My Heart Was Saying One Thing, My Mind Another...

Some things you just know — like the feeling I get when looking at my children or the way I felt the first time I looked into the Grand Canyon. Some experiences are too strong for reason or words. There are some things, that even though they defy all conventional wisdom in your heart and your mind — you just know.

Never dying on a motorcycle is one of those things. I can’t explain it rationally, it’s just something that I’ve always known. It’s a feeling that has been deep inside of me since I first threw my right leg over the seat of that old powder blue moped. I knew I was never going to die as the result of a motorcycle crash. In many ways, I feel safest when I’m back on two-wheels and headed for points previously unknown.

 Lately Though, I’ve Been Made To Feel Differently

I now had my daughter on the back of the bike with me. I’ve started to wonder whether my premonition covers just me, or does it also protect all who ride as co-pilot and passenger? Would the same Gods of 2-wheeled travel, who have watched over me for so long, also extend their protection to those I love and now share my adventures with?

Our flight from Philadelphia had arrived in Idaho Falls five days ago. We hurried to the dealership, picked up our beloved Yamaha Venture Royale, and then began our quest of another ten-day odyssey through the Rocky Mountain West.

This was Melissa’s third tour with her dad, and we both shared the intense excitement of not knowing what the next week would hold. We had no specific destination or itinerary. This week would be more important than that. Just by casting our fate into the winds that blew across the eastern slopes of the great Rocky Mountains, we knew that all destinations would then be secure.

Then We Almost Hit Our First Deer

Three days ago, just South of Dupoyer Montana, two doe’s and a fawn appeared out of nowhere on the road directly in front of us. Melissa never saw them as I grabbed hard on the front brake. The front brake provides 80-90% of all stopping power on a motorcycle but also causes the greatest loss of control if you freeze up the front wheel. As the front wheel locked, the bike’s back tire swerved right and we moved violently into the left oncoming lane just narrowly missing the three deer.

 They Never Moved

The old axiom that goes … Head right for the deer, because they won’t be there when you get there, wouldn’t have worked today. They just watched us go by as if it happened to them every day. Judging by the number of dead deer we had seen along highway #89 coming South, it probably did.

 Strike One!

We pulled into Great Falls for the night and over dinner relived again how close we had actually come — so close to it all being over. Collisions with deer are tragic enough in a car or SUV, but on a motorcycle usually only one of the unfortunate participants gets up and walks away — and that’s almost always the deer. The rider is normally a statistic. We thanked the Gods of the highway for protecting us this day, and after a short walk around town we went back to the motel for a good (and thankful) night’s sleep.

The next morning was another one of those idyllic Rocky Mountain days. The skies were clear, there was no humidity, and the temperature was in the low 60’s with a horizon that stretched beyond forever. If we were ever to forget the reason why we do these trips just the memory of this morning would be enough to drive that amnesia away forever. We had breakfast at the 5th Street Diner, put our fleece vests on under our riding jackets, and headed South again.

We had a short ride to Bozeman today, and my daughter was especially excited. It was one of her all-time favorite western towns. It was western for sure, but also a college town. Being the home of Montana State University, and she being a college student herself, she felt particularly at home there. I loved it too.

We stopped mid-morning for coffee and took off our fleece vests. As I opened the travel trunk in the rear to put the vests away, I noticed that two screws had fallen out of the trunk lid. These were the screws that secured the top lid to the bottom or base of the trunk. I had to fix this pretty quickly, or we were liable to have the top blow off from the strong winds as we made our way down the road. We spent most of that afternoon at Ackley Lake, in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, before continuing South on Rt #89 towards Bozeman. I was still worried about the lid falling off and was using a big piece of duct tape as a temporary fix.

It was about 5:45 p.m. when we entered the small Montana town of White Sulphur Springs. They had a NAPA automotive store and by luck it was still open until six. I rushed inside and found the exact size screws that I needed. Melissa then watched me do my best ‘shade tree mechanic’ impersonation. I replaced the two missing screws while the bike was sitting in the parking lot to the left of the store. We then had fruit drinks, split a tuna salad sandwich from the café across the street, and were again on our way.

The sun was just starting to descend behind the mountains to our west, and we both agreed that this was truly the most beautiful time of day to ride. We were barely a mile out of town when I heard my daughter scream …


At that moment, I felt the back of the bike move as if someone had their hand on just the rear tire and was shaking it back and forth. Then I saw it. An elk had just come out of the creek bed below, and to our right, and had misjudged how long it would take us to pass by. It darted across the highway a half second too soon brushing the back of the bike with its right shoulder and almost causing us to fall.

This time my daughter saw it coming before I did, and I’ll never forget the sound of her voice coming across the bike’s intercom at a decibel level I had never heard from her before. She is normally very calm and reserved.

We had actually made contact with the elk and stayed upright. If it had happened in front of the bike, we wouldn’t have had a chance. Thank God, with over forty years of experience and some luck, I didn’t lock up the front brake this time. That would have caused us to lose control of the front tire and as we had already lost control of the one in the back, it would have almost guaranteed a crash to our left.

Strike Two!

We rode slowly the rest of the way to Bozeman. We convinced each other that two near misses in less than a week would be enough for five more years of riding based on the odds. At the Best Western Motel in Bozeman, we unloaded the bike and went to my daughter’s favorite restaurant for Hummus. As the waitress took our order and then left, Melissa stared at me across the table with a very serious look in her eyes...

“Dad, I don’t think we should ride anymore after about four o’clock in the afternoon. The animals all seem to drink twice a day, (the roads following the rivers and streams), and it’s early in the morning and later in the evening when we’re most at risk.” I said I agreed, and we made a pact to not leave before 9:30 in the morning and to be off the road by 4:00 in the afternoon.

This meant we wouldn’t be riding during our favorite part of the day which was dusk, but safety came first, and we would try as hard as we could to live within our new schedule. Our next stop tomorrow would be Gardiner Montana which was the small river town right at the North entrance (Mammoth Hot Springs) to Yellowstone National Park. There were colder temperatures, and possibly snow, in the forecast, so we put our fleece vests back on before leaving Bozeman.

At 9:30 a.m. we were again headed South on Rt. #89 through Paradise Valley. After a few stops to hike and sightsee, we arrived in Gardiner at 4:10, only a few minutes beyond our new maxim. It had already started to snow. It was early June, and as all regular visitors to Yellowstone know, it can snow in the park any of the 365 days of the year. We hoped it wouldn’t last. There was not much to do in Gardiner and as beautiful as it was here, we wanted to try and get to West Yellowstone if we were going to be stuck in the snow. We had dinner at the K-Bar Café and were in bed at the motel by the bridge before nine. All through the night, the snow continued to fall intermittently as the temperature dropped.

When we awoke the next morning, the snow had stopped but not before depositing a good two to three inches on the ground. The town plow had cleared the road, and the weather forecast for southern Montana said temperatures would reach into the high 40’s by mid-afternoon. The Venture was totally covered in snow and seemed to be protesting what I was about to ask it to do. I cleaned the snow off the bike and rode slowly across the street and filled it up with gas. I then came back to the motel, loaded our bags, and Melissa got on the bike behind me.

“Are we gonna be alright in the snow, Dad?” she asked. As I told her we’d be fine if it didn’t get any worse than it was right now, I had the two fingers crossed on my left hand that was controlling the clutch.
We swung around the long loop through Gardiner, went through the Great Arch that Teddy Roosevelt built honoring our first National Park, and entered Yellowstone. As we approached the guard shack to buy our pass, the female park ranger said, “You’re going where? There’s four inches of snow at the top. We plowed it an hour ago, but you never know how it’s going to be until you get over it.”

‘OVER IT,’ is where we were headed, and then down toward the Madison River where we would turn right and continue on to West Yellowstone. Even though the Park is almost 100% within the state of Wyoming, two of its entrances (North and West) sit right inside the border of the great state of Montana.

“If you keep it slow and watch your brakes, you’ll probably be fine.” “Two Harley riders came through an hour ago, and I haven’t heard anything bad about them. They were headed straight to Fishing Bridge and then to the Lodge at Old Faithful.” “Well, If the Harleys can make it we certainly can” I told my daughter, as we paid the $20.00 fee and headed up the sloping, and partially snow-covered, mountain.

We made it over the top which was less than a ten-mile ride headed South through the park. This part of the trip didn’t require braking and would be easier than the descent on the backside of the mountain. As we started our way down, I noticed the road was starting to clear.

Within ten minutes, the asphalt on this side of the mountain was totally dry and our confidence rose with each bend of the road. It was just then that my daughter said, “Dad, I need to stop, can you find me a restroom?” A restroom in Yellowstone, not the easiest thing to find. If I did find one, at best it would be a government issue outhouse, but I told her I’d try. “Please hurry, Dad,” Melissa said.

In another mile, there was a covered ‘lookout’ with three port-a-potties off to the right. I pulled over quickly, and my daughter headed to the closest one on the left. I then walked over to the observation stand and looked out to the East towards Cody. As most Yellowstone vistas, the beauty was beyond description, but something wasn’t quite right, and …

Something Felt Strange

I looked off in the distance at Mt. Washburn. The grand old mountain stood majestic at almost 10, 000 feet, and with its snow-capped peak, it looked just like the picture postcards of itself that they sold in the lodge. I still felt strange.

Then I Understood Why

As I looked off to my right to walk back to the bike, I saw it.

Standing to the left of my motorcycle, and less than thirty yards in front of me, was the biggest silver and black coyote I had even seen. Many Park visitors mistake these larger coyotes for wolves, and this guy was looking straight at me with his head down. As I walked slowly back to the bike, he never took his eyes off me with only his head moving to follow my travel. I got to the bike and wondered if I should shout to my daughter. I knew if I did, it would probably scare the Coyote away, and this was shaping up to be another of those seminal Yellowstone moments. I wanted to see what would happen next.

I slowly opened the trunk lid on the back of the bike. We always carried two things in addition to water — and that was fig-newtons and beef jerky. The reasoning was, that no matter what happened, with those three staples we could make it through almost anything. I took a big piece of beef jerky out of the pouch and showed it to the hungry Coyote. His head immediately rose up and he pointed his nose in the air while taking in the aroma of something that he had probably never smelled before.

I don’t normally feed any of the animals in Yellowstone, but this encounter seemed different. This animal was trying to make contact and on instinct alone I reacted. As I walked slowly to the front of the bike, I ripped off a small piece of the beef jerky and threw it to the coyote. He immediately jumped backwards (coyotes are prone to jumping) while keeping his head and eyes focused on me. He then took two steps forward, sniffed the processed beef, picked it up in his jaws, and in one swallow it was gone. He now looked at me again.

This Time I Was Two-Steps Closer

He was now less than fifteen feet away with his head once again down. He was showing no signs of aggressive behavior, and as I still had my helmet and riding suit on, I felt like I was in no danger. I didn’t think a fifty-pound coyote could bite through Kevlar and fiberglass, and I was starting to feel a strange connection with this animal that was getting a little closer all the time. I threw him another piece.

Was It About The Beef Jerky, Or Was It Something More?

Again, he took two steps forward to retrieve the snack and then raised his eyes up to look at me. At this close range I started questioning myself. What if it is a Wolf I asked, and then once again I looked at his tail. Nope, it’s a Coyote, I convinced myself, as I held my ground and continued to extend my hand out in the direction of my new friend. This time he didn’t move. It was now my turn. I was down on both knees in the leftover snow from last night and started to inch my way forward by sliding one knee in his direction and then the other. He took a small step back.

I then started to talk to him in a low and hushed tone. He moved one step closer. The beef jerky at the end of my hand was now less than five feet from his mouth. We stayed in this position for the longest time until I heard a loud “DAD!!!” coming from the direction of the port-a-potties. My daughter was finished and saw me kneeling down in front of the ‘Wolf.’

When she screamed, the Coyote bounded (jumped) again and ran off in the opposite direction (East) from where I was kneeling. He ran about fifty yards and then turned around to take one more look at me. He then slowly entered the tree line that bordered the left side of the road up ahead.

“Dad, what were you doing?” my daughter asked. “Do you think you’re Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves?” I laughed and said no, “just trying to communicate with a new friend.” My daughter continued to shake her head in my direction as she put on her helmet. I started the bike, put it in gear, and we headed again South down the park mountain road.

We had gone less than a quarter of a mile when something darted right out in front of the bike. It was that same Coyote that I had tried to feed just minutes before. He was about twenty yards in front of me and thank God I didn’t have to do any fancy maneuvering to miss him. I didn’t even have to use the brakes.

Still, this was now three encounters in less than a week. Or was it three? I convinced myself that running over a Coyote wouldn’t have been fatal. Painful maybe, but we would have survived it.

 Strike Two And A Half!

We couldn’t help but laugh as we wondered if the Coyote had done it on purpose. Was he trying to scare us for not leaving the rest of the beef jerky or just saying goodbye? We’d never know for sure, but I wanted to believe that the latter was true. I will always wonder about how close he may have come.

As we got to the bottom of the long mountain descent, the sign announcing the Madison River and the road to West Yellowstone came up on the right. We made the turn and then spent what seemed like forever marveling at the beauty of the Madison River. It looked like an easy ride into West Yellowstone until it started to snow again.

We crested a large hill with only ten miles left to go. At the bottom of the hill was what looked like a lake covering the entire road. The bottom of the road where the hill ended was lower than the surrounding ground and was acting like a reservoir for the melting snow from the hills that surrounded it.

This Low Spot Was Right In The Middle Of The Road

We approached slowly and stopped to survey the approaching water. We needed to decide the right thing to do next. The yellow line that divided the road was barely visible through the water, and we both guessed that it couldn’t be more than twelve to fourteen inches deep. I decided guessing wasn’t good enough and put the kickstand down on the bike. Melissa held the clutch in to allow the motor to keep idling. I then walked into the water in my waterproof riding boots. The boots were over sixteen inches high. “Yep, no more than six or eight inches,” I yelled back to Melissa. “It just looks deeper. If we go slow, we’ll be fine to go through.”

I walked back, got on the bike, and retracted the kickstand and then put it in first gear. Just as I started to approach the pool, I noticed a huge shadow to my right. Two large Moose were standing just off the apron on the right side of the road. It looked like they either wanted to cross the flooded asphalt, or drink, as they stood less than twenty-five feet away from where we now were. Every time I moved closer to the water, they did the same thing. Three times we did this, and a Broadway choreographer couldn’t have scripted it better. The two Moose moved in concert with our timing getting closer to not only the water, but to us, each time we moved.

Moose, like Grizzly’s, have no real natural enemies except man, and unlike all other members of the deer family, they have a perpetually bad disposition. They seem to be permanently in a bad mood and are not to be trifled with or approached. Even the great Grizzly gives the Moose a wide berth. I stopped the bike again unsure of what to do next.

It Was A True Mexican Standoff In The Woods Of Wyoming
“Melissa then said, “Dad; Let’s try banging on the tank and blowing the horn like we do with Buffalo. Maybe then they’ll cross in front of us, and we can get outta here.” I thought it was a good idea and worth a try. I again put the kickstand down and told Melissa that if they charged us not to run but to get down low beneath the left side of the bike. That way, the Venture would hopefully take the brunt of their charge. I started banging on the tank, as I pushed the horn button with my other hand …

 Nothing, Nada!

Both Moose just held their ground stoically looking at the water. It was a true ‘Mexican standoff,’ where we were Speedy Gonzalez faced off against the great Montezuma. No matter how much noise we made, the Moose never budged an inch. After fifteen minutes of this, we decided to go for it. I put the bike back into gear, and going faster than I normally would, I entered the reservoir on top of the still visible yellow line. With a rooster tail of water shooting out from behind the bike over twenty-feet long, we crossed the flooded road.

Once across, we went fifty yards past the water and then stopped to look back. Both Moose had turned around and were headed back into the woods from where they had come. They
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Submitted by KurtPhilipBehm on April 25, 2024

Modified by KurtPhilipBehm on April 25, 2024

19:31 min read

Quick analysis:

Scheme A X X B X X X C C D X X E F X G X X X X X X H X B XI X H C J X K K X I L M E A X M X X J N X I X X E I N F D L XX N G
Characters 20,086
Words 3,901
Stanzas 58
Stanza Lengths 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1

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"DAAAAD !!!" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2024. Web. 21 Jun 2024. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/186008/daaaad-!!!>.

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