Yamaha Tracer GT 900 near the Tetons in WY

A cowboy, a motorcycling instructor, and a drummer walk into a bar...

It’s a Friday night. This weekend is Independent Day weekend. My brother gets married tomorrow. Tonight, we have a wedding dinner in Brigham City, about 50 minutes north of Salt Lake City. 

Monday is the 4th, and Tuesday the 5th, I am due to hit the road for an epic 2600 mile motorcycle adventure. I took my bike into the shop last week for some maintenance. I told the mechanic about a few concerns I had. He assured me that everything was in good order. 

Nevertheless, tonight, my guts tell me that it would be a good idea to spend a couple of hours on my bike a highway speeds before leaving Tuesday morning.  I saddle up and head north on I-15. 

10 miles away, I look down to check my speed. The speedometer has stopped working. This has happened before. It was an extremely easy fix. So easy, I can’t even remember what the fix was, but I don’t stress about it too much. I’ll figure it out when I get home. 

The exit is 2 miles away. A strange “ca-chunk” emanates from the engine area of my motorcycle.  An errant bolt or rock probably just bounced up and hit the underside of my bike.  I take the exit and decelerate at the first stop light. A strange grinding sound and sensation is now coming from the same place on my motorcycle.  It goes away after a few seconds. 

As I approach the restaurant, I feel something subtly different in the motorcycle. The grinding comes and goes again. The restaurant has a 2 hour wait for a group our size. I get the waiting game started and begin googling.  After two hours of making small talk with family and rifling through websites, forums, and repair videos, only one thing is clear: 

I’ll be lucky if my motorcycle even makes it home tonight. There is absolutely no way it’s going on the trip. 

Jack and I right before I left on my mormon mission, October 1995

This trip is fulfillment of a crazy idea I had a couple of years ago when I first started at Yoli – to somehow, some way, combine motorcycling and my work. Not only that, but the plan is to spend a day in Denver with one of my oldest friends, Jack, and to then photograph one of my favorite bands on the planet – Puscifer. 

 It being the 4th of July weekend, there’s simply no way I’ll get a mechanic to look at the bike, much less, be able to order in parts and do the work. Lining up a rental will also be a near impossibility. 

In order for any of this to work, I absolutely must be on the road early on Tuesday morning, July 5th. I’ll be riding 500 miles, straight to Denver. The most I’ve ever done in a day is 320, and that was plenty exhausting.  500 will be a major stretch. It’s going to be a long, exhausting ride. There is no wiggle room in my schedule, and no apparent solution. 

I go for the Hail Mary pass – making a post on Facebook, asking if anyone has a lead on a good motorcycle that I can rent or borrow for the trip.  An offer comes up from an unsuspecting friend – the guy who taught me to ride. I graciously accept his invitation, go check the bike out, and ride it home – heart full of gratitude, packing list on my mind, and back on schedule. 

Day 1:
Denver, CO;
500 miles

…in a single day, a personal record for me. A few hours of it was in the rain, which makes things a lot harder. Some of the high mountain passes I traversed were stunning- fantastic riding conditions. Others… probably breathtaking, but, they were shrouded in rain & fog, visibility was pretty low, couldn’t see much of them. It felt amazing to roll into Denver, to my friend Jack’s place. We spent the evening catching up over dinner. 

Day 2:
Denver - Burgers with Jack, backstage at Redrocks & shooting the puscifer concert;
0 miles

I spent the day in Denver with one of my oldest and dearest friends, former bandmate and always a brother – Louie Bonaciacci, a.k.a., Jack Keith. Had a great lunch, discussed the mysteries of life, love, and being a creative person.
We stopped in to Redrocks and popped in back stage to check out the preparations for the Halsey concert, then I went back into town to photograph one of my favorite bands of all time – Puscifer.
Who is Puscifer?
Have you heard of TOOL? 
Yeah? Okay. Good. Puscifer is a side project of Tool’s front man – Maynard James Keenan. 
Originally started as a ‘joke band’ to accompany a comedy act with Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, Puscifer soon grew into it’s own thing. Though they are still full of subtle jokes, their music has it’s own maturity. 
Puscifer best described as ‘art rock’, as their sounds span from Americana to Electronica, and everything in between.  Maynard James Keenan is truly a modern day ‘heyoka’, a ‘sacred clown’ – and nowhere is that more expressed than in Puscifer.
I love TOOL – and I love Puscifer even more. A magnificent blend of the sacred and the profane, the ricicculous and the sublime, they speak to my soul. Photographing and attending the show was a highlight as a photographer a music fan. Doing it on a motorcycle – fucking epic. 
It has been a magnificent day. I’m super grateful.
Tomorrow I leave for Spearfish, South Dakota.
At the Puscifer show, they played one of my favorite songs. I may have leaked a little testosterone from my eyes. Here are the lyrics:
“Wake up, son of mine
Momma got something to tell you
Changes come
Life will have its way
With your pride, son
Take it like a man
Hang on, son of mine
A storm is blowing up your horizon
Changes come
Keep your dignity
Take the high road
Take it like a man
Listen up, son of mine
Momma got something to tell you
All about growing pains
Life will pound away
Where the light don’t shine, son
Take it like a man
Suck it up, son of mine
Thunder blowing up your horizon
Changes come (Changes come)
Keep your dignity (Keep your dignity)
Take the high road (Take the high road)
Take it like a man (Take it like a man)
Momma said like the rain (This, too, shall pass)
Like a kidney stone (This, too, shall pass)
It’s just a broken heart, son
This pain will pass away
– Maynard James Kennan / Puscifer
450 miles to Spearfish, this will be in my ears.

Day 3:
Denver, CO
Spearfish, SD; 400 miles

The map showed ungodly lengths of straight roads that were so long, so unwaveringly straight, it looked like a mistake on the map.  I’m here to attest – those maps were completely correct, albeit, completely ridiculous.  I’ve never driven in a straight line for so long, in my whole life.  Hoping that’s the only time.   Hours, and hours, and hours of straight county roads going through sleepy farm country.  

Between having a large tank and getting great gas mileage, this motorcycle has a lot of range. 

With the help of a doppler radar map, I was able to dodge rain today, though it was a very close call. 

Upon arrival in Spearfish, I had dinner with some of our riding crew.  Kirby, our C.O.O., brought a gift from Ann, our HR manager: 

According to an old biker legend, there are evil spirits – gremlins – that lurk on the roads, waiting to cause motorcyclists trouble. Gremlins get caught in bells – and so bikers have taken up the practice of placing a small “gremlin bell” near the bottom of their bike. The Gremlins get caught in the bell, the dinging of the bell drives them mad, and soon they are expelled, never to bother bikers again. 

I don’t know how Ann knew about this quirky good luck charm, but she did – and sent us both gremlin bells for our ride. I work with the most amazing people. 

P.S. Northeastern Wyoming is absolutely gorgeous, the kind of thing motorcycling dreams are made of. Took me by surprise. 

Day 4: Badlands, Rushmore, iron mountain road; 365 miles

On the 8th day, The Lord saw that man had no motorcycles, so he created them from the belly of the earth to bring joy.  The Lord saw that Adam and Eve had no place to ride them. So, on the 9th Day, The Lord created Iron Mountain Road. 

Iron Mountain Road is a supremely gorgeous, super technical, Moto-dreamy mountain road that’s barely wide enough for one car. Riders are greeted with a sign: 

“This is a very dangerous road”. 

Translation: This is a very fun road. 

I wish I had photos for you, but photos don’t do it any justice. Roads like that are like music – as music can only be experienced by moving through time, so too, are truly great roads – they only make sense when in motion.  

Once I get home, I’ll share some video of the experience with you.  For now, here are a few photos of other things along the way…

Day 5:
Spearfish Canyon, Needles Highway, Crazy Horse, Custer, Deadwood, & fundraiser dinner;
190 miles

First things first – our Yoli Riders for Riders group organized a charity dinner & auction, raising over $3400 for the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund. Professional Rodeo is an extreme sport that is not well recognized, even less well compensated – and extremely dangerous. Injured cowboys are often left unable to ride, or provide for their families. The Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund helps pay the medical bills for these injured cowboys. 

Otherwise, we spent the day going to Crazy Horse, and being surprised by the gorgeous lakes hiding in this part of South Dakota. 

P.S. While it’s cool to catch your drone out of the air… those blades are sharp and will draw blood. I’ll just land it on the ground next time.

Day 6:
Spearfish, SD to
Red lodge, MT;
424 miles

Unpopular opinion:

Harley Davidson is a silly religion. 

I think there are some good and beautiful things about religions; many of them become caricatures of themselves after a while. For instance, Christians intollerantly demanding that others accept the love of their Christ, who is supposedly the most tolerant, loving and accepting person to have ever lived. 

The Harley brand is a symbol of rugged individualism. The bad ass lone wolf who raises a finger to the world and goes his own way. 

…. all while taking great care to wear all of the bar & shield HD insignias, having the right tattoos, the right beard, and polishing up their status symbol more than actually using it to get around.  

It’s status symbol cosplay. 

Furthermore – they always ride in packs of similarly costumed riders. 

Harley people are the least individualistic riders out there. 

This is why it’s a silly religion. 

You know who real lone wolves are, the real individualists? 

Adventure bike riders. 

They almost always travel alone. They don’t take any care to rep any certain brand of bike and it’s accompanying apparel line. The bikes are tools for adventure; they ride the one that is the best fit. 

And, interestingly, they don’t call any attention to themselves. 

….they just twist throttles, slay miles, and live a story worthy life. 

— End Rant —

We had one last pow-wow with our Yoli Riders for Riders crew, said our “see you laters”, and got on our way. Stops included Belle Fourche, the geographic center of the United States, Devil’s Tower, and one big fat oversight. 

Car and Driver magazine calls Beartooth Pass “one of America’s most dangerous highways”. I have several friends who swear by it, so, naturally, I absolutely had to check it out. The plan was to ride Beartooth on Day 7, I’d stay in Red Lodge MT the night before. 

Belle Fourche was fine. Devil’s Tower was impressive. Crossing Bighorn National Forrest was *superb*.  Everything after that was…. karma for evil deeds I have done in past lives. 

In this gallery, you’ll see a POV image over the handlebars, looking down a golden highway. What you don’t see is the category 57 hurricane winds blowing across them.  Not a headwind, not a tailwind, but a fierce and terrifying cross wind. I’ve ridden in wind and weather before. I’ve driven across Wyoming many times, but this was something different.  The wind made it nearly impossible to control the motorcycle at times, shoving me into the other lane, or toward the edge of the road and whatever was there to ruin my day.  Obviously, I managed it, and made it to Red Lodge without any incident other than vehemently cursing both Heaven and Hell, surely leaving me with a cold welcome, regardless of where I end up. 

In the words of the late, great Rush drummer and motorcyclist, Neil Peart – “Adventures suck while you are having them”. 

More on Beartooth pass tomorrow…

Day 7:
Red lodge, MT
Alpine, WY;
277 miles

Today is a very big day- I get to ride the legendary Bear Tooth Pass. It took a lot to get here, and I’m confident it will all be worth it. 

The hotel boasted a free breakfast.  They definitely put the ‘fast’ in breakfast – the only offerings being a few single bite mini muffins, half of a loaf of white bread, and cold coffee.  I made the hotel room coffee, ate a few little tiny muffins, and did a final route check. 

I was thrilled to ride Bear Tooth Pass. I prepared the GoPro and drone, my heart being set on capturing some stunning footage of this ride along one of ‘America’s Most Dangerous Highways’. 

Last month, flooding took out some roads in Yellowstone and the surrounding area.  Yellowstone’s roads had been repaired, and the park was completely open, except for one entrance. I was positive that I had read that Beartooth was also open, which is why I booked a room and suffered through last night’s ludicrous ride to get here. 

I packed up the bike. 

…set up my navigation apps. 

…got my playlist started.  

…saddled up. 

…did one last bit of Googling. 

I could not believe my eyes: 

The  Montana Dept of Transportation said that Beartooth Highway was closed; they hoped to reopen it in late July. 

Today is early July. 

Today is a very bad day. 

I don’t know how I missed this.  I don’t know how I got the idea that Beartooth was open.  

After sitting on the idling motorcycle, stewing in self loathing, regret and another weird emotion that doesn’t have a good name, I realized that I had two options:  Take the very, very long way to Alpine, WY (my destination for tonight), or go the shorter route, through Cody and through Yellowstone. 

I wanted to ride roads I’ve never seen before, but the alternative route felt too long, so I accepted my stupidly self inflected fate and set out for a repeat performance of Yellowstone by way of Cody. 

Eventually I came to terms with the consequences of getting too excited about an idea to do ALL of my homework, and decided to just enjoy the ride. After all – I will be riding through Yellowstone, Teton National Park, and Targhee National Forrest today – three places that reward a motorcyclist richly.  If these are my problems today, I’m doing okay. 

My self inflicted fate soon turned into fortuitous fulfillment of a longtime fantasy… 

Last time I rode through Yellowstone, the experience was tempered by being stuck behind slow white vans full of tourists.  I fantasized about being in the park alone – free to decadently carve through those curvy roads, creating a perfect pairing of adrenaline and nature’s majesty. 

My friends, it came true today. 

I suppose a Monday afternoon is not a peak visitation time for the park. During my favorite stretch of the grand loop, there were no cars in front of me, for miles and miles. No rangers, either.  I practiced everything I have been taught about proper turning technique, so as to maximize my momentum, and minimize my chances of dying. 

I didn’t look at the speedometer a single time. 

It was exquisite. 

Later that afternoon, the Tetons stood with otherworldly grandeur. I’ve seen them a few times before, but today they were alien space ships that had landed and been deserted.  The perfect soundtrack played in my ears as the peaks bobbed up and down behind the horizon of the trees I was riding through. 

Targhee National Forrest was, again, delightful. Very little traffic and plenty of opportunities to practice my turning technique at the highest speed possible, all while breathing some of the most pristine, aromatic, delicious air the planet has to offer. 

I made a point to get a room at place that appeared to be right on the edge of another one of my favorite places – Palisades Reservoir. The hotel boasted an on-premises bar and restaurant.  I crafted up notions of ending the day with an excellent meal, enjoying a fine local microbrew at the bar next to other travelers & adventurers, and retiring in a charming room. 

In Tinder-date terms, this hotel was a real catfish. The front desk of the hotel was also the front desk of the bar.  The bar was also a liquor store and also a restaurant. Crusty locals with thick redneck accents bullshitted over the cheapest whiskey they had on hand.  Another group of customers were road workers from out of town, staying there on the company dime.  An extremely nerdy, yet oddly confident guy moved through the bar, running game on every female there – offering to buy drinks, low key bragging about his semi-retired at 34 lifestyle, and asking ‘what are we doing later tonight’? 

I spent the rest of the evening enjoying smoked brisket and local IPA. 

Oh, and the room? It was about 3x too expensive for what it was,  but it was a bed, and I slept soundly.

Day 8: Alpine, WY to
245 miles

My posterior is now fully accustomed to this saddle and schedule. 

My wrists are not. Between doing a lot of riding that required very active throttle control, and a stance that places a constant slight pressure on my wrists, they are pretty beat up. 

Were it not for my wrists, I might not have come home today. 

I’d come up with some way or means to stretch this road trip out another couple of thousand miles.  I’m stupidly in love with motorcycling and storytelling from the road. 

I could do this indefinitely. 

My route home could include a ride through Logan Canyon and a visit to my daughter and mother, who both live there.  And alternative route would take me down the back side of the Wasatch range, and then over Monte Cristo – one of my favorite peaks to ride over. 

I stopped for lunch on the edge of Bear Lake. The site of my Dad’s motorcycle accident is within eye shot. At the beginning of this ride, I summoned his presence and protection. While I ate my lunch of fish and chips, (one of my Dad’s favorite meals), I gave thanks for the safety I’ve been blessed with on this ride. 

On a motorcycle, you may be doing everything right, but if some other driver is distracted or otherwise careless – it’s still your problem, and it may be game over.  Safety is a blessing, something I never take for granted. 

I sent a text message to my daughter. No response. 

I messaged my Mom. She’s a bit sick with a minor cold. 

Though I’d love to see her today, I swerve around getting sick, and make my way toward Monte Cristo. 

Monte Cristo peak weighs in at over 9,000 feet. Riding from the bottom to the top is a breathtaking, curvy ascent, a lesson in botany and the laws of physics. The vegetation shifts noticeably with the altitude changes, along well maintained roads that curve, swerve, and steadily climb. 

I’ve ridden Monte Cristo many times. I always run into other vehicles in my lane, forcing me to go at the lowest common denominator of the slowest driver. 

Today, I was given a second dance with my Yellowstone fantasy:

There were no cars in my lane – the entire way up, over, and down, Monte Cristo- a rare occurrence. 

I opened up the throttle and practiced carving through those curves; riding at the edge of my ability, one of life’s better pleasures. 

At the peak of Monte Cristo, I crashed a massive mid air mating party: millions of little black bodied moths were frenetically trying to pass on their genes as I flew through them. 

At 80+ mph, some insects make a small thump as they strike your skin. Others genuinely hurt, their exoskeletons becoming projectiles, making an impact that stings for a few minutes. 

These little moths splattered effortlessly against my helmet, motorcycle and skin.  Their bodies instantly burst into bright yellowish green goo that instantly feels cool as the breeze blows over it. Snot with wings, if you will. 

Whatever these little things like to eat, clearly, it’s in abundance up here on this mountain top. 

I descended into Huntsville, topped off my Gatorade levels, wiped green goo off of me, and proceeded home to Salt Lake City.  The motorcycling and music gods smiled on me one last time – my playlist randomly cued up a song that ends with a triumphant guitar solo, which finished playing as I pulled into my parking lot. 

* * * 

Many thanks to everyone who co-created this awesome trip – the centerpiece of the trip was the Yoli Riders for Riders Charity portion. Don, Anita, Kathie, Scott, Paula, Clint, Kirby (and everyone else who helped organize, collect donations, make donations, etc). Thanks to Jack & Sara for being such gracious hosts in Denver, Gunnar of Puscifer  for the photo pass and ticket at the Denver show, and Dale for hooking me up with a very sweet ride when mine broke down right before the trip.  I am surrounded by awesome people. 

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