Cigars, Cutthroats and Cycles
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96
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Overhead, a pair of bald eagles stood sentinel in the tall cottonwood groves that grow along the riverbanks. An immature baldie struggled to the rim of its deep nest to peer down. Red-tailed hawks and vultures soared above, and cedar waxwings swooped through the air, feeding on swarming mayflies. A juvenile beaver swam alongside our boat, then somersaulted away.
We stopped to fish trout-rich gravel bars, and then moved on, floating silently through narrow, vertical canyon walls, past dark caves and layers of limestone, shale, sandstone and volcanic lava formed tens of millions of years ago. Miller peeled back each layer with quiet, informed discourse, a primer on the region's geology and history.
That evening we floated into Bressler's walled-tent camp. Gathering around the campfire after sunset, we lit our cigars and uncorked a fine blue agave tequila. Under a brilliant night sky, we went toe-to-toe with our guides, most of whom by now had accepted our offer of a cigar. Each person told a story or joke, each speaker finishing with a tipple from the bottle.
I'd give the edge to the visitors, especially two unprintable jokes told by Walker and Stephens, each honed by years of telling. None, however, could top Art Medina, the eye doctor, and his memories as a young Mexican-American boy living near the border. He recalled watching his elders wrap a severed cow head in burlap and bury it in an underground mesquite fire, smothered by dirt, to make delicious smoked barbacoa.
There were other fishing experiences, but after five days the bikers had to push on toward Sturgis. Miller led us north through Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, and up to Chico Hot Springs, Montana. There we celebrated five glorious days of fishing by renting a mountain view cabin, soaking in hot mineral waters and enjoying the legendary cuisine at Chico Hot Springs Lodge.
The ride east through Little Big Horn Monument, the site of Custer's ill-fated last stand, was every bit as dramatic as we had hoped, even after passage through the national parks and Montana's Bear Tooth Mountains.
By now the roads and highways were thickening with other Harley riders, all converging on Sturgis. Dressed in leathers and bandannas, unshaven and roadworn, the boys from San Antonio blended in, just another bunch of hard-core bikers. Only one detail suggested they were different: This was the first time I ever saw men ride Harleys while smoking premium cigars.
Boys will be boys.
Bob Rivard is the managing editor of the San Antonio Express-News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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