Riding With The Other Rusty Back to Bike Stories // Back to the Weeville Home Page
The Herald Jan. 20, 1989
Let me tell you about this other Rusty
Rusty Wilkerson and I grew up on the same street. We rode bikes and generally hung out together until he went off to college.
This other Rusty graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in electrical engineering, and he ended up living in Florida in All-American style. Through it all, the guy I grew up with hasn't changed a bit.
Rusty's wife, Cathy, will occasionally roll her eyeballs at her husband and say, "Don't pay him any attention. He's an engineer." She'll usually be referring to some sort of repair job Rusty is doing with no parts and the wrong tool. The darndest thing is that Rusty's patch jobs work better than the original design. He could fix the space shuttle with a coat hanger.
Rusty was the first person I ever knew who rode a bike long distance. He is light years ahead of me on the subject, having toured Europe in addition to his stateside rides. Rusty and I had sworn for years that we would take that bicycle trip we had always talked about, and in 1979 it became a reality. Rusty flew himself and his bicycle here from Florida, and we proceeded to ride to his house in Melbourne.
It'll be just fine
As we loaded our bikes in front of my house, I happened to look at Rusty's
tires. The front one looked rotten, and the back one was worn down to the
threads. You could almost see the air in it. I said, "Ahem, Rusty ... it's
about your tires." He gave them the once over and looked back at me like I was
nuts. "What about 'em?"
"Well, there's the matter of this 700 mile-ride we're gonna take. That does start this morning, doesn't it?" Rusty assured me that his tires were just as good as new, and I felt goofy for having raised the question. After all, he was the one with all the cycling experience.
On the third day of the trip, Rusty's rear tire blew out. We were somewhere in backwoods Georgia, far from anywhere with a zip code. The tire had not simply gone flat, it had blown a hole in the sidewall. How could anybody with his level of experience start a trip on a bald tire? I stood by and silently fumed, although deep inside I was yelling, "Nyah, nyah, nyah! I told you so! I told you so!"
Rusty calmly took out his tire kit, which included a healthy dose of genuine duct tape. He patched the inner tube and worked the duct tape under the bead of the tire, reinforcing the rip in the sidewall from the inside. He pumped the tire up to full pressure and said, "Let's ride." I was astounded. He had done it again. We were back up and rolling.
Every time his back tire spun around, it made a little "fump" when the patch hit the pavement.
Thirty or 40 miles later, we rode into a town that had a bicycle store. We paraded down Main Street with Rusty's tire going fump-fump-fump, and we got in front of the bike store. I stopped. Rusty continued down the street and I yelled, "Hey! Here's where you can buy a tire!" He took one look over his shoulder at his rear tire and motioned for me to come on, let's keep riding. When I caught back up with him he said, "Man, this tire's fine. I've ridden 'em thousands of miles a whole lot worse than this!"
Sure enough, fump-fump-fump, 450 more miles without another blowout. I couldn't believe it. Only Rusty Wilkerson could do it. Only he would try.
Never ask where you are
If riding a bicycle hundreds of miles is not challenging enough, Rusty adds
factors to make things more interesting, such as the bald tires. Another trick
of his is to never ask anybody for directions.
On our ride to Florida, Rusty was the tour foreman in charge of all logistics. I just tagged along behind, learning things that would help me in all my later years of biking. I had no idea where we were at any given moment, so Rusty probably shouldn't have said anything the day he admitted we were lost.
We were somewhere in the orange groves of Florida. Rusty got out the map and scratched his head. In no uncertain terms he sighed, "We're lost. We'll just follow the sun to the south until we hit a highway. Then we'll know where we are." Like all good boss men, he used the word "we" rather eloquently.
I drafted Rusty through the rows of citrus trees and mumbled under my breath, "What's this 'we' business, anyhow? You're the one who's lost, I'm just a victim." Long before we reached any highway, we passed a village where all the migrant crop pickers hung out. I hollered over Rusty's shoulder, "Let's ask that man right there where we are."
Rusty answered, "Nope. That's cheating. We'll figure it out ourselves."
The end result was that we lost 20 miles. That's not to say that I have never been lost myself, because I certainly have. In fact, I have used what I learned from Rusty to get myself un-lost. Still, this episode showed me that it's more fun to blame myself for errant navigation than to finger somebody else for the mistake.
There's a philosophy
The whole philosophy of bike touring can be summed
up by an episode that
happened on my trip with Rusty. We were in south Georgia, only a couple miles
from the Florida state line. We had stopped beside the road to eat and cool
down when this little kid came riding out of a nearby trailer park on a beat-up
bike. He quietly examined us for awhile and then asked, "Where are you guys from?"
I said, "Way up in South Carolina." The kid's eyes got real big and he said,
Woooooooooow...." He smacked his gum and popped a few bubbles before asking, "Where y'all headed?" Rusty paused before stuffing his mouth with grapes. "We're going to Melbourne, Florida." Once again, the kid's eyes bulged and he said "Wooooooooooooooow."
The kid took to doing some hard thinking. You could see the wheels turning. Finally he asked, "Wouldn't it be a lot easier if you guys just went ahead and bought a car?"
Forever the engineer, Rusty fixed the question without so much as a smile. "Sure, we could buy a car, and that would be a lot easier. But it wouldn't be nearly as much fun."
With that the kid seemed satisfied, and without another word he rode off on his bicycle. When he was out of earshot, Rusty and I rolled on the ground and laughed until we cried. It was a golden moment.
Rusty and I now refer to our eight days on the road as simply The Trip. We can cover it all with a mutual smile and an all-knowing nod of the head. That's how good friends communicate.
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