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Dr. Frazier: Two Dot Adventure Ride

Tuesday, September 11, 2012
A Vetter outfitted Honda CB900 Custom that brought back memories of the cowboy biker.
A Vetter outfitted Honda CB900 Custom that brought back memories of the cowboy biker.
“You going to crash that motorcycle,” the bartender said as he poured a third double-shot of whiskey into the cowboy’s glass.

“Nah, this stuff just loosens me up, let’s me ride better than when I’m sober,” was the retort from the already well-oiled cowboy leaning on the bar.

“That’s what you said last time you busted yourself up on that motorcycle. You could get killed one of these times.”

The cowboy emptied the glass in one toss-back, coughed once or twice, set the glass on the bar and growled his reply towards the bartender, “Yeah, well you know I’m from Two Dot and don’t give a damn, so give me another.”

The next double he drank a bit slower, sipping it while looking in the mirror behind the bar. About halfway through his drink he turned to me and asked, “That your BMW outside?”

I said it was, not sure if my reply was going to prompt a compliment or challenge. Instead I got neither.

“Where are you headed?” he asked.

I told him I was looking for a quiet camping spot for the night further north, somewhere along the Musselshell River.

He pondered this for a few seconds, and then said, “I’ve got a Honda 900 out front. If you want we can ride up there together. I know a couple of places you might like, real quiet like and right on the river.”

I thought, “Why not, he’s a local and should know the best places.”

Lonely and empty  the dirt road towards Two Dot did not have so much as a telephone pole to break-up the scenery.
Lonely and empty, the dirt road towards Two Dot did not have so much as a telephone pole to break-up the scenery.
So began a wild adventure I lived through to more sedately re-visit 25 years later.

My first Two Dot adventure began in Big Timber, Montana. I was exploring the middle of Montana, looping around the Lewis and Clark and Gallatin National Forests on my 1978 BMW R100, one that had come with a fairing, saddlebags and rear luggage rack. It was loaded with everything I thought I needed to be self-sufficient during an extended trip that included nightly camping and an occasional meal in a bar or restaurant.

I had stopped in Big Timber for a late lunch at a bar that advertised the “Biggest and Best Burger and Fries in Montana.” I thought if the meal was large enough I could forego cooking that evening and thereby wouldn’t have to wash my gear while smells from the meal wafted into the wild winds, inviting unwanted bears or coyotes to join me later in the night.

It was while eating the big, two-handed burger and wiping grease from my chin with a shirt sleeve that the cowboy came into the bar, sat down three stools away and quickly knocked back the two double-shots of whiskey. Sipping my cola and dipping fries in the pool of ketchup on my plate, I knew well enough not to bother a man in Montana who was obviously a serious drinker, so kept my eyes averted and voice to myself.

The cowboy never introduced himself by name, just asked if I wanted to join him, an offer I accepted.

Before leaving the bar my new guide bought two six-packs of beer which he stored in the six-pack designed storage spaces of the Vetter Windjammer fairing on his Honda. While we filled our gas tanks before leaving town he reduced the 12-pack supply to 11, frowning when I declined to help him “lighten the load.” He said, “Hell, guess I’ll have to drink them all myself before we hit the gravel road or they’ll explode from being shaken up.” As we drove out of Big Timber across the Yellowstone River I saw him toss another empty can over the bridge railing.

Twenty-five years later I was in Montana again doing some expedition riding, this time targeting the depths of the Crazy Mountains. Names like Loco Mountain and Coffin Butte had drawn my attention to the previously unexplored places and piqued my adventurist interest.

Sunday in downtown Two Dot  Montana  where there is no stop light.
Sunday in downtown Two Dot, Montana, where there is no stop light.
My cranial hard drive had been cluttered so much over the previous 25 years that the memories of my previous wild adventure with the cowboy on the Honda CB900 from Two Dot had been effectively buried. They were deep in the graveyard of risky misadventures until I saw what I thought was his motorcycle parked on a side street in Virginia City, Montana. At first I thought “No way, that guy’s liver could not have survived after we parted ways 25 years ago, or he crashed seriously or the police locked him up.” But looking at the Vetter outfitted motorcycle with a sleeping bag on the back had me re-thinking the possibility of him still wildly driving around in Montana.

I stopped and asked several people in the area if they knew who owned the parked Honda I had seen but found no leads. Because I never knew his name I did not know who to ask for, just “the guy that owns the motorcycle out front.” Before giving up my search I left a business card on the Honda with a handwritten note, signed “From the guy who was to meet you in Two Dot on the BMW 25 years ago.”

Returning to Two Dot, I found the town not much changed from 25 years earlier; it was still a small “one bar” town in the middle of a ranching area. The main street was now sign posted as the Two Dot Highway and paved, but remained a two lane street through a quiet town. A post office had fresh paint, but the bank was still long closed and crumbling.

I spent an hour poking in and around Two Dot. The camping place I had used on my earlier visit was under several feet of water as the Musselshell River flooded the banks. In the “World Famous” Two Dot Bar, “Easy To Find…Hard To Leave,” I found no one inside since they were closed the Sunday I was there. I thought if my cowboy-biker acquaintance was still alive, someone in the bar might know of his whereabouts, but the locked door left my questions unanswered.

A rancher driving through town in a pick-up truck stopped to look at my parked motorcycle. When I asked him if he knew of an older local guy who drove a Honda motorcycle, one about 30 years old with a Vetter Windjammer fairing, saddle bags and top box, he looked at me for a few seconds, and then said, “Nope. We got a few Harleys around and some dirt bikes, but nothing like a Vetter whatever.”

A dirt road that was fine when dry but impassable for my 1978 BMW R100 when wet.
A dirt road that was fine when dry but impassable for my 1978 BMW R100 when wet.
I finally gave up my search for the cowboy-biker from 25 years before, but decided to try the road south that had been our earlier separation point. I was on a much better equipped off-road motorcycle than the BMW R100, now using a Kawasaki KLR650, far superior in the gravel and mud I remembered falling down on and in before the Honda cowboy and I parted ways.

When the cowboy-biker and I left Big Timber he told me our next stop would be in Harlowtown, “a six-pack up the road.” He didn’t wear any motorcycle riding gear, unless rancher working gloves could be considered motorcycle gloves. For boots he wore cowboy boots, topped by Levis and a western cut shirt. His helmet was a beat-up cowboy hat with a leather chin strap to keep it from flying off at speed.

He seemed to be having fun as he wove between the yellow passing stripes at speeds near 60 mph, hoisting a handful of beer can wildly in the air each time he managed to miss one of the painted stripes. Every five or ten minutes he would toss an empty beer can to one side or the other off the road and from behind I could see him dig another out from the fairing. Once he got into a two-handed battle with the top plastic six-pack holder and nearly lost control of the motorcycle, taking up both lanes in his struggle. After he got the beer free and both hands back on the handlebars he slowed down, and then stopped, got off the Honda, unzipped and watered the sagebrush. I remember him laughing as he yelled over his shoulder at me where I was parked behind his Honda, “Bet you thought I’d lost it back there, huh?”

I answered, laughing with him, “No, I saw you had the beer in both hands, you weren’t going to drop it.”

We drove through a small rain shower, the water on the road not slowing him down, nor me following, my ego not about to let a 900cc Honda leave my 1000cc BMW behind, even though I felt the front wheel hydroplane over several puddled sections. My ego overrode my knowledge of the risk and on we went. I wondered how he could see in the rain not wearing glasses, while I could barely see through the face shield on my full face helmet.

When we reached a dirt road between the small town of Melville and a place now known as Baxter that vectored off to the west, he pulled over again and asked if I could “ride in the dirt?”

“I guess so, why?”

He answered, “I know a cut-off here, we can skip Harlowtown, get right into Two Dot, save a few miles.”

Easy To Find … Hard To Leave  the Two Dot Bar.
“Easy To Find … Hard To Leave,” the Two Dot Bar.
I said, “OK, I’m game,” thinking that if he could, in his “loose” condition, drive in the dirt so could I. There my thinking was seriously flawed.

Within the first 100 yards he had fallen two or three times. My heavily laden BMW did far more poorly as it and I slid, slipped and parted ways more times than I can remember. The earlier rain had made the gray dirt more like a gray paste and my front fender became so clogged that we could not roll the wheel forward or backward.

He was down to his last three well shaken cans of beer, having slurped one each time after he fell while stumbling around to right his Honda. Only about half of each can was drinkable as the other half would spew into the air when he popped the top.

I gave up. After righting my heavy motorcycle half a dozen times I was beat-up and tired, well adventured out. While I scraped mud out from under my front fender I told him I was going to turn around, get back on the pavement and take the long way around to Two Dot.

He didn’t make fun of me or belittle my “dirt riding” skills. Instead he told me he was going to keep going because the section we were on then was the toughest part, and a mile or so from there it would get better. He described the camping spot along the river just before entering Two Dot where he would meet me after he stopped at the Two Dot Bar. He said I could meet him at the bar or he would find me at the river.

While he helped me turn the BMW around I asked him if he was worried about crashing and getting hurt, alone, on the track he was going to take to Two Dot. All I could see for miles ahead were rolling hills and grassland, no ranches or even telephone poles, nothing to offer help if he or the motorcycle needed it.

He finished his can of beer, tossed the empty into the grass and said, “I’m worried about running out of beer before I get home to Two Dot. As for crashing, I’m loose now and don’t give a damn. Hell, you ought to see me ride a horse. They’re meaner than this motorcycle and I can always get them home. I’ll see you in Two Dot.”

I never did see him in Two Dot. Twenty-five years later as I drove over the gravel road we might have taken together had I stayed with him, I could imagine him out there years earlier, flipping and flopping in the mud or dirt. Smiling, I bet myself he made it home to Two Dot. He had given me a crazed adventure in the short time I had known him and seemed to be having a great deal of fun doing it, as had I recollecting the adventure as I drove towards the Crazy Mountains.
Dr. Frazier: Two Dot Adventure Ride
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