Santa trades eight reindeer for two pedals and wheels
Published 9:17 am Friday, December 26, 2014
The people of Carter County may have noticed Santa Claus zooming around town in the past few weeks.
There may have been something different about this Santa scene. He wasn’t in his sleigh.
This time Santa took to the road on two wheels, pedaling his way around the region sharing his Christmas spirit with all he comes across.
Hampton resident Paul Nave has been playing Santa Claus for around 10 years, and took to the streets as the bicycling Santa about eight years ago.
He first took up the Santa costume for the former Ice House Saloon’s Create a Smile program that collected gifts for children in need in Carter County. After that, he has continued to dress as Santa for local nursing homes and for families.
Nave had already been a long-distance bicycler, so making the transition to bicycling Santa was almost an easy one.
“I wondered what it would be like, but I just about never got up the nerve to do it,” Nave said.
There have been some hits and misses for Nave on his experience along the Santa trail. He made his first ride in a professional Santa suit but quickly found that was the wrong route to take.
“It was only 18 degrees that day,” he said. “I was still burning up in that suit. I went out and got a cheaper, thinner suit that I can layer under it as I need to. That works out much better.”
Nave rides four set routes as Santa. He starts from his home in Hampton and will head to Newland, N.C., Bristol, Erwin or to Johnson City and will loop back on the Bristol Highway to Elizabethton.
While Nave is on a mission to spread the Christmas cheer with others, he has just as much fun on his bike rides as the motorists he passes.
“I have a ball,” he said. “The adults get all tickled when they see me, and the kids’ eyes get all big. Most people wave, and are all in the spirit. Elizabethton and Bristol are the best places to ride. People seem to be the most excited here.”
Nave is used to the typical questions he encounters along the road; like if he will take a picture with them? (The answer is yes.) How long it took to grow his beard? (That one is around 10 years.)
Like with the real Santa, all the requests are different. Nave said the “weirdest” request he ever encountered was when a man pulled over to the side of the road and asked Nave to take a picture with a python.
“His kids had asked for a snake for Christmas,” Nave said. “He wanted a picture of me holding the snake so he could show his kids the gift really came from Santa.”
Not every encounter for Santa Nave has been a happy one. He recalled a trip to Roan Mountain that didn’t go as he had planned.
“Three drunks tried to whip old Santa,” he laughed.
Nave said he didn’t realize the men were intoxicated when they stopped on the side of the road. Once he started talking to them and the situation turned threatening, he said he switched sides of the road and pedaled away.
Nave said his longest ride is 5 1/2-hour trip to Newland, mainly because a lot of the traveling is uphill. His rides average more than 50 miles each time he makes one as Santa’s two-wheeled ambassador.
“I’d been doing the long rides before,” he said. “I just added the Santa suit.”
Nave said riding around the region dressed as Santa is something he plans to continue doing for as long as he can.
“It’s become a tradition in a way,” he said. “I enjoy doing it more than anything. It seems to get people really fired up in the Christmas spirit. The closer it gets to Christmas, the more excited people get.”
When Nave is not portraying the bicycling Santa, he visits Roan Highlands Nursing Center. He receives some assistance there from his pets, Kisses the cat and Buttercup the dog. To get in the Christmas spirit, they will also dress as Santa.