Jeff Hammer: Pirates

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    Finally, this past weekend, my wife and I were able to leave town for a couple of days. As she works during the week, our only times to travel locally are the weekends, and with the road conditions we’ve experienced this winter, traveling has been a risky proposition. 

    Anyone who travels in Wyoming, if they are smart, will check the weather forecast for their intended route. Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor, and the wise choice is not to risk traveling and to stay home when the weather person has predicted a better than even chance of snow.


    Which explains why for the past month, my wife and I have been unsuccessfully trying to make a short, two-day journey up over Togwotee Pass and down into Jackson Hole for a couple of days of bike riding and sightseeing and of just not being in Lander. 

    Don’t get me wrong. I have proudly called Lander my home for the vast majority of my life and can’t imagine voluntarily living anywhere else on a permanent basis, but sometimes it’s nice to get away for a few days…sometimes for more than just a few days.

    It’s why, in the 14th Century, someone smarter than me invented the word “vacation.” Obviously, a person or persons determined that mankind needed some vocabulary to describe the rare times when human beings were not putting their individual noses to the grindstone, and instead opted for a short period of what may have passed for fun in the Late Middle Ages.

    I’m sure the word is Latin in origin, which only makes sense. I don’t know who first used the word in a complete sentence, and I don’t care. Maybe its creator was a Spanish feudal warlord who just needed a break from the wear and tear of everyday feuding and decided to spend a few quiet days on a beach on the Spanish Riviera in order to rejuvenate his soul and warlike spirit. 


    “Diego, we must leave the battlefield and work on our tans!”

    I bet it worked. 

    I’m glad someone came up with a word to describe getting away from one’s domicile for a short period of time in order to relax and have a little fun where your immediate neighbors can’t see you and report your misdeeds to the rest of the neighborhood. However, with the advent of social media, one doesn’t need neighbors for that anymore, which kind of takes a little bit of the fun out of being a neighbor, as well. 


    Improved technology gives a new meaning to stealing one’s thunder.

    My neighbors aren’t the type of folks to gossip anyway, at least that I know of. We don’t care to know about each other’s past or present failings or even our politics. And even if we did, we’d most likely still shovel each other’s sidewalks when one of us is out of town on vacation, anyway. We do things like that in Wyoming…at least I’d like to think we still do.

    Even before we had neighbors, before my wife and I were married, Gayla and I have been rejuvenating our spirits by visiting the northwest portion of our state, an area loosely known as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. During the summer of 1984, not long after we met, we spent a weekend in Yellowstone. I don’t remember much about that trip, except that there were fewer visitors then, and we had no trouble acquiring a reservation, in contrast to today’s Yellowstone experience.


    It’s where Gayla first beat me in a game of cribbage, a practice she continues with increasing regularity as we enter our thirty-ninth year together.

    That was my first trip to Yellowstone, other than for work purposes, since I think I was about eight years old, back in the mid-1960s. Somehow, my parents scraped enough money together to afford a couple of days visiting our nation’s first national park.

    I still have a picture of that trip. In it, my parents’ four younger children are posing outside the cabin they had rented somewhere in the park. My only decent memory of that trip is that of a black bear leaning into our car, begging for a handout. I’m sure we complied, thereby doing our part to unknowingly putting its ursine life at risk.

    As mentioned earlier, our main purpose for traveling last weekend was to ride bikes on Teton Park Road. The park service begins plowing the road in mid-March so that by the beginning of April, the road is clear. For the month of April, vehicle traffic on the road is prohibited, but other forms of conveyance are encouraged.

    Our first foray of biking on the road occurred about four or five years ago, when we took a couple of rare personal days and biked the road on a Thursday. The weather on that day was perfect, sunny and warm, with little wind; but the best part was the absence of people. We rarely encountered any other bikers or walkers. All in all, it was one of those glorious days that we don’t experience with the frequency we would like.

    Last Saturday was a completely different story. We entered the park mid afternoon, and it wasn’t long until we encountered a long line of cars parked on both sides of the road at least a mile before the Taggart Lake Parking Lot, past which vehicle traffic is not allowed.

    Holy smoke, I thought, this is crazy, but we continued to the parking lot, and in a stroke of unusual luck, a vehicle was leaving just as we arrived; and so we snagged a place to park from which we could unload our bikes.

    To say the road was congested with like-minded folks would be an understatement. This was the first weekend day of the month which provided great weather, and I think the locals contacted all their friends the night before and made plans for a Teton Park Road outing the next day. Besides other bikers (both pedal bikes and electric bikes), we encountered people using scooters, inline skates, skateboards, and at least one unicycle. That’s in addition to a multitude of people walking and running and a couple of folks skiing on the two feet of snow remaining alongside the roadway.

    About halfway to Jenny Lake, we had to maneuver our way through a group of folks who decided that a plowed turnout in the road was a great place to have a party…complete with loud music and beverages of all kinds. Two hardy souls pulled large trailers attached to their bikes on which one could find securely fastened coolers and speakers from which came the obnoxious music.

    People were gathered in small and large groups doing what people do at large parties. The most unusual group was a dozen or so folks dressed up as pirates, although I don’t think that true pirates would have sported face paint to make themselves more intimidating. I’d like to think I’m generally a fairly tolerant individual, but that was a little too much.

    I don’t know…maybe they were a bunch of Hollywood makeup artists on a weekend retreat in Jackson Hole trying to let off a little steam, or maybe there is a club for wanna-be marauders in the Jackson Hole area. 

    In any event, the further we rode away from the parking lot, the fewer people we encountered, so the experience overall proved to be a great way to spend a few hours. The scenery was great, the weather was equally nice, and most of the other road users were respectful non-pillagers.

    I have no doubt we’ll make plans to ride Teton Park Road again, just never on the first nice weekend weather day of the month where we might again encounter a bunch of scurvy dogs and scalawags. Arrrr!


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