Like all of us, when things “pile up” and you just need a break from reality .. we access the brightest corners of our memory chest and grab for a flashback of happier times. I’m just a firm believer that Life is short .. and you have to steal a few breathless moments from death while you still can .. because the pursuit of happiness is the chase of a lifetime .. an endless “adventure”.
In all my travels .. there is always a “bright spot” that draws me back more often than usual. Though each location is so very unique in it’s own distinctive way .. there are more “special moments” than I can count .. let alone remember. But then again, there are times when there seems to be such a convergence of positive energy and excitement that the very blood in your veins feel “electric” .. and you just seem to maintain a perpetual state of “awe” and amazement. It’s as close as you can get to an addiction without a needle .. and all you need is time and an Iron Horse.
That magical spot for me is Cody, Wyoming .. it encompasses all of the majesty of the American West .. and the entire energy of all those historical figures who left their brand forever. Cody is named for the famed western showman William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. He envisioned all the potential tourism and recreational opportunities of the region and began to invest his own money in the town. He built a hotel, the Irma, in which the ornate bar was sent to him by the Queen of England, and he also built a hunting lodge, the Pahaska. Both operate to this day.
Most people may be more familiar with other famous western towns from folklore and film .. like Cheyenne, Laramie, Medicine Bow or Sundance .. but everyone’s heard of Cody .. the Rodeo capital of the world. Since 1938, from June through August there’s a rodeo every single night!
While often thought of as “the Cowboy State”, Wyoming has a proud heritage in women’s movement history. It’s the first state to have a woman Governor, female Justice of the Peace and the first state to grant women the right to vote. Not bad for a place with just over a half-million residents scattered over a landmass of nearly 98,000 square miles. Wyoming also hosts the second largest population of wild horses in the United States.
Shoshone was the first national Forest in the U.S. created by President Benjamin Harrison on March 30, 1891, and covers nearly two-and-a-half million acres from the Montana border to Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains. The ranger station at Wapiti is the first operation of it’s kind in the country, and the largest concentration of grizzlies in the lower 48 states lives in the Shoshone.
Members of the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes share the 2.2 million acre Wind River Indian Reservation in Fremont County. The reservation is one of the most fascinating historical, cultural and beautiful spots in all of Wyoming. Significantly, this is the only reservation in the U.S. where Native Americans were given the chance to choose where they wanted to live, thanks to Washakie, the famed chief of the Shoshone.
The graves of Washakie and Sacajawea are popular stops on the reservation at Ft. Washakie, which also happens to be the only military fort to be named after a Native American chief. He was buried there with unprecedented full military honors in 1900. Sacajawea was the teenage Shoshone translator, negotiator and guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804 whose face adorns the $1 coin. She died April 9, 1884.
The nation’s first National Park was Yellowstone, and in 1906 Teddy Roosevelt designated Devils Tower as the nation’s first national monument. The route from Cody to Yellowstone was once dubbed “the most scenic stretch of highway in the country” by none other than Teddy Roosevelt. But I’d have to adamantly debate that statement.
In 2001, I signed up through H.O.G. to be one of the limited 500 riders for the inaugural Iron Pony Ride. That event was based in Cody. I made reservations seven months in advance in downtown Cody at the Buffalo Bill Cabin Village. I can’t begin to describe what a cool little log cabin this was .. so cool in fact, that I’ve already reserved one for next August prior to Sturgis week .. and there were only four units left last month when I grabbed one. But this IS in the heart of Cody.
I mentioned a few “adventures” back that as I once rode east out of Yellowstone on the 20, after watching the Jackson Hole fires, I was stopped by a Forest Ranger and told I’d have to detour up and across Montana on the 212 and come back down the 120 to get to Cody. He said the fire would be across the road in less than 20 minutes and I had to turn around immediately. I’d already been on the road for a few weeks touring the Southwest prior to wandering north into Yellowstone .. and a “detour” meant nothing to me. In fact .. it turned out to be the most exhilarating and memorable detour anyone could have ever deliberately planned in advance.
It was amazing at the higher altitudes in Montana how the Wyoming fire smoke was lingering in the air .. it actually burned my eyes. But as I meandered along .. I found the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway and the route to “Beartooth Pass”. It was 105 degrees that day, July 28th to be exact .. just happens to be someone’s birthday I’ll never forget .. but by the time I rode to the 10,947 ft summit I was in full leathers and chilled to the bone. At the peak was a log cabin known as the “Top of the World” with bikes and one truck & trailer parked outside. As I found my way inside .. everyone at the bar looked at me and just smiled from ear to ear .. and I could read their every thought. “Unbelievable !!” No one who has ever experienced that ride will ever forget it! I’ve since learned it’s rated among the top 10 rides in the entire country .. and that fact I won’t debate!
So that was the beginning of one week of the most incredible riding experiences you could ever imagine. And with one little cowboy town filled with 500 Harley riders .. every day was filled with incredible “adventures”. H.O.G. had daily rides planned with no set schedule .. just a map and a location. Tuesday was the Big Horn Mt. Loop (205 miles), Wednesday was the Chief Joseph Hwy & Bear Tooth Pass Loop (220 miles) .. yep, I got to ride the pass TWO more times! Thursday was the Yellowstone Loop (300 miles) and Friday was the South Fork Loop (90 miles). But me, being me, just wandered the state on my own.
The little towns of Greybull, Sheridan, Lovell, Thermopolis, Meeteetse, Powell, Ten Sleep, Buffalo, and especially Red Lodge, Montana, treated all the riders like Kings. Breakfasts, barbeques and live entertainment was provided somewhere every day .. and I can’t even describe how incredible the belly dancers were at the park in Red Lodge who performed an exceptionally choreographed white-veiled dance to the Moody Blue’s “Knights in White Satin” … unbelievable! As I walked down the sidewalk toward the Shag Bar up walked Willy G. Davidson and his wife, Nancy. I grabbed a photograph of them and he asked me if I wanted him to autograph my vest. “Sure” .. expecting him to make a small autograph over my Iron Pony horseshoe. But he had his own silver sharpie and he asked me to turn around .. so I did. He autographed it across the back at my shoulders. I didn’t take it off to look at it .. but as I went into several bars and shops people would stop me and comment on the autograph. I didn’t even realize it until that night when I took it off that he’d signed a HUGE autograph across the shoulders .. really cool. Unfortunately, miles and miles of sunshine and sweat have proven tougher than the sharpie ink .. so I’ve buried the signature beneath more patches. At least I know what’s under them, and I did get to ride 60 miles with Willie G. & Nancy right beside me one day that week. Got pictures of that too.
The Buffalo Bill Historical Center is the home to several Museums within itself: The Buffalo Bill Museum, the Whitney Gallery of Western Art, the Plains Indian Museum and the Cody Firearms Museum .. my personal favorite. It offers the largest and most comprehensive collection of American firearms in the world. The nearly 5,000 objects chronicle the development of firearms from the 16th century to the present. I spent hours there in total amazement.
Right at the western edge of Cody is The Old Trail Town. In the spring of 1967, work began to gather the historic buildings and relics to be displayed at the site. Many of the buildings have been completely reassembled in tact. The Trail Town collection now consists of over 25 buildings, dating from 1879 to 1901, one hundred horse drawn vehicles, plus an extensive collection of memorabilia of the Wyoming frontier and Indian artifacts. Trail Town is the largest collection of its kind in Wyoming.
At the edge of Trail Town are eight notable gravesites and a huge monument called “Memorial to the Mountain Men of the Fur Trade Era”. The one that grabbed my particular attention was the gravesite of John “Liver Eating” Johnston, which was relocated to Old Trail Town on June 8, 1974.
During his colorful career, Johnston, who was born in 1824 and died in 1900, had been a trapper, hunter, woodhawk, army scout, marshal, and Civil War veteran. In recent years he has become well known from the movie “Jeremiah Johnson”, which was based on Johnston’s life. A well known actor in that movie, Will Greer, just happens to have been a very close friend of my 92 and 94 year old aunt and uncle, Verl & Roy Caughran .. small world, huh?
Over 2000 people attended the reburial service for Liver Eating Johnston at Old Trail Town, probably the largest burial service in the history of Wyoming. There’s a bronze statue of Johnston on his horse with his muzzleloader erected over the wrought-iron fenced grave.
The great little watering hole I frequented the most during my stay in Cody was the Silver Dollar Bar & Grill. Heidi Kruger ran the place back then, and she and I talked a lot that week. Her biggest concern was competing with the other bars in town for the “lion’s share” of the biker business that week .. after all, there were 500+ new “residents” in town. I solved her problem with one simple idea .. a “wet T shirt” competition. Yep, she was all over it. And since it was my idea .. guess who was assigned to pour the ice water and conduct the “contest”? You guessed it!
The night we held it, the place was so packed people were standing on the bar and tables to get a better view. Service was pretty tough to get so when people ordered they bought a bunch. When they passed out the white T’s to the contestants I told the girls to find some scissors and “get creative” .. then we put numbers on them with a dri-marker. We first had the girls up front by the windows .. knowing it would draw more attention from the people packed in the street. Unfortunately .. it drew the wrong kind of attention .. and they wore badges!
The bar was so overcrowded they asked us to move the contest outside .. as they have a huge patio parallel to the street. In a short while we had the stage set up and the girls were back to gettin’ soaked. Yep .. they were getting “soaked” all right .. a dozen staggering drunks flashing the streets. It wasn’t long before Joe Friday and his sidekicks were back insisting we move the “party” inside .. the crowd in the street was HUGE and now they didn’t care how many people we packed inside .. “just move it back inside”.
Well .. my very favorite was Robin Kinchoy .. we had a blast that night and she ended up getting “runner-up” money. Personally, I think her best prize was the fact that she got to ride Bosco that night .. all I had to do was keep a drunk on the seat for a short ride home.
My greatest treasure of the entire trip came as a surprise one morning as I uncovered Bosco and opened my leather saddlebag to store gear for the day’s ride. As I opened the lid I found a sparkling Golden Angel riding a motorcycle pin resting gently on top of other gear stored in the bag overnight. How did a single little pin get inside the snap-locked leather saddlebag .. while the bike was completely covered?
I firmly believe I have my own personal group of “Angels” who ride with me at all times .. how else could anyone survive the numerous “near-death experiences” that I have? It’s all about “energy” .. and just because you don’t physically “see” something doesn’t meant it’s not there. The pin has remained on my vest since that day .. and my “A-Team” (as I call my band of Angels) are always with me .. just as “my energy” is always with those I cherish the most. Even if they don’t “see” me .. they know I’m still there.
Until next time .. ride smart .. ride safe
and the Adventure continues …