Guerrilla Trail Crew: Tweets, Shovels, and Rides Again
I'll admit, I initially regretted agreeing to help clear off a little-used bike trail in the dead of a record winter on what was an otherwise perfectly good Sunday. “The hardest part of any ride is the first 200 feet,” my fellow Guerrilla Trail Crew member, Scott, later said, and I'm happy to report that he was certainly right.
But how did I go from aggressive loafing to volunteering with the GTC, maintainers of Omaha's bike trails?
Sunday, around noon, an hour before the time I had agreed to become a volunteer shoveler on the Keystone trail, I was sitting on the couch, watching the beginning of the Pats/Ravens game.
Quick sidebar: how do you tell if a sports fan was born in Nebraska, or moved here later in life? Ask them the final score of a professional football game. Any game, regular season or playoffs. The person that stares back at you quizzically like you've just inquired about a Olympic bobsled result is the born and bred Omahan. If they start slurring Suh, Suh, Suh, monosyllabically, then they're from Omaha and deranged. Bonus!
Anyways, Ray Rice ran for an 83 yard touchdown on the Ravens' first offensive play of the game, and I was taking special pleasure in watching Tom Brady struggle. Warm, feasting on a breakfast burrito and copious football, I can't say I was really excited about fulfilling my obligation.
It's not like I was a long-standing member of the Guerilla Trail Crew. Far from it. The day before, I was on Twitter, and saw Scott (@ScottRedd) Tweet:
“I'm thinking of biking stretches of the Keystone and/or Big Papio with a shovel on my back, stopping to clear drifts. Anyone care to join?”
I think my exact response (at least the way I recall it) was:
“I'm a wee, very little bit, sorta interested. What time?”
Before I knew it, a Liberty Bell sized gong was ringing out across the Twitterverse:
“Join @scottredd and @Omaha_NET to help improve cycling conditions on Keystone Trail. Meet at Keystone @ Blondo, 1pm” (said the good people behind @OmahaCyclist).
“Oh no!” I thought “What have I done?”
Me, a humble Yankee patriot, just walking down the colonial streets, when all of the sudden someone thrusts a flag into my hands, and I'm leading the charge, spearheading the Revolution with egg still dripping down my face! (you like how I worked both my Yankees and the hated Patriots into that one? Well I certainly did).
I hardly knew what the GTC was. Later I had Mike D explain it for me:
If all that Twitter talk sounds like mumbo jumbo, don't worry, I completely understand. Not long ago, I thought Twitter was the website people used exclusively to inform the world that their cat had just sneezed. And for some, it still is the primary means of sharing life's extra special moments (“Saw a guy go to catch the bus, and the bus totally didn't stop! Epic Fail!”).
However, Twitter's not all evil, and it's not that hard to use (an @ symbol, for example, represents someone's username). Twitter's a great way for businesses to interact with customers and increase their brand reach. Normal people (i.e. those without an agenda) can use it to get a sense of what news stories are trending toward popularity. Of course, you can use it to connect, too.
My volunteering with the Guerilla Trail Crew represented one of my first Twitter to “Real Life” experiences. We talked about cleaning the Keystone Trail, took that collective desire, and transferred it into positive action. That's the power of Twitter. That, for better or worse, is the strange world of autonomous friendship and passive inter-connectivity we're living in.
With the sun shining for once, and a group of energetic, four-season riders forming a Guerrilla peloton, we set out to finish what the city of Omaha Parks and Rec. started (I think trail clearing falls under their jurisdiction). Without getting too deep into the bikers rights vs. drivers rights plowing argument, we had a grand time.
It is undeniably more fun to bike in a group. Just ask anyone who's ever participated in Critical Mass. And volunteering always gives one a pleasant sense of accomplishment. Shoveling the underpasses, where snow from the roads above tends to accumulate in icy drifts, and some of the other the random unplowed stretches of trail, became a fun project. A real whistle-while-you-work mentality took hold, and the few runner's who stopped to thank us seemed genuinely surprised and grateful.
Were any mountains moved? You be the judge (fast forward to 2:30 for a really cool time lapse video of us at work).The hardcore commuter biking community in Omaha is admittedly a small one, and given the weather, our work could easily melt away soon (which would not bother us in the least I'll have you know).
However, the idea that I left my house in order to support a cause I feel strongly about, biking as a means of transportation, is a nice takeaway for a day's work. The idea that it came about through Twitter frankly tickles me, a feeling I had reserved for the space somewhere between internet dating and online horoscopes.
I recall fondly the first time I met someone in real life whom I had only previoulsy known on the internet (I was a freshman in high school, she was senior, and AOL Instant Messager played matchmaker). I have stayed with foreign families around the world through Couchsurfing. I returned to Omaha from my holiday sojourn through Craigslist's Rideshare service. And I meet up regularly with bloggers thanks to @SiliconPraire forming a chapter on meetup.com for the Omaha Blog Company (which I totally encourage you to come out for!)
Now, I've had my first Twitter-to-Guerilla activism experience. And it felt great.
So what to do with all this fresh info?
Definitely check out Guerilla Trail Crew if you make use of the bike trails of Omaha. Their mandate is to help care for the trails through volunteer activism. They're in the process of incorporating as a 501(c)(3), and would love to acquire donated snow equipment and storage space to help facilitate their work.
Joining Twitter is free. Follow @Omaha_Net, say hi, and tell me what you thought of the story.
If you're intrigued by Twitter, I'm happy to give you my perspective. It's delightfully easy to use yet subtly complex to fully understand as a marketing vehicle. Whether you're a business or just a neighbor, you can Tweet me @jordyclements or jordy [at] omaha [dot] net (send me an email) and I'll be happy to give you my take and help you get started. I also wrote a lengthier post about earning money through Twitter on my blog. Check it out! Enjoy!