Nickel City Gritty: We Must Dash

How amazing would it to be to be able to travel across the world with some incredible people and have everything taken care of for you from tours to accommodations to transportation?  The definition of worry-free travel.

Well thanks to Brandon & Stephanie Zarbo, this dream is now a reality.  The husband and wife team own their own active travel business called We Must Dash, and they are doing some incredible things.  Brandon & Stephanie take care of absolutely everything that you could think of, and make sure that you will have the time of your life.  All that you need to do is show up and have a blast.

I recently sat down with the duo, and we chatted about travel, music, and everything in between.

This is Nickel City Gritty, and this is Brandon & Stephanie of We Must Dash.

Travel photos c/o We Must Dash

 photo image3-8.jpg

Tell me a little bit about how you started your business.

B:  We were taking our honeymoon and we wanted to spend a good amount of time in Southeast Asia, and I had been doing research about companies such as Contiki and Intrepid Travel, and I was completely dumbfounded at how many people were traveling to Thailand, and we had really fallen in love with the area. Ever since the first time I had been there, I was trying to get people to come with me, and then me and her (Stephanie) went, and we had done about five months in Southeast Asia, and that morphed into us saying, “We’re having our honeymoon, why don’t we just bring a bunch of people to Thailand with us?” I think at the peak we had about 24 people. It went really well, and everyone was raving about it. so we said, let’s just organize it and put the website up, and that’s that!

Describe your style of personality to me.

B:  I am a challenger.  I think that everyone wants to do things, they just need the motivation to do it, so I’m constantly the one to challenge you to do it. Do it, you are gonna enjoy it.  Sometimes people need that little bit of a push. I would say, like, my style is more of a friendly challenge. It’s just the little bit of motivation that you need. I’m super outgoing, really an extrovert. I want everyone to get along with each other and have fun, and this was another reason why this was kind of like, just fell into our laps, I think.  She is very analytical, and that’s not in a negative way, and I’m just jumping off the cliff like let’s do it and we’ll learn as we go.  So mine is leap first then ask questions later.

S:  I think we both are really strong in the mentality of creating fun.  Always trying to find a reason to have fun in any situation you’re in. I feel like it’s taken me a long time to get to the point where I can jump a little more than I used to because I’ve had a lot of loss in my family and learning that, and realizing that at no point is anything going to get worse.  There’s been things in my life that have been the worst situations, and I’ve been able to always come back out of them with growth and a new perspective.  I’m a little bit less scared than I used to be.  The fact that we’re freelancers, never in my life could I imagine this. I would have wanted some kind of safety net to fall back on.  At the end of the day, learning through all of this and the craziness to come out on the other end and say, “We’ll figure it out.”  We’re resourceful and passionate about this and I’d much rather throw my passion into something than wait ten years and go, “What the hell did we do?”

B:  I think that’s why we work well together.  Not just in this business but our relationship has been really strong because I’ve always been the one to be like, well *laughs* I guess peer pressure is a bad word, but in a positive way.  That’s why I say I’m more of a motivator and she’s the one to always take people aside and talk to them, and that’s why I said analytical.  She always more of the friend that you can confide in.  This has kind of been a push with our brand, because we’ve seen other travel companies that are like “Washboard abs! Boobs and butts and look at the beautiful travel!” and we really just want to radiate those friends that you can always confide in no matter what.  We want you to feel ultimately comfortable.  If you ever want to travel, just ask us questions. We just want people to get out there and experience the world.  A smile is the best currency that you can have.

 photo Bangkok 1 of 44.jpg

What is on your playlist?  What do you both love to listen to?

S:  We just started a We Must Dash Spotify actually! We are tailoring it specifically to certain moments in travel.  I’m a big closet EDM fan…that’s pretty much all I listen to.

B:  Yeah, we listen to a lot of Trop House and stuff like that.

S:  That’s the island thing, because immediately for us it’s like we’re back in a villa.  Also, right now, Lord Huron, we could listen to them all day, they’re just great, and easy to listen to.  Not too distracting and great background music.

B:  I just listen to such a wide variety of music.  I’m such a fan of corny 80’s music, though. It’s what I listen to all the time, and she hates it!  I also like to make playlists for every situation I’m in.  So, like, when I’m having some drinks around the fire, I’ll have a mood for that.  When I’m trying to get amped up to go out, I have a mood for that. And then I have one that’s silly when I’m trying to make her laugh.

S:  So yeah, I could listen to EDM at any moment on any day at any circumstance.   And that’s totally a post-cheerleading thing. I would make the mixes for cheerleading and yeah it’s bad sometimes.  Sometimes I’m like, “This makes no sense why I’m listening to this and how it fits this moment.” but it just works.

What is your most memorable or favorite concert you’ve ever been to?

S:  Mine was Edgefest 2006, and we were both in high school, Taking Back Sunday was playing and Anberlin, and it was like my mecca of high school bands, I was so excited.  And he goes, “We’re gonna go backstage!” and I’m like, “Get the hell out of here, who is this dude?” And we ended up watching the show backstage! He literally just walked backstage and was like, “Oh I’m here with the crew.” And they were like, “Okay!”

B:  I had played in bands for a while and all throughout high school, so you just know. It’s just confidence.

S:  So I was thinking, like, what is the worst that could happen? They are going to send me out into the crowd? That’s not even that big of a deal! What did you like, jingle your keys and pretend there was a pass on it?

B:  Yeah, I just grabbed my keys and was like, “Oh here” *waves keys quickly* And I did it so fast so they couldn’t actually see anything.

S:  Yes, we’ve been to some great shows but this was definitely the most memorable.

 photo image3-6.jpg

What were you guys like in high school?

B:  I was a complete spaz.  Just Dr. Detention all the time.

S:  I was a pretty good student! So I was a weird one, because I was an art student, and president of band, and I was also the cheerleading captain.  I could never specialize in something, because I always had my hands in a million different things. And nothing’s changed, because I’m just used to trying a little bit of everything and never excelling at one thing, just always being moderately okay at a lot of things.

If there was a movie about your life, what actor would play the role of you?

S:  I’m trying to think of the person who I most identify with…Ellie Kemper from the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt…I feel like she’d do a good job for me.

B:  Vince Vaughn.  I don’t talk as fast as he does, though.  He’s just somebody who I identify with because he started out by writing his own movie and then he made his own way into the movie world. And he’s a Libertarian too, which I identify with…the only Libertarian in Hollywood pretty much.

 photo Untitled_HDR4a.jpg

What is your spirit animal?

B:  Bald Mothafuckin’ Eagle. *laughs*

S:  You would say that.  I’m starting to think that my dog is.  In a past life I would have said something like a fennec fox, and I don’t really have a reason for that other than I just like them…they’re adorable.

B:  I would say a lion, but that sounds to conceited, so we’ll go with a mountain lion and/or a cougar.  Because I don’t want to call myself a lion, because that’s like, “I’m a fuckin’ lion” and it’s so big headed. It would definitely be a big cat of some sort, because there’s a certain amount of viciousness to them but only when it’s warranted, but then there’s gracefulness to them.

S:  So I think I would probably say a butterfly. I’m fascinated by the caterpillar to butterfly transformation, the whole thing…like I have a butterfly garden and keep the caterpillars and let them go.  And I love the idea that science doesn’t even know  why they shift and how that whole process happens, but they are becoming something else.  And the migration for monarchs blows my mind too, that they just instinctively know.

B:  Just born to travel!

What is the most memorable trip you’ve ever taken?

S:  Our five month trip was out of this world.

B:  Yeah, we did so much in five months.

S:  That was life changing.  I know that for a lot of people that type of experience is not just something that they can do.  But, I shouldn’t even say that.  They think that it’s not possible.  But there are a lot of scenarios that a lot of people could make it work.  That trip just changed our lives.  We lived out of backpacks for five months and the people we met, the experiences we had, we stayed with families and to see how they live on a day to day, it’s just so polar opposite of what we do and the things that we worry about. And after I was overwhelmed just walking into a grocery store.  People don’t have these options.  It really opened my eyes that we have way more control in our lives than we think we do and it really comes down to prioritizing what’s most important.

B:  I think mine was this past trip with everyone, because we were taking such a leap and trying to expose people to something so different.  The Honeymoon trip.  We had a lot of people who meant a lot to us.  I had one of my best friends in my entire life who’s had a lot of shit happen to him and he took a chance to go on this trip, and just seeing how he changed from the first day to the end of the trip.  That happened to a few people.  And it was something coupled with us taking such a chance on kickstarting this business, and using something like our honeymoon, it was very personal, it’s like your time as a couple to go out and do what you want to do, and for us to take a chance and invite all these people.  It could have gone so horribly wrong, or so we thought.  And I think it opened our eyes that this could really work.  We were ready.  This does change people and it really does make people reevaluate themselves.

Where is your happy place?  Where do you go where you need to get away from the craziness?

S:  In a hammock.  It doesn’t even matter where the hammock is.  A house is not a home without a hammock.

B:  I would say the property.  We have property down in the Southern Tier and I could be mowing the lawn and just hang out and watch the dog run around.  Just hanging out and cooking shit over the fire and watching the sunset.  Super duper happy place.

 photo image1-9.jpg

What is your favorite restaurant in the city?

B:  Currently, I’d say Kaydara.

S:  We really love it there.  It’s pho and it’s Vietnamese fusion, so it’s a mix of a bunch of different stuff, so we always go there.  It’s definitely pretty close to what we had in Vietnam.

B:  I would say that’s my favorite place right now. Either that or a fuckin’ taco place like Don Tequila’s or Cantina.  But Kaydara is the number one for now.

My last question that I always ask, because it’s very important.  What do you want to be when you grow up?

B:  I just want to be somebody who motivates people to be who they want to be.  That’s it. As long as I can do that, I just want to be somebody who makes it easier for people to achieve what they want to achieve.

S:  When I actually had to think about it when somebody asked me that after college and stuff, when I was asked what would be my dream job, it was something so lofty like, “Open a summer camp.” I think the about the happiest that I’ve ever been, and not to say summer camp was the end all be all, but as a general statement, all of the different things and activities and the people you are meeting, I think summer camp is a totally underrated thing that now, kids find a million reasons not to do that. That was such a defining part of growing up and learning to appreciate those things and trying stuff that you would never be able to do at home.  So I think we’re on the path for me getting to be what I wanted to be when I grow up…a camp counselor! But just in a very exaggerated form.

 photo Bangkok 73 of 80.jpg


Thank you SO MUCH Brandon & Stephanie for taking time out of your crazy schedules to meet with me.  It was a blast talking with you and I’ll definitely have to take a trip with you soon!

Are you thinking of doing a bit of adventure traveling but don’t know where to start?  Check out We Must Dash and you could find yourself on a trip that will change your life.

Photographer Spotlight: Brandon Lua

The second photographer that I’m spotlighting on my blog (check out my first interview with HERE with Colin Gordon) is a newcomer on the scene.  He’s only been at it for a few months, but he’s already making a name for himself.  I came across Brandon’s Instagram account and knew that I had to do a shoot with him.  We did our session in the Old First Ward, and as you can see from the photos below, this is the exact type of gritty backdrop that I love oh so much.

I got the chance to work with him a second time at a pop-up photo shoot/music/model collaboration party at a local amazing Airbnb.  This party sparked the idea to create Locations…a project between Brandon and two other photographers Ryan Kell (one of my besties!) and Alexis Bandera.  This is a super exciting project that’s totally new to Buffalo and I can’t wait to share more details with you all in an upcoming blog post!

 photo DSC_0657.jpg

 photo DSC_0661.jpg

I sat down with Brandon after our shoot and asked him a few questions about photography and life in Buffalo…here’s what he had to say!

How long have you been doing photography?

I’ve only been shooting for four to five months.  So not too long!

Have you always been interested in photography?

Actually, always.  I grew up, my father was always shooting.  He wasn’t exactly a photographer but he always had a camera on him.  He was shooting me, the surrounding area, his friends.  And then also growing up I had friends who were into photography, and then I kind of always envied them.  But I always felt like I was too old to start, but I don’t know…one day I just finally decided to pick up a camera and just shoot, and then next thing you know I was addicted to it.

 photo 6914C16D-AA64-4DDA-82B3-AE899C345675.jpg

What do you love most about photography?

Oh man…everything.  I like capturing the moment.  I feel like every single time I’m capturing a moment, it helps me remember it.  For example, I was shooting one of my friends Denzel at an event that he threw, and his mentor that flew out from California, a really well known director, was telling a story and I remember him pointing his hand out towards Denzel and I captured that moment, and that’s something that I’ll always remember.

Which do you like more- the photography or editing process?

I like them both equally…wait, actually no. I like photography, capturing the moment more so, because I get to interact with the person and socialize.  It’s just all around fun.  I’m more hands on.

 photo 288C9132-67BE-4A61-A97A-B78DF40406F3.jpg

Do you have a favorite location where you like to shoot?

I do, it’s in front of Shea’s at night.  On Main Street…I love the lights in the background.  I like to work with bokeh.  I love to work with lights a lot.  I like daytime, but at the same time, night time…there’s something about it, it’s kind of mysterious and magical.

Do you have a most memorable photo shoot that you’ve done?

I’ve had some crazy shoots!  I’ve done some pretty explicit stuff before *laughs*  Maybe it’s because I’ve never done stuff like that, it was almost natural, though. I didn’t think anything of it until after.  My absolute favorite moment was shooting my girlfriend.  She never likes taking pictures, but she’s very beautiful.  I somehow convinced her and it ended up being one of my most noticed photo.  It was in front of Shea’s, and it was just perfect, because the snow was falling lightly and she was looking beautiful as always and the light was hitting her perfect.

 photo 3D6465D2-F26F-4267-8400-DD7EB03C8ED3.jpg

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

From my lifestyle…that’s why it’s hard for me to find a niche. My life is very random.  One day I’m doing something that looks very innocent and the next day I’m doing a shoot for a rapper, next day I’m doing something for a model.  Basically, I’m not afraid to do anything, so I just do what I want to do.

What do you love most about living in Buffalo?

Most of my family is here.  I like how the city is in a resurgence and everything is coming back to life.  I like how people are taking something with so much culture and history and bringing something new to it, and not just destroying it.  The food here is so good, too.

 photo 5DE44807-E50D-4939-9CA1-E1FE3E964F59.jpg

What are your favorite local restaurants?

That’s like picking your favorite kid…that’s really hard.  I like Pasion a lot…I’ve been working with them a lot.  It’s Cuban food, and it’s actually my first trying Cuban food and it tastes great.  I also like La Divina. I’m there too much.  They bring something authentic to Buffalo.  They have this drink called horchata which is amazing.  Well, that’s all I got…I guess I only have one kid.  I haven’t been trying many restaurants out recently.

Favorite place to grab a drink?

I like Vera Pizza.  And Pasion, their bar is great.  It depends on the mood I’m in.  I like Vera for original cocktails and Pasion has more tropical drinks.


Thanks so much, Brandon, for sitting down and chatting with me!  I can’t wait to work with you on the upcoming Locations event…it’s going to be a blast!

Also, here’s a bonus shot of the lovely Caralyn and I!

 photo 1890B71F-0BC2-4580-9908-D3CA353E4982.jpg

Photographer Spotlight: Colin Gordon

A few weeks ago, I talked about my love of photography.  Recently, I’ve been very blessed to work with some extremely talented local photographers.  Instead of just compiling some of the photos in a random blog post, I wanted to really showcase these amazing camera magicians.

 photo colin-gordon.jpg
source

The first photographer that I’m going to feature is Colin Gordon.  I’ve known Colin for a few months now, and he is such a genuinely nice person who has a true passion for his craft.  I shot with him a couple weeks ago on an extremely cold and windy day in Allentown, and although the weather conditions were a little rough, the photos turned out phenomenal!

 photo DSC_5233.jpg

 photo DSC_5255.jpg

 photo DSC_5352.jpg

I asked Colin a few questions about his business and life in Buffalo…here’s what he had to say!

How long have you been a professional photographer?
I have been a professional photographer for about a year and a half.

What do you love most about photography?
There are so many things I love about photography that it’s hard to narrow down to just one! First and foremost, I love to create. Secondly, I love technology and computers. Being a photographer lets me justify buying new gadgets haha. Thirdly, making people happy with the images I create is an amazing experience. Not only am I doing what I love, I get to create something special for someone that can never be recreated and that will last forever. It’s honestly pretty surreal sometimes. Also, I love that photography forces me out of my comfort zone. It makes me explore new places and meet new people.

 photo DSC_5306.jpg

 photo DSC_5321.jpg

Do you have a favorite location where you like to shoot?
My favorite location is the spot where I have yet to shoot! But on the realz Italy was amazing…

What’s your most memorable experience as a photographer?
There have been countless memorable experiences as a photographer. In the past year, I would have to say shooting the Shakey Graves concert at Canalside was a highlight. They’re one of my favorite bands and to be able to combine live music and photography is amazing. Two of my favorite things at once!

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
There are many sources that I draw my inspiration from: local and national photographers, tv shows, and my friends and family.

 photo DSC_5520.jpg

 photo DSC_5468.jpg

What do you love most about living and working in Buffalo?
I love living and working in Buffalo because you can feel the energy and excitement of the next generation of businesses and entrepreneurs. All I remember hearing when I was growing up was how terrible things are in Buffalo. Now, things are finally starting to turn around and it’s cool to watch it happen. It gives me hope for the future.

Favorite local restaurant and/or bar?
Too hard to pick only one haha. Here’s my top 5: Saigon Cafe, La Divina, Black Sheep, Mothers, and LLoyd (trucks and factory).

 photo DSC_5544.jpg

 photo DSC_5534.jpg

Are there any locations in Buffalo where you would love to shoot but haven’t yet?
Yes! I want to shoot on top of one of the grain elevators. I’ve explored so many of them but have yet to get to the roof. I’ve seen other local photogs do it so there must be a way!

What’s on your playlist- what do you listen to while you are editing photos?
My taste in music is all over the place. I love house and techno but I also listen to a smorgasbord of bands. My most recently played bands on Spotify are: The Decemberists, The Head and the Heart, Odesza, Pinegrove, Ugly Casanova, Modest Mouse, Shakey Graves, Alt-j, and Vampire Weekend.


Thank you SO MUCH Colin for shooting with me!  I had a blast!!  Make sure to follow Colin on Instagram for your daily dose of gorgeous photography inspiration.

Tower of Power

 photo IMG_8310.jpg

With a name like Tower of Power, you know it’s gonna be good…

 photo IMG_8305.jpg

Check out Team Razor Wire‘s new mural, Tower of Power!  This beauty is located on the side of a building on Halbert Street near the Tri-Main Building in Buffalo.

 photo IMG_8319.jpg

Chris Kameck and Nick Miller, the team behind Razor Wire, are masters at geometry.  This is the fifth installment of the groups’ Advantageous Geometry Series.  I have one of their pieces from the Echo Art Fair listed on my Buffalo Public Art page.  Stay on the look out for a few more featured here  🙂

 photo IMG_8306.jpg

They are all about bringing a little bit of color to neighborhoods around the city that otherwise wouldn’t receive the attention they deserve.  With eye catching pieces like this, Razor Wire is definitely beautifying Buffalo, one building at a time.

 photo IMG_8307.jpg

Find the exact location of this piece, as well as other gorgeous murals around WNY on my Buffalo Public Art page!

 photo IMG_8313.jpg

Rubber Ducky, You’re The One…

 photo 9968CF97-78F1-4849-814B-88D10AE282A9.jpg

So, yeah. That’s a big duck, right?

 photo 9578E542-F5A2-4F51-886D-831B27BC6BDE.jpg

It’s a 61-foot tall duck, to be exact.

 photo 6EE3862B-3842-4849-8FB0-D96924CC3941.jpg

The World’s Largest Rubber Duck made its appearance this past weekend at Canalside, and it was quite the exciting thing. It’s not every day that you see a gigantic duck floating feet away from you.

 photo CB16E5AE-1776-45A9-9252-964F7EF1798B.jpg

Of course I had to stop down and see the duck on Sunday, and it was complete madness. So I just took my cliche duck selfie and went on my way. It was pretty cool to see, though!

 photo 017BE918-46D0-4E3C-849B-FCD3829BFCC4.jpg

It looks like the duck will be in Erie, PA in September. If you get the chance, definitely check it out!

 photo CBC440A7-3FA1-467D-85D5-3B82D6D1CEC1.jpg

Inspiration, Devotion and Closure…The Empire State Ride

At the beginning of this month, my husband took part in the Empire State Ride, a 532 mile cycling trek from New York City to Niagara Falls over 7 days.  The purpose of this ride was to raise funds for cancer research at Roswell Park.  This cause is especially near and dear to us now more than ever, since his mother passed away in April from breast cancer.  He wrote this essay detailing his ride experience, and I wanted to share it with all of you.  These are his words and photos.

By: Guest Blogger Nicholas Robson

It was Saturday about 7 o’clock in the morning. The weather was drizzly and dismal with rain in the near forecast. My wife and in-laws accompanied me with coffee in hand where we would meet my father and I would eventually board a bus New York City bound. As we arrive and cross the street with the bus in view at Roswell Park, everyone’s facial expression portrayed happiness and joy. I keep quiet and walk with my family as I cross the street in front of the main entrance feeling a massive wave of emotion reliving these visits with mother not so long ago. The man with the umbrella is my father and he is in his glory being the social butterfly that he is mingling with staff. I am quickly introduced to a few people and recognize a few of the riders from the Facebook group. The intent is that a group of people from across the United States have registered for The Empire State Ride, a 500 + mile journey on bicycles from New York City to Niagara Falls in order to raise funds for cancer research at Roswell Park.

 photo image4.jpg

I made the decision to tackle this ride in late April of this year soon after the passing of my Mother. She had her second battle with breast cancer over the past year and a half. I humored the idea as an avid cyclist, mostly motivated by fitness and fun surrounded by spin class, commuting, and single track mountain biking. However, I lacked two of the essentials: a road bike and the confidence to raise the funds for such an admirable cause. Optimism is my wife, Lindsay’s, dominant trait- when it rains she sees fresh flowers growing, crops ripening, and looks for a rainbow. The fundraising component was in her wheel house. My mother-in-law and Lindsay quickly tackled this and eventually met and exceeded the minimum fundraising amount upwards of around $5,800.00. All that was left up to me was to get a bike and continue training. I purchased a bike and began riding a minimum of five days a week. Whether it was a 65 mile ride or century ride, I became competitive with myself and began perfecting my form, times, monitoring heart rates, and cadence. I was committed and looked forward to my routine on two wheels…it was an escape…it was solitude…and a time for me to reflect and accept…or at least I thought.

 photo image2.jpg

My family departed and we were quickly on our way to City College in New York City. After about 10 minutes on the shuttle I realized that I was with a group of riders, some knowing one another, others coming with friends, and some in the same boat as I was…solo. Either way, every person had the same goal in mind- ride bikes and raise money for the cause. Throughout the trip into NYC I conversed with a few folks discussing everything from sailing, to the rough ride, and the gas station lunch selection…never scratching the surface of why…why are you doing the ride? Why am I doing the ride? After the stagecoach simulated ride to City College we were directed to a college gymnasium with a woodchuck look-alike mascot painted on the wall. There where we would find our bikes and check-in materials. After getting the essentials and confirming our bike status with Don, the head guru mechanic, I was quickly swept up by a part of the Roswell media staff Tony. Tony was one of the essential components in documenting this journey and individual stories of the riders. He was quick to ask me for an interview and with the microphone in place he began asking questions. I had no idea of what to expect. It all was happening so fast, so systematically, and with such fluidity. The questions started to flow, and the answers came like a middle school rehearsed choral performance until I was faced with “Why are you doing this?”, “What do you think?” and “What do you think your mother would say?” Confident in the beginning, quickly becoming naive and not wanting to show emotion, I think I may have choked a bit. I realized I was by myself, the usual Nicholas approach on dealing with life’s situations, but this time it wasn’t ok…I had unsettled business…I was here to help, to make a difference. Photos were taken and we were directed to our dorm rooms and given time for dinner. The dinner was catered by an amazing little company, Two Trees, serving up a fantastic cuisine. There we socialized as I plugged into a table with what appeared to be a group of folks that seemed comfortable to me. I peeked over my left shoulder scanning the clientele noticing two gentlemen I had exchanged words with previously on the FB page. Once dinner wrapped up we began mingling, much like the halls the first day of school where everyone finds their cliques. I introduced myself to several riders and was surprised at how welcoming and interested in one another everyone was. The two gentlemen I spoke to online, one coming from Chicago and the other making a flight from Florida, quickly recruited another rider from the Syracuse area and as a father-son duo from Western New York. We sat through our introduction session or orientation put on by BIKEternity. I finally learned what the term “fully supported ride” meant. The staff ranged from Sweet Sue, who was more like the “Mom” of the event, to the two brothers that could tackle just about any problem we encountered, an amazing bike mechanic, a route marker, Ray the head honcho, the luggage handler, a camp crew handling tent and accommodation set up, and Roswell Park support staff. After the intro we linked up with who we would want to leave with in the morning. The specifics were handled and celebratory beer was had, and we made our way back to the dorms where we’d be staying for the evening. I was en route when I met a woman, one of the riders, and began discussing our connection for being here. She was full of spirit, joy, and to my surprise was currently enduring treatment for her cancer. I realized this was nothing I had anticipated, although I wasn’t exactly sure of what to expect to begin with. 7:00 am was coming quickly, the forecast didn’t look promising but we had a ride ahead of us in the near morning.

 photo image3.jpg

The dismal morning was lit full of elated faces ready to cruise out of the city over the George Washington bridge, through the Palisades Park, into Nyack Beach State Park, along the coast through Piermont and eventually into Rockland county where we would find camp for the evening. All of this while climbing 2,757 feet of elevation through torrential downpours. The smiles, laughs, excitement, and drive were an umbrella to the weather we were experiencing. Our six man team rode like seasoned vets, cautiously never leaving one another behind, calling out road obstructions, turns, speeds, and checking on others throughout our route. In route we picked up another rider, this one from New Jersey, and his connection was simple: “I am in good health and if I can help I will.” Camp was wet but tents were dry and spirits were flying higher than the George Washington Bridge we rode across earlier that day. That evening we shared laughs, some cold brews, an amazing meal, and enjoyed a live band. Our nightly route meetings quickly became routine for the next six days discussing our travels for the upcoming morning. We settled into bed tossing and turning filled with excitement and anticipation of what was to come.

The second day our small group left out after breakfast insisting to one another that we would take a “slow roll” out. Leaving camp was a heavy climb, but legs got warm and we immediately took peloton formation taking turns pulling and switching off drafts keeping our pace from 15mph to the mid 20’s. The “slow roll” idea clearly went out the window. The rain had to persist throughout the day, however, the rolling hills along the Hudson Valley, crossing Bear Mountain Bridge and its climb, through the Dutchess Rail Trail, Mills Mansion, and the winding country roads never ceased to amaze us. The fawns feeding meadow side, flocks of turkey pecking along road side, bald eagles soaring overhead, and the pleasant locals kept us company along the way, climbing an elevation of 3,548 feet until we hit camp in Stony Point for the evening. It was during this time we picked up yet another rider to our group while we passed him calling us “pansy asses” on our 20 mph peloton. How could we not slow down and add another component of humor to our group? We were in for it- what an amazing man full of such heart. As a group we shared more about one another finding our connections to the ride, our cycling background, family, friends, careers, and the list goes on. One thing was for sure, we were having a blast…telling jokes, being amused by scenery, busting each other’s chops, and quickly recruiting another rider to our “not so slow roll.” It was throughout this day I began to think of my mother often and in some way comparing my story to other stories, other survivors, and others continuing treatment. I was having mechanical issues not allowing me to get into the gears I needed for climbs, but rather than back down, I pushed past the pain and muscle fatigue forcing the big ring pedal by pedal up to the third rest stop. It gave me a chance to view and converse with others along the way. It was motivating and inspiring to see people take such control of their lives and to be so deliberate with their intentions. After recently testing positive for the BRCA 2 gene and currently being around the age I’ve previously lost family members to cancer from, I wondered if I could be in the same situation. My wonder was easily inspired by having conversations with 65 year old cyclists pushing though these hills and rain, watching the girl power bond among a few female survivors, a woman who was celebrating 5 years of being leukemia free and never stopped smiling, watching one of the strongest women I now am proud to call a friend overcome a tragic loss of her husband that occurred back home while she was on the ride the previous year, and a young man scattering his friend’s ashes along the way. Every evening I looked forward to hearing from my wife and how her day went, as well as what she was doing as a solo artist with two furry companions by her side back home. I called my father every night and checked up on him. I was worried about him as I was not there by his side. I knew leaving for seven days wasn’t going to be easy for me…leaving my wife, the dogs, my father, brothers, and in-laws. The anxiety set in just in time for bed but the excitement and inspiration I received from my fellow riders that I now call family had me eager for sunrise.

 photo image1.jpg

In the following days to come our mornings began with protein based breakfasts, bike PM’s, and evenings followed with delicious cuisines full of salmon, curried chicken, cod, fish tacos, and steak with a variety of sides stemming from beans and rice to roasted brussel sprouts wrapped up with the decadence of strawberry shortcake or the bountiful berry of a pie. I, as well as the majority of people, enjoyed checking their Facebook status and viewing what their significant others had posted about them. It was on day 3 traveling out of the Hudson, onto Shodack Island, into Albany past the Capitol building, winding up in frosty acres Camp Ground in Duanesburg, NY where something happened…this ride began to make more sense than anything ever had in my life. We were running our usual 18mph peloton when I saw a coopers hawk. It wasn’t the first that sailed above, but I pointed it out to my “squad” (the locals deemed us that in Albany), quickly explaining that I was bird geek and that mother and grandmother loved birds as well. It was interesting how these hawks would remain with us along the way. I became somewhat emotional, but as usual Nicholas practice I wanted to just be alone as I don’t often talk about things that possibly upset me and would prefer to handle it on my own knowing that it’s not always the best idea. This resulted in a break away from the pack ranging into the high 20’s. After a few miles I looked back and at quick glance my seven man peloton was right on my wheel asking me humorously why I just flew away. Eventually I tried to drop back and found them lagging behind with me. I realized that I wasn’t going to be left alone; they knew…they knew better than I, as I carried the corsage I wore on the day of mother’s funeral in the middle of my jersey pocket daily…I wasn’t over anything, In fact, it was just starting. Up to this point I kept myself so busy with everyone else and their wellbeing that I didn’t want to feel it. My new family of riders knew it and were there for me, they wanted me to go through this process with their support. We were there for one another no matter what terrain lay ahead. That evening we faced a grueling climb into camp, beautiful but an epic feat. Camp stood at 4,047 feet in elevation. It was unbelievable the level of emotion, tears, and laughs that could be heard 500 yards away as we rode up the winding roads into camp. Being greeted with a big hug and yelling “I can’t believe you did it!” followed with a fellow member handing you a cold beer. We waited as staff went out searching for the arrival of one of our riders pushing through the dusk into the dark eventually arriving being greeted by a parade of riders following him into camp on foot. That evening was filled with tears, and a few laughs as our group quickly became known for their sense of humor, and a bonfire accompanied with s’mores. This is consistent with the days to follow traveling from Albany to Utica along the Mohawk River climbing 2,884 feet in elevation- taking a breezy ride on the flats along Oneida Lake, crossing the Seneca River, heading into Baldwinsville, and ending in River Forest Park in Weedsport. The heat was a bit overwhelming and although our group moves quickly, we took a few detours stopping at local diners for 10 cent coffee, mingling with locals, and having a few frosty beverages a mile outside of camp enjoying each other’s company. That evening at dinner the founder of our ride suggested we share out our feelings and thoughts thus far…sitting with my crew as usual I knew they were probably pondering the idea that I may get up, catching them look at me occasionally. After listening to a few riders speak of their tragic loss of loved ones or the positive vibes and connections of riders, I bowed my head and hunkered down…I couldn’t do it…not without getting upset…and anyone that knows me knows it’s something I’m not comfortable doing in front of people, but who is. At that moment, one of my fellow riders, family at this point, turns and holds onto me tightly forcing my head into his shoulder for several minutes as another member placed his hand firmly on my back, both of our shoulders tear soaked, and the rest of my family of riders heads bowed with emotion rolling strong. I wish I could have said something, but we all knew. That evening we rolled up to a local restaurant and bar inside the campgrounds where we enjoyed the awkward jukebox play list ranging from R Kelly to Prince. I’m sure the local company was intrigued by having new life survey their town.

 photo image5.jpg

The next day the “slow rollers” made their way through the trails along the Finger Lakes into the city of Rochester into Spencerport, concluding the evening at the Genesee Brew House for snacks and beverages accompanied with some competitive games of Jenga and corn hole. We were quickly off to bed and surprised by an incredible storm filled with lightning, flood status rain showers, and unreal winds. This was our last day, our last ride together, and although we made an agreement to stay in touch, to be a part of one another’s lives from here on out, it was concluding rapidly. We swore to slow roll out and that quickly ended with a 21mph chase for the first 10 miles or so…eventually kicking it down a notch. We came across some other riders who were struggling along the way due to fatigue. We decided to do a big pull creating a two by two rolling line to break the wind and create easy drafts to follow. We had to finish together, and to support one another. We stopped for photos, coffee and slushies along the way. The smiles were ear to ear and eventually the tears of joy flowed like the Falls we were approaching, being greeted by the riders and Terry, the founder of this ride, with open arms knowing I may need it repeating, “Ohh Nicholas, Your mom is proud of you and she is looking down on you” with our emotions flowing. I needed it. At the staging point a few miles from the Falls we met as a group and configured our ride in, of course our eight man squad stuck together, survivors rode up front, and we held strong through it all. I was so eager to see my wife- her smile, laugh, and look of excitement was all I needed. My Father was there with my in-laws by his side holding signs “NYC-NF, piece of cake”,”Welcome Home!” , “You Did It!”, and “If Britney Spears can survive 2007 you can survive 500+ miles over 7 days”. My little brother showed up proud as a peacock and ready for the stories. To watch my fellow rider’s families greet them and to see how much we all missed each other was such a joy. Several of us rendezvous at a local brewery that evening where my other brother showed up and several other family members joined in the festivities. More goodbyes were said…knowing that it won’t be long before our paths cross.

 photo image6.jpg

There were flats, crashes, mechanical issues, weather to be dealt with, getting lost, hills to climb, feelings and emotions to accept, stories to be shared, and families formed, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I could not have gained from this trip what I did if it wasn’t for those I shared it with. They are essential components to the road in my life that lies ahead. I look forward to sharing our rides as well as everyday meanderings in our daily grind. This ride encompasses inspiration, devotion, and closure…after all we just laughed from our hearts, cried from our souls, and rode bikes in between.

Art Alley

 photo 977F0CCD-DBE9-40A3-803A-A1692AF1D23E.jpg

Something exciting is happening in Niagara Falls, and it’s centered around the art community.

 photo 45CD1048-F430-4E09-B340-2C94682A155C.jpg

Several different artists have been gathered together to create a public art project known as Art Alley. Art Alley is located in an alleyway off of Third Street in Niagara Falls.

 photo 0F27DB55-5935-48F1-BAF7-2D936FB42988.jpg

As a lover of public artwork, I had to visit the site and look at the progress.  And when I say “visit the site,” I actually mean that I maybe possibly squeezed through a fence just so I could snap some photos.  It looks absolutely amazing so far!

 photo 91259123-59D3-451B-B883-65796BC7983B.jpg

 photo D256FB3F-3D17-4BEE-88F5-796582833C8F.jpg

When the space is finished, it is planned to be a hub for different events and activities. I couldn’t think of a better use for a space than this.

 photo B1F81833-2422-42A9-A3B6-AA58A1378EF9.jpg

 photo 1E6C487A-5CAF-4B7B-9EB5-1E60A67F5250.jpg

Some of the artists include Fritz Proctor, Kyle Baillargeon, Tricia Butski, AJ Fries, Brandon Celi, Tom Holt, Chuck Tingley, Tara Marie Mitravitch; Madonna Pannell, Jesse Mank and Rick Nickel. (source)

 photo EBC6A57C-1804-46E7-958B-D980BFADC035.jpg

If you are in the area, I highly recommend driving by and checking it out!  But I don’t  highly recommend squeezing through the fence…that might be a bit frowned upon.