Many of us, in our day-to-day lives, merely go through the motions. Nearly all of us are guilty of this. We drive to work, seeing the same streets signs and the same man walking his Golden Retriever by Starbucks at 7:32am. But rarely, through all of this, are we taking the time to experience the world around us. We all have places to be, but perhaps we should slow down a bit. Here to assist the community of Champaign-Urbana in taking a step back to really look at their surroundings and the space around them is Neutral Cycle who will be hosting their Tour de Fruit, Round II event this Saturday, July 9 from 3-6pm beginning at Neutral Cycle in Champaign.

Neutral Cycle began its Tour de Fruit (TdF) series earlier this season with Tour de Fruit, Round I. The series was inspired and designed, in part, by JP Goguen who says the aim of Tour de Fruit is to create, “events and projects promoting bike culture and a sense of place,” for the citizens of Champaign-Urbana. TdF allows its bikers to develop a sense of place by giving them an environment and space in which they can “explore the natural landscape,” says Sarah Powers, Neutral Cycle’s Marketing Director.

Goguen’s goal, as the designer and leader of the bike rides, is to expand our understanding of the native and natural world around us, he told me. The first TdF bike ride was 4 miles in length, with stops to learn about mulberries and serviceberries that grow in the Champaign-Urbana and the surrounding areas. Goguen enjoys using the bike rides as an opportunity to introduce individuals to "C-U's wild food landscape." TdF is not just about learning and seeing though, it’s about experiencing. By picking these wild plants and tasting them, in addition to learning how to identify them, TdF bikers become empowered by what they learn, says Powers. The knowledge gained at TdF becomes knowledge that can be used at any point in the future as attendees see what the natural world of C-U has to offer, what the original settlers of Champaign-Urbana saw and recognized as valuable when they decided to root themselves here years ago.

Overall, Tour de Fruit, Round I was much more modest than the upcoming event. Tour de Fruit, Round II’s ride will be much longer, around 13 miles, and feature more topics of discussion. Bikers can expect to learn about cane berries and currants that grow naturally in Champaign-Urbana. In addition, there will be opportunities to learn about autumn olives, medicinal flowers, fabric dying, and more at various stops and breaks along the bike route.

The overarching theme of TdF, Round II will be area forests. The ride’s route will take bikers by Busey Woods and Brownfield Woods, before stopping at Green Island Farm Collective (shown as Tiny Greens on the bike route map) for a plant walk. This is in an effort to expose TdF bikers to different degrees of forest restortation. On one end of the spectrum, there is Brownfield Woods, an unlogged forest. Busey Woods, on the other hand, is an example of an attempt to purposefully restore a native forest. The forest at Green Island Farm Collective lies at the other end of the spectrum as a forest made up of native and invasive species left to grow and develop freely. As bikers see the progression of each of these area forests they’ll learn about what makes each unique before taking the opportunity to forage at Tiny Greens Organic Farm. 

The “Aha moments” are great, says Goguen, but what really seems to make these events special for Goguen and Powers are their ability to bring people together. About 50 people took part in Tour de Fruit, Part I. And they weren’t all just hippie, foraging bicyclists. Young people, older people, and families turned out to make the event a cross-generational experience that brought people together over the landscape around them.

The diversity of people is also a reason that biking is important to the event. Biking, as an eco-conscious form of transportation, is not only complimentary to the message that individuals learn about and be aware of the environment around them, but a way for people to become more connected. It would be entirely possible for everyone to drive in their cars to meet up at each of the TdF stops, but as Powers said, driving would be isolating. Biking together creates a sense of unity, as people engage in a trek together, as well as allows different groups of people to meander and converse easily as they journey together.

All in all, TdF is full of experiences from which we can all stand to benefit. I’m sure we could all get out and exercise more (even if it is leisurely). We should all pause to take a look at what’s around us. If you need any more motivation to get out and bike with Neutral Cycle, this event is also free. Tour de Fruit, Round II will take place from 3-6pm this Saturday, July 9. You can start at the beginning of the route, or join up in the middle, just make sure you apply sunscreen and bring lots of water. This TdF event will end with a dessert made from foraged fruits at the Red Herring.

If you cannot make it to TdF, Round II, stay tuned for upcoming events in the TdF series.

A map featuring the route and stops of Tour de Fruit, Round II can be found here.

If you would like to donate to make future TdF events possible, you can reach out to Neutral Cycle’s Marketing Director, Sarah Powers.

Photos courtesy of Neutral Cycle.