Spokes and Jokes, Maine to Texas

By Dagney C. Ernest | Apr 17, 2013
Photo by: Holly Vanorse Spicer Christopher Quimby will depart from his home in Brooks the end of April, aiming to bike to Texas in eight weeks.

Brooks — Christopher Quimby of Brooks thought he was shaking up his life when, in 2011, he left his full-time job as a graphic designer to become self-employed. But Sunday, April 28, Quimby will set out on an eight-week bike ride to Texas, his family following in a loaned support van, in a real — make that wheel — leap of faith.

“It seems haphazard, but it’s coming together; no question, it’s going to work out,” he said a couple of weeks before departure.

Quimby’s Spokes and Jokes Tour is a mix of biking, comedy and faith, in God and in the capacity of strangers to welcome him and his family into their homes, communities and, about once a week, performance spaces. Quimby, who grew up in the church but said he is not “a churchy guy,” has been doing “clean” comedy, primarily song parodies, since he was a student at Belfast’s old Crosby School. And for even longer, he said, he has felt that he look at the world from an offbeat perspective.

“Comedy’s a very interesting paradigm that way … it allows you to look at life in a different way that keeps people engaged,” Quimby said.

The Spokes element is a more recent passion. Quimby has been biking seriously for about six years, inspired initially by his father’s participation in Trek Across Maine.

“Riding a bike across Maine, that’s insane — who does that? But like with anything, when you start incrementally it’s not so hard,” he said, himself now a veteran of several Treks.

Quimby said he likes bike riding because it enables him to “get away from my context” for a while. He finds he comes up with a lot of good ideas while laying down the miles. And there’s another advantage too.

“I love to eat, but I don’t want to look like it,” he said.

Starting in 1996, when he got married and rededicated his life to God, Quimby began to reconnect with his comedic performance past. Ten years later, he auditioned for and won the opportunity to open for standup comic Brian Regan at the University of Maine. He wrote humor columns for his website — chrisquimby.com — and local newspapers; and made humorous videos, all the while working full-time at the Bangor Daily News. The vision that has led to self-employment and Spokes and Jokes came out of a lot of self-reflection, Quimby said, and he knows that some may think it just a case of mid-life crisis.

“I realized that a lot of the commitments in my life were based on what other people were doing with their lives. I’m a Christian man, but I don’t believe we are here to sit in pews, go to work, make bucks and repeat, until we die and end up in a box,” he said.

Quimby and his family, wife Heather and their two teens, live a couple of miles from Camp Fair Haven, where he will be doing a farewell Spokes and Jokes evening Saturday, April 27. A Fair Haven friend from Texas inspired the coming tour’s destination.

“I did a little comedy at the camp and was a little nervous, especially afterwards when people wanted to talk to me, and he said, you’ve got to make peace with that,” Quimby said.

It was good advice. Quimby realized that comedy “makes me more interesting to the general public” and enables him to connect to people in a real way. It also is something he can do to earn some of his living. The self-employment patchwork he and his family have put together for themselves includes his doing some freelance graphic design work and humor columns; their publishing and distributing “Funnies Extra,” a free, colorful publication with comic strips, puzzles and local ads; and comedy shows which, he has learned, do best when he offers them free, with donations accepted.

“People are completely generous doing that! And it’s a faith thing, opening the bag at the end of the night and seeing what’s there,” he said.

The fact he could make money doing comedy was an important realization. Spokes and Jokes came out of an intriguing what-if question Quimby had asked himself — “What if I dropped down from outer space, what would I do with my life? I can do comedy … and I like biking,” he said.

And people being generous is what is making Spokes and Jokes a reality, from the donated van to the offers of a night’s accommodation; two weeks out, Quimby and his family are all set for the first half of the trip as far as places to stay and perform. Which is pretty amazing, considering he had come up with the idea last summer, started working out the logistics in the fall … and gave up on it completely in December.

“Financially, we were in a tight spot with the self-employment. I’m a husband and a father and said, I’ve got to get a job … and I can’t if I say I have to take three months off next year,” he said.

In January, Quimby and his wife were driving around and she suggested that if he upped the amount of miles he biked every day, the trip would take only two months. They began to rework the budget. There was one catch.

“We had planned to camp at night, but we didn’t have a camper and didn’t have the money to buy one. We just didn’t have much of the means. But people can be very generous if they believe in what you’re doing,” he said.

Scrapping the camper as a necessity opened up a whole new set of possibilities. Someone offered the van. Contacting churches along the route didn’t get any response, but contacting families and friends for lodging has resulted in strangers from all walks of life offering to host the family, one night at a time.

“We decided to proceed ahead and as doors open, others have too, in big ways and small,” he said.

“I’m not naïve, but I think there is a lot of good in people. If I go to someone’s house and they open the fridge and pour me some milk, I feel love. Every week, people hand me a $100 bill or offer something else to help and it’s very humbling. I feel incredible responsibility to be a good steward of their investment,” he said.

Because of the digital technology nature of the family’s self-employment, and because their children are home-schooled (and will be on summer break the second half of the trip), the family will be able to take care of their responsibilities while on the road. The van will not necessarily be right behind, however, so Quimby knows there will be many miles on his own — one reason he has begun to contact bike clubs along the way to invite people to ride along.

“For much of my life, I’ve been intentionally insulated, by design. I realized I was cutting myself off from relating to other people’s experiences,” he said.

His desire to change direction is fueled in part by this realization and by another.

“We are all of us created as unique people, and it’s important to me to serve God in an honorable way,” he said.

Quimby added that this project has been so life-changing thus far that he is a little scared about what comes after. Of course, Spokes and Jokes has some built-in scares of its own.

“I’ve ridden to Freeport, so I know it’s [the daily mileage] possible. But I could get hit by a vehicle or eaten by a dog or lose my health … This is completely insane, let’s just level on that,” he said.

For more information on Spokes & Jokes, including the route still in need of lodging, visit spokesandjokes.com. The April 27 show will start at 7 p.m. at Camp Fair Haven, 81 West Fair Haven Lane. Admission is free with donations accepted.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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