Brotherhood of Bikers: Cyclists Honor Late Friend with Memorial Ride to Snake Mountain

Published Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at 4:40 pm

By Jessica Isaacs | [email protected]

All Photos by Candice Corbin Photography

As summertime settles in the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, hundreds and hundreds of cyclists are preparing for the annual Blood Sweat and Gears bike ride, which will return to the High Country on Saturday, June 25.

If you’re here every summer, chances are you’ve seen the flock of bikers touring the mountain roads at some point. The annual ride draws cycling enthusiasts to the Boone area in massive numbers, and net proceeds from the event are later contributed to local nonprofit charities.

More than 1,400 have signed up to participate in this year’s events, and most have spent the past several months training to prepare for the strenuous 90-mile loop from Valle Crucis up to Snake Mountain and back.

The Brawley Drafters are pictured at a stop in Meat Camp. Candice Corbin Photography.

The Brawley Drafters are pictured at a stop in Meat Camp. Candice Corbin Photography.

One group in particular — a brotherhood of cyclists from Mooresville, North Carolina — rode through the High Country over the weekend on a trip that was about much more than training.

Known as “the Brawley Drafters,” this growing group of cyclists has been participating in BSG events for several years thanks to the encouragement they received from the group’s founder, Tom Rathbun.

After riding BSG for the first time, Rathbun, known lovingly as “T.R.” among the group, encouraged his fellow Drafters to get in on the fun.

“Cycling can be an intimidating sport, especially when you’re new to it. You might be worried that you’re going to get left behind or that you’d have to completely exhaust yourself while the other guys are still having fun,” said BSG Ride Director Scott Nelson. “T.R. would say, ‘Come ride with us. I’ll stay with you. You won’t be left behind.’ He was encouraging and welcoming and he would just say, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,’ to all of the fears and things you were worried about.

The Brawley Drafters are pictured spreading the ashes of their friend, Tom Rathbun, on Snake Mountain. Candice Corbin Photography.

The Brawley Drafters are pictured spreading the ashes of their friend, Tom Rathbun, on Snake Mountain. Candice Corbin Photography.

“He created this brotherhood and he got them all involved in BSG. If anyone was worried about making it through, he’d say, ‘We’ll get through this together.’”

Back in September, Rathbun suffered a heart attack while riding the Blue Ridge Parkway with the Drafters and passed away suddenly.

Rathbun had already expressed to his loved ones that he hoped to have his ashes spread over Snake Mountain, his favorite part of the BSG ride, upon his death; so, his fellow Drafters made a special trip to the High Country on Saturday to do just that.

“Basically, they delivered on his wishes. That’s how much he thought of Snake and BSG,” said Nelson, who, as an honorary member of the Drafters, joined them on the trip. “So, that’s what we did Saturday. Obviously, it was a somber moment, but everyone had a lot of fun sharing stories about T.R. and some of the jokes he liked to tell.”

Local photographer Candice Corbin was along for the ride and captured this special experience for the Drafters. Bagpipe player Fox Kinsman played a rendition of “Amazing Grace” while the Drafters took turns spreading Rathbun’s ashes over his favorite spot on Snake Mountain.

“It was pretty touching. It was a good day,” said Nelson. “Actually, it was a wonderful day. Some people would call it a memorial ride, but I’d call it a celebration of life.”

To learn more about BSG, visit bloodsweatandgears.org.

Enjoy these images from the memorial ride by Candice Corbin Photography:

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