Lessons learned on the bike ride to work

For the past two years, I have biked or walked to work almost every single day.

My photographer colleague John McCormick was kind enough to try making me look cool on a bike.

My photographer colleague John McCormick was kind enough to try making me look cool on a bike. I don’t give him much to work with…

One of my favorite aspects of the job at Lynchburg was the possibility of a green commute. My office is just over half a mile from my house, walkable in less than ten minutes. So I walked to work through freshly fallen snow in late February 2015 for my first day on the job. I walked to campus almost every workday until April, when I got my old bike repaired at the LC Bike Shack and started riding to work. I have biked or walked to work more than 400 days since then. When you count multiple trips in a day (because I usually go home for lunch with my family, and I bike back for MBA classes two evenings per week), I’ve biked that half-mile trek well over 1,000 times.

My family has ditched the second car, too, because my wife and I rarely need use of a vehicle at the same time. Consequently, I’ve started biking almost anywhere I need to go within a few miles.

In honor of my recent two-year-anniversary with LC, I decided to write up some life lessons I’ve learned during my carbon-free commute.

1. If you can bike down a hill at 20 miles per hour without pedaling, you’re going to hate going back up.

This lesson comes more from my pre-LC days, when I worked four miles away in a city that definitely fits its “Hill City” nickname. But it’s true here, too. There are several slopes on and around campus that make me wish I could grab hold of a truck’s bumper to hitch a ride up the hill.

Likewise in life, sometimes things seem easy. Enjoy those times, enjoy the breeze and the thrill of accelerating downhill. But remember that you have to climb again eventually. Use the easy moments to rest and rejuvenate, and use the difficult climbs to build your strength.

2. Trust people

When I first started biking to work, I kind of got frustrated when people yielded their right of way to me, such as when someone would arrive at an intersection several seconds before me and would refuse to go through first, even when I would stop my bike and wait.

I joked about needing to wear a sign that says, “In the amount of time it takes for me to start trusting that you won’t race forward and run me over as soon as I breeze through this intersection, you could drive through it five times.”

But I decided the sign would increase wind resistance too much.

People gain my trust much faster now. I approach the intersection, make eye contact with a driver who arrived a few seconds before me, and we have this moment where I know he or she won’t run me over.

So far, so good. Thanks, everyone, for letting me keep my momentum and save some wear on my breaks.

3. Let them laugh

Biking to work (while dressed) for work has nothing to do with looking cool or impressing anybody. I remember biking up College Street one afternoon and hearing laughter from a car where some students were looking at me. I can’t say I blame them. It’s not a usual experience to see someone in business-casual attire zipping around on a bike. I might have even had a binder clip on my pant leg to keep it from snagging on the gears, and perhaps I was wearing some of the zanier socks my mom has given me for Christmas in the past few years. But that’s alright, and I laughed with them.

If biking to work were more common in our society, it wouldn’t look quite so funny. And it could never become more common if those of us who bike to work dropped the habit. If biking to work is possible for you, please consider doing so every now and then. Eventually, we can strengthen the green commute trend.

The same applies to anything else we are doing that stands out from the crowd. You can’t stand out and do something different if you want to blend in and avoid the occasional joke at your expense. Just keep pedaling and moving up the hill.



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Hoarders exist for a reason

About one year ago, my wife started de-cluttering our house. Wedding gifts that we still hadn’t used five years into our marriage went away. Nick knacks went to the garbage. Rarely played board games and the toys our kids didn’t play with often (and the toys that made too much noise) went to live at Goodwill. The items we kept not only had to justify their existence, but they had to fit into an organization system.

After several months, our house felt like it had doubled in size. It was amazing the difference made as we adjusted our habits and learned to let go of things that we “might need someday” despite not needing today.

Still, I don’t judge people who hold on to stuff, especially after I recently learned that people who don’t throw anything away can serve a valuable purpose.

This April 6 marks exactly 100 years since the day the U.S. officially entered World War I. For the upcoming edition of the Lynchburg College Magazine, I wanted to write an article about what life was like at the College during the war. At that time, the institution was named Virginia Christian College and was less than 15 years old.

Yearbook photo of Wilbert H. Norton, Class of 1922

Yearbook photo of Wilbert H. Norton, Class of 1922

Ariel Myers, the archivist in the Knight-Capron Library, helped me find some information in old copies of the yearbook (The Argonaut) and the student newspaper (The Critograph). I learned about an alumnus named Wilbert H. Norton who became one of the College’s first students to serve in the war. But before the war, he won a speech contest with a speech titled, “The Price of Peace.”

What was that speech about? I wondered.

If only I could get my hands on a copy.

Ariel searched the archives to see whether a copy may have been printed in a literary magazine, or stored in a folder somewhere. In the meantime, I searched the College’s alumni directory and discovered that about 30 years after Wilbert H. Norton graduated, another person by the same name earned a degree at Lynchburg College. Naturally I assumed there was some relation. I called the younger Wilbert Norton and asked him. And, sure enough, the speech prize-winning WWI veteran was his father.

The Wilbert “Hank” Norton Jr. told me about his father, who was raised by parents who had little money but managed to put nine of their 11 children through college. “That was unheard of at the time,” said Hank.

Hank Sr. started at the College of William and Mary but transferred to Virginia Christian College, which was more affordable and was affiliated with his faith, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He was wounded multiple times in Europe and received the Purple Heart. After the war, he returned to college (by then it was named Lynchburg College) and later attended law school. He practiced law and served in the state legislature in West Virginia for many years.

Hank Jr. mentioned that he has a copy of the letter that his father wrote when he resigned from a job in order to serve in the Marine Corps. My eyebrows shot upward and the gears in my head turned. If he had a copy of a letter his father wrote 100 years ago, might he have a copy of a speech written not long before?

I mentioned “The Price of Peace,” and Hank Jr. thought about it. “I’ll look for it,” he said.

For the next few days, I got a daily voicemail from Hank Jr. “My brother and I have both seen what you’re looking for, but we haven’t found it yet,” he said.

“My grandson is coming into town this weekend to help us look for it,” he said in another voicemail.

Finally, “We found that document you were looking for.”

price of peaceI called back, excited, and left my fax number. Soon, I had a copy of “The Price of Peace” in my hands. It was an invaluable treasure that added greatly to the article about the impact that the First World War had on students in Lynchburg, Virginia.

I realized that this never would have happened if a family hadn’t held on to these papers for more than a century. If someone had said, “We’ll never need a copy of a speech dad gave in college,” then Hank Sr.’s words would have been lost to history.

I don’t know how much room Hank Jr. has devoted to his father’s documents. But I’m glad that he held onto this speech — as well as many other documents his father amassed in his career as a lawyer and legislator. In fact, I’ve thought about meeting Hank Jr. sometime to digitize the documents and write more about his father’s interesting life.

None of this is an argument de-cluttering or in favor of hoarding. But since one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, I understand that the desire to hold on to something that could be thrown away can sometimes yield tremendous value.

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A Mindful poetry exercise

In high school, I had dreams about engaging in creative writing for a living. I made my own notebook (because what creative genius buys his notebook at the store when he could make one on his own?) and wrote poem after poem. I wrote numerous short stories and started several novels. In college, I wrote my share of research papers, but fiction was my focus. I took classes on short fiction, novel writing, poetry, and creative writing in general.

But then I became a newspaper reporter.

And the muse died.

I quickly learned that although I loved to write, once I was spending my days slaving away in front of a keyboard and monitor, stringing English words together into stories  for 40+ hours per week, the idea of going home and doing the same thing for a few more hours lost its appeal. I would much rather go on a hike, play my guitar, play a game, or read. Even when I did try to write fiction or poetry, I found it difficult to escape the journalistic style of writing which I exercised all week. Other than writing a Christmas play for my church one year and writing one song while wooing the woman who I have now married, my creative ventures were dormant.

So it was surprising when I wrote an entire rough draft of a poem on the spot in the Daura Gallery earlier this week.


Laura Long, an English professor, invited me and John McCormick to come to the Gallery while students in her poetry class were reading poems that they wrote about artwork in Mindful, an exhibition about mental illness by the Society for Contemporary Craft.

I heard some very good poems there. In fact, we are considering using some in a future edition of Lynchburg College Magazine. But I also felt inspired to write a poem about “Oh How I Love You,” a work by artist Grace Kulibius which features figures wrapped in constraining burlap and other cloth. The title reminded me of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet “How do I love thee?” Although Kulubius’ work is actually meant to be a performance art statement about fashion and beauty, thinking about its possible relationship of the art to its title and to mental illness prompted me to open a notebook and scribble down a poem. Professor Long invited me to read it, too. Since then, I’ve expanded it. Here’s the latest draft:

Inside Joke (working title)

How do I love you?
Let me count the ways.
Let me.
Let me!
As long as my arms are bound in rough burlap, tight by my side,
And as long as my face stays wrapped in this shroud, in this cloud,
I cannot count on my fingers, I cannot see to remind me
why I love you so much I cannot let you go so
you can set me free
so you can
let me count the ways
I love you.
They say if you love something, let it go, so I’d like
to let go of you, and you let go of me.
If you come back, you are mine forever. And if I come back to you,
I’m yours to have,
to hold,
to love,
to scold
to fold in rough burlap, and wrap in a shroud
to keep all the thoughts we’d not dare to speak aloud
between us, an inside joke we share, but dare
not laugh about.
But, if I come back to you, and you come back to me,
we belong to each other. Just like we do now.
So why even bother to set me free
so I can see
and count all the ways
I love you?

The poem explores how the art reminds me of a love-hate relationship we might have with a negative aspect of our lives, whether it be mental illness, a weakness, or a relationship. We love familiarity, we fear the unknown, we avoid failure by keeping from giving a wholehearted effort to moving on. So we cling to internal imperfections or problems.

That’s what came to my mind when I thought about “Oh how I love you.”

I hope you’ll go see Mindful in person. It’s on display in the Daura Gallery until December 9.

Bring a notebook. If you feel inspired to write a poem, share it with someone. Share it with me in the comments, if you’d like.


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“I just backed into a Rhino”

The cover of the Fall 2016 Lynchburg College magazine might surprise some recipients. Why are they staring a rhinoceros in the face? And why on the cover of their alma mater’s magazine?


The short story is: 50 years ago a Lynchburg College graduate went on a safari in Africa and donated a bunch of his big game hunting trophies to the college. After years in a basement, this rhino was very dilapidated, but a recent graduate who is a taxidermist repaired the creature last year. In the process, he discovered the fascinating story of the original hunter, who was from his hometown.

The long story…You’ll have to read it. Here.

Desi Justis ’86, ’95 MEd, the science resources manager, told me about the rhino when Nick Shelton ’14 returned it upon finishing the repairs. I knew at once that it was a neat story. Months passed, but finally I was ready to see the rhino, which was then in storage while Desi worked to figure out a permanent home for it. I was impressed with the incredible touch that Nick had applied to restoring beauty to the creature.

I first met the rhino in a storage closet, where it sat on the table. From its shoulders to the horn it is about four feet. Here I climbed a ladder for a rhino selfie.

I first met the rhino in a storage closet, where it sat on the table. From its shoulders to the horn it is about four feet. Here I climbed a ladder for a rhino selfie.

Then Desi gave me all the papers she had about the rhinoceros and Frank Bennett ’32, the alumnus who had hunted the rhino. Then I interviewed both of Frank’s daughters. The more I learned about Frank and his wife, Del, the more I stood in awe. They both grew up in rural, poor communities. Frank had to hunt to put food on his family’s table. They graduated from LC during the depths of the Great Depression. Their education unlocked the door to successful lives of great adventure.

We wanted to capture a dramatic image of the rhinoceros, so we arranged to have the trophy hung in the College Communications and Marketing office one day over the summer.


John McCormick, our talented photographer, hung black paper behind the rhino and then came in at night, when no natural light would be coming into the building. He set up lighting to capture some incredible photos of the rhino.

For months, we thought this “three-quarter” view would be the magazine cover, until Chris Peterson decided to put the straight-on shot on the cover. We liked it too much to ask him to try a different one. Still, this shot is incredible.

The rhino, whom I named Rocksteady, lived in CCM for several weeks. This made for quite a conversation starter. Many people who walked in were startled and even scared by the sight. I can’t blame them.

One day I was moving a table in preparation for a meeting when I felt a rhino horn up against my back. “I just backed into a rhino!” I said, for my first and probably last time ever.

That is the story of how a rhinoceros came to hang on my office wall for half a summer and how the rhinoceros appeared on the cover of the Lynchburg College magazine.

There is another side of the story: Did this selection of the story and the cover image celebrate or glorify big game hunting? More on that in the next BackStory.

Posted in Magazine

Welcome to BackStory

bryan-gentryHey there! I’m Bryan Gentry. Even if we haven’t met in person, there’s a chance that you’ve met some of my writing.

I edit the Lynchburg College Magazine (making me the default author for most of the articles there) and also write most of the news stories on the College website and most of the social media posts that come from the College’s official accounts.

BackStory is my attempt to do three things:

  • First, put an additional human dimension to the telling of the story of Lynchburg College. I hope that by getting to know the storyteller as he continues becoming a Hornet, you’ll get another glimpse of what Lynchburg College is all about.
  • Second, give readers a behind-the-scenes look at the stories we tell. What’s the story behind the story?
  • Third, to set an example. I’m asking more faculty and staff members to be active here in the Red Chair Blogs community. I’ve been taught that you should never ask someone to do something that you are not willing to do yourself. This applies to asking my kids to eat their green vegetables, and it also applies to asking PhDs to write a blog.

This first entry will do more for the first goal. Who is this guy who tells all these stories about Lynchburg College?

I grew up in North Carolina, spent two years in Nevada as a missionary (including several months in Sin City itself), graduated from Southern Virginia University in 2007, and has lived in Lynchburg ever since. After college, I covered business for the Lynchburg News & Advance for three and a half years before becoming a writer for Randolph College for about the same amount of time. I became Lynchburg College’s director of media relations in February 2015.

My hobbies include running, biking, playing guitar, repairing my 90-year-old house, telling bedtime stories to my kids, and ballroom dancing with Becky, my wife.

Oh, and writing. I consider myself lucky to have made a career out of one of my favorite hobbies.

We took this photo with the newly installed LC LOVE sculpture when our youngest child was about six weeks old.

We took this photo with the newly installed LC LOVE sculpture when our youngest child was about six weeks old.

I have always had a great respect for Lynchburg College. When I interviewed here, I mentioned that I feel like every time I turn around in Lynchburg I run into LC alumni whose lives were changed and whose careers were advanced thanks to the education they received here. It’s my pleasure to help tell the stories that make LC what it is.

That’s all for now. It’s a great day to be a Hornet.

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