Bull RiderBull Rider

Sam Kirkaldie turned 70 on October 18th.

Let’s go back. Sam, his wife Bev and three boys arrived in Bend, Oregon in 1976. (With my wife and two kids, I landed here in 1978.) We’ve been acquainted since the late 80’s and business partners since 2000. We share the same lifestyle, political viewpoint, entrepreneurial spirit, and the foundational belief that life is simple. Sam is robust physically (a runner and climber) and socially (it seems he knows everyone in town).  Before buying stock in Centratel in 2000, he was co-owner and manager of KICE radio station which was the Central Oregon country and western radio station, famous for its disc jocky, “Radio Rangers.” For Bend residents of 30 years ago, KICE was a communication bulwark because back then, when out and about, there were no iPods, cell phones or on-line social networks.


In the late 70’s there were 12,000 residents in Bend, most working directly or indirectly in the timber industry. Bursting with growth from 1986 until 2006, Bend now has 82,000 residents, a campy/hip population, geared for outdoor sports and a laid-back lifestyle. The timber industry died long ago; the city is now dependent on tourism and new construction. That’s how its been in the West…lots of changes, and Sam and I have watched in fascination.

Regarding all this, I thought it would be good to interview a true westerner with a long history who also happens to be an astute observer of life.

Part Native American, Sam spent his first 18 years on a cattle ranch/farm in North Central Montana on the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre, Ft. Belknap Indian reservation, 120 miles north of Billings, between the Canadian border and the Missouri Breaks. Living off the land with his family, Sam was on the ranch until he was 18.  (Here’s a brief bio of Sam.)

If you ask, Sam will tell you that things are not complicated, one should work hard to be physically and mentally resilient, it’s important to be prepared — and that too many people carry too much weight as they get caught up in their own heads, in things that don’t matter, or get dragged down in situations that can’t be adjusted. If you’ve read Work the System, you’ll find those same threads. Here’s the first part of our interview:

Sam C: Over your 70 years, what have you learned about making a good life?

Sam K: Life is simple but most people complicate things more than necessary. They try to carry other people’s rocks around; they try to carry society’s rocks. It’s not healthy. You’re only in control of certain segments of your life and can only affect certain things. Work on those things to the best of your ability and let everything else go. There’s only so much you can do and if you can’t influence it, then don’t stress over it.

When something comes up, my rule of thumb is this: In 100 years is it going to matter? Is it going to have any influence on anyone or anything? If you think about it, leaving writings behind, or influencing a family member or a friend in a good way – helping people develop character and integrity, THAT can have an influence on things way down the line, even 100 years later.

If it’s a material thing, it will be long gone and so today doesn’t matter that much.

I don’t know if I was born with this viewpoint or if it was a product of my environment. But, either way, since I was a kid, if I couldn’t fix or influence something, it was of little concern to me.

Sam C: Between the ages of 13 and 24, you rode bulls in rodeo competition. What about that?

Sam K: You have no control over that bull! In those days as a teenager I wasn’t thinking quite so philosophically about things, but what I’d do before the ride was to get prepared: to get limbered up; warmed up, because the bull goes in all directions and the human body must be resilient or there will be injury. My last thought before release out of the chute was “this is going to happen REAL fast, so be ready!” And then, when the gate opened, it was always WAY faster than I thought it was going to be!

Of course, Sam’s last answer goes way beyond bull riding, to life itself. Things really do move fast, don’t they? Your thoughts?

Next week, I’ll post Part 2 of A Bull Rider’s Life.

Image by diosthenese via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

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