A Man, a Tree, a Photo, a Citation from Federal Agents, and a Ritchey Annapurna

You’ll never know who you’ll meet while on the road, and sometimes, the characters floating around campsites within our National Forests are as colorful as the natural surroundings. While John and Cari were cashing in on some long overdue R&R last week in the mountains of New Mexico, they met a fella with a Ritchey Annapurna and quite the story to tell…

Scene Setting

The work/life balance over here has been increasingly difficult to maintain. These past few years have been full-tilt, and the past few months since taking our company back have been even more stressful. A few weeks ago, Cari and I decided it was time to walk away from it all for a few days, so we rolled down to a part of New Mexico where her family has roots and decided to visit some of her grandmother’s favorite locales. A trip through time, if you will.

Going off of old stories and old photographs, we pulled together an agenda filled with hot springs, fishing, and plenty of rest and relaxation. No service. No StarLink. Just a comfy old Land Cruiser camper van and all the accoutrements we rely on when going off the grid. The nights were cold, dropping into the teens, but the days were warm. Short sleeves. Shorts. Sunblock. It’s a weird time in the Southwest right now with an El Niño weather cycle throwing everything off. Hot coffee and tea in the morning woke us from our frozen chrysalis each day.

One morning, we were chatting with some Continental Divide Trail thru-hikers (one of whom bumped into Kurt while he was on the CDT this summer!) when a guy rolled by on a very Repack-looking mountain cruiser.

I told him, “Nice cruiser!”

and he said, “I’ve got a klunker too. One with brakes and gears.”

“Oh yeah? Whatcha got?”

“An Annapurna”

“Oh, a Ritchey! Nice! I’ve got a few Ritcheys, too.”

“This one’s old.”

“Yeah, so are mine. 1980, 1983…”

“Oh, you get it! I’ll bring it by later!”

I wasn’t expecting much to happen after that: in my experience, people will gladly move through the motions of these sorts of exchanges but will rarely follow through, especially when it comes to strangers and nice/rare bikes in the middle of nowhere.

To my surprise, the following evening, as Cari and I were cooking up some cornbread and chili, up rolls Beau on his late 1980s Ritchey Annapurna, with a musette slung around his chest and a cold beer in his pocket. He offered me a beer; I declined but thanked him for the offer. He then swung around the musette and pulled out a manilla envelope. I was expecting the original sales order from the bike or something like that. Little did I know…

A Man, a Tree, a Bicycle, a Photograph, and an Alleged Federal Crime

What Beau, as he’s called, presented to me first was a citation from the Sequoia National Forest. Then he showed me the photo of the alleged crime. It took a second to process what he handed me as I read through the two counts. Keep in mind, this was completely out of the blue. I was expecting to talk about a Ritchey, not this!

“Ranger Danno observed the defendant and a bicycle, seventy feet up a giant sequoia” is an apt takeaway from the citation.

Beau has been an arborist since the early 1980s. The year of the incident was 1983 and he had been riding a mountain bike for a few years. Living in SLO, he was just far south enough to be away from the Marin crowd but was still in Victor Vicente’s home terrain. The fledgling mountain bike (as the activity, and design) had just started to catch on in California, and the laws surrounding where and how an MTB could be ridden were already established.

Groups like the Sierra Club painted mountain bikers as unruly, renegade, off-trail riding, drug-using hooligans who mowed over hikers and ruined not only trails but the serenity these elites enjoyed when they drove to a trailhead to walk a few miles and then drive back home. It didn’t matter that the bicycle was inherently a superior “green” transportation device and that these riders were riding from their front door to these same trails.

The idea that anyone could be in the outdoors enjoying nature on a bicycle pushed against everything these classist elites were telling their members. If you weren’t rich, white, and affluent, nature wasn’t for you. I’m not making this stuff up. As such, rangers and land managers were on edge, and the mountain bike was public land enemy number one.

Anyway, let me step off my cynical soapbox…

As an arborist, Beau had rappelled up sequoia trees before to study these ancient old ones. It was during these scientific analyses that his love of the sequoia trees grew, leading Beau to the realization that he could combine his passions together to create an epic photo. He asked one friend to help belay and another friend to get the shot. The idea was an egg of opportunity, and it hatched on September 21st, 1983, in Kings Canyon National Park.

The shot was perfect, but as they removed the rigging from the giant sequoia, a ranger caught them, writing Beau a citation. He was given a court date he had to attend within the National Park. He arrived the morning of his appearance, and the ranger at the gate exclaimed, “Oh, that’s you! We heard all about you!” implying that the park rangers that had fined him had spoken about the ordeal with other rangers–which was not allowed if Beau was to be given a fair trial.

At the courthouse, Beau argued that the gossip had violated his due process and that Count 2 references a charge of Beau’s supposed “tire tracks closely resembling the tread of a bicycle tire” was circumstantial at best. The judge agreed but wouldn’t let Beau off without a slap on the wrist. He agreed to expungement due to the ranger gossip and the circumstantial claim of his bicycle tires being on the trail. Beau went on probation with the National Parks Department for six months, and the charges were then dropped.

Yet, the courts weren’t aware that there was a photo of Beau rappelling seventy feet up off the ground!

Now, this should be obvious, yet I have to say this: don’t go rappelling up a giant sequoia with your bikes, please!

About the Annapurna

Beau bought this Annapurna from Tom Ritchey in the late 1980s and rode the piss out of it for years. Then, in the late 1990s, he sent it to Tucson, Arizona, framebuilder Andy Gilmour to have the chainstay-mounted U-brake bosses removed and seatstay V-brake bosses added. This was a common “fix” as the U-brakes under the chainstays got gunked with mud and were hard to reach for maintenance.

The Annapurna was a “city cruising” mountain bike, built with a mix of fillet and bi-lam construction, or when a half lug is carved and brazed/silver soldered onto a tube. Tom called this “faux lug” construction. These frames represent the crème de la crème of 1980s Ritchey mountain bikes.

Once Andy finished the work, he laid down a sweet red-to-silver paint fade and put original Ritchey decals back on the bike. Beau brought the frame into his local shop for a brand new Deore XT M739 groupset in 1999. At the time, he was blown away at the excessive gearing, stating that “five was fine!” The shop convinced him that Deore XT 9-speed was the best bang for his buck. Beau conceded and let the shop upgrade the bike. He’s been riding it hard ever since. We talked about the ride quality of these old frames and how Beau bought his frame a few sizes too small, so it’d offer better maneuverability down the chunky stuff.

The 1990s brought about compact geometries with bikes for this very reason. More seat post and stem meant the frame was smaller, stiffer, stronger, and easier to maneuver on rocky singletrack. Even though these bikes are completely rigid with no suspension–Beau didn’t even have a Hite Rite!–they flex and move beneath you, thereby softening the ride. And, you learn to navigate the path of least resistance while holding on for dear life!

I love how worn down his Oury grips are!

Conversations happen like this from time to time while we’re out car camping and unwinding from a life of bikes 24/7 and it never ceases to amaze me how a universal language like the love of framebuilders and vintage mountain bikes can bring two strangers together for hours. I might never see Beau again, and that’s okay, but I’m glad I had this connection and the ability to document not only his story but also his sweet Annapurna.

Talk to your fellow outdoorspeople; they might have a story or two to tell!