Sunday, October 9, 2022

The Most Memorable Night of the Great Divide

We were bombing down a pavement descent toward the Colorado-Wyoming border, where our map promised there'd be a campground for the night. At the bottom, we saw a small dirt road where the campground should be, and we asked a guy in a truck if he knew of any campsite near by. 

The shower trailer at Rick's campground

He didn't know, and if anything, he left us more confused than before. We scanned the surroundings for a sign - literally, a sign - of a campground, and eventually we saw something that could be promising.

At first, we must've pulled into the wrong driveway, because before we knew it, we were right in someone's backyard. Oops. We turned around and pulled into another driveway, which although just as Deliverance-like as the first one, had some indications of a campground. The yard was littered with old lawn mowers and miscellaneous treasures, and there were several campers parked in various stages of disrepair.

We rode up to a window that seemed like it could be associated with a campground, and a heavy-set man with a gruff voice and big grey beard answered.

"Come around to the front", he said, in between coughs doubltlessly from years of smoking.

After passing more inoperable lawn mowers, we met him at his front door, where we asked him if he had any space for us for the night.

"I'll tell ya what, it's $20 each for a tent site, but I'll let you boys stay in one of my cabins with beds for only $15 per person. How's that sound?"

"That's great, thanks!"

He was a talkative man, and he continued: "You boys ever had antelope before? I'll cook you some burgers later and show you my trophy animals. By the way, my name is Rick."

Before we walked away, he added, "Stop over when you're ready, girlfriend will let me know when you're here!"

We went into the cabin, got a quick shower and changed into our non-riding clothes, then walked back over to his house.

When we opened his gate to the front door, we were met with a barking dog, and then: "Girlfriend! Stop it! They're friendlies!"

It turns out "girlfriend" was the name of his dog, not a woman. It was one of what would become many classic Rick experiences that we talked about for the rest of the trip.

We headed into his house, which although in almost as much disrepair as his yard, was really quite interesting and filled with endless curios. It was also filled with several cats, each of which he told us were well into their teen years, some over twenty years old. He led us into his kitchen and defrosted some ground antelope meat for dinner, which he cooked up on the skillet for us.

You might never guess it, but he actually cooked up a mean antelope burger. We headed into his living room to eat, and he had Pawn Stars on the television. On the table next to him was a bag of weed, sitting next to a pack or two of cigarettes. 

"You smoke?", he asked, gesturing to his stash of weed.

Will and I looked at each other and then both politely declined.

There were astounding differences between us. Rick probably hasn't touched a bike in 50 years, and yet talking with him was some of the most enjoyable conversation we had the whole trip. We got along very well, and despite our differences, all three of us loved the outdoors and enjoyed hunting. I think the lesson I learned is, you can almost always find something in common with someone if you just have a conversation.

He started off by showing us all the trophy animals in his house: there was the moose above his reclining chair, a huge buffalo on the opposite side of the room, a black bear or two, and entire walls filled with mule deer and antelope. It was really quite the collection. With each animal came a story, which he told with glowing detail and inflection.

He ended up telling us some of his life story, and it turns out he was born and raised in Pennsylvania like us. Unlike us, however, he left the state when the law was hot on his tail for falsely passing cars in state inspections.

He says he flipped the cop the bird as he drove west out of Pennsylvania on his way to Wyoming, telling him, "You'll never see me in Pennsylvania the rest of your life". 

True to his word, he never returned to Pennsylvania except perhaps once or twice to visit his elderly mother. That was almost 50 years ago, he said, and he's never looked back.

After outrunning the law to Wyoming, he had more brushes with the law - specifically the game commission - out west. He says he had a massive bear that he shot taken from him after unknowingly killing it once all the bear tags had been used up. It seemed like an honest mistake, but his feud with the game commission was very real.

He told us the story of dragging an elk behind his car on a snowy road, and then he told us about the time a mountain lion leapt over him on his riding lawn mower. Apparently, a mountain lion was in his yard and he fired some shots over its head to scare if off, but before he could react, the big cat jumped clear over him. Alas, he said the animal he's most afraid of is a wolverine. And let me tell you, if Big Rick is scared of a wolverine, I better be absolutely terrified. 

Perhaps the most shocking story was about a feud he had with his neighbor. Rick's dog killed his neighbor's duck, so his neighbor shot Rick's dog. In revenge, Rick snuck over at night and killed his neighbors $60,000 prize bull. 

He claims his neighbor came out to investigate with a shotgun, and in Rick's words, "he would've killed me if he saw me".

Maybe Rick's tales were stretched a bit, but we didn't care. It was a hell of a way to spend a night on the Great Divide.

The crowning moment of the evening was when I asked Rick what he did for bear protection. He just smiled and stood up without saying a word, and he walked slowly over to his garage. He came back with a massive pistol, which he cocked back to unload the live round from the chamber after taking out the magazine.

"This here is a Grizzly 50", he said proudly as he showed us the gun.

He handed it to each of us and let us hold it and cock it back. The action was extremely stiff, as to be expected with a 50 caliber pistol, and he assured us it would make quick work of any angry bear.

We talked a little longer, and before we knew it, we had been talking for a couple hours. It was late, so Rick let us fill up our water and wished up good luck on our trip.

We told him maybe we'd see him again if we ever came out west for a hunting trip.

The next morning as we were pedaling out of his yard, we saw Rick on his riding lawnmower cruising around his property. He drove over to us and gave us a genuine wish of good luck as we went on our way.

I can honestly say that the interaction with Rick and people like him are some of my absolute favorite memories. Period. Not just of the Great Divide, but in life. I think there's something valuable about meeting people who are different from you and learning from them. People all have their own little niche carved out, and for Rick, that niche was as an outfitter right along the Wyoming-Colorado border


  1. Your interaction with Rick is very similar to those of my own while traveling the “mountain states”. Wish more folks were this genuine.

    1. Totally agree. There's no faking it out there, people act like who they actually are. It's a refreshing thing for sure.