Curtis

My first supported bike tour was Cycle Oregon IV. This year is #31 (or is that XXXI?). I CycleOregonjpgwas talked into the ride by my friend Curtis Chock. Curtis was my roommate during my first ill-fated attempt at being a college student. It was the fall of 1971 and I enrolled at Immaculate Heart College in Hollywood. The college is long gone and the campus is now the home of the American Film Institute. I quickly discovered that I didn’t really want to be a college student. One semester of college netted me two lifelong friends, so it was a good investment after all.

Curtis was an art major and later became a chiropractor. He never let work get in the way of having a good time and frequently tried to enlist me in various trips. Even after I had kids he would call me up and ask me to go somewhere next week. Canyon de Chelly was the destination on a number of the trips I didn’t make. He never seemed to understand that I did not have a life conducive to jumping on an airplane to join him somewhere.

Luckily I had the sense to say yes a few times. Cycle Oregon was one of those times. We rode an average of 85 miles/day for a week.  We rode over the Cascades and around Mt Hood. We rode through the high desert country. Every morning I arose early and they fed me breakfast. I would return to the campsite just as Curtis was getting up. We’d pack up and I would schlep the gear to a truck while he had breakfast. I’d hit the road, arriving in a new camp mid-afternoon. The trucks with our gear would be waiting. I’d pitch the tent and go take a shower. There was a portable shower truck that traveled with us. Curtis would roll in in time for us to have dinner together and talk over the day. At the end of the week we were told they fed us 7500 calories/day. I lost weight even though I had seconds a few times.  That trip made me realize letting someone carry my gear was not necessarily a bad thing.

When Al (my first touring partner when I was 21) and I toured, we carried everything on our bikes except the fresh food we would buy for dinner. The ride into town with an unladen bike felt like flying.  That ride seemed like the reward for riding all day like a pack mule.  Preparing enough food every day to keep us fueled was a lot of work. Letting someone else prepare meals and carry gear seems awfully civilized now.

Curtis also convinced me to stay in a tent cabin in Yosemite National Park. We had lunch in the

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Ahwahnee dining room

white linen tablecloth Awahnee Hotel. (I made up for that with a solo winter trip there in my own tent. That’s a story for another time. For now, we’ll just say that it snowed 3 feet overnight and a bear stole all my food. How it got to it that high off the ground I’ll never know.) Before I knew Curtis I never understood why one would pay to go cross-country skiing. To me, the point of cross-country skiing was that you could go anywhere (hence the name cross-country). Paying to ski on groomed trails seemed silly – until he took me to Royal Gorge. Looking at the website now, it looks much fancier than it

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Ahwahnee Hotel

was then. We drove to a parking lot that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere (and it was dark). We were met by a Sno-Cat pulling sleds. We piled into the sleds and were given lap robes for a trip into the woods. We arrived at a small lodge and were told to leave our skis outside. Each morning our skis would be freshly waxed (though it was this trip that helped me see the wisdom of waxless skis for California ski conditions).  We could ski all day and be fed at night, with our skis ready to go the next morning.

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Curtis skiing in the Sierra Nevada

As a child I remember seeing photos of Hollywood stars skiing in California. The starlets would be in bikinis. Being from Wisconsin I associated snow with cold and the pictures were unfathomable. On our weekend at Royal Gorge (at the end of ski season) it got warm enough that as the sun rose higher in the sky I took off more clothes. I finally skied nude, just to say that I did. Mostly I skied in gym shorts and gaiters.

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and relaxing after a day of skiing

Curtis had a knack for finding just the right gift for no particular occasion. I bought a new car and noticed that it came with a lighted hole for a cigarette lighter (all cars once came with cigarette lighters). I mentioned it off-handedly to Curtis when he was riding with me; how the light shined out of the hole in the dashboard. As soon as he got home he bought a cigarette lighter and mailed it to me to fill the hole. When he went to China to visit family he brought back a cashmere sweater which became my favorite cross-country ski sweater. He found out I didn’t have tights for cool weather riding, so he sent me a pair.

He was always buying new bikes. I remember his Jack Taylor (an old English frame

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Jack Taylor

builder), his Merlin (a 1990s era titanium bike builder in New England), and his Bike Friday (a folding bike from Oregon).  I got to ride the Bike Friday on a trip down the beach from Santa Monica to Newport Beach, with Curtis on the Merlin. We had dinner at a sidewalk café in Santa Monica afterward and froze. Southern California gets chilly when the sun goes down. That was my last trip with Curtis.  He died on Christmas Day 2010.

 

Daylight Day! Wednesday, March 7 marked the first day of the season it was light enough to ride to and from work without lights. With luck there will be three more of those days before Daylight Savings Time plunges me back into morning darkness.

My origin story

My first cycling memory is from the winter of 1956. I was three years old and we were building an attached garage to the house we’d lived in for a couple of years. I can remember riding my trike on the new concrete slab in a partially-framed garage, bundled against the winter cold.

Fast-forward to the spring of 1958. I was five. I was the proud owner of a two-toned green-and-cream Columbia bike, 20” wheels, single-speed with coaster brake; a hand-me down from my cousin in Milwaukee.  Left is a reasonable facsimile of that bike.  Sorry, I have no actual pictures of that or my old trike.

Riding a bike is a lot like reading or learning a foreign language. You can imagine you’re doing it before you can really do it. Once you actually learn, you realize you’d been deluding yourself.

When I first learned to read, I fooled myself by reciting books I’d memorized, even knowing when to turn the pages. One day I actually learned to read and that was a totally new experience.

When I first learned to speak Spanish, I thought I was speaking Spanish, but I was really translating other people’s words into English in my head, formulating responses in English, then translating them to speak. It is slow and cumbersome and doesn’t work in the real world. The day I began to think and dream in Spanish was the day I realized I’d been deluding myself.

Riding with training wheels is a lot like that. I could pretend I was riding a bike but I was always riding at a slight angle so the rear wheel and one training wheel were touching the pavement. When the training wheels came off, I realized I couldn’t really ride.

The day I actually rode started at the top of a slight incline in front of our house. My dad had his hand on the back of my saddle and ran along beside me. When I got to the Iverson house, I thought I was really riding. I yelled to my dad but he didn’t answer. I yelled again. In front of the Benisch house I turned to yell again and he wasn’t there. I crashed into the ditch. When I picked myself up, I realized he was back in front of the Van Epps house. I was like the cartoon character who runs off a cliff and doesn’t fall until he looks down and realizes what he has done. (The clip is not the best example but the best I could find today.)

It would be nice to say that I rode off and never looked back, but that crash spooked me and it was still a struggle before I really learned to ride; but I now knew what riding was.

The bike gave me a new freedom. My dad was infamous in our neighborhood. When it was time to come home he whistled, an ear-piercing sound that involved his thumb and middle finger in his mouth and a distinct three-note sound heard for blocks. When he whistled, we ran.  I remember playing baseball in a friend’s backyard and being at bat. At the whistle I dropped the bat and ran home. My friends thought I should finish my at-bat. I knew better.  But on the bike, I could get beyond earshot. I could ride to places where I could honestly say I didn’t hear him. That was not always considered a legitimate excuse.

I rode a variety of bikes after I outgrew the two-toned Columbia. None was actually my bike. My sisters both got new bikes. My older sister had a single speed 26” wheel Royce Union; a beautiful, lightweight, dark blue, lugged steel frame; cottered cranks, single speed with coaster brake. My other sister had a powder blue 24” wheeled bike, Montgomery Ward, if memory serves. My brothers had various black English 3-speeds. I rode them all whenever someone else wasn’t riding them.

Awaiting restoration. Anybody have an extra-long reach Weinmann sidepull from the ’60s? This one is missing its brake and the one on it is too short.

We also had a Schwinn Twinn single-speed tandem. It was particularly fun to ride from the rear (standing on the pedals so I could reach the front handlebar) and watch people stare, especially when I changed from back to front while riding or when someone told me I wasn’t supposed to ride like that. Plus I could pick up a friend to go for a ride.

The next bike that was my very own was a Western Flyer by Western Auto. I took over a newspaper route when I was 12 and the previous owner of the route sold me his bike. It was black and cream with huge front and rear baskets. It was the bike that taught me not to dismantle a coaster brake and how not to true a wheel.

Once I sold that bike (along with the paper route), it was back to the various black English 3-speeds. The first new bike of my life came in the spring of 1974. I had just turned 21. I was recovering from ankle surgery and being mobile was very important.

I drooled over a silver Masi, Campagnolo-equipped;

 

but I bought a Motobecane Grand Jubile, red with black trim and gold pinstriping.  It was on that bike that I did my first loaded tours, camping with my friend Al. On our first tour we spotted some wild asparagus growing in a roadside ditch. Fresh asparagus for dinner sold me on bike touring instead of motorcycle touring. (Another reasonable facsimile, thanks to Google image search.)

When I was in my early 30s I had a neighbor who was in law school. He told me that, upon graduation, he was going to cross the country by bike and invited me to join him. I had a job I wanted to keep so I turned him down.  He made the trip without me. But someday, I thought…

In October of 1989, a few days before the Loma Prieta earthquake, my beloved Motobecane was stolen from my office in San Francisco. I later found out who stole it but it was too late to do anything about it or prove it.  I embarked on a serious bike-buying mission and, on my 37th birthday, bought myself two new bikes – a 55 cm Davidson road bike and a 56 cm Bruce Gordon touring bike.

The Davidson is Shimano 600-equipped (the name changed to Ultegra the next year). It included a tied and soldered rear wheel, which is still true after 28 years. The wheels were built by Vance Sprock at Cupertino Bike Shop. Bill Davidson is still building bikes in a small shop in Seattle. http://davidsonbicycles.com

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The Davidson
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with detail of hand-tied and soldered rear wheel

The Bruce Gordon is Shimano Deore XT-equipped, with Bruce’s own steel racks and half-step plus granny gearing with bar-end shifters. (For explanations of half-step plus granny and a host of other fascinating topics, see http://sheldonbrown.com) It was to take me on that US tour. As of this writing, Bruce is having a retirement sale in his shop in Petaluma, CA. By the time you read this, he may be out of business, or you may be able to buy a fully-equipped frame building shop. http://www.bgcycles.com.

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the Bruce Gordon
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with detail of half-step plus granny gearing. Two larger chainrings are close together in size (50/44) with a much smaller “granny” ring (28). Note the Bio-pace chainrings.

It is now 28 years later. The tour is going to be for my 65th birthday. The bikes are getting a little old to trust on a coast-to-coast trip. I’m getting a little old to want to do a self-contained tour. That means it is time for a new bike again. If you remember back to that Masi in 1974, my other dream (besides the US tour) was for an all-Italian bike. That was the dream of a lot of riders of a certain age. Most bikes are now built in China, most parts come from the Japanese industrial giant Shimano, and Campagnolo, once the gold standard in bicycle components, has been reduced to a small niche marketer.

Since I don’t plan to carry a lot of weight (this being a supported tour) and I probably won’t buy another new bike after this one, I have joined the 21st century with a Wilier Triestina Zero.7, Campagnolo Super Record-equipped.  Wilier is an Italian company founded in 1906. The name is an acronym (in Italian) for “long live a free and redeemed Italy”.  (Though the name predates the acronym by 42 years; don’t ask me to explain that.) It is my first carbon fiber bike and probably weighs about half as much as the Bruce Gordon. This is the mount that will take me across the country. I had Yellow Jersey Bicycles in Arlington WI build me a new set of wheels, so I won’t actually ride across the country on the carbon fiber wheels in the picture.  Pictures of the bike as equipped for the tour will come once I’m on the road.

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the Wilier
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Head joint detail. The original owner went for subtlety on most of the decals. The orange ones are the only ones you can see.

Yellow Jersey, by the way, began life as a co-operative, without a building, in Madison . They ordered bikes through a co-op in Chicago. The bikes were delivered to Whole Earth Co-op, and Yellow Jersey called members (especially those who had ordered bikes) to come and help assemble them when shipments arrived. They later had a series of storefronts and ultimately the co-op’s assets were sold to some of the employees. The proceeds funded the Dane County Bicycle Association, a local advocacy group.  Yellow Jersey is now owned by Andy Muzi, one of those employees. He has been with Yellow Jersey since the beginning of the co-op, or close to it. A few years ago he closed the store in Madison and moved to the small town of Arlington. Drop in for a visit!

03BOTTLEYellow Jersey water bottle.  Don’t make me explain the logo.  Wisconsin law forbids the use of the word “co-op” by any entity that is not incorporated as such. When Yellow Jersey was sold, they ground the word off of the existing stock of bottles so they could still sell them.

 

 

 

 

 

Half-fast US Tour

  • What is this blog anyway?

This is going to become a blog that will chronicle my trip from Seattle to Boston by bike in the summer of 2018. Think of anything posted here before June 17 (departure day) as an appetizer. Some of it will be for bike geeks, some to explain stuff to non-geeks, some of it will be so family and friends know I am still alive (once on the road), some of it will, I hope, be of interest to anyone who stumbles across it.

The genesis for this trip came in high school. My parents’ plan for me was to go to Harvard or Yale on a full scholarship and then become a doctor. I didn’t really want to go to college (nor were Harvard and Yale offering me four free years) and instead wanted to see the USA on a BMW motorcycle. In those days, BMW was a touring bike and came in any color as long as it was black – or so I thought until I came across a 1959 white R-50 out near Cottage Grove. I decided I was going to buy that bike and laid plans for borrowing (I should probably use Donald Trump-style quotation marks, as my parents wouldn’t know I was borrowing it) my parents’ car when they were away for a weekend so I could drive out there for a test ride. Test ride day was stormy and I never did more than look at that bike, but touring the US by bike stayed in the back of my mind. Below is a reasonable facsimile of that bike.bmw-r50-1955-motoI didn’t go to Harvard or Yale and didn’t become a doctor. I did injure my ankle quite badly when I was 20 and needed a doctor. While recuperating from surgery I watched my roommate go ice skating almost every day. I couldn’t wait to get out and do that. By the time I was back on two feet, skating season was over. I began shopping for a new bicycle, something else I could do with two feet. In spring I bought that bike and motorcycles faded into the background.

The next posts will talk about how the half-formed dream of a US tour became this actual US tour in about 50 years. Posts will be weekly at first. Once on the road I hope to post daily, though that will depend on internet access and battery life.

So you don’t have to remember when posts will come, click the “follow” button to the right (on your desktop) or below (on a tablet or phone) and we’ll send fresh posts to your inbox.