Of course the coolest person I've ever met is Katie Gallagher. Since my first date with her on August 19, 1976 I've been the luckiest guy alive. Somehow I tricked her into marrying me and having three amazing children with me. She may not be familiar to readers who don't know us, but I'm sure you can understand why placing her at the top of this list might score me some points.
Why not top our list of "famous" cool people we've hung out with with a fellow cyclist, famous athlete (go Bruins!), and all-around nice guy? I'm talking about Bill Walton. Yeah, he's a famous basketball player, but he really loves cycling. He's always engaged with the community and eager to help out. I've met Bill several times on the bike, and my wife and I have dined with him and his wife. Every time you meet him, he'll say, "Hi, I'm Bill Walton," as if you don't already know who he is. He is generous with his time, as evidenced in the photo here when he posed with me and a friend of our Chicago-area friends (Jeanne & Rob Schoder) named Mark Stephan. This 2012 photo was taken at the west coast launch of the Stephan Challenge across the country. If you knew Mark's story, you'd understand why I wanted to include Mark in this picture and list of cool people, too. Mark is a fellow cyclist and an inspiration to many, just as Bill Walton is. Bill and I escorted Mark for many miles at the start of his self-powered, cross-country journey. If you ride your bike enough in San Diego, you'll eventually bump into Bill Walton. He's hard to miss.
Roll, the professional cyclist, author and VERY entertaining
commentator for professional cycling events (like the Tour de France) was visiting a local bike shop in January of 2006. I wasn't
ready to let him have my Italian motorcyle jacket, but I did buy one
of his books. Unlike some celebrities, Bob is the same in person as
he is on TV...relaxed, funny and personable. Here's
a picture from a ride we did in San Diego in 2007.
When my friend Lisa Thompson
and I met the 2006 National Champion and 11-time Tour de France
cyclist & superhero
Hincapie in December of 2006, he said that Bob Roll
is his favorite cycling commentator. "Big George" lived up
to his reputation as a great yet humble gentleman. Among the stories
he told, he explained how Floyd Landis helped him meet a French
goddess with kaleidoscope eyes named Melanie who ultimately became George's wife. In 2008 (then again in 2011) I spent 3 days
riding around South Carolina with George, his brother Rich, and his
dad Ricardo. With the autumn colors in full glory and perfect weather,
these were some of the nicest weekends of cycling I've every experienced.
Georgie's family clothing business is
Speaking of Floyd
Landis, the "original" 2006 Tour de France winner—just as Lance Armstrong was the "original" winner of 7 Tours de France—came to the velodrome in San Diego where my son Mickey and I met him in December of 2006. Other cycling stars there included
Dave Zabriskie, Sarah Hammer (world champion track cyclist), Bob Roll,
Robbie Ventura and many more. Here's
a picture from a ride we did in San Diego in 2007. While Floyd was regarded as such a "cheat" for a while there, it's clear now that he was the one who really—most effectively—tore down the false castle that Lance built. Now he, Greg Lemond, and Tyler Hamilton can be credited with bringing truth to the sport of cycling, rather than being labeled only as "sore losers." The only cheaters I still have a problem with are the ones who tried to tear down the credibility and careers of their accusers. One particular Texan comes to mind.
On another local ride–this one called the "Alpine Challenge"–the
only American to ever win the Giro d'Italia was joining in for the
second year (2009) in a row. Andy
Hampsten is a great, humble athlete. He's also one of the few, brave cyclists who chose NOT to dope as the EPO doping era reared its ugly head. Someday, another [US]
American will win* the Giro d'Italia, but it's unlikely to be as amazing
as the win that Andy pulled off in an incredible snow storm in the
unpredictable, high passes of this Italian grand tour. Andy now runs
his own touring company (Cinghiale Cycling Tours) and I asked if he raced anymore. Before effortlessly
floating up the next grueling climb, he said, "No...those guys are
way too fast..." This was clearly a humble and polite way of saying
he wasn't that interested in racing anymore, because he clearly has
the legs to win some masters races. In 2014 my wife and I joined Andy and his wife Elaine and many other awesome cyclists for several days of majestic rides in Tuscany. I liked it so much I did the same tour in the fall of 2017. See 2017 pics here. See 2014 tour pics here.
Rounding out the cycling legends hanging out in San Diego, several of us SDBC members had dinner in November of 2010 with Chris Horner and Neal Shirley. As Californians we're particularly familiar with Chris' big win of the 2011 Tour of California, and I was especially sad to see him crash out of the 2011 Tour de France with such great form and a head injury not unlike my big, cat-killing head bang. As an old-fart cyclist, I'm especially proud of Chris for being the oldest winner (ever!) of a grand tour after winning the Vuelta a España in 2013 at the age of 41! Chris often trains in the San Diego area and is quick to wave back if you see him out on the road. I think he's forgiven SDBC for rejecting his interest in becoming an elite team racer for the club (long before he became a grand tour winner). Neal has also trained and raced locally, and since those days he landed a gig writing and testing bikes for Road Bike Action Magazine. (Of course I'm jealous.) He's such a friendly cool guy, so I'm very happy for him. Both he and Chris have joined SDBC in rides or banquets or whatever, blending in with the rest of us "bike enthusiasts."
McBride wasn't sure why her husband John needed to be in the
picture with us, since she did all the singing and I paid for the party
(back in my "corporate" days at HP when the budgets were bursting
at the seams). Maybe he didn't feel safe leaving her alone with a dork
from San Diego dressed up like a cowboy wannabe. But rest assured, that
is John's hand on her, not mine. It was such a great priviledge
to have her sing for such a small group during our sales meeting in
March 1997 at the Grand Ole Opry, even if my international guests didn't
quite appreciate how cool this was. See Martina's own site here. Some avid fans of Martina's have actually copied this photo (along with my short story behind it) to some Martina fan sites.
Thanks to my lil' sister Mimi and her husband David Whitehead,
we've met a number of cool people (her friends) that we usually just admire
Buscemi of "Boardwalk Empire" and "Fargo" fame (at Mimi's wedding in this photo; and no, it's NOT pronounced Bu "SHemi). More about the wild character can be found here. Mimi and Steve's late wife Jo Andres were good friends and we mourn the loss of Jo and wish Steve strength and solace.
Byrne of "Talking Heads" fame, after a great concert
at 4th&B in San Diego circa 2001; I just noticed as I put these
pictures in here that I was wearing the same shirt in both pictures.
(I really do change my clothes now & then.) Earlier that
day we also met with David as he finished a bike ride around San Diego. Visit David's site here.
My wife Katie's sister Lauren was definitely a very cool, very special person. She died at a young
age from a very uncool monster called cancer, and her friends and family
(including her two wonderful daughters Claire & Margot) dearly miss her.
Flack was one of the most adventurous people I've ever known.
This picture of him shows the two of us on the day [July 14th, 2005]
I climbed up the Torrey Pines hill fifty times. (That was 165 miles
total, and over 20,000 vertical feet of climbing. The sign in the background
says forty times, but I decided a few days before the ride that "50"
sounded better.) This ride took me from dawn past dusk. Steven stopped
by to ride a number of "laps" up and down the hill on his
bike with me. Then, well into the evening, as I was finishing the 50th
climb, Steven stopped by in his convertible and gave me a lit, "motor
escort" all the way up the hill...cheering me on the whole way
with motivational music blaring. This is just one example of how enthusiastic
and supportive my old friend, co-worker and riding buddy was. Steven
was stranded by a big storm and died while climbing Mt. Whitney in late
February, 2006. (Click here
for a story that highlights Steven's enthusiasm and valued friendship.)
Williams was one of the great entertainers of our time and an especially cool guy because he was even more insane about
bicycling than I am. He reportedly had hundreds of bicycles.
Also, you've probably seen him on the Tour de France coverage. More
importantly, he was a big supporter of athletes who are living with challenges
the rest of us can barely appreciate. He came several times to La Jolla
for the Challenged
Athletes Foundation's (CAF) San Diego Triathlon. When I was riding
up to meet a friend riding in the 2005 triathlon, I saw Robin Williams
heading for Torrey Pines hill. This is one of my favorite local climbs.
(I rode up it 50 times on July 14th of 2005 just to see if I could.)
It was interesting to catch the celebrity riding by himself. He wasn't
terribly talkative (most people aren't when they're climbing a hill
near the end of a 50-mile ride), but still very gracious about letting
me ride alongside, welcoming me to do most of the talking for him. I
just wanted to let him know how fun it was to go for a short ride with
him and and also let him know how great it is that he keeps coming back
for the CAF triathlon every year. After seeing the coverage in the paper
for so many years, it was a kick to be riding with "the man"
up the hill. You're probably aware of his suicide but news of his Lewy body disease affliction that contributed to his demise was not as well know.
My father-in-law, Bob Gallagher Sr., was a great inspiration to
me for the 30 years that I knew him. In this 1977 picture, he's shown with the whole family on a trip to
Europe right around the time Katie and I started dating.
Bob Gallagher Sr. was
an incredible optimist, businessman, and family man. As a philanthropist,
his legacy will live on for many years, as he has put his hard-earned
fortune into a foundation that will continue to help poor, inner-city
kids get a good education and a chance to become great contributors
At that dinner in 2010 I told Chris Horner that I am very impressed with him as a cyclist, but told him of another, even MORE inspirational rider in the room named Gordy Shields. Gordy had been a huge advocate for bike paths and other aspects of cycling in San Diego for decades. Gordy's big goal at that point in his amazing life was to become the ONLY HUMAN to ever complete a 20 km time trial in the 95+ category. Gordy achieved his goal, setting national and world bike racing records in the 80/85/90/95+ age groups. He died in the summer of 2013 and will remain an inspiration for me and so many others for decades to come.