I met Bob Ruck some time in the 1970s. He had moved from Sturgeon Bay to Middleton WI to be closer to civilization. He made guitars, which he could do anywhere but he said he stayed in the middle of the country for shipping purposes. He later figured out that UPS would ship from anywhere so he moved to Kauai, then Bainbridge Island, WA, and finally to Eugene, OR.
Bob and I studied and taught Tai Chi together (along with another founder of the half-fast cycling club). One day he came to the rest of the teachers in our school and told us he’d met this great new teacher at a workshop in Arkansas, and could we bring him to our school for a workshop? That began my study with Peter Ralston, whose blog appears in my blogroll.
I moved to San Francisco in 1984 and studied with Peter in Oakland. Bob would occasionally fly in for a workshop. We’d go to dinner together and he would joke that, as long as one of us said the word “guitar” during the meal, he could buy my dinner and put it on his expense account.
I visited Bob at his home on Bainbridge Island and he showed me his workshop and the tonewoods he was ageing. He showed me the new design he was now building, with sound ports in the upper bout for better volume.
It was only many years later that I realized that Ruck guitars are among the most sought-after in the world. His waiting list was closed for years, as he had more orders than he could fill. The wait was ten years. His guitars sold in shops routinely for more than he charged for them.
I haven’t seen him since I found out how famous he was. He was just Bob, the guy who hosted the massive dinner our Tai Chi school had when our teacher came up from Chicago, the guy I taught classes with. It was at Bob’s house that I ate a duck embryo. Our teacher, the late Domingo Tiu, was born in China and raised in the Phillippines. Duck embryo (balut) is a common street food in the Phillippines. Domingo told us it was meant to be consumed with beer. He talked of hot nights sitting out on the front porch, sipping a beer, and buying balut from a street vendor. We didn’t sit on the porch, but we had our embryos with beer.
Manuel Barrueco, a Cuban guitarist and teacher at the Peabody Institute, plays a Ruck guitar, number 58. It is the subject of a coffee table book, featuring interviews with Barrueco and Ruck, and detailed photos of the guitar, which Robert made in 1972. It was an experiment, but Barrueco fell in love with it and wanted to buy it. While he is said to be using a newer guitar in concert, he continues to record on the Ruck.
Bob died on August 13 of 2018; the day we rode from Lake Placid to Plattsburg, NY. It was a beautiful morning as we soared down the sweeping turns descending from the Adirondacks.
There was no soaring today; but I did get to find out that my new winter boots work in the cold. It was -14 degrees this morning as I rode home after dropping the car for repairs. By the afternoon it had warmed to +14, but the wind had kicked up to 14 mph. It was a symmetrical sort of day. I was only slightly overdressed. My feet stayed warm.
When I was a kid we looked forward to the arrival of the big mail-order catalogs from Sears and Spiegel. We referred to them as “wish books” and pored over them to figure out what Christmas gifts to ask for.
Nowadays (I never thought I’d be using that word) catalogs seem to arrive on a daily basis. Some companies (you know who you are) send catalogs every week.
I was looking for a suitable image (hoping to find a Norman Rockwell-esque image of kids lying prone on the floor, feet in the air, looking at a catalog) to go with this thought but, instead, came across the gift I wanted for years and never got (and it’s not a Daisy Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle). It was a fake car dashboard so I could pretend to drive – one with working horn, turn signals, and windshield wipers. My parents thought it inappropriate. Kids shouldn’t drive ’til they’re 16, and driving is not a game, but to be taken seriously. Funny that I hardly ever drive now.
Anyway, last week I found myself looking, not through Christmas catalogs, but through listings for cross-state bike tours. While I know it will be years (if ever) before I can ride across the country again, maybe a state or two would suffice. A couple of riders from the Twin Cities last summer wore a variety of jerseys from South Dakota rides. South Dakota had some great riding, so I’m looking there. (Greg and Dawn, if you’re reading this, tell me what you think of some of those rides. Or were all your jerseys from Nebraska? You’ll have to do some fast talking to convince me to join you for that one.) The Finger Lakes and Adirondacks were great fun, so I’m looking at New York rides. One of these days I’ll do the GRABAAWR (Great Annual Bicycling Adventure Along the Wisconsin River) and I’m thinking about RAW (Ride Across Wisconsin), a one- or two-day ride across the state. And maybe it’s time to return to Cycle Oregon, which I rode in 1992.
My summer 2019 travel budget will be taken up by nieces’ weddings out west, so I’m already thinking about 2020, with 2019 spent on day rides around here. Of course, 2020 is also the next Cycle America ride, which I won’t be on, though I may either join them across Wisconsin or buy them all a beer in Baraboo. If you’ve had a great (or terrible) experience with an organized cross-state or regional ride, tell us about it in the comments.
I know I linked to this before, but it’s time again. In 2011, my friend Keith Greeninger wrote the song “Hop in the truck”. It is sung from the viewpoint of a contractor looking to pick up casual labor to build a wall. Since our president has announced that he would be proud to shut down the federal government if congress doesn’t allocate several billion dollars to build a border wall, the half-fast cycling club dedicates this to the man of orange (not to be confused with the man in black):
So this post was written a couple of days ago and waiting to go up tonight…I’m listening to Astral Weeks by Van Morrison and realizing what this time was like musically 50 years ago – fall 1968 saw the release of “The Beatles” (AKA the White Album), “Beggar’s Banquet” by the Rolling Stones, “Memories” by Richard and Mimi Fariña, and the aforementioned “Astral Weeks”. Oh, and “Electric Ladyland” by Jimi Hendrix. An embarrassment of musical riches. And that’s just off the top of my head from stuff I’ve listened to recently.
I have one standard for Christmas music – it has to be something I’d listen to even if it wasn’t Christmas. So I’ll leave you with this from David Grisman’s Acoustic Christmas (not from 1968, but 1986):
I first read of Paul Sherwen’s death in another blog I follow, A Dude Abikes. Sherwen, for those who don’t follow bike racing, was what we in the US would refer to as the “color commentator” for BBC and Eurosport TV broadcasts of bike races. Analogous to American football broadcasts, they employed a retired bike racer (Sherwen) to provide inside commentary along with a broadcast journalist (Phil Liggett). Though unlike the usual team, Liggett was also a former bike racer.
Liggett and Sherwen always provided colourful commentary along with sight-seeing opportunities and European history lessons. We could always
count on a shot of the riders in a field of sunflowers during the Tour de France. Since I’ve never had cable or satellite TV, access to their broadcasts was always an adventure.
In 1992 I watched their TdF broadcast from a cafe somewhere near Markleeville, CA., home of the Death Ride. When I first heard of the Death Ride, I thought one had to be nuts to try it. I may still be right. The ride is ~200 km (129 miles) on California highways, climbing 15,000 feet while summiting five mountain passes. The low point of the ride is about 5000 feet and the high point over 8700. The best part is that it’s a closed course for the most hazardous parts.
I changed my mind about the crazy part when I went cross country skiing and camping in the area. As we drove over Carson Pass on our way to the trailhead I was amazed by the beauty, and thought it would look even better on a bike. Over the next few days of backcountry skiing and camping, I began to hatch a plan.
I decided to get my feet wet in 1991 with the “two pass option”, riding about 50 miles and crossing two passes, to find out what riding at altitude was like. I’d never ridden anything higher than the Santa Cruz Mountains, at about 2000 feet.
I learned an important lesson. Arriving the night before the ride I had no time to get used to the thinner air. I was tired and had no appetite. It was hot and dry. It was not my most enjoyable day in the saddle.
In 1992 I arrived in the mountains a week early, hanging out at Co-opCampSierra. The camp is at about 4300 feet. After hiking, swimming, and a little bit of riding, we moved north to Markleeville. (Note to self: if you make this drive again, go down to the Central Valley, drive north through the valley, then back up into the mountains – your passengers will thank you for it.)
We stayed at Sorensen’s Resort near Pickett’s Junction. A couple of days before the ride I decided to scope out Ebbetts Pass, the highest point of the ride and the only part I’d never seen. Somewhere along the ride I spotted a cafe with a satellite dish. I saw bikes parked outside and a lot of people wearing funny clothes like mine. I asked the proprietor if we might tune the big screen TV to the BBC. He agreed readily and I spent an enjoyable chunk of the day with strangers, enjoying the Tour de France broadcast with Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. (Were you wondering if I’d ever get back to him?)
The morning of the Death Ride I was up before dawn and headed to Turtle Rock State Park, the start point. As the sky got light, the strains of Jimi Hendrix playing the Star Spangled Banner reminded anyone who was sleeping in that they’d best get up to start riding soon.
Some folks jumped on their bikes at the first strains, others wandered out as it played or as it ended. Some of us stuck around, waiting for it to get lighter. As the sun came up, The Jefferson Airplane got me on the road:
As we headed toward Monitor Pass, it began to sprinkle lightly. This seemed like a good omen, a little something to keep the heat down and counter the dry desert air on the leeward side of the divide. We went up and over Monitor Pass and down to the Nevada state line, then turned around and went back over the pass in the other direction. So far, so good.
As we turned toward Ebbetts Pass, the earliest riders were coming down. They warned us that it was cold and wet up there. Climbing the pass wasn’t so bad. At the top, no one stood around to rest or enjoy the view. It was time to head down. Employing my modern version of the age-old technique of stuffing newspapers in your jersey for insulation on chilly descents (I used a plastic grocery bag – no ink to run, and waterproof), I was back on my bike after a quick snack and collecting the sticker to prove I’d made it to the top. Collect all five and your receive an enameled pin to prove you did it. We were cautioned that there were corner marshals before all switchbacks, urging us to slow down. I’d seen them going up, when slowing down was not a problem.
Going down was a problem. The brakes needed feathering to scrub off speed as well as to scrub water off the rims so they would actually function as brakes. It was also a way to keep fingers moving so they wouldn’t stiffen up too much to apply the brakes when really needed. Breathing on the fingers for warmth had to be done fast, so the hands could be back on the brake levers before the next switchback.
The lunch stop was welcome this time and we headed back out on the road. Coming down a few thousand feet did not make it warm and dry. The rain had entered the valley and was with us the rest of the day. Sorensen’s Resort was on the way to Luther Pass, so I stopped into our cabin, dried off, changed clothes, ate a banana, hugged my future wife, and got back out. It might have taken all of five minutes. Dry clothes felt great for the next few minutes.
After the last two passes, I showered and changed into dry civilian clothes and signed the commemorative poster as a five pass rider. Since it was still raining, I don’t know if you can read any of the signatures. We used a silver Sharpie so it was somewhat waterproof. After one last great meal at Sorensen’s, we headed back to the Bay Area. I think I’m ready to do it again.
Is it possible to live one’s own life vicariously? I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading the summer’s blog posts and watching/listening to/reading all the links. What a summer! I guess you call that reminiscing, or nostalgia, not living vicariously. (Did I really do that?) Anyway, I’m itching to get back on the road. Anybody want to take me to New Zealand or Australia for the winter (here)/summer (there)? I’m ready to ride.
My daughter showed me this video yesterday. I hope the tandem cyclists from our summer trip see this.
Bicycling magazine used to have an annual contest to win the bike of your choice. You had to do or write something for your entry. One year was “Baikus”, short poems about bicycling, though they did not have to follow the formal structure of Haiku. I sent two entries: one called “First Ride”, about my daughter’s first ride, when I let go of the saddle and watched her ride away; and another called “Last Ride”, about my imagined last ride resulting in death from massive heart attack while riding down a mountain road, found with a smile still on my face. In the poem I would be, like Jiminy Cricket, 93.
I’ve since decided 93 may not be old enough. I might want to stick around long enough to break Robert Marchand’s Hour Record for the over 105 age group. (And I noticed that the original song said “I’m no fool, nosiree, I want to live to be 93”, but the safety cartoons all ended up at 103.)
Hats off to Graeme, Betty, and Robert! May we all continue doing what we love for as long as we love it.