A few years ago, while on vacation in Cawker City, Kansas (home to the world’s largest ball of twine), I was eating lunch at a quaint café on main street when who do you think I spotted sitting at a table across the room? If you guessed cycling-great, Sterm E. Archer, you are correct – and congratulations for remembering the title of this article which you may have read just a few seconds ago! At this point in the story, I could take up time and space by telling you all about the waitress who took my order, how she looked and what she was wearing and what I had ordered to eat and even what Sterm was eating; or I could mention how casual Sterm looked in his frayed and faded blue jeans topped with a tattered Grateful Dead t-shirt two sizes too big – but these trivial facts have absolutely nothing important to add to our story at all – so let’s just jump right into the interview:
Bertha – Sterm, I can’t tell you how excited I am to see you and to get this chance to talk with you. What do you think of the roast beef and mashed potatoes here at this quaint café in downtown Cawker City, Kansas?
Sterm – You know Bertha, there isn’t too much here in this café that doesn’t taste delicious. I probably have the roast beef at least twice a week. I noticed that you had their famous Twine Ball Platter. That’s one of their more popular dishes – even if it is just spaghetti wrapped around a giant meat ball. Busloads of people come here to order that one.
Bertha – Yes, but enough trivial talk that has absolutely nothing to do with our interview. You’ve been retired from the cycling scene for several years now. What do you do here to pass the time?
Sterm – My wife, Agnes, and I teach calf roping – and macramé. Anything to do with rope is pretty popular in this town. I also collect rope and string, like many others around here – it’s everywhere. I’ve got quite a collection. I find it on newspaper bundles, on tents at campsites, on boats tied to the dock out at the lake. I’ve even got the rope that they used to hang the Australian outlaw, Ned Kelly. Of course Agnes has macraméd that into a hanging end table.
Bertha – I’m sure a lot of our readers remember you from when you were famous but, to those new to the sport of cycling, why don’t you take a moment or two now to remind us how Sterm Archer made a name for himself, thus etching his name in the cycling history books for all time.
Sterm – Naturally I raced all of the major races in the 60’s and into the early 70’s. It was in late 60’s though when a new cycling sport burst upon the scene – underwater racing. It was started over in England. I was actually living there at the time and it rained all but about seventeen days during the two years that I lived there. I had joined the local cycling club not long after moving over there and, due to the horrid weather, our activities mostly consisted of eating and drinking at the local pub and waiting for the rain to stop. One day when we were sitting around our favorite (or favourite as they would type) local pub, the barkeep announced that they were out of everything except water – and of course, tea. So anyway, not wanting to pay for water when we could get all of it we wanted for free outside, we decided to just go for it – after all, we were a cycling club – and it was just a little rain. Once we got used to that, there was no amount of water that would stop us from riding. It became addictive. We looked for more challenging places to ride and race. We drew quite a large crowd for our race of the Thames and the English Channel. Stateside you probably remember the Great Mississippi River Race and the two month-long Tour de Great Lakes. Needless to say, you have to possess some pretty good lung capacity to participate in underwater racing.
Bertha – What kind of bicycles did you ride while racing underwater?
Sterm – Mostly they were rusty ones.
Bertha – What are some of your more memorable cycling experiences?
Sterm – There was this one time, I was cycling about a mile or two off shore in the Atlantic and came to an abrupt drop off on the ocean floor. I slammed on my brakes and spun around just in time to keep from plunging into total darkness. At that precise moment, a form came plummeting toward me from above. The form turned out to be another man. He grabbed my shoulders and came to a stop on the very edge of the ocean cliff. At first I thought it might be someone else enjoying the sport of underwater cycling but he didn’t have a bicycle – plus, he was wearing a suit and tie – and a bucket of cement around his ankles. He had some rope tied around his wrists which had also gotten caught in the spokes of my front wheel. I quickly untied it (figuring it would be a nice addition to my collection) and then the ocean floor gave way and he abruptly sped on down the cliff and out of sight. I cycled on back to the shore.
Bertha – Any idea who that guy was?
Sterm – I was never really sure. But a few days later I read in the newspaper that a certain local union leader had disappeared off the face of the earth.
Bertha – That sounds like it truly was a memorable cycling experience. Now, I’m sure that this must be as much of an honor for you to meet me as it is for me to meet you. Do you have any questions that you would like to ask me?
Sterm – Funny you should mention that, Bertha – yes, there is something that I’ve wanted to ask you for quite a while. I am an avid fan of yours and always enjoy your informative and factual articles. A while back I was reading my favorite (favourite) cycling publication and was grossly interested in your Bluebonnet Express Ride Report. However, what happened to installments two through five as well as seven? All I ever saw was Part One and Part Six.
Bertha – Well, Sterm, funny you should mention that. I wrote those segments of my story while I was cycling across northern Kansas. I didn’t have any paper with me at the time so I wrote them all out on a piece of rope I had with me…
Sterm –That makes absolutely no sense at all.
Bertha – How about: Well, Sterm, funny you should mention that. I wrote those segments of my story while I was cycling in the Tour de Great Lakes. Since I didn’t have any waterproof paper…
Enjoy the ride!