So now, here I am, June 18, 2010 guiding my 2004 Harley-Davidson Wide Glide down Interstate 80 to a destination over 1900 miles west of my home in Brockway Pennsylvania called Jackson Wyoming. Both saddlebags are full as is a duffle bag sitting on the back seat and strapped to the sissy bar and saddlebag mounts with “bungee” cords. I’ll be traveling alone with Clyde the entire trip, but along with my excitement are certain reservations. After all, it has been thirty years since I was but a young man of twenty two that I had made such a trip on a motorcycle. Back then I was lean, strong and had a “six- pack” abdomen. Now I’m fifty two and what little hair is left is grey. My strength, though not gone, is not that of a twenty two year old kid anymore. And my “six- pack” abdomen has now become a keg. “What if I meet up with the wrong people?” “What if I breakdown in the middle of nowhere?” These are just some of the questions I asked myself before embarking on my journey. But after months of planning and telling everyone I know about my trip, I couldn’t let myself back down now and loose face by turning around and going home. I had prepared the best I could and with Clyde as my navigator and guide, I will make it to Jackson, WY.
My first stop was just twenty miles from my home on I-80 at Brookville Pa. There I filled my gas tank and purchased food and coffee. I had been watching the sky brighten in my rear view mirrors as I headed west, and by now the sky had turned to daylight with birds awakening and people scurrying to get to their day-to-day activities. As I feed myself on a English muffin and egg sandwich and washing it down with a Mint Mocha coffee, I struggle to justify my reason for the 1900 mile journey to see a group of men I had only met less than a handful of times and to see places where the filming of a short-lived T.V. show titled “Then Came Bronson”. Four episodes had been filmed in Jackson and surrounding areas. Logically the trip can not be justified nor can I explain it to anyone but the “loose group of buds” (as we’ve been called) whom I will meet in Jackson.
The 1970 television show “Then Came Bronson” was about a news reporter for a San Francisco newspaper who quit his job, after the tragic suicide death of a close friend Nick, and the editor’s refusal to acknowledge it in the paper. The reporter, Jim Bronson, and Nick had built a motorcycle from a Harley-Davidson Sportster, a sort of bobber of its day. Now, after Nick’s death, Jim Bronson buys the bike from Nick’s widow and tours the country as a way to “find himself”. That show was/is worshiped by me and the guys I am going to meet so much so that, to this day, it has a lasting influential grip on us all. The Jim Bronson character was not the typical “biker” depicted in those days. His moral character helped avoid trouble as he went about helping people he met along the way. So as the sky brightened and after I had finished my first road breakfast of the trip I fired my steel horse to life and began my journey in earnest.
My first day on the road was going well and I was going to make my first nights stop as planned in Moline, IL. I found myself stopping about every 100 or so miles to stretch, so I made it a point to fill up at those stops also. The first city that gave me any problems was Chicago but those were just minor setbacks for road construction. However, while traveling west on I-80 around Chicago I noticed a traffic jam on the east bound lane that stretched for almost the entire width of the Chicago portion of I-80 and determined I would avoid the area on my return trip.
Riding out of Chicago and heading to Moline, IL. I saw the sky cloud up and wondered if I was about to get wet. Little did I know then that just getting wet would have been a welcome relief for what was to become of me and Clyde and the bike.
About fifty miles from Moline the sky continued to darkened and as I approached a rest stop I could see other bikers there and figured they knew more than I about the weather so I also pulled in to the rest stop. A few minutes of small talk with them I found out that there were tornado warnings out and that was the reason for their stopping. We all huddled in the shelter making light of weather and lack of protection on a bike. So with the passing of a few minutes the rains and wind did come but passed quickly into just heavy drizzle. The other bikers decided to don their rain gear and head out. I made the decision to wait another twenty minutes or so until the skies cleared even more. A decision I would later come to regret.
The skies had cleared just as I thought they would and I headed out. My bike and pant legs were getting wet as I rode on toward Moline, but I knew that once the road dried my bike and pant legs would also dry out in just a matter of a few miles. A few miles further and the road did indeed dry and I was only about twenty miles from Moline and my first nights hotel stay. However, a look toward the sky and the road ahead put a pit in my stomach and a lump in my throat as a feeling of fear and loathing encased the rest of my being. In the sky was a very distinct line as if drawn by the neighborhood bully daring me to cross. On my side of the line was blue sky on the other was a blackness that was broken only by the many and random lightning bolts coming both from and up into the blackness. Encouraged by Clyde and my own silly sense of machismo I throttled the big V-twin faster to hopefully beat the storm to my hotel and safety. I was approaching triple digit speeds when the first of the rains hit and I regained my senses and slowed down to the posted speed limit when I saw an overpass ahead. Pulling under the overpass I shut off the bike and was prepared to wait out the storm like the many legions of bikers before me.
A short time later the rains seemed to let up and I put my helmet back on and fired the bikes motor to life. As long as I can get her motor started and running there is a hope and reassurance it will pull me through. I had no sooner pulled out of the protection and security of my overpass, and had traveled less than a mile down the road, when hell itself opened upon Clyde, myself, and the bike. Leaves were blowing from trees as were some limbs. Some even blowing onto the road itself. Various forms of garbage that had been discarded by thoughtless motorists was now blowing in front of me, and I could see the trees bending in agony against the demon wind.
Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, I found myself and Clyde riding from what once was the inside edge of the inside lane to the outside edge of the outside lane, and like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” I had no clue how I got that way or how I had managed to stay upright. Had there been another vehicle coming in that lane we would have ended up as pavement pizza. I was scared and shaken, but I had to find some sort of shelter. I couldn’t just stop the bike on the roadside. I didn’t know if the winds would get worse or if I’d get hit by oncoming traffic. So with Clyde defiantly showing the way I coaxed the Harley to shrug off the drowning deluge of rain and road water and traveled onward while I desperately fought the wind to keep the bike upright and on the road as the sound of the wind angrily drowned out the sound of the exhaust. Time and time again I fought the wind as it pushed my bike hard and blew the rain into my glasses blinding me. I don’t remember if I said it out loud or screamed it in my brain but I remember telling Clyde, “Hang on Clyde we’re gonn’a die!” Luck just happened to be with me then when I spotted a double overpass just within sight. But the rain and streaming road water were converging on the thundering v-twin trying to drowned it into silence, and I asked it to keep working to get us to the underpass. As if the obedient horse of the cowboy in days long gone, my own steel horse pulled Clyde and me to the safety of the underpass without missing the single stroke of a piston.
I pulled under the concrete-and-steel shelter and as I choked back the fear I also breathed a sigh of relief. I was as scared as I can remember in my fifty two years on this earth yet I began to chuckle. I had just beaten one of nature’s cruelest demons. Still, because of the blackness and the pounding rains in an unfamiliar place I felt so very alone. I needed to hear the soft voice of my wife, for she is, and has been, my strength and reason for being these past twenty seven years. But do I tell her I had just ridden through the black soulless heart of Satan and I’m as frightened as a child? She is my rock and foundation and I needed her now more than ever. So fighting my way through the fright I struggled to find her cell phone number in my cell phone list. I dialed her number and as I did I thought about what I’d say to her as not to worry her or alarm her of my misfortune in any way.
When she answered the phone I just wanted to scream my fear to her but instead told her of riding through a storm and was now safe under an overpass. I heard little of what she said, but the sound of her voice had the calming effect I was so much in need of at the time.
The wind did finally die down if not the rain, and through the downpour I was able to make it the final couple miles to my hotel in Moline, IL. Once there I was as soaking wet as one could possibly get. My boots sloshed with each step as I apologetically walked into the hotel lobby to check in. The clerk behind the counter was understanding and smiling but ask me if I had just ridden through the storm. I told her I did as I had little choice and to that she replied that three funnel clouds had been spotted though none had touched down. I now knew what “pushed” me so quickly to the other side of the road. Once inside my room for the night I stood under a hot shower for longer than I allow my own children. My clothes were drying in the hotel’s laundry room and I couldn’t wait to go to bed. Once in the security of the warm and dry bed I had a chance to reflect on what had just transpired a short time previous, and I began to laugh once more out of both relief and the thought that nobody is going to believe what I just did or how frightening it really was.
Day two was June nineteenth and I was on my way out of Moline, IL. to my next hotel in North Platte, NE. The day was pleasantly peaceful and without incident, so I allowed myself the pleasure of enjoying the beautiful and bountiful prairie scenery. The 600 miles of that day were broken up by the deep baritone music coming from my exhaust. It is a comfort to know that the motor propelling you along on an unfamiliar and far away piece of asphalt is working in perfect harmony, and as I enjoyed the monotone symphony I had a chance to lean back, relax and reflect. This is what true bikers strive for. To be at one with their machines and their surroundings in a sort of Zen like euphoria. I arrived at my North Platte hotel and managed to get to bed early, figuring on an early wake up and a start to the third day which would take me to Jackson, WY. and my meeting with fellow Bronsonites.
Day three and 3:30 AM as I lay wide awake wondering if I should try to sleep more or just get up and get an early start. “Awe screw it!” I angrily said to myself as I got up and dressed and packed for the final day’s journey to Jackson. Check out time for me was around 4 AM. I planned to fill up at the gas station next door and ride until I got hungry.
After filling my bike I once again headed west down I-80 with the anticipation of meeting with my “loose group of buds” later on that afternoon or early evening. The sky ahead of me once again gave me a forlorn feeling that maybe I should have stayed in bed that morning. Through the nighttime sky I could make out the ominous silhouette of a thunder head and watched in silent agony as lightning strikes randomly jumped about. “We’re heading into another one Clyde!” I shouted to my plastic mascot. (Only this time it would be at night.) With clenched fists and furrowed brow Clyde seemed to tell me to “Press on we can do this” and press on I did. After a while I noticed the storm moving to the north east and that part of I-80 seemed to curve slightly to the south west. “We might miss it Clyde.” And by day break we had indeed missed the storm that was now well to the north and over my right shoulder. By this time I was getting hungry and grateful to have missed another storm, especially at the beginning hours of, what some would call, morning.
A short time later I stopped at a place that, if it had a name I have forgotten it. There were several popular well known eateries at this little pock mark of a stop somewhere west of North Platte, NE. but only two places open at the dawn of Sunday morning. McDonald’s and a truck stop, whose name also escapes me now. The McDonald’s was just opening so I determined it to be around 5 AM and a check of my cell phone confirmed my guess. I would fuel my body then the bike and be on my way.
Sometime around 8 AM or so, I made it to the Wyoming border but not before putting on my rain suit and taking it off several times due to the light drizzle that filled the air. At the border sign I stopped for a picture with my cell phone to send to my wife who was at the beach in Maryland relaxing with her family of mother, brother, and sister and the offspring of each including my own son Lewie, who reminds me far too much of myself at sixteen and my daughter Shyanne who is also sixteen, and a young women who scares me with her beauty. I’m constantly on the alert for boys I don’t even know who show up at the door. Then there are my sons two buddies Brandon (Shorty) Craft and Morgan Murray. Those two, and my son, make for some entertaining times and a depleting food stock when all three are hungry after “messing around and hanging out.” After taking several photographs of the wooden monolith marking the boundary between Wyoming and Nebraska I once again removed my rain gear, cursing its bulk and its inability to “breath” to allow for the dispersion of sweat from my body. After packing it in my saddlebag I was ready to continue westward.
A few miles later and a fog had encased the area in a dense and eerie white blanket that made seeing almost impossible. The windshield on my bike clouded over as did my glasses and I was now looking over top of my windshield with my glasses pulled down on my nose at the breakneck speed of about twenty five mph. There was little sense in asking Clyde for assistance. Not because he is a plastic figurine glued to my handlebar clamp but because he couldn’t see a thing through the windshield either. I knew there was a tractor-trailer ahead of me about thirty feet or so, but all I could see of him was the flashing of his taillights warning me and others of his slow speed presence. “Holy shit Clyde!” “I can’t see a thing!” This was my response to his clench fisted call to press on. Pulling off the highway was not an option for a biker in this dense fog could not be seen until too late by an arrant motorist. So my choice of option was to also turn on my four way flashers and keep pace with the flashing taillights of the eighteen wheeler ahead of me. This method worked and I was fog free and once again rolling at interstate speed in about ten miles.
It was sometime after 1 PM when I left my three-day highway home of Interstate 80 and turned onto Route 191 North at a town called Rock Springs. I felt relief as I knew the westward part of my journey was at an end.
“One hundred seventy seven miles” the store clerk told me when I asked the distance to Jackson from there. I had stopped at the convenience store at the crossroads of I-80 and state Route 191 to gas up and stretch. I took an extra long break, and as I’ve done at most stops on this pilgrimage, I sent a text to my wife of my whereabouts from my cell phone. Thirty years ago on my two wheeled odysseys there were no cell phones, no I-Pads to tell of forthcoming weather, no GPS to keep you from getting lost. How did we bikers do it back then? We strapped our stuff to the bike the best way we could and kept in touch when we could. And if we got lost? Well, that was another adventure on a road that led to parts unknown and to be explored. I believe we bikers have lost some of the freedom and adventure of the open road with these modern marvels of computerized gadgetry that link us with sophisticated satellites floating around thousands of miles overhead in the vast vacuum of space. But they sure do come in handy.
Again off I went. North on Route 191 and the final 177 miles of my journey. The first few miles were uneventful and once again I enjoyed the solitude of the road. From time to time I would breathe deeply as if to inhale the calming effects of the surroundings. Clyde and I would sing songs, tell jokes and discuss life just as we’ve done many times on our voyage across the asphalt ocean that brought us here. As I rode over the high plains I spotted my destination far ahead… the Grand Tetons. Snowcapped majestic mountains of rock named by the French trappers and explorers that were the first white men into this area as the story is told. Grand Tetons is loosely translated from French meaning “large breasts.” Try as I might, I just can’t see the resemblance of these far away yet awe inspiring mountains to the, just as inspiring and beautiful, female form. Those trappers must surely have been a lonely bunch.
A few miles and short time later I was guiding my iron horse through canyon roads that curved and crossed the Snake River and some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever witnessed. Jagged and rugged rock walls surround the rapidly flowing river, and I can imagine fly fisherman from time to time waist deep in the river in their own Zen-like state, at one with their surroundings. Several types of conifers stood all around me with outstretched arms to welcome and guard the natural beauty of this place. I felt at peace while I rode through this beauty and was apologetic to the “keepers” for disturbing the splendor with my machine. I truly regret that my wife Judy wasn’t with me to enjoy all this beauty. Nothing in recent times gives me as much pleasure as to ride with her on the back of my bike in a precious few hours of stolen time together alone.
As I exited the canyons I rode just a short distance and there, alongside the road ahead, I could make out a wooden sign: “Welcome to Jackson WY.” “I made it!” I said with a subdued scream. I wanted to jump up and down with joy. I had made my destination in my allotted time and in good health with no mechanical failures and through nature’s cruelty. “We made it Clyde!” “We made it!”Now, to find the Bronsonites. I had no clue whatsoever as to the exact location of Signal Mountain Lodge and the cabin I’d be sharing with two of my fellow TCB fans. Next I made a stop at the first place I came to on the outskirts of town. It was a specialty store for rock climbing and white water rafting. I ask the girl behind the counter where I could find Signal Mountain Lodge and was told to keep going into town until I came to a road called “Cache,” then turn left and follow it out about fifteen miles. “Fifteen miles?” I thought to myself. I had just come 1900 to Jackson and am tired and in dire need of a shower and now I have to go fifteen miles out of town. Nevertheless I did as the girl instructed and made the left turn on Cache Street and was heading even further north out of town when I thought that maybe the girl at the rock climbing store might be wrong. I pulled into a little store attached to a motel or hotel of some sort and asked the man behind the counter for the directions to the lodge. “Stay on this road for about another ten to twelve miles then turn left onto Bull Moose Drive and it’ll be another fifteen miles on Bull Moose Drive.” “Another fifteen miles!!” I silently scream in my brain. I’m cold. I’m tired. I’m dirty and I want to shower and go to bed! But I did as the man instructed. “Another fifteen miles” was something I did not want or need to hear again.
I made my way to Bull Moose Drive enjoying the vastness of the high plains with the snowcapped Tetons stretching out for miles. A turn onto Bull Moose and I was at a gate. There I was greeted by a park ranger who asked me if I had a park receipt. I gave her sort of a deer-in-the-headlights look and asked, “Park receipt?”. She explained to this dirty and tired biker that my destination was inside the Grand Teton park and it was twenty dollars for motorcycles. I paid my fare and ask her how much further to the lodge and, sure enough, “fifteen miles” was her answer and I was to, “Just stay on this road.” I told her, “Thank you!” and fired my bike back to life. The speed limit was only forty to forty five mph the entire way to the lodge and once more I had a chance to lean back and tune into the songs of my bike while taking in all the breathtaking scenery. I started to notice a chill in the air and silently hoped I would make it to the lodge soon. If not, I was going to have to stop to break out my cold weather gear for the final few miles. The warmth and protection of my favorite riding gear, consisting of blue jean jacket and Harley-Davidson sweatshirt, was waning fast. At almost 7000 ft. above sea level I do not want to be riding after dark on an unknown road. It is bound to get cold. Besides, back home in Pennsylvania there are only whitetail deer to look out for. Now I’m riding through the home of antelope, bison, mule deer and bear. Any of which I have no desire to engage while so far from my home and so close to my destination. “Bison,” I tell Clyde, “would be like running into a hairy brick wall.” Clyde acknowledged but reminded that we are almost there and sure enough the next few turns in the road revealed the sign for Signal Mountain Lodge.
A quick stop in lobby of the lodge gave conformation of my stay and directions to my two room bungalow I would be sharing with fellow Bronsonites, Greg and Bill. In the short two blocks or so to the cabin I ran into fellow Bronsonites Tom Hansen and Dave Phillips. Tom is the tallest of our group and hails from Little Rock, AR. though he is quick to point out that he is from Colorado then Texas originally. Dave is from Virginia and the “Doc” of the bunch and is the oldest of our loose group of buds (next to Barney Jarvis whom I’ll explain later). He is constantly good for a laugh or two … or three. I turned off my bike and gave a tired grin to Tom and Dave and said out loud that, “Bronson was an idiot!” knowing the condition of how I look and feel and remembering the tornado and fog of my quest. I dismounted my bike and shook hands with them and asked of their trip. I was also informed that Don was about one hour behind me. Don Collins is from Canyon, TX. and along with Tom Hansen and myself were the three out of our group to make the pilgrimage to Jackson Hole via motorcycle. Don can best be described as the long haired cool guy of the eight of us that made this trip and the guy I most enjoy exchanging good natured insults and jabs when the group is exchanging emails among ourselves. Don had tried to contact me earlier that day while I was still on the road on I-80, and I tried to contact him in return with little luck. Due to my electronic ineptitude I had deleted his number from my cell phone. I will be glad when he arrives and I can shake his hand.
I gave Greg a heads up a few weeks before our rendezvous that I snore terribly at times and may want to reconsider sharing a lodge with me as he may have to secure all belongings and wear ear protection each night. But Greg, being the resourceful type, chose a bungalow with three beds and two rooms. I was placed in the room with the single bed so that I could snore to my content rattling walls, windows, and furniture while Greg and Bill slept quietly in the other room.
I was in a tired but euphoric mood while I showered away the road grime and rid myself of the three days worth of facial growth. It was shortly thereafter that Don rode in, and we all greeted each other in the parking lot and thanked each other that we all had made the quest in good health and with no mechanical breakdowns. I was then informed that Barney and his lovely southern belle wife Joyce were staying at a camp ground about forty five minutes away along with Bill Gibson and wife Jan. Bill or “Billy” as we call him, is a self employed metal fabricator and welder who can make about anything you like out of metal and is a true artist of his profession. We were all glad to be there and with everyone, but our joy was tempered by the fact that four of our group could not join us. Mike and Vicki Blanchard live in Japan as civilian employees of the Navy, and duty had called upon Mike just before our get together. Then there are Jim Williams and Peter. Jim is a retired police officer and, besides myself, is the only other member that doesn’t have a replica Bronson bike. Peter is the only member that, to my knowledge, no one in our group has met in person though several have spoken to him on the phone.
The first morning in Jackson we made our way to one of the local radio stations, KJAX-FM, for an interview. We were joined by a local Bronson enthusiast Mark, who made plans to join us later on in the week to show us several sites where four episodes of “Then Came Bronson” were filmed. The D.J. was Del Ray and he also turned out to be a fellow biker and Bronson fan with the kind of voice that just had to be on the radio. He was accompanied by his morning team member Jake Nichols. Del Ray asked us about our fascination with the short lived TV show and how it affected our lives. Naturally we were all too eager to tell our side of the story and as we all took our turn with the microphone I noticed Del Ray grinning from ear to ear. I believe he truly enjoyed our visit.
After our radio interview we all met for breakfast at a local eatery to sort of catch up with each other and talk about our plans for the day. The food was excellent and the coffee was hot. I had my usual of scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon and orange juice. I always have some sort of juice with my “weekend breakfast.” That way I can convince myself that even though the caloric intake and fat content are an invite to future cardiovascular problems, as long as I had juice the meal was healthy.
After our visit we got our bikes and did a little impromptu tour of the town and several places where filming took place. We visited the house that was featured in the episode “… a famine where abundance lies.” This house once was known to be “out of town,” but thanks to forty years of time and urban growth it is now part of town and as we sat there taking pictures and admiring the house and comparing its looks to that of what it looked like in the episode forty years ago I couldn’t help but lean over to my buddy Don on his bike and ask him, “Is this the part where the neighbors call the cops on us?” Fortunately none showed up, and we were on our way several minutes later.
After gassing up we headed for a fork in the road that was the scene of another famous episode called “The Old Motorcycle Fiasco.” Actor Keenan Wynn, who was an old time biker in true form, played an ex-biker/racer Alex who longed to be like, and ride with, Bronson. At the end of the episode there is a helicopter shot showing Bronson and Alex and his wife parting ways on their motorcycles. Each heading in different directions of Route 191. During the filming of that scene there was little evidence of human habitation save for the road itself. Now as we sit at the spot of the famous overhead shot we are in the midst of human encroachment, a gas station/grocery. Also surrounding the area are homes and various structures not noticeable on the film footage of forty years ago. As the guys in the group with the replicas took turns recreating the shot with their own bikes I couldn’t help but feel some trepidation that this place will shortly fall into obscurity due to road changes and growing human habitation.
Later in the day we all gathered on Route 191 in front of the Grand Tetons for our photo ops with our bikes. This road and the Tetons in the background is the closing scene of each of the twenty six “Then Came Bronson” episodes. Jim Bronson is riding down Route 191 with the Tetons over his right shoulder while the background music is Michael Parks signing “Long Lonesome Highway.” It was a thrill for all of us to mimic that scene. Those who had replica bikes got to don their “official” Bronson clothing and ride the highway as Jim Bronson. But the highlight of the day had to be seeing the real Jim Bronson, Barney Jarvis, ride once more. Birney is one of the most remarkable men I can ever remember meeting. Even though he is into his eightieth year on this planet his tall and broad persona leaves you in awe when in his presence. The basis for the pilot movie and subsequent series is based on a short time frame of Birney’s most adventurous life. A former Hell’s Angel, street fighter, motorcycle racer, 7th level black belt in karate, sailor and far too many other things for me to remember. Birney was the technical advisor for the pilot movie “Then Came Bronson.” It was based upon his adventures of traveling cross country alone on a motorcycle and his friendship with the producer that led to the making of the movie and series. Each of us in the group owe him gratitude and are proud to call him our friend, and as he took his turn going down the “Long Lonesome Highway” I think we all had a grin on our face. Birney was accompanied by his lovely southern belle wife Joyce. Joyce is the epitome of southern hospitality with an accent and kindness that belies a strong will. She is a true lady.
For several hours we took pictures and happily chatted to the few curious people that wondered what was up with all the bikes and especially the six look-alike replicas. A few of them remembered the series, but as usual their memories are of bits and broken pieces of the show. We had the pleasure of meeting a man and his wife on their anniversary who turned out to not only remember the series but was a retired motocross racer. Then there was the man from New Zealand who was touring this country on a Ducati that he purchased in the states after his arrival.
Tuesday was the second day of our stay, and it was decided to make the place of the second episode filming our point of destination. So Leaks Lodge it was to be.
Situated on the southern end of the lake near where we were staying, the lodge was the scene of episode two “The Runner” about a mentally challenged boy in a group of mentally challenged children at a summer camp. The boy had a penchant for harming himself and was restricted to wearing a football helmet for protection against himself. He was restricted from much of the interaction with the rest of the children. Bronson, naturally, was able to bring the boy out of his shell and on the road to recovery with the help of his two wheeled steed, of course.
Once we had arrived at the lodge site we were disheartened to find out the cabin used in the filming had burned down many years prior. However, for some unknown reason the fireplace was left standing. The fire place was used as a backdrop for lectures given by the camp director played by actor Jack Klugman. So we all gathered around that old stone and concrete monolith for some good natured comedic fun and photos.
After the photo antics we made our way into the nearby pizza parlor where we saw a studio photograph of the filming of “The Runner.” Several bartering attempts were made to secure that piece of Bronson nostalgia for the growing collection of “Then Came Bronson” memorabilia in the possession of the group. Each try was unsuccessful, and for a brief second we determined as to how and who would successfully smuggle the artifact out of the pizza joint. But with age comes wisdom and theft was quickly abandoned. We paid for our pizza and drinks and left for a quick tour of the park.
In touring the park and the primal forest surrounding the Tetons one longs for a sense of what it was like hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Wild bison, elk, mule deer, wolfs and mountain lion must have been a needful source of food, clothing and shelter for early man. Source of fear and respect and the prayers and worship to the keepers of this area must have been a daily and solemn occurrence. I wonder if we really are better off today or just more dependent on the fragile creations of man.
This night, just as the previous night, we set up a sort of make shift movie theater in the lobby of the lodge after our day of sightseeing and watched one of the four episodes of “Then Came Bronson” that had been filmed here. It was fun to watch them as a group and everyone had his own form of commentary of the show. Those of us not accustomed to the late night scene past 9 PM had to contend with good natured ridicule.
Wednesday was to be my last day with the group and the sorrow I felt knowing that I had to leave my friends early was tempered by the fact that I would soon be free on the open road again and would join my family once more at journey’s end.
That morning began with the group gathered and cramped around a table meant for half as many people at a rustic little diner called Nora’s Fish Creek Inn in the town of Wilson. I had my usual breakfast making sure to not forget my orange juice. Just up the road from the Fish Creek Inn was the Stagecoach Bar and perhaps one of the funniest scene out of all the episodes, and we gathered there later to meet with a reporter and photographer from the local newspaper to tell of our trek and the reason for such a pilgrimage. Beyond the bar stretches the road to the Teton Pass where we will ride to the top of the pass for the view and yet another photo op. This time with a sign at about 9000 feet above sea level welcoming you to Jackson Hole. This sign was also made famous by an episode called “… a famine where abundance lies.” But first we were off to see a place called “Kelly Hot Spring.”
Kelly Hot Spring, like the rest of our sightseeing places of interest, was also made famous to us as a group by being an integral part of the episode called “… a famine where abundance lies.” Bronson and lady friend take time to pause, reflect, and enjoy each others company while bathing in the warm spring waters. So off we went in search of this magical spring that had once been used by Michael Parks and his companion in the episode.
After several miles of high plains and waiting for a heard of bison to leisurely meander across the highway we found ourselves at our destination. Though I don’t recall anyone saying as much, but as we got off our bikes and stood by the edge of the warm spring pond a sort of “What the hell?” look overtook everyone’s thoughts and facial expressions. As with all things great and small, the years have a way of changing what once was to what is. In the episode Jim Bronson and Monica are up to their necks in almost crystal clear warm water. Now forty years later the water as we see it is almost knee deep and algae infested. So much for our homage to this sacred water crater. I know not what the others thought of this place but Clyde and I shared a chuckle as we rode off and I heard Clyde ask, “We came how far for this?”
As we made our way back to the Stagecoach Bar we once again had to stop as a heard of bison crossed the road with a lack of any promptness. These inspiring beasts seem to have a sense of their own size and strength. You can not see them up close, as they slowly walk by you, and not have a sense of reverence towards them. They are majestic indeed and I understand why the Native Americans held them in such reverence for they provided food, clothing, shelter and tools. As I sit on my bike waiting for them to pass I try to imagine what it was once like for a single herd to stretch across many miles of the vast prairie. Sadly I can only imagine.
Once back at the Stagecoach everyone agreed about how the place had changed thou there was some discussion as to the way the road in front of the place had changed and where. As I told you, “The Old Motorcycle Fiasco” was probably the funniest episode. Also mentioned, it starred Keenan Wynn as an old ex-motorcycle racer who longs to ride again and Martine Barlett as Nora his wife who goes into a rage at the mere mention of the word “motorcycle.” The episode starts out with Bronson coasting into the Stagecoach in need of gas. Bronson asked the little old lady who is the owner’s wife, how far it was to the nearest gas station. After she informs him it’s about three miles up the road. She tells him she can sell him some gas. After fueling up Bronson fires up his bike and the terrified lady tells Bronson she just filled his bike with weed killer. So begins the story.
Our gathering at the Stagecoach Bar was to be our chance to meet with the interested public and inform, update and generally chew the fat about all things Bronson. On Monday we informed the radio listeners of our confluence at this place at 4:00 PM. and having arrived a little early we all quenched or thirsts and quelled our hunger waiting for any fans of the show or even the curious to show up. I don’t know exactly how few did show up but if it was any indication, the bar patrons at the time didn’t even come outside to look. But after a while a reporter and photographer for the “Jackson Hole News” showed up and once again we were all eager to tell how such a short-lived TV could inspire and influence us so much. We all took turns telling our stories and the ladies reporting and photographing were gracious and professional.
Once our tour of duty with the Stagecoach was over we all headed up to the top of the Teton Pass that stretches high above the Stagecoach Bar and the town of Wilson itself. It’s roughly a five mile trip that goes nowhere but up until you reach the summit at what I estimate to be about 10,000 feet above sea level. At such an altitude my bike and the Bronson replicas that made the trip to the top had the usual bout of asthma which caused them to run far too rich and bellow black smoke as we reached the apogee of the road. However fellow Bronsonites Don and Dave have the more modern Hogs complete with fuel injection and computerized tuning and were spared much of the wheezing and choking of the older Milwaukee machinery. After the usual Tom-foolery and photos we headed back down the mountain. Five miles of coasting and, as if timed, Bill's replica ran out of gas on the way down. As if ripped from the episode, he coasted down the long grade and right into the Stagecoach Bar as Bronson did some forty one years previous. We couldn’t help ourselves but laugh.
Later that night we were all gathered around our make-shift theater watching yet another episode of Bronson. It is my last night with these guys for probably another year and I will truly miss them. Each of us knows very little of the other’s private life, yet each shares a common bond with the others. A bond that few understand and is impossible to explain. A bond of friendship that was forty years in the making. A bond that has encased our souls. A bond that has turned some into bike building artists while others turned to a love if not a lust of the open road. A bond that was unknowingly forged many years ago by our friend Birney Jarvis. So as I walked back to the cabin for my last night’s rest I couldn’t help but think of my wife back home and the joy of seeing her again. I opened my cell phone and found the song I was searching for and began playing “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Greene.
Thursday morning and dawn was just visible. I laid in my bed and fought with myself to get up and going. I knew it would be a cold morning’s ride so the night before I got my cold weather gear out of my duffle and laid them beside my bed. Long underwear, heavy shirt, blue jeans, leather chaps, sweatshirt, leather coat, snowmobile gloves, and motocross goggles. I despise and detest wearing those things while riding. While most find them to be a sort of biker fashion and proudly wear them, I find them to be cumbersome, hot, and heavy and am at most ease while wearing my well worn blue jean jacket. However I will admit that with the temp in the lower 30’s I will endure them for the sake of the warmth they provide.
By the time I gathered my stuff, loaded the bike and put on my layers of clothing topped by my black leather cocoon, dawn had broken through. Bill was up and about as he had been each day of our stay, and I suspect that it is his normal routine of early to bed and early to rise. I rechecked my load one more time and fired my cold bike to life. She fired right up reassuring me that she was ready. As it idled off the night’s cold air I said my goodbyes to Bill W. and asked him to take care of himself and to “Hang in there”. Like other Bronsonites in our little group Bill is a man of many hats. He’s not only a pilot, but a billboard installer, rental property owner, firearms instructor and many other thing too numerous to mention or remember. I will miss Bill and the rest of the group. Seldom do you find a group of people who by chance click together so well. I am humbled by the many things these guys have done in their lives. I’m just a guy that works in a factory and likes to ride motorcycles.I asked Bill to tell the others my goodbyes and I drew my goggles down over my eyes. I pushed in the choke to my bike and put her in gear. The neighbors were probably glad of my departure after disturbing their early morning hours with my exhaust rumble, but I just couldn’t resist giving my friend Don a short and quick blast of my pipes as I slowly went by his cabin. I don’t know if he heard me or not, but I could not help but snicker.
As I made my way down the road and through the woods at the foot of the mountains I again marveled at the primal setting and waited to get one last look at the bison or elk as I road slowly out of the park, but there were none to be seen. As I exited the park I stopped at the “T” in the cross road and took one last look back over my shoulder at the Tetons and tried to imprint them into my memory.
“Let’s go home Clyde.” I said to my plastic companion as we pulled out onto the highway. Wrapped in my cowhide I would be able to bear the cold air of my ride and I could see spots along the road where there was shade that the frost from the night before had not been warmed by the morning sun. The ride into Jackson was cool if uneventful, and as I approached Jackson I could see the city and her inhabitants coming to life and trying to get to their assignments. I had wanted to stop at the central park and get a couple of pictures of the walk-through arches made from elk antlers, but I just wanted to get home to my wife, so the pictures were forsaken in favor of time. I wish now I would have taken the two minutes needed to take a picture or two.
A few miles out of town I was once again riding through the canyon that had impressed me with an almost reverence state of mind. The winding and rugged Snake River, the towering rock faced cliffs and the steep grass- covered hill sides all seemed to bid me farewell as the conifer once again pointed the way for me. One can not be in the midst of such rugged beauty and not feel a presence around you. I was happy for the feeling once again. I thanked the keepers of this mystical beauty for allowing me to intrude. I will remember this place and its magical charm and beauty for the rest of my life, and one day, I hope to return to it. I was about to leave the canyon and enter the high plains when I was stopped by road construction. As I sat there on my bike, normally I have little patience for such delays, but this time I was happy to get one last chance to soak in the surroundings. I couldn’t help but feel this was the keeper’s way of letting me get one last chance to lock this place to memory. I must get a picture of all this beauty. But as I was digging for my camera under the layers of cowhide and clothing the traffic started moving and I was unable to retrieve my camera quickly enough. As I passed the flagman on the road crew I was envious of his job here in this place.
Once through the canyon walls I was heading out to the high plains. It is an odd feeling that just a few miles back I was surrounded by such beauty, and now there is nothing but open prairie and grass land interrupted by fencing, and sparse population. Any mechanical failure or accident would mean an extended wait for help. Fortunately I experienced neither and made it to the town of Pinedale for my first fill-up As I was doing so I had a chance to see what I perceived as one of the town’s true characters. I didn’t get the chance to meet or talk with him but only observed. He pulled into the gas pumps in an old Dodge pickup that had seen it’s better days many years before. Its beat up and faded hood was held down with rope, and what was left of the bed of the truck was filled with prospecting tools that were just thrown into it with little thought of their condition or to the condition of the rumbling, choking and asthmatic bucket of bolts on four different tires in four different stages of decay and wear. The man himself was a text book hermit-looking type straight out of some “B” type sci-fi movie. Dirty and matted could only best describe his unkempt beard. His hair was hidden only by a tattered and dirty hat that I’m sure was in no better condition than the hair it hid. His clothing was dirty and well worn and his jeans had been patched many times by his own hand guessing by the way they seemed to barely hold together. As the old encrusted miner went inside the store I noticed inside the cab of what once was the pride of Detroit at least two decades ago, was a mangy old mutt of mixed heritage. The dog never barked but just sat in the passenger seat waiting for his miner friend to reappear with supplies enough for the both until their next trip to town. I had finished filling my bike with gas when the miner returned from inside the store, and as I fired my bike to life the miner gave me a glance and I returned a friendly nod to him and his canine companion. As I pulled out of the station my brief and wordless encounter reminded me of my childhood when I would walk down the streets of my home town with my father. Dad was a man who seemed to be known to all the town’s inhabitants of all walks of life. From the town drunk to the bank president, it mattered not to Dad if you had wealth or struggled to make a nickel. Dad would talk to all and seldom would I hear a disparaging word about the people he would converse with. I’m sure he would have loved to hear the old miner’s story.
I was starting to get warm inside my leather gear and had thought about pulling off and ridding myself of it’s cumbersome bulk but decided to wait until I got to Rock Springs. There I would stop for breakfast and again refuel before heading back out onto I-80.
Rock Springs appeared before I knew it and none too soon as I was really starting to heat up in my leathers and layered clothing. I pulled into the McDonald’s that was next to a gas station and the onramp and there I was finally able to remove my cumbersome, hot, leather gear and stow it away for the remainder of my trip home.
After breakfast I fueled my bike again to begin my voyage of interstate highways. I would be taking a more southern route home to try to avoid the traffic jams of Chicago and the foul weather that seemed to be lingering over and around I-80 further to the east. I had no desire to engage the elements again as I had the first night of my journey. To say I had won a battle with nature and survived a tornado would be a joke. Nature does not ever lose to man. I was allowed to pass through that first night with a stern thrashing and a drenching just to let me know who is really in charge.
After fueling up both body and bike I headed down I-80 east. The day was in full swing now, the weather clear, and as I guided my machine down that long lonesome highway I would from time to time talk to Clyde about everything from weather to politics. Between our conversations there would be an occasional flashing road sign warning of the possibility of deer on the road. I would slow and become more alert but never saw anything on the highway but other vehicles. As the day wore on I became more and more aware of the wind and how it blows constantly, and as I rode into the day I found myself fighting the wind to stay on the road and in my lane. It wasn’t a hard thrashing wind like I experienced in the tornado but a strong and continual force I had to fight against the rest of the day. It was a tiring and strength draining experience, and I was glad to get to my hotel late that afternoon at North Platte, NE. I wanted a shower and bed and hoped the next day would bring some relief to the wind, but that was not to be.
The next morning I was up and on the road around 7 AM and this day I would take a more southern route. I would continue following I-80 to I-29 south at Lincoln, NE. There I would follow I-29 south to I-70 and there I would stay on that route the entire way to Pennsylvania where I would find I-79 north to I-80 and home.
The day was sunny with little chance of rain, and I had a dry day of riding. After an hour or so of riding I stopped at a McDonalds for breakfast and to refuel the bike. The Milwaukee machine has proven to be a reliable source of transportation, however at only forty mpg, stopping for fuel more often has been both a relief and a time-consuming chore. I wanted to keep pushing to make up lost time during my fuel stops.
Shortly before my turn onto I-29 at Lincoln I noticed the air was getting quite warm, so at the next roadside stop I pulled over to lather up with sunscreen. I used the sunscreen liberally knowing that I burn easily and had suffered a couple of bouts of “sun poisoning” in years past. As I headed south on I-29 the air became more and more hot and there was no relief from the air blowing on me as I rode. As morning became afternoon the winds that I had fought the day before started to return and I knew this was how it would be the rest of this day. Time and time again I fought to keep the bike on the right side of the road while the wind and heat made it feel as if I was riding past a giant hair dryer set on high. I could feel the sun’s wrath beating down on my exposed arms and face. I was glad I was wearing the generous amount of sun block even though it’s gooey film was a magnet for road grime. What I didn’t know, until too late, was that as I was riding my shirt sleeve would blow up around my arm exposing fresh and tender skin I had failed to treat, and a tingling in my lips was more than a tingling you sometimes get from constant wind. My lips were starting to blister, and as I applied lip balm I knew it was too late for the damage was already done. Hopefully I would prevent any further cooking. The fresh white skin on my upper arm was like fresh hamburger on a grill. It was starting to cook and blister. I doubled the amount of sunscreen on that area hoping to avoid further sautéing. I continued to do this at each rest and fuel stop I took.
By now the sun was high and the heat and wind were starting to take their toll on my body and mind. I was cursing them both as I reluctantly pulled into a roadside rest. I needed to keep moving to make up for time lost by taking a southern route and stopping more often. But as I stopped and removed my helmet my head and helmet were both soaked with sweat and I felt dizzy and slightly nauseous and I knew then I was in trouble for heat exhaustion. I needed water and now! I found the soda machine to be well stocked with water and I bought two bottles. I had to get out of the heat to cool, and as the restrooms were air conditioned I went inside to drink and cool down. The cool air was a welcome relief from the heat though I’m sure the other patrons of the facility probably wondered at my presence. I slowly sipped the first of the two bottles of water and splashed my face and body with water from the sink. I was starting to feel much better and decided to finish my first bottle of water outside in the shade. I sat down in the grass for about ten to fifteen minutes and then I got up and I drank the second bottle before heading out. Just before leaving, however, I refilled the bottle from the fountain and poured it all over myself soaking as much clothing as possible and then refilling the bottle for later on. My shirt and pants were soaked with the cooling water, but in the heat and wind I was dry again before getting five miles down the road. I would repeat this process of drinking one bottle and dumping one on my body the rest of that day.
I had made an unplanned and extended stop. Now I would have to try to make up for lost time. The rest of my stops of that day would be made as I needed gas. I would drink one bottle, dump one bottle on myself after refueling and be on my way.
It was around five PM when I made Kansas City and just at rush hour! “I don’t need this!” I loudly proclaimed. The heat now not only came from above but the pavement was at the boiling point also. Little thought of it is given to those motorists in cars and trucks, but on a bike you not only feel all the heat but if you’re riding an air cooled machine it means your engine is also feeling it and will over heat. Stop and go, stop and go traffic makes for little air flow over the motor and after feeling my legs getting warm and getting a slight whiff of hot metal I turned off my bike and coasted or pushed it as much as possible until traffic flowed once more.
Just before dark I made it to my hotel in Columbia where I met a fellow biker in the parking lot. We struck up a conversation, and it was then I learned that he was home on leave from Afghanistan and was on a trip to anywhere with his wife before returning to the sand. I told him, “Thank You!” and despite what he hears on the liberal news most people I know support him and the rest of the men and women “over there.”
Except for a brief thunderstorm and downpour the next evening where I spent my last time beneath an underpass, the final two days of my trip home proved to be uneventful and pleasant. Once more I spent the days taking in the roadside scenery and becoming one with my proven trustworthy iron horse and with the sights, sounds and smells. It was around noon when I crossed into my home state of Pennsylvania. At the first rest stop on I-79 north I phoned my wife and told her of my whereabouts and the approximate time I would be home.
It was around 3 PM and I was just 20 miles from my home when nature called and I had to pull over at a rest stop. After answering nature’s call I washed my hands and had a chance to take a good look in the mirror. I was as dirty as my son when he comes home from a dusty trail ride on his 4 wheeler. I had run out of clean clothes on my return trip and had been wearing the same for the past four days, though I had taken showers nightly.) I had not shaved since leaving Jackson four days previous. I looked like hell! But I was happy. I had done what I thought I would never get a chance to do again in my life since I was twenty two. My bike and body were none the worse for wear. My bike could not have run better and even through a tornado with heavy rains, and road water flowing like a small creek, and heat so hot the air had no cooling effect, it churned out it’s power and pulled me there and back. So why did I do it? Short answer would be that it was fun, and I wanted to be with my buddies to celebrate the TV show that influenced our lives.
But perhaps there was a deeper reason. Perhaps it is because that the day to day seven to three rut leave little challenge. Perhaps because day to day duties and tasks leave little time to exercise one’s manhood, and even that is looked down upon in today’s society, though you don’t have to be a man to ride cross country. Perhaps I just simply needed to know what I once did I could still do in spite of my age. There is an episode of “Then Came Bronson” called “The Mountain” where a man is in question of his manhood and capabilities in his aging. He makes it a point to climb a mountain at great risk just to prove himself. So he, along with Bronson, try and fail to make the summit. Maybe this was my mountain, one I hope to climb again. Maybe it is the spirit of adventure born in me from my Father. Maybe it was just something fun to do and I just wanted to do it.
As I pulled into my drive way I saw my wife and daughter sitting on the porch waiting for me. My son was mowing the lawn. I was home with my family. Dirty and greasy as I was I kissed my wife and choked back a knot in my throat. Damn road grit makes you thirsty.
After showering and putting on my first clean clothing in four days, I sat down to enjoy a steak and potato dinner prepared by my wife in honor of my achievement . After dinner I backed my bike into the garage. It was still covered with a week’s worth of road grime and bugs. Through the bug and dirt stained windshield, I noticed Clyde, still there, still vigilant, still clenching his fists, wearing the same grimace as when we left ten days ago. I looked at Clyde and smiled. “Thanks buddy,” I told him. “I probably couldn’t have made it without your help.” In a distant familiar voice, not of Clyde’s but one I remember from my childhood and young adult hood, I heard a proud but nonchalant voice tell me, “I figured you’d make it.” Clyde will stay with me now for the rest of my riding days and beyond.