Ramsey and I get together for chapter ten of “Life’s Short, Get Ducks.” We talk about the the new video series that Jake Latendresse and he are working on. Then, we talk about the bike ride across the United States that closed a lot of old wounds in his life, but opened pandora’s box.
Exciting News from GetDucks.com
We’re going to tell the story of Life’s Short Get Ducks in video form. Really, it’s duck season somewhere because we are going global.
Rocky Leflore: Welcome to The End of The Line podcast. I’m Rocky Leflore sitting in The Duck South studios today in Oxford, Mississippi and on the other end of the line with me, Mr RR himself, Ramsey Russell. Ramsey, how are you today?
Ramsey Russell: I’m good Rocky. If I was any better, I’d be sitting in a duck blind. Speaking of which, it’s been almost seven days since I was in a duck blind. So, I’m jonesing pretty bad right now.
Rocky Leflore: I’m sure that you’re a lot better off than when I talked to you last week because you were worn out.
Ramsey Russell: Oh yeah. I got caught up on my sleep. I put out some fires and we had some pretty big dang fires. We had a good grease fire going and boy, it felt good to get it put out and everything taken care of and it’s going to be taken care of much, much to our benefit and the benefit of customers down the road. I have been relaxing and it has been busy. I tell you what, thank God for this cold front. We got to work this weekend and camp this weekend. I’m going to be there Friday, Saturday, Sunday, planting deer plots and mowing out duck holes, and doing some different stuff, and I’m ready for it man. Last week, one of my buddies are Justin Grant, one of my good buddies and fellow members over there. He said, Ramsey, you okay? You seem to be dragging and I’m going to tell you man, it’s been six weeks in the beautiful fall-winter time, and snow land and everything else caught up within 95° weather. I was dragging last Saturday.
Rocky Leflore: I’ll tell you this Ramsey, when I was a kid growing up all the way through, gosh, until 5 years ago when my dad fell ill with cancer. We celebrated the first major cold front of the year because you always get a cold front like this in October. It’s one that comes in, drops it from 85° to 95°, off into the 70° and 60° we celebrated that – my dad did – by having a chitlins cooking every year. That was his thing. We would cook chitlins and we would listen to the Ole Miss ball game on the radio. That was just our celebratory way of, I guess, celebrating fall being here.
Ramsey Russell: No, I’m not eating chitlins baby. I’m going to tell you right. I might boil some peanuts and some collard greens, but I ain’t going to eat chitlins this weekend. That ain’t happening. This morning I went out there to the dog kennel to let the dog out to get some air, and man, they were like bullets being shot out of a gun coming out of kennels. They felt so good in that change of weather. I guess that’s how this time of year makes me feel. I’m energized, I’m rested up from being off of road. I’m caught up golly. Thank you, Donald Trump. Thank you, the economy man. It is unbelievable. The phone calls we’re getting right now in a million different directions, primarily Argentina and Mexico, but it’s off the chain. It’s keeping us good and busy. Boy, am I ready for this time of year though? I do like to hunt sometime with my friends and family and we’ve got a very ambitious schedule planned between now and convention season, which is mid-January, and I’m back home for the last 9 or 10 days. It’s a very, very ambitious plan, even by my standards. Go to one hunt, come home that night, sleep. Get up and go to the next one. It’s going to be bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. But we’re going to cover a lot of ground. Hey, I got two big important, great news this week. One, I got a call from Jamaica today that I won $35 million. I guess we’ve got to hurry this up so that I can get on the phone and see what that’s about. And two, I’m very proud that we are just a week or two from the project Jake and I’ve been working on. It’s coming to fruition. Australia’s fixing to hit the airwaves. It’s a work of passion. It’s a very personal project in nature that Jake is helping me with. We’re going to tell the story of Life’s Short Get Ducks in video form. Really, it’s duck season somewhere because we are going global. Any place that we’ve ever been, any place that we represent. We’re going to film it. We’re going to show global duck hunting, and the similarities and dissimilarities, and just all the different species and the people. We’ve got a very, very nice line up. I imagine it will run seven or eight full episodes a year, maybe more, but I’m really excited about that. Jake, I heard this podcast – the client and I knew of him, but I didn’t know him – I heard that podcast and connected a little bit with him. I was thinking, don’t do it, I can’t afford this guy. But I called, and we talked and we talked and we talked, and he got on board with it, and Rocky, I’m that kind of guy, I don’t like supervision. You know when I hire somebody or I’m working with somebody, it ought to be the right guy, and if it’s the right guy, you don’t tell them their job. Jake’s a photographer. Jake’s a creative. Jake don’t need Ramsey’s input. I’ve hired some people in the past that had needed some input. The wrong people. Jake ain’t that guy. So, I just let him go with it. Here’s my vision, here’s the story I want to tell, here’s what I’m thinking and then I just went and hunted and Jake was filming it. It turned out really, really nice. I just couldn’t be prouder of some of the footage and the emotional imagery that he captured in Australia. The way we’re going to do it is, he has created some small clips; 2 minutes, 13 seconds, 50 seconds of different little things. Different aspects to see Australia. First one we’re going to come out with probably Sunday night or one day next week. It’s a two-minute clip, that for me was off the cuff.
Sharing Personal Moments with the World
I just said what was on my mind and my heart.
Rocky Leflore: That’s what I was going to ask here. It’s a very personal moment.
Ramsey Russell: That first clip only is going to define the statement, the title, Life’s Short Get Ducks. If you watch all two minutes of it, it’s going to define where we’re going in terms of spiritually, visually, and hunting-wise at all different levels. What this odyssey is going to be about; that’s what the series is, an odyssey. It’s going to be about the people, and the places, and the cultures, and the food, and the hunting, of course, the hunting. All aspects of it. But after that two-minute clip, we’re going to get into some good fun stuff. It’s very important and I’ll tell you about this two-minute clip. I’ve got two birthdays. May 17th, I’ll never forget it. I try to, but I won’t, and we happened to be there wrapping up on that day. It’d been kind of my mind – we had the most spectacular hunt that morning, Rocky. My gosh, they’ve got a bird down there and it’s the only diver in Australia, it’s called a hardhead. Looks a lot like a pochard. Kind of a maroon, red colored, beautiful bird. White-eyed duck, they call it. Fast, hard charging, that is their preeminent trophy duck species down there, and I racked up. I needed him to get my Australian Grand Slam, but we racked up, we hit it hard. It was a great morning and throughout the whole morning this was kind of on my mind. The day – 36 years ago today – I was supposed to die and look at me now. I’m sitting waist deep in Australia and I’m shooting the preeminent trophy. Jake went and did some B roll and got some footage, and was getting his gear together back at the boat. We were getting wrapped up and he said, “All right, Ramsey, I’m wrapping up, I’m packing up. Is there anything else you can think of we need? Is there anything else?” I said, “Yeah. I want to talk for a minute. I just want to do a little B roll. Just a little interview.” He said, “All right.” Man, he got it all set up good. Didn’t take him no time. It’s good to watch a pro work, man. This guy is a professional. We got in place and he said, “I’m just going to turn the camera and you start talking, unscripted.” I just said what was on my mind and my heart. Glenn had wiped his face, turned around and walked away. I had to stop. I’ve told that story a million times. I had to stop. Had to take, take two. Jake had to stop. Then take two, we got it. For me, personally, having told this story, Life’s Short Get Ducks on your podcast was therapeutic in a way. It’s like letting the genie out of bottle that needed to come out. Don’t think I’m walking around with a T-shirt about it or nothing because I’m not. But it felt good to talk about it and I felt like because of this journey of Get Ducks and what we’re doing and why we’re doing it in a lot of ways, why it’s so personal to me, why a client experience is so personal because it is Life’s Short Get Ducks. I’ve got hundreds of photos of clients and friends that are no longer with us and the highlight of their day was sitting in that duck hole with us in some foreign country. It’s very personal to me. But that’s not going to be the whole series. That’s just going to be the start off. I’m very, very pleased with the way Australia’s rough draft turned out. I think we’ll have it under wraps in two weeks. Later we’re doing Argentina. We’ve got another story coming. I’ll just rattle off a list of this year. Australia, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Wyoming, Nebraska, Mississippi, which is going to be a very interesting story. I recruited a good friend, a very good friend, to go into his ancient cypress break and then contrast that with hunting at Willow Break, a restored wetland, the New Delta, Mexico, and I think one more. I just can’t recall it off the top of my head, but we’ve got a nice little line-up going this year. Next year we’ve already got several great hunts on the books, among other things in the next couple of years. We’re going to shoot the shovelers of the world. That’s another great piece of news I got when I got home from Canada – the Mojo, Spoonzilla – it’s going to be ready to roll out. It’s on a boat right now, in containers being shipped to Monroe, Louisiana. It’s going to start rolling out about two weeks. Very excited about that. Just to see a practical joke on my buddy Terry Denmon evolve into a product. It has been a fun process to sit in on the side-lines and watch it unfold. It’s been very interesting. It’s been a good week coming home, been very productive.
Rocky Leflore: I’m really looking forward to the series with Jake. I just know Jake’s talent and what you’re trying to accomplish with the Life’s Short Get Ducks series is, it matches up well and it’s going to be really good. Hey, speaking of the – back at the beginning, you were talking about tired, worn out, driving a long way. At some point, we have to jump back into the story just a little bit. But the part of this story that’s so good that we have not talked about is you riding cross country from ocean to ocean. Like some Forrest Gump riding a bike. It’s a cool part of the story you think we can fit it in today?
Ramsey Russell: Coast to Coast…On a Bicycle?!
“Ramsey what the hell are you doing up here on a bicycle?”
Ramsey Russell: We can try Rocky. A lot of people ask me about traveling and being on the road and doing so much and my personality, my nature is such, Life’s Short Get Ducks. We talk back in some former episodes about my laying on the bed, my gaining confidence, labor day rolled around, it was open day of dove season and I realized it and I swore, if I ever got out of that cursing hotel room and got my mobility back, I’d never miss another dove season. I’d never miss another opening day. I don’t care if I go out there and sweat blue blazes and don’t fire a shot. I’m going to be on a dove field. It’s transferred to my sons. They’re going to be on the dove field with me if they can’t be. I got 5 or 10 letters from Duncan mentioning the opening day of dove because he was on Parrish Island this year. That’s how important it is to all of us. But beyond that, there’s a whole big world out there to see, and I want to see it all. My grandmother, my mother’s mother, gave me a subscription to National Geographic when I was a little boy. I read a lot of it, but I looked at a lot of pictures and it always enthralled me. It just created this wanderlust of what a big and beautiful world we live in and pursue it. Getting back on my feet and getting my mobility, because you’ve got to understand, for six months after getting home, I was on crutches, I was in pitiful shape. I couldn’t stand up out of a chair. I remember the first day of physical therapy, still in the burn center, they handed me a 2.5lbs or 3lbs weight, and I couldn’t lift it over my head. I’ve been just immobile for six months. I was nothing. Somehow or other, I got on my neighbor’s wife’s bicycle one time and was following them around the neighborhood on that bicycle, and it was so fun and I enjoyed it. I felt like a child again. Looked like an idiot riding some old lady’s bike, but that’s how it started, and I saved a little money and bought my own bicycle. I started riding and I started to really get in good shape, started lifting weights and doing all that kind of stuff you do when you’re young and improving my strength, improved my mobility. This went on for years, but I really started riding and I love to ride. Back in my junior college days Rocky, I’d ride, 18 to 20 miles a day, if I woke up. It was freedom, and I felt good, and my muscle mass came back, and everything began to normalize pretty good. I went to Mississippi State after, but before, I went to Kenyon College for a couple of years. I was going to be an accountant and I’m a terrible accountant, but I’m making good grades so I decided I’m going to be an accountant like my mother’s husband. One day, I was sitting in my mobile home and I heard gravel. I looked out and it was a buddy of mine from high school. Brush Rogers – I hadn’t seen him since high school, 2 or 3 years. He stepped out of his truck and he had a whole case of beer. I opened the door and he walked in. We put them in the refrigerator started talking, one beer in the neck, we started catching up and he said, what are you doing these days? I said, you’re not going to believe it. You ain’t going to believe it man. I’m in college and I’m thinking of transferring to MC, I’m going to be an accountant. Blah, blah, blah. He said, that’s crazy Ramsey. He said, you know, back when we took that course in school, that little standardized test, and it said you ought to be in natural resources. Because of his answer I said, yeah man, but that ain’t going to happen. I’m going to pass right now and I bought this mobile home. I got a heck of a deal on it and the setup is right. I had a roommate paying good on it and I was set. I was going to MC, I was going to be an accountant and I said, besides that man, I owe money on this mobile home, I couldn’t pull it up to stop even if I wanted to, I needed the money. He got on an old rotary phone and called somebody and he hung up. He said, that was my cousin. He said, for $250 he’ll move your mobile home to Starkville and he’ll even provide the axles. He’s going to take them back but he’ll put them on there and pull you up there. I said, are you kidding? Well by the time we got to the end of all that beer and I woke up the next morning, it done lit a fire. From Monday morning to Tuesday morning, I drove to Starkville from Jackson. I had to stop at the fire department, right there on Highway 12 and 82, and had to ask directions to the Mississippi State University, and I found it and they even showed me where the Foresters building was. There was Dorman Hall at the time. I looked at the map and found it and just walking down halls, knocking on doors, I found somebody. They were telling me about coming to Mississippi State and being in Forestry and that was that. He said you need to stay one more semester at least and get some courses there while you can and then transfer up here in the fall. That’s how I ended up at Mississippi State University. My first lecture there – this is crazy. Let’s get off in the weeds – as you know, Ramsey Russell right now, I will tell you this is getting way off in the weeds. It just is, but I got involved, I was older, a little bit older. I’d been to junior college. A lot of people I graduated – I started late anyway – a lot of people I graduated high school with had come and gone. Bryce had one or two more semesters. I can’t remember because we roomed together, but I think the one semester may have been two. Everybody else is practically gone or I haven’t seen them in forever. So, I really just went up at Starkville, and I didn’t know a soul, didn’t know a soul. The first night that I moved in, found a campus paper and noticed that a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band was going to be playing in Columbus, Mississippi. Didn’t know a soul but I’m not going to miss that opportunity. So, I drove over to Columbus and it was like a little old convenience store converted into a bar. The stage wasn’t one foot off the ground and when the lights went down, the band started to come on. I bought a six pack of tall Miller Lites and walked to the stage, and fell in with some people. Just sat right there, a feet away and watch them play Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was so crowded, we actually spilled onto the stage one moment.
Rocky Leflore: What year is this Ramsey?
Ramsey Russell: God it had to be in the late 80’s sometime. I couldn’t tell you the year, but late 80’s. When we were leaving, the bar is just about empty. I still had a beer or something to finish, so I was one of the last kids to leave. Band was wrapping up and a huge thunderstorm had hit. I mean it was raining. Son, was it raining! And I was just sitting in the little vestibule outside, out in the rain, before I went and walked to my truck. I wasn’t in any hurry to get there, maybe it would pass pretty quick. The whole band come out, we all sat there and BS right there together. What great guys, nice guys. It was just awesome to meet them, and not in their rock star moments, but just a regular folk moment. We all just sit there and shared a moment talking BS till the rain passed. I told Forrest when he went to State: I’d tell any young person going to college, it ain’t what you learn – that’s part of it – go up there and get your education, learn whatever those teachers are going to teach. And hey look, some of them teachers are communists, they ain’t going to teach you much, but go up there and learn what you can. Get what you can out of it and do your best. But man, you go to college. Mississippi State University, probably 15,000 to 20,000 people at that time. That’s a lot of people. There’s somebody for everybody, there’s people. I mean you fall in there – what a great experience to be just thrown into this ocean of humanity and meet people. Great people, interesting people. People ain’t like you and I loved it man. I fell off into it. I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but I was in Forestry. I had a conservation band even back then as a hunter and whatnot. I was looking through the Student Activity Section one day in the paper and it talked about a group called SCAPE: Students Concerned About Protecting the Environment. In my spirit, I go check it out and it’s exactly what it sounds like. Somehow, I know that I got thrust into leadership and we led the charge. One of my best friends that I met in that group is Kurt Munding. He was from Rochester, New York, had been a college wrestler. He had come down to Mississippi State University to do their Landscape Contract because he’s one of the best in the country. He’s now a mentor for Forrest. Forrest can call him at any time and he’ll walk Forrest along. He’s doing very very good business out in Denver, Colorado now. He and I are still very close friends. It’s crazy as heck, some of the stuff we did, Rocky. Young and idealistic, and just having fun when we weren’t studying and doing other things. Here I was, president of an environmental group but we met on Thursday nights. I was bow hunting. I loved to bow hunt back on the weekends. All right, there was a guy down in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Wendell Burchfield. At one time he was the largest dairy producer in the state of Mississippi. Over time he reinforced a lot of that patched land through USDA. He had access to 10,000 acres of Okefenokee River swamp. I had met him before through a friend that was a member of his hunting camp, and I went over there to meet with him and ask him about joining that camp, so that I have somewhere to hunt when I was just starting, and he liked me. He took a liking to me. Man had two braces on his legs but ran a timber empire. Didn’t know forestry, but oh my gosh he knew how to measure trees and figure out timber. He knew when the a logger was lying to him or when the timber buyer was lying to him. He knew that. He did well for himself, but he liked me. He said, “Son, for as long as you are at Mississippi State University, you just feel free to come over here and hunt any time you want. At the time of time, I’m going to ask you to help me out, we’ll do some chainsaw work. I’ll need something like – he couldn’t get out and run and count up some of that timber. So, he would sit in his old jeep. He had three jeeps and on any given day one of them ran. If one broke, he would just start taking parts off from the other one so he could get that jeep running. A lot of times he would sit in the jeep – had this old railroad track. None of them were cross timbers though. He done stripped it off and sold it. So, we had about a 20-mile railroad bed running through Okefenokee River swamp there in Carroll County, Mississippi. Part of that land is now WMA I’ve heard. Part of that land that I shot ducks on is now WMA. Just a swamp ticket, man, I mean a swamp ticket. He goes on telling what you’ll see. For years he told me about black panthers and when I finally saw one, it was an otter. For years he told me about white deer and he’s been carrying on and on about this white deer. He told me he had a heart shaped red patch on his front. I figured it’s kind of like that otter story, black panther story and he goes, yonder it is. I said, no Mr Burchfield, I believe that’s a piece of paper or something that got blown up by the river. He said, walk out there to it and I walked out there about 70 yards, and that deer stood up. Solid white doe and when it turned before it left, there was a heart shaped patch on his rump. It made me kind of reconsider a panther off in that swamp. Now if anywhere in the world I’ve ever been and if Mississippi had a panther, it would be in that swamp. No doubt about it. We became friends, and that’s where I deer hunted, and he had a little old shack. I could stay in. No electricity, no running water, but old stove and I spent many, many, many nights in that cold house and got up in the morning, went deer hunting or duck hunting. Back then I wasn’t really a duck hunter but when the ducks would get in that upper area up there, I knew how to hunt them. But on that SCAPE deal, I met Kurt, and one day – now understand I was kind of a hippie. I’m not really a hippie, but going back to that bicycle, I rode my bike everywhere. He told Forrest, you got to get him a bicycle and ride around the campus because man look, parking is a major issue on college campuses. Son, you don’t live even two miles off campus, get you a bicycle. He said, I ain’t riding a bike, I ain’t riding bike, period. End of the discussion. These kids, they ain’t riding bicycles. I rode a bicycle everywhere. I went, I still rode my 18 to 20 miles a day, but I rode everywhere I went around campus. Didn’t have to worry about parking. It’s just who I was. I was in shape, felt good to get that breath of fresh air and that burst of energy class to class and whatnot. I met old Kurt one night. We were sitting around drinking and talking and he started telling me about this adventure he had, he and a friend of his from Cobleskill up in New York. We’re going to do a cross country bike ride. They were going to ride from Bar Harbor, Maine, out somewhere in North of Seattle. He said Ramsey, you ought to do this with us man. I said, man I’m in. I am in. I ain’t got no money. He said, it will cost no money. We’re just going to camp and knock-on doors and cook our own food. I’m like well, I’m in. My bad brother I’m in. And then I ramped up my – we got closer to May, I started ramping up my bike. I might be riding 30 to 40 miles, and riding hundreds of miles on the weekends just trying to get in shape because it’s pretty daunting to me, and turns out the third wheels of this thing. His buddy suddenly had to get married and we changed our departure date, Kurt was going to get out of school, go up there to Boston and meet his buddy and participate in the wedding. I was going to come up. I actually rode up to Virginia with my girlfriend. I met Anita, my dear wife in SCAPE. Boy, what a grand moment in her life. But anyway, so I rode up with her to Virginia and spent a few days, and caught a bus or a train, and went up there to Boston and met Kurt. Somebody related to the wedding gave us a ride up to Maine. Now Kurty told me, Ramsey it’s going to be cold. You need to bring some clothes. Do you know how hot it was in Mississippi? It was just a normal May day. Hot and humid. I think, well yeah, it’s going to be chilly, I’m sure. I’ve been to Colorado before, I’m sure it’s going to be a little chilly. I brought a jacket, a little windbreaker. They dropped us off about 30 miles in the west of Bar Harbor, Maine and put us in a hotel at night because they felt sorry for us. It was snowing. There was a foot of snow on the ground and I’m thinking, there ain’t no going back now buddy. We got up the next morning and it was low 30s, plus wind, and we had to ride 30 miles over to Bar Harbor. I stopped, we were pedalling through a town, I couldn’t even feel my legs, they were so cold. There was a sporting goods store and I whipped up in there and bought me a pair of long johns – good synthetic type long johns. Put them on my credit card and until it warmed up somewhere further west, we’re riding. There are a lot of days going through New England. There I was in my shorts and my long johns underneath them, and my shirt, and my jacket, I was bundled up good. I had to be because it was cold. Some mornings we’d wake up, and we had a little one-man tent that we carried. We had a little bitty stove we carried, we had a stove, we had these four saddlebags on our bicycles. I had a really good friend from Jackson, became a very good friend later in life. He was a bike mechanic and he had taken my bicycle, Rocky. He lengthened the crank arms for a little more leverage. He had rewelded them, respoked them. Do you know? I haven’t ridden that bike a long, long, long time, but for 10 or 15 years after this story, those wheels were true. I mean, he spoked those wheels and they were fine. This wasn’t a big racing bike. It was a multi-speed bike but it was like a touring bike. A heavier frame, a longer frame, more comfortable seat that would accommodate saddlebags, and little panniers around you so that you can carry your clothes and carry your tent. Carry a little more stuff and boy, let me tell you what, you count those ounces, you don’t want to be trucking down with supper. You just stop and run into a grocery store, and get a couple of canned goods for supper that night if you needed to. We left Bar Harbor Maine and started riding west and everybody –
Rocky Leflore: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, stop for a second. Do you realize how many calories – I know you know this now, but how many calories you’re burning a day riding across country?
Ramsey Russell: Do I know? Man, let me tell you what. Do I know how many calories we’re burning a day? I was eating two to three jars of peanut butter a day.
Rocky Leflore: Lance Armstrong was burning 12,000 calories a day. Just in training.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Rocky, I had no idea then. I left Mississippi on Mother’s Day. My grandmother, was in our home and that’s where all the family went. We had dinner, and cooked hamburgers and whatnot on the patio, and my uncle and aunt had brought a set of scales. I stood on them and I weighed 155 lbs. I had 32 waist jeans and wore a large T-shirt or medium sometimes and weighed 155 lbs. We started this and I was young and I was in shape. When you’re young, you’re burning a lot of energy. Calories was going anyway. But son, would we eat. We would eat for supper. I might go into a grocery store and buy a gallon of milk and sit on the curb and drink it. I might buy a gallon of ice cream and sit on the curb and eat it. I have been eating two or three jars of peanut butter, and all the bagels and bread, and cookies and doughnuts, and cheap stuff that – I mean all day long we would eat. We would stop sometimes, we’d get up morning, cook ourselves breakfast, usually a bunch of oatmeal and butter and cream and just real rich and nourishing. That would sustain you. When I started putting peanut butter in my oatmeal, I might put half a jar of peanut butter in my oatmeal just because the calories and the fat. We would stop somewhere and eat something for lunch. Just rest for a little bit. But we were just constantly eating on the bike anyway. Now, I’ll tell you this, boy, you know how they say, don’t feed the bears? Don’t feed the bikers. Don’t feed the bikers. There were countless time we’d be in a campground or somewhere along the way, -those bicycles and two young men like that attracted attention. We’d park at a grocery store to go inside and buy some groceries for dinner, a lot of pasta. Tons and tons and tons and tons of pasta we ate. It’s cheap, it’s filling, and it will carry your weight. A lot of times people would come up and introduce themselves. Where you’re all from, where you going, what are you doing? Now Rocky, we were having a good time. We were young and free and riding the break. About a month before this bike ride, my daddy called and he said, they got the burn center down here in Greenville and the director lives across the street and I was telling him the other day at the mailbox about your trip. He wants to talk to you. You got to call him. So, I called him and the guy said, I don’t know if you know all this, but because of your injuries, you know the state of Mississippi at the time anyway, led the country in burn-related mortality. He said would it be possible since you’re doing is, what do you think about trying to raise money for the burn center? I said, that’s a great idea and that’s what we did. We wrote a few letters, my gosh, if only that we had had social media back in the day. We did not, we didn’t have Internet that I’m aware of. But we wrote letters, we’d gotten the newspaper there in Starkville, we’d gotten newspaper in Jackson, came down to mama’s house, and Jackson did a story on me about this event, what we were doing. I didn’t know what was going on with it. We just had their address and telephone number. As we were pedaling across the country, there were times we would get stuck. Now Rocky, we’d be out coming through a town, right out in the country a little bit and it started getting dark. We usually late in the afternoon, we’d stop and eat dinner before dark. That way we could ride 15, 20 miles further and it would give us time to look and find somewhere. We could find somewhere – we’d just fall off in there and set up tents and camp. Last time we knocked on farm doors, or knocked on homes that had great big lots out there beside their house. It’s unbelievable how many people – just imagine if somebody knocked on your door right now and introduced themselves as being from halfway across the country riding a bicycle, but wanted to camp in your backyard. I mean just how crazy is that? This day and age, shoot. Back then, it was unbelievable how many people would not only want to help us set up, but would invite us in, do our laundry, feed us dinner, want to hear about our trip. It was just unbelievable. It was so unbelievable to meet America. We used to say, if you just think driving from here to Canada, you see America 55 mph, you ought to try it at 55 miles a day. You really get to see and meet people and experience things. Countless of the people – one time, we took a shortcut, we cut through Ontario – I had never seen Niagara Falls. We were scheduled to go down below Pennsylvania around south of Great Lakes. We decided to cut off a week travel and go across Ontario. I’ve never been to Canada. We ate lunch, baked dinner one night at the University of Ontario, and we’re riding out of the country. First house would come to, we had a couple of mean dogs. It had a lot more biting than barking, I believe. Second farmer we came to, nobody answered the door. Third door we knocked on, a dairy farm in Ontario, knocked on door, a nice little lady with an English accent opened the door and we explained what we were doing. Raising money for a burn center. I was also a firefighter. I had been a firefighter volunteer, firefighter preceding going to Starkville. We explained that to them. We just needed a tent. If we could just pitch a tent out here in this yard it would be very helpful. She said, where did you say you were from? I said Greenville, Mississippi. That’s where the burn center was located. She said, hang on a second. She shut the door and about two or three minutes later she and her husband both open the door and welcomed us inside the house. I mean like spontaneously and excitedly, now you all come on in, and you all ain’t sleeping in our yard, you all come inside. Well, it turns out the man’s son lived in Greenville, Mississippi, and he called his son and said, you know anything about some guy named Ramsey Russell coming through Canada on a bike, riding? He goes, no. I just saw Ramsey down at Sunflower. I go, oh, wait a minute, that’s your son. Yeah, invite him in the house, he’s doing that. I’ve read in the paper and what is the chance of meeting somebody like that? We were cutting across Minnesota and man, look Rocky, you sweat when you ride a bike like that. The worst thing in the world, nothings worse than crawling into a sleeping bag on a chilly night when you’ve been sweating all day, you kind of need to wash off. Sometimes we might use a hose pipe or something like that but a lot of times, we’d just jump off in a creek or a river. One night we were riding, there was a park about two or three miles up the road, just a little public area we were going to camp in for free. We crossed over this creek; it couldn’t have been 10 yards wide. It’s a little creek and we parked our bikes and climbed down. There was a bar of soap, and we swam, and cleaned off real good, and rode to the campground. Well, as we were leaving, I was about to get in my bike, I looked. There was a little sign that says, whatever the creek body is, have a look at it. It wasn’t a creek, Rocky. It was the Mississippi River. I’m like, oh my gosh. I mean, down around Vicksburg it’s about 1.5 miles wide. I’m like golly, that’s the Mississippi River? I got to looking at my map and we were just 15 or 20 miles from a lake attached to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. It was going on the lake first but I had to go see the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi. The next day we got up, we went to it and that was a golly, you can step across it when it comes out of the lake. It’s unbelievable. We went and saw all that and spent a day. We were riding back up, we caught one of the areas on a busy road, it was a two-lane road, boom boom boom boom boom boom, bumper to bumper traffic. We were hugging the white line. Every now and then people honk because they’re impatient to get home. About that time, I was a little aggravated because bumper to bumper traffic, and I’m having to hug the curb, and hit the bumps, and about that time, a car passed me and flipped up on the shoulder and stopped about 20 ft or whatever in front of me. I was in that fight or flight moment. I was like alright. There’s somebody who wants to get the tussle over being inconvenienced, and one of my high school buddy steps out of the truck and he goes, “Ramsey what the hell are you doing up here on a bicycle?” He had no clue. He was up there selling telephones. He had no idea. He got a job and moved up to Minnesota and riding along in bumper-to-bumper traffic, looked over to the side and there’s Ramsey Russell riding down the road. It’s just crazy the story by the time, one of the biggest things we want to do, Rocky, everybody told us, do not ride east to west because the prevailing winds are going to be in your face. It’s going to kill you. There were some days that we hit those hard winds, and we didn’t get for 30 miles into it before we decided it’s better to take a day off. We talked about that man. We might should’ve listened but for us flatlanders, we wanted to ride out and see the Rocky Mountains. That was kind of the climax of the whole thing. It was going through the rockies and seeing all that kind of stuff. We had scheduled to backpack in Glacier National Park for a week, which is a story unto itself. But we got lucky. Coming across North Dakota, for example, we rode 20 miles the first day, we had a headwind. Next day, a storm blew in, we rode 148 miles all the way down highway – at times 35 to 40 miles an hour. We had such a strong tailwind. It would just catch those panniers and blow us along. Spent the 4th of July – sometimes we get caught in big cities – we got caught in Duluth, Minnesota at night. Let me tell you, I’m pretty comfortable doing a lot of things but to fall soundly asleep in a one-man tent in a downtown metropolitan area is a little scary. We didn’t have guns and stuff like that to protect ourselves. I mean, really anybody could get up on you that way. We got caught and we’re like, what the heck are we going to do, man? Can’t sleep on this picnic table. It’s pretty cruddy, you can tell it’s a pretty downtown area. You might not want to be caught unawares in any way. I said well, I’ve got an idea. So, we rode down to a firehouse, knocked on the door and introduce ourselves. Of course, they invited us in. Nice company and I tell him what we were doing. He said, look, the main firehouse is about four blocks from here. Go over there and meet so and so, the chief, and tell them what you’re doing. We came in and told them what we were doing. We got caught, we needed a night somewhere inside, we couldn’t afford a hotel room. They rolled out the red carpet. So, let me tell you what, you need a hot shower? There ain’t better water pressure in town than a firehouse. The fire department, they got good water pressure, good comfortable beds. Those boys eat. They cook like kings and they fed us – you want to talk about metabolism. We ate dinner with them, and we ate seconds and thirds. We went to the TV room, started watching Die Hard. I had never seen the movie before. It was a bad bone and they came in with a huge bowl of popcorn for both of us that lasted about two minutes. Then they went to the store and bought us each a big gallon of Neapolitan ice cream. We ate the bottom out of the bowl. I mean he had a gallon. I had a gallon. Our metabolism was such, we would eat like that and 30 minutes later you can feel your belly button rubbing the rib bone. Your backbone. The next morning, the publicity guy for the department had called a newspaper and they did a story on us. That story projected us all the way, halfway through Wisconsin. People had read that story in The Duluth Times. They would see us riding down the roads and they’d pull over and talk to us, invited us to come on into their homes. People would say, hey, if you all are going to stop up here in this next town, come eat dinner with us tonight. You can stay in our homes, wash your clothes. It was very humbling that just regular good old Americans would take care of you like that. When we got to Glacier National Park, we parked our bike at Lake Mary. We went up there to Lake Mary post office and Kurt’s backpack was waiting on him and mine was not. So I call my mother and said, mom hey, I’m up here. Did you mail the bag pack? And she goes, yeah, I mailed it, but I sent it to Cut Bank. That’s where the postal guy said it was $5 cheaper and that’s where I needed to send it. I said, well, great, but that’s 90 miles back. That’s a big mountain pass to get back to Cut Bank too. I don’t know how in the world I’m going to carry 50 lbs. of backpack on top of all this stuff over that pass in my bike. So, I went down the little quick stop and was trying to kind of thumb a ride, trying to knock on some of them big campers and see if somebody would give me a ride. They were so nice. That night at dinner, they want to have no part of having me on their big 5th wheel go another way, a stranger. I was sitting there and about this time, this native American came up and introduced himself and said, hey, what’s going on? We started chatting and he goes, why are you so down? What’s going on brother? I said, oh man we’re going to camp over here and my mother has sent over – ninety miles back – I got to figure out a way to go and get my backpack. He said, I got wheels. Let’s roll. So, I jumped in the car with this Indian. He was from Alberta. I come to find out he grew pot. He was on the lam because he came home one day and all his plants were gone. He had known he’d been raided or ripped off. So, he went to America to backpack and camp for a while. It’s just the people you meet. But by God, the man was nice enough to give me 200-mile round trip ride to get my backpack. So, we get up the next morning because there are bears and lots of them in Glacier Park. You can’t just go willy-nilly hiking wherever you want to in the park. You got to kind of file a hike plan with the ranger. Ranger looks at it and has to approve it. So, we filed a five-day hike plan. We looked at the map, studied the terrain, figured out which camp ground we would go to, and you guys camp a specific area. Like if you go to them little areas, there’s a place designated over here where the tents go, there’s a spot designated way over there where you cook and store your food because you really don’t want to wake up in the morning smelling like honey bun when there are bears in camp. We filed our hike plan. The ranger looked at it and said, “I can’t approve this because it was 20 miles across two major passes. I think that’s a little long.” Well to get and go and see what we wanted to do in five days, that’s the way we had to do it. So we said well, “Look Mister, we just rode bicycles from Bar Harbor Maine. Look at us, we’re fine. Don’t you worry about us. We got this whipped.” He was right Rocky. We woke up on morning at 3:00 AM and I couldn’t move. I could barely blink my eyes without something hurting. I was whipped when I got into camp, and carrying all that weight through all those passes, and Kurt was in the same shape. So, we had to coast for a day and then do a double hike out to get to the next place in the next night. We met some really good guys that next campsite. They were from Kalispell, Montana. They were doctors. One of them was a mortician, ran a funeral home and he was lugging one of those huge Ansel Adam type cameras, where you peak up on the curtain and do stuff. He was a photographer, did that old kind of photography. We met them and they turned us on to French press and some real fresh ground coffee beans from someplace down in Kalispell. I didn’t sleep a wink that night, I drank so much coffee. That day I had gone out, Kurt wanted to go to a peak. He wanted to climb up on a red cloud peak and I said, no. Look at that beautiful lake Kurt. I’m going to swim across about a good mile. That water felt so good. All that melted snow coming in, it was cold. I got halfway in that lake Rocky, now I was wondering if I could swim. I swam a lot back in those days. I swam a whole lot. I swam as much as I bicycled. I got halfway in the middle of that glacier lake and I lost my mobility. So, I had to turn around. I treaded in the water for a minute. I decide I’m going to go back and I was treading in the water, just barely crawling along until I could feel the stones I’d hit in the water. I couldn’t walk and the minute that air hit my skin, it just felt like pins and needles. It was so cold. I had lost my mobility and that night there was a Boy Scout, some Boy Scouts in camp. We were talking about mountain lions and grizzly bears and all that kind of stuff you talk about in back country, and the scout leader goes, “Yeah but do you know the number one cause of death in Glacier Park?” And I go, what? He goes, “These flatland idiots come up here and try to swim across lakes and they get so cold, they can’t swim and they drown.” I’m like, boy, I didn’t tell a soul I’ve done that.
Rocky Leflore: Wow.
Adventures Across America
But one thing for certain that that summer did for me is it just threw gas on the flames. My travel was bugged. I love to travel.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. But we got out of Glacier Park and we went down to Kalispell and hung out with those guys for a few days. We tended on our way and we could eat rocky. We were eating, we were seeing some country, it’s like – I had this talk with Duncan via letters a few weeks ago. I’m like, I know you’re ready to get done. Everybody’s ready get done, get out bootcamp and move on. I said, don’t hurry it away. Just take it day by day. Just take it day by day, take what the day comes. I think that’s a good philosophy in life, no matter what you’re doing. Just take it day by day. It’ll end soon enough and one day I promise you, one day with boot camps like this bike ride, one day you’re going to look back and you’ll never forget it. You’re going to remember those days and you remember even those tough days very fondly. We kind of hurried the summer along. We were just anxious man. It’s like you want to get done, want to get done, want to get done, want to get to the end, want to get to the end and it finally ended. Now I look back 40 years later, 35, 30 years later or whatever it was, 1990s, so we’re talking about 28, years later. Now all them years later, I wish I was still out there riding. I wish I wish I’d never got off the road. It was so much fun. We met so many interesting people. We saw so many different things and did so much interesting stuff that we never dreamed of. Mostly the people. The people again just really define the experience and we actually stopped. We parted ways in Port Townsend. We parted ways in Port Townsend, Washington. Camped somewhere. Well, we left dinner in the dark, we went out, splurged and bought ourselves a big dinner. Big seafood dinner, oysters, and all kinds of stuff and I never saw him again. I got back to state about six months later and he had to go down to California looking at grad school program and I ended up bailing out to Forks, Washington. Walked into one of them little mailing places, it’s one of those little walk-in mail packaging places. Waited in line patiently and one of the guys said, could I help you? I said, yeah, I need to send my bike home. They sounded scared. You know what I’m saying? Because they really don’t have boxes that big. So, we started talking about this trip and he said, “I got a deal for you.” He said, “Where are you staying tonight?” I said, “I don’t know yet.” He said, “Well, you leave your bike here. If you meet me in the morning at nine o’clock and you’ll come and tell your story to my lines group, I’ll mail that bike home for free.” I said, “Deal.” I’m not going to turn down free food. So, I’m out there on the highway trying to get out of town to go find somewhere to camp. I’m thumbing a ride and up comes a black Ford. An old 70’s era Ford with a bow and arrow in the back window. I jump in and turns out, the guy guides. He’s a caretaker of a Temple in a large private property over somewhere out there in the Peninsula. He said, “Oh, you’re welcome to come stay with me man, just come camp out. I got a couple of teenagers I’m babysitting this summer and we got plenty of room in the camp. I’m their caretaker and you’re welcome to stay with me.” We talked bow hunting and all kinds of good stuff that night. They cooked pot roast. Everybody ate pot roast. Talking about my metabolism now. Everybody ate pot roast, potatoes, carrots, all that good stuff. Some people even ate seconds. I took the last bit of bread, and kept eating, and kept eating, and kept eating, and finally just sopped up the gravy with it instead of wanting any more pot roast. Anybody there with a better brand-new pickup truck. Some might weigh a 150 lbs because they couldn’t eat an entire pot roast, and I was hungry an hour later. Next morning, we got up. He’s fixing to take me back to towns so that I could go speak to the lines group. I saw some Mexicans out there – on their hands and knees out there on the beach. The tide was out. I asked him what they were doing. He said they were collecting oysters. He said, “In exchange for being a caretaker here, I get exclusive rights for getting oysters off the beach. Oysters and clams.” I said, “I didn’t know they had oysters here in this spot. I thought they were from the Gulf.” He said, “Oh no, they’re all over the world. Do you like oysters?” I go, “Yes sir.” He yelled something in Spanish. One of the guys brought a five-gallon pail. I must’ve sat there and ate 4 or 5 dozen. As quick as he could shuck them, I could eat them. Little salt and boy, they were so good. Boy, those Northern oysters are so good. Cold-water oysters are so good. I went back and gave them my story. I ended the summer – remember Kurt and I met at that environmental group and we’ve been hearing about a big Redwood protest out in Northern California. A New York based corporate rating type company had bought Pacific Lumber which was the largest land holding of ancient Redwood trees. The company’s been in business over 100 years, he bought it. He was just absolutely moon scaping it, just liquidating it, selling it, move on and make a bunch of money. A bunch of these radical environmentalists called Earth’s First were protesting there. And I decided, since I had about a week before I need to be home for my brother’s wedding I would go down and check it out. Now Rocky, I’ve seen a lot. Coming from Mississippi and riding across The United States of America on a bicycle, and meeting all these people, and swimming in the Mississippi River, and bathing in creeks, and doing all that kind of stuff we did. I mean I had come a long way in those 78 days it took us to get to that point. I’d seen a lot, done a lot. I had grown a lot as a person, but I wasn’t prepared for this. I ended up on a tie-dyed flatbed truck with a bunch of hippies. We rode out to the North Fork River somewhere on National Forest Land and there was nobody there. There wasn’t a soul there. It was a tent city. Tents everywhere. We jumped off. A guy said, “Oh they must be meeting down at the river. So, drop your stuff off of the truck and come on down.” I followed the trail down and when I got there, there were about 150 to 200 people in the river, butt naked. It was 18-year-olds to 80-year-olds. It was just a bunch of people sitting in that river butt-naked talking about their plan for this summer. I mean some of these guys, were going to go out and sabotage the forestry equipment. Were going to go out and do little skits and try to educate the loggers. Some of them were going to run support. Someone of them were going to do other stuff and I just sat there, wide eyed and listening and watching this thing unfold thinking, man, Toto, you ain’t in Kansas no more. This is crazy. I ended up spending about a week there talking to people, meeting people. I was a bow hunter. Come to find out one of the head guys leading it up, one of the real eco-terrorist types was an avid bow hunter from Northern California. Black tailed deer and things of that nature. It was very well funded. I don’t know where the money came from but that operation was very, very, very well-funded. The kind of food they were eating, setups, they had things going on. I left before any of that kind of stuff started. But it was interesting to me that when asked in a private group what my thoughts were about their activities, that when I said I disapprove of chaining yourself to gates and chaining yourselves logging equipment. I strongly disapprove of damaging a piece of logging equipment because the people you’re impacting first and foremost are not the corporate level, it’s the logger. You’re talking about a regular guy. He’s got a family at home that needs to eat. He needs to be paid that day. He doesn’t have a say in all the grand scheme of things. He’s just showing up to do his job and I’ve just got a problem with it, and they respected it. They didn’t agree with it, but they didn’t argue or nothing. Now see Rocky, when we were coming through Montana after we went to Glacier Park, we were cutting through Western Montana. We’re in Libby, Montana, which is a logging community and they had just reintroduced Grizzly bears to the cabinet mountain wilderness area. Very controversial, just like to spot it out, buzz going on in conflict with logging, and productive forestry, and things of that nature, commodity, timber business. We had stopped at a campground. In the camp, we met a local guy there that had been water skiing, he took us water skiing and he fed us hamburgers. We just spent kind of a couple of nights out there with his little weekend party on the river and he said, “You know something you two boys may be interested in is they’re having a big hoedown about a mile or two down the road here. All the loggers and all the communities getting together, they’re going to have local country Western music, and barbecue, and chili cook off, and all that kind of good stuff.” He said, “I bet you all would really have a good time and I know you’d get your fill of cold beer and something to eat. You all ought to go check it out.” We said, “Well, we’ll walk down there and check it out.” “I’ll give you a ride,” he told us that because we were young college kids and maybe not idealistic state and what not like that. He said, I want everybody to see you all get out of my truck and I want you all to – if anything comes up, if any of your opinions or you know, whatever, if you get crossways with anybody, just say the name Rusty. Okay, yes sir. We didn’t get crossways with anybody. We spent the night around a camp fire drinking beer and talking to a lot of the loggers and getting to hear first-hand of how the implications of having endangered species up in their woods and how important it was to their family, their livelihood. We got a real perspective by just listening and becoming friends with these people. So, right back over here at Redwood summer with our first – again it was awful. I’ll tell you this Rocky, from having spent that week, I left – it wasn’t planned. It wasn’t schedule but after I left that Earth’s First camp, I went down to Humboldt State University. Walked into a forestry building, walked around and talked to a couple of professors. Spent an hour and a half talking to one about Redwood policy, Redwood civil culture, all the different aspects of it. When I got back home, I was back in college, I actually wrote two papers on that topic matter and then just, boom. I mean just good papers and I had a course named policy and another course that was the topic matter, and just those first-hand life experiences and seeing it from all those different perspectives really kind of put me where I needed to be. But one thing for certain that that summer did for me is it just threw gas on the flames. My travel was bugged. I love to travel. I love to see new places and that’s why, when I’m riding up to Canada instead of flying, I’ve got time to drive just to go up and every year I travel back through some of those areas that we rode. None of the people are still there. One of the houses I went to check on wasn’t even still there but it’s just a trip down memory lane. I get nostalgic doing that kind of stuff and it really created a comfort level with traveling and being away from my domicile for so long.
Rocky Leflore: Wow. I never knew the part about going to the Earthers meeting. I never heard that part of it.
All the Dots Connect: Closing Out the Story
I’ve just learned if your dreams don’t scare you to death, your aim ain’t even big enough. Aim big. Think big. I guess that’s my message of the day, Rocky.
Ramsey Russell: Man, there’s a lot of people that don’t know that. That was one of the most interesting things and I’ll tell you, I could not have gone, I couldn’t do it right now probably, but I certainly couldn’t have gone from Mississippi State straight to that meeting without having first taking the long way there and meeting a lot of people, and just evolving a lot, to a lot of different opinions and things of that nature. It was just a really, really important – the one guy was a bow hunter. Most people were extremely liberal, like we see him on that day.
Rocky Leflore: They were butt naked.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, they were butt naked. Now they were butt naked out in that river and me and one of the buddies, one of the boys I met on the truck, tie-dyed truck getting out there. We were sitting there, wearing our shorts not knowing what to do, and I said, as much as I hate to do this, I ain’t going to be the one. So I chucked off and got in there from my belly button; I wasn’t going to stay in there. I mean you were far more conspicuous being that guy than not. It was so interesting because here’s what I learned about that. It was an eyeful that’s for sure, some of it you can’t take back. But the reason they did that was because certainly you probably had 100 millionaires in that crowd. For all I know, Steven Spielberg was there. I mean you had well-to-do people there, and you had college kids there, and you had all points in between, and their whole purpose, the whole thing about that was sitting there bare skinned in the river, everybody was equal and everybody’s voice was equal. There were no titles, there’s no income stream, there was nothing but a person and a thought and an idea to contribute. I just sat there on the fringes just watching this unfold like watching TV. It was very, very, very educational for me and truthfully Rocky, with a lot of the stuff we talked about, the scars and things that nature at that point in my life, at the end of that bike ride, it was monumental. It was a –
Rocky Leflore: It had to be.
Ramsey Russell: It had to be. It was a real good closing of that entire chapter. I didn’t realize it at the moment, but now telling the story and thinking back, it was a real good closing of that book, of that part of it was just that moment. I was comfortable, I was who I was, I was in the moment, my voice mattered, I was just another person and it was a good place. But let me tell you this last thing, I finally made it home and we ended up raising $30,000 that summer for the Mississippi Memorial Firefighters Burn Center in Greenville, Mississippi. $30,000 we had raised. People we had met, people we had stayed with, people that had read some of those newspaper stories, people that just we talked to along the way, mailed in lots of money. And $30,000 is a lot of money now but back in 1990 it worked a lot more than it is now. That was a lot of money to have just raised doing something like this. I got home and the director of unit asked me to come up and have lunch with him, and I did. My brother and I drove up there. I had no idea. They had like a little social, the newspaper was there and all the staff from the unit was there and some patients were there, and they just did a little to do, gave me a little plaque. I wasn’t expecting it. Didn’t want it, didn’t need it but they broke out the scales. They said we want to see how much you weigh? How much did you weigh before you left? I said, a 155 lbs. I stepped on the scale now and I’m going to tell you those blue jeans I’ve been wearing, I didn’t have a two pair. Those blue jeans I’d been wearing that day that I stepped on the scales, I had to hold them. I didn’t have a belt; I had to hold on to it. I weighed 157 lbs. I put on 2 lbs. a year later. I didn’t go back to Mississippi State right after this. I went to Co-op. That’s a whole another story. It was the time spent in South Texas Remember? I wanted to go to Mississippi State to be a deer biologist. I wanted to be Dr. Deer and I landed a job right after this biking trip Co-oping with the foremost white tail deer biologist in the world at the time, on some of the most epic 100 plus 1000-acre white tail deer ranches in the world. Free range. It was a very incredible experience. But I was home briefly for my brother’s wedding, I stepped on the scale and I weighed a 157 lbs. One year later, back at Mississippi State, I stepped on a pair of scales, those jeans fit just fit like they did before I left. I wore the same sized clothes and everything. I weighed a 173 lbs. It was solid. It was just – I guess mass from having done that ride. You think of your legs getting you bicycling, but when you’re climbing mountains, especially with a former wrestler, it’s like a double dog dare who’s going to stop first. Well, nobody ends up stopping. You climb a mountain four hours on a bicycle and nobody gets off. It’s a vanity issue. No, I’m not getting off, you get off. Well, I’m not getting off, you get off. So, you end up going to the top, pushing each other to go the top without stepping off. You start climbing mountains like that, you’re using your legs, your back, your stomach, your arms, your shoulders. I mean your legs and everything you’ve got on that climb. But it was a heck of a summer. We had a heck of a summer, alright. I’ll tell you this one last thing I just remembered. It just left an impression on me Rocky. We had gone through Canada because I wanted to see Niagara Falls. I got to tell you, it’s pretty darn impressive. It’s pretty darn impressive. Seeing all that water coming down the river. It is darn impressive, but okay, so, it’s a waterfall. But one thing I remember about that experience is, there was a guy – and I know I’ve got his name, I kept notes that summer in the journal – I know I’ve got his name written down. There was a guy that just two or three days before we got there was in all the papers. This guy, his ambition – was about our age, young 20s – he wanted to be the world’s greatest kayaker and he had been to the falls many times. Done a little engineering in calculations and one day, about whatever half mile where he could access above the Falls, he threw himself in a kayak and off he goes. Based on his notes, they said in the paper, he had calculated that if he got enough speed, when he hit that crest, it would project it, break that grip that the water had on him and it would project him far enough that he would clear where the water hits. He had it all figured out. The velocity of the water, two gallons per minute coming over the waterfall. He really had trained for this moment. He was going to be the guy that came down the Niagara River and cleared the Falls and live to tell about it. Well, who knew? They can turn that thing off like a water spigot and they caught wind of somebody throwing a kayak and that’s exactly what they did. They cut the flow, boom, stopped it. He just went right over the waterfall, right down into the fall, and I think they had not found him when we were there. They were just having to wait on them to get out of that whirlpool where all that water is hitting, and come back up somewhere downriver, and it’s crazy that who in the heck would do that. But you know what I couldn’t help but think? He believed in it and he went forward. It’s crazy sounding to somebody like me and you. He believed in it and he went forward. He went all in, and I’m always saying, I read it somewhere or whatever, but I believe this to be the truth: if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. By all means folks, don’t try to jump off Niagara Falls in a kayak. But along that summer in 1990, I think about that guy in a kayak and I think about how crazy it was to my friends and family to get on a bicycle and start in Bar Harbor, Maine, and ride 5800 miles out till Forks, Washington. That’s crazy. That’s a big, big, big, ambitious dream. But we did it. I really think it’s a good closing chapter to all the bad stuff that had happened because I really did something. It took a lot of digging deep. It took a lot of hyper focus. It costed me $700 that entire summer, airfare, everything. It was just we lived simply, but we accomplished that. I remember coming back to my brother’s wedding and telling a close friend of mine that I didn’t think there wasn’t anything that I couldn’t do if I set my mind to it. That I would never be scared again. If I wanted something, I was going to go for it. I really do think, Rocky, that the crazy idea of leaving a government job and trying to build GetDucks.com, this thing that organizes duck hunts all over the world, that’s a little ambitious. There were some scary times but you see how they kind of dovetail. I haven’t had that experience, I wouldn’t have dreamed big, and being nervous and being scared, having some real trying times throughout that bike ride. We just glossed over the highlight there were some real dig-deep times getting through that summer. There were days where we’d have to stop every seven or eight days, we would have to just stop and eat like we’ve been eating but not move that day, just because the glycogen stores and our muscles were completely depleted. Our calorie intake just exceeded what our bodies could convert to energy unless we stop every seven or ten days and just let it absorb so that we could continue. That mindset and having felt that accomplishment, having done that, it really did help me and bolster me in life. Certainly all the goodness, and all the greatness, and all the people that we met on those 78 days, it certainly helped me see and helped me relate to people in a whole different way. I realized, and I would say this too, the best thing you can do for yourself is to help somebody else. If you want to feel good, if you’re in a hard place with yourself, if something’s going on and you’re not feeling good or whatever, and you want to pick yourself up, let me tell you how to do it: go do something for somebody else. That’s a cure all is giving to others. It’s really the reward is given to yourself. You feel that you benefit from making that energy – I’ve just learned if your dreams don’t scare you to death, your aim ain’t even big enough. Aim big. Think big. I guess that’s my message of the day, Rocky.
Rocky Leflore: What a great podcast.
Ramsey Russell: Well, it was not duck hunting.
Rocky Leflore: A lot of times I jump in there and set you off and ask questions to kind of break up the monotony. But today was so good. I was just sitting there listening to this, just in thrall. I wouldn’t stop you. You stop somebody telling that kind of story, you may mess
something up. I’m not doing it, not doing it. Yeah, some people may get mad at me, but man, what a great story. What a great closing to a scoring and horrible part of your life. What closed it out for you like you said. So, I really enjoyed it Ramsey. Great, great episode. Thank you for being here today.
Ramsey Russell: Future episode, we’re going to get onto some real stuff. We’re going to talk about duck hunting, okay?
Rocky Leflore: Thank you again, Ramsey. We want to thank all of you that listened to this edition of The End of The Line Podcast, powered by ducksouth.com.