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Spokane pulmonologist, adventurer, Dick Byrd dies in Cuba

Dr. Richard Byrd, a Spokane pulmonary specialist and globetrotting adventurer, died on April 3 after suffering a blow to the head in a fall while hiking a rocky area on the coast of Cuba.

Byrd, 82, was traveling with his wife, Laurie, and a group led by National Geographic Expeditions. The adventure travel organization has clearance to lead Cuba cultural trips that include U.S. citizens, who are otherwise restricted from entering the nation.

Byrd was featured in a 2010 story in The Spokesman-Review for the inexhaustible energy that allowed him to continue a medical practice with the Rockwood Clinic while satisfying a world-class appetite for climbing mountains, paddling kayaks and hiking treacherous trails.

“The group was hiking and he was out in front, as usual,” Laurie said, describing his fatal accident. “He apparently slipped and hit his head. He never regained consciousness.”

She said she finds comfort in knowing he was out exploring new territories and doing what he loved.

“On the other hand, this was such an incredibly active and vital man who still saw patients – and he was gone in an instant. It takes some getting used to.”

Byrd, a former Air Force officer, launched most of his outdoor adventures after the age of 50. He was active in the Spokane Canoe & Kayak Club and a veteran, along with Laurie, on wilderness trips in North America.

They paddled off the Galapagos Islands as well as northeastern Greenland, a trip that took 10 years to arrange with permission from the natives.

“It was worth it,” he said.

Byrd climbed peaks such as Kilimanjaro and hiked to the base camps of Mount Everest and K2.

He'd trekked in Nepal, India and Buton, an island in Indonesia. He’d canoed Alaska’s Noatak River into the Bering Sea, kayaked the Strait of Magellan in Chile and rode out 400 miles of whitewater in a canoe, along with Laurie, on the Nahanni River in Canada’s remote Northwest Territories. The Nahanni trip is epic in the paddling club’s history because the group nearly starved.

After trekking 200 miles across England, walking an average of 20 miles each day, Byrd wondered if he was in good enough shape to run a marathon. He proved he could by finishing the Portland Marathon, just before he turned 80.

Byrd’s ashes returned the United States with his wife. The family is planning a memorial on April 27, 11 a.m., at Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church.

Johnson Post: Cuba … Isn’t It Time?

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn recently made their second trip to Cuba. Carter also went in 2002. Both trips, undertaken as a private citizen (but no former president is really a private citizen), were designed to try and move U.S – Cuba relations in a more positive direction. Predictably, Carter was immediately denounced as a “shill for Castro” and an apologist for the Cuba government. Such criticism seems to roll of the former president’s back like water off a duck and Carter’s report on the visit, posted at the Carter Center website, paints a much different picture of what he did and said in Havana/Marc Johnson, The Johnson Report. More here. (AP file photo of Jimmy Carter & Fidel Castro this spring)

Question: If we can restore relations with Vietnam, isn't it time that we did the same with Cuba?

Where Are They Now — Elian Gonzalez

Elian Gonzalez attends an official event with Cuba’s President Raul Castro, unseen, in Havana, Wednesday. Castro and a now 16-year-old Gonzalez attended an official event marking the 10-year anniversary of the time when the former cast away child whose mother died at sea became the center of a politically-charged international custody battle, ending with his repatriation to Cuba and his father. (AP Photo/Adalberto Roque, Pool)

Question: Do you think Elian Gonzalez is better off today in Cuba than he would have been if the U.S. government had allowed him to stay in this country 10 years ago?

Life in Cuba

Good morning, Netizens…

When I first stumbled across this AP picture, I had a momentary historical lapse, as if my eyes do not deceive me, this is a 1952 Chevrolet. In the USA this beast would have long since either become an entry at a classic car show or maybe exiled to the scrap yard, but in Havana, Cuba, they use them as bootleg taxis.

A sweet little 235 cubic inch 6-cycliner (perhaps a 216, as some Chevies varied back then), a Spicer 3-speed manual transmission and few other options, this model was one of my first cars, and although I came to loathe the 216 engine because of its design, I came to trust the 235’s hardiness and ease of maintenance. Although it didn’t have quite enough poop to climb over the Rocky Mountains at 70 MPH (More like 50 MPH was its top speed climbing over the bigger passes) it reliably delivered good fuel economy with long life for my generation.

Some models later on even came equipped with overdrive, which gave it even longer life, better fuel economy and quieter running at freeway speeds.

The best part is with just a modicum of study, I rebuilt my first car, which is how I learned the trick of using the 235, instead of the 216, since the latter had babbeted rods and main bearings. That was a genuine pain to rebuild.

Ah, the memories of the open road!


Parting Shot

Children wave flags at the Malecon avenue on the Anniversary of Fidel Castro’s triumphant march into Havana when he defeated Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista on 1959 in Havana, Cuba today. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

SR’s Today In Photos: Western Washington floods

Question: Is it finally time for the United States to resume normal relations with Cuba?