A scene in Garden Plain, Illinois, as painted by Bruce Morser (top) and Bob Horsley (bottom) on their cross-country bike trip this past summer. (Courtesy Photos)

Islanders will talk about once-in-a-lifetime bike trip, show their art

It’s been written about in the paper. It’s been talked about on the radio. And on Sunday, Vashon Center for the Arts will offer an opportunity to hear from islanders Bruce Morser and Bob Horsley themselves about their recent cross-country bike trip. The 108 watercolor paintings the pair completed to document the adventure will also be on display.

“On the Road with Bruce Morser and Bob Horsley,” part of VCA’s Arts and Humanities Lecture Series, will see the friends recount their experiences and perspectives riding coast-to-coast over 4,000 miles across 13 states — and, apparently, through 410 towns.

“You counted?” Horsley asked Morser .

“Yes I did,” Morser replied, with a matter-of-factness that caused Horsley to smile.

It is this camaraderie, much like the easy familiarity of a long-married couple, combined with good humor, authenticity and a humble, but intuitive knack for storytelling, that make their tale so engaging. That and the fact that they made a commitment to each complete a watercolor painting every day of the trip — Instagram, shminstagram — a commitment that, one could say astoundingly, given physical and environmental conditions, they fulfilled with only a few exceptions.

Both men, artists by trade and hobby, noted that it is not unusual for either of them to create art while traveling.

“Everyone was asking us if we were going to blog,” Morser said. “But neither of us are really … ‘bloggers.’”

“This just felt like a great way to document the trip,” Horsley added.

The journey was a long thought and talked about adventure for the friends of 30 years, and the timing this past summer seemed to lend itself to an exploration of this country’s humanity, as much as it was a physical and artistic challenge to meet.

One of the first things they learned quickly was that the best way to meet people, get to know a place and start conversations was to eat at “mom-and-pop” type restaurants or taverns.

“We’d ride through all these really small towns,” Horsley said, “far off the main arterials, and look for the places where all the cars were. That’s where we’d go to eat or have a drink.”

“Eventually, someone would always come over and ask us what we were doing,” Morser added. “Then the word would spread. We had a huge variety of small conversations. There was this feeling that we met America.”

“And no one talked about politics,” Horsley interjected.

“Which was a relief,” Morser continued. “We got the sense that people really cared and wanted to know us. It left me feeling very optimistic about the world. ”

Both in their 60s, they acknowledge that their age might have been a factor in their positive experiences.

“When people approached us … they realized we were traveling and exposed. Not a threat. I think if we were younger, that would have been different,” Horsley said.

Their artistic endeavors were also a key to their interactions with the people they met along the way.

“It was a great way to start conversations, people wanted to look through our (painting) books,” Morser said.

“Remember … it was somewhere in the Midwest, and we stopped to paint, camped out under a stop sign?” Horsley prompted Morser. “This lady walked by, incredulous, and then all of the neighbors started coming over.” Both men laughed at the memory.

“Sometimes it was glorious,” Morser added, “just popping our little folding chairs up in a farmer’s field somewhere to paint, with our bike helmets on. We must have looked ridiculous, but it was glorious.”

Many of the paintings, though not all of them, were of the same scene, just from the artists’ different perspectives, and all will be on display in the lobby at VCA during the talk.

“On the Road with Bruce Morser and Bob Horsley” takes place at 6 p.m. Sunday at VCA’s Kay White Hall. Tickets for the talk cost $20 for general admission, $18 for seniors and $16 for VCA members and students. The artwork display will be free to view.

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