A private service will be held at a later date.
Bob Beal, an old and dear friend, reached out to me in early June. Somehow, a recent article of mine about the Wobblies, the storied radical labor union, had found its way to the tiny Texas town where he and his wife Iselda now lived.
“Long time; good stuff. Bob,” he wrote in an email.
Indeed. It had been almost a decade since Bob and I last spoke. A drinking buddy of my dad’s in Eugene, I first met him during summer breaks from college. We forged a friendship over craft beer, coffee, politics.
Through the latter, Bob, whether knowingly or not, managed to orchestrate a chain of events that would lead to my job as campaign manager for a governor’s race in Oregon at age 23. That turned out to be one of the most formative (and bat-shit crazy) experiences of my young adult life .
But it was through a shared love for cycling that our friendship deepened. We’d go on long rides together, through areas in Lane County whose sights and smells, in their own small way, helped shaped the very fiber of my being. McBeth Road. Briggs Hill. Fox Hollow.
Though nearly 30 years my senior, I could rarely keep up with Bob, often a small dot in the distance. The man was a beast, an epicure of strenuous outdoor activity. He snowshoed. He backpacked. He burned rubber on a road bike. His passion for all of these things was infectious.
Bob told me he and Iselda were now living in Fort Stockton, an outpost known for being the “Gateway to West Texas.” The upshot: it was roughly a 2-hour drive from Big Bend, one of the most spectacular natural areas in the U.S.
Iselda worked as a nurse in a nearby state prison. Bob, a blue collar jack of all trades, had worn a few hats. City bus driver. Local newspaper editor. He was now taking a tour through the salt mines of Texas industry.
In a brief phone call, Bob told me he and Iselda planned to visit the Pacific Northwest for a week in August and would be flying back home out of Portland. I insisted they stay at our home their last night in town. I offered them a ride to the airport in the morning.
So much time had passed between us that Bob was unaware I had a house, a family.
“Well, I’ll be darned,” he said in his gentle drawl.
He and Iselda arrived here on Saturday, bearing a bottle of wine and bouquet of flowers form the Eugene farmer’s market. The opportunity to re-connect with old friends filled me with joy. As did the chance to share in the happiness that emanated from the two of them.
Their life in Texas was one they would have never imagined, they said. They bought a pickup truck for weekend treks. In empty pockets of the desert, they sometimes danced at sunset to songs playing on the radio.
They also talked about the future they were looking forward to. Buying a little home in El Paso, they hoped. Summers back in Oregon, perhaps. Returning to forests and mountain meadows they discovered long ago.
Bob and I, of course, talked a lot about bikes. He was curious about my daily work commute and expressed some concern about riding year-round in a city as large as Portland, especially during the rainy season. He told me that he spent a good long while out of the saddle, but had started putting in miles on his days off from work.
The three of us got up early on Sunday. We sipped coffee in the dark. I drove them to the airport and dropped them off. We hugged goodbye.
On Monday, barely 24 hours later, I got a call from Bob’s phone, which I didn’t immediately answer. I listened to the message left as I got ready to leave work for the day. It was from Iselda.
Bob had gone on a bike ride first thing in the morning. He was on a straight stretch of highway about 10 miles out of town. A pickup truck struck him from behind, killing him instantly.
“He’s gone. He’s gone,” she said, the words, two days later, still burning in my ears and breaking my heart. “My beautiful man is gone.”
Shane Dixon KavanaughPortland, OR
My memory of Bob is from my first expedition into the Enchantments. This a coveted location within the North Cascades that I happened to get an all zone permit for. This is not typical, and most people were amazed I had gotten a pass on the first time. Now the problem was I had never really backpacked, and I had grown up in Ohio. So, I really needed some folks to go with me to make sure I didn’t die! Bob and Tessa joined me thankfully and both were extremely experienced.
It was the full summer equinox when we packed in via Snow Lake. We had hoped that we would be able to see all of the stars from the lake that long summer day. Unfortunately, it was a bit overcast but we did enjoy sitting on some of the rocks on the lake telling stories and enjoying the blissful chilly quiet. Now we were all happy to have a toilet in vicinity to our camping spot. It was also right next to the rocks we were hanging out on. So, as it became apparent that the stars were not going to be visible, the three of us headed back to our respective tents. And Bob said he would catch up with us after going to the bathroom.
Tessa and I got back before it became pitch black in the forest. We had noticed an inlet to the path from the lake that was rather deep, and we had also hung our food away from camp to hopefully keep bears from joining us. We then got into our respective sleeping bags / tents and drifted off.
About 30-45 min later, Tessa shouted over in my direction and asked if I had heard Bob return. I of course had not. We went to his area and he was not there. A bit of panic set in, but we decided to stick together and head for the bathroom and check the trail to see if we could locate Bob, no sign of the man! Then we got a little more anxious and went past our campsite to the end of the lake…no Bob. Then we went back to that inlet that looked like it would swallow someone whole…didn’t seem to have Bob. We called out along the trail and nothing. It was so dark and quite in those woods, any noise we were making was lost. Then panic did set in.
Tessa and I decided to sit still for a bit. In that process, Tessa had the idea that maybe the access to our campsite was not visible enough for Bob to find it. So, she put out her hiking pools next to the trail. We waited…and waited…and talked about how great of a outdoor man Bob was and that nothing could have happened to him. And then we hear a BEAR!!! And then we realized it was really Bob! He found the polls and walked right into our tent area!! We would not let him out of our sites for the next 24 hours.
Bob was such an amazing man/friend and soul. It is a great loss that he is no longer with us. He led a wonderful life and I was happy to have long walk in the woods with him.
Julie EricksonEdmonds, WA