like how the Patriot Act actually caused our current recession or how David Blane figured out how to reconstruct his body to be able to hold his breath for 17 minutes. Yet last Thursday one of the speakers brought worth an idea and thought I didn't expect to come around and smack me in the face.....how often do you look someone in the eye on the street? Or on the corner asking for money? Or for all of us cyclists who use the Sante Fe Trail/Midland Trail/Etc.... How often do you look a homeless person or such riding a beat up old bike with crap zip tied to it in the most non-aerodynamic or functional ways?


If you are like me, you probably didn't notice that SpongeBob zip tied to the left bar end.


Dignity. We all want it. We all need it. Yet as this speaker pointed out to me, we all fail to give it on a regular basis to those unsung wandering our trails and elsewhere. We don't need to give a dollar or go buy them a sandwich. We really just need to make eye contact and smile....remind them that they exist. Remind them they mean something. The speaker went on to say that each time we ignore someone and deny them that right to know they exist, we do more harm than good. We're all human beings...we deserve to at least be recognized. To be seen. 


So I decided to change my policy on my morning rides to do just that. No more head down, pretending to be in some sort of hard core zone (hardcore out of shape is more like it), and pedal a little faster as I run into one of our unsung trail users....I'd at least do what I can to not only see them, but say hello or good morning. And what do you know....it kinda worked. A simple smile, eye contact, and a "hello" goes miles to many of these people. A "good morning" often gets a "good morning" in return along with a smile. Even a simple head with eye contact and a smile is often enough for those of you who really are working out hard with carefully timed inhales and exhales. I dare you all. Try it. Don't ride those trails? Go down there and try it anyway. See what simple human acknowledgement can do for a person.


It has only been a few days since I put this to the test before I was tested to go one step further....actually stop and help. Tuesday morning I saw a guy having issues with his bike. Getting a little closer I could tell it was trying to get his seat height and his seat nose pointed straight forward, it was a struggle for him....though I'd challenge any bike mechanic in town to try to do it while petting his shivering dog in your jacket with one hand and a cigarette in the other. So I stopped and lent a helping hand, said hello, said "let me help ya"...even got him to raise his seat a bit higher telling him "here...raise it a bit more, you'll pedal better this way". He was jittery in a way that is not gotten from a simple cigarette. He wasn't the type many would want to meet in a dark alley. But the smile I saw on his face compared to the look of frustration and anger that was there before,  the way he looked back after he got a few pedal strokes out on a wee better seat height than before and said "yeah this does work better". The speaker at TEDxMileHigh was right....sometimes we just need to acknowledge those we'd never acknowledge.


Brian Gravestock once told me when I started to help with Bike Clinic Too for the Indy Give! Campaign last year that with many of the homeless you are dealing really with the friendless. They have no one in their life. No one cares. That's why he gives bikes unconditionally. To help them take that step forward. The rest of just need to provide smiles now.


Copyright 2011 Front Range Cyclist (www.FrontRangeCyclist.com)

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Comment by Jon Severson on April 20, 2011 at 8:50am
Appreciate the kind words Tim. I dig writing and want to do more of it. Kinda why I'm bugging ya to have coffee. :)
Comment by Tim Bergsten on April 20, 2011 at 7:07am
Thanks, Jon. Good thoughts. Good read.

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