Trippin’: Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 39, August 1971
Lonnie Nuttkake lived up to his name. You know that holiday fruitcake you used as a doorstop? Lonnie was nuttier than that! I guess I wasn’t one to talk since I was considering his invitation to accompany him on a bike ride to the Midwest.
Now, I had been groomed to consider a Honda as less than a motorcycle. My friends considered a Harley a real bike, and a Triumph, BSA, or Bultaco as respectable. I was told no reputable biker would own a Honda. But then, this was Lonnie.
The whole fiasco started in my trailer. Lonnie dropped by all excited—honking the horn on his red, white, and blue '48 Plymouth. It was customary for him to honk and continue honking for the last 200 yards of his approach.
He stepped into my trailer with his long dirty-blond hair sticking out in all directions, crying for a comb. Lonnie lit up a reefer and told me, “Hey, man. I just found out I have relatives in Nebraska. Wouldn't it be a trip to hop on my bike, drive to their house, and knock on the door? I'd say…” He paused for effect, holding his hands up on either side of his face, displaying his outrageous, untidy, hippie self. “ ‘Hey, guess what? I'm your cousin!’” Then he broke into fits of laughter, plunked himself in a chair, and handed me the joint. “Can you imagine the look on their faces?”
I stared at him in disbelief. “You gotta be kidding, right?” Hell, Lonnie could have a crew cut, and he'd still look outrageous.
“No, man. I'm gonna do it. And I came by to see if you wanted to come along. We could stop in Aspen and take in the sights.”
Oddly enough, the concept was just strange enough to be appealing—that and the idea of a road trip that would take me through Colorado. But with Lonnie? He was surely a mad man. Still, it had been a year since I'd been west of Reno, and I'd be lying if I said I didn’t have itchy feet. So I decided to go to Nebraska on the back of Lonnie’s pathetic Honda 500.
Considering myself a somewhat sensible man, I did what I needed to do. I knew this unstable freak would probably get me killed, so I wrote a will. It was short and to the point.
“Being of sound mind, I, Rich Israel, leave my truck with its contents and my trailer with its contents and my dog Charlie to Rosehips Hill in the event I should become deceased. Since corny is a righteous state, please sprinkle my ashes in any proper cornfield.”
With Rosie’s blessings and condolences ...and despite Charlie’s disappointment, we left late the next morning. I leaned against the sissy bar with our packs strapped to the back, and it was surprisingly comfortable. By early afternoon, we buzzed through Reno. My friends Greg and Jeanette were working, so we didn't stop to visit.
We headed into the desert wasteland of Nevada, taking turns driving every few hours. The wind tempered the desert heat, while sagebrush and distant hills dominated the scenery. The bike rolled along at a steady pace, making stops for gas, food, coffee, and bathrooms only when the need presented itself.
After a late dinner in Elko, we pushed on into the night. Sometime after midnight, I was shaken awake by a swaying sensation. I clamped on to the base of the sissy bar with both hands and found myself staring into a hazy, misty, moon-illuminated world. I could see the dashed white line weaving in the light from the headlamp. As my mind cleared, I realized the bike was wobbling erratically as we sped along.
Lonnie tilted his head to the side and yelled, “The front tire blew!” He struggled to keep upright as he pressed on the brake. As we slowed, the bike wobbled violently, but somehow Lonnie kept control. After a minute that seemed like forever, we came to a stop. He pushed the bike to the shoulder, and we examined the flat front tire.
I said, “Man! Good work keeping control.”
“Damn, I can’t believe we rode it out.”
“I was asleep on the back.”
“Where the hell are we?”
“Nowhere, man. I passed a no-burg named Wells a while back. Let’s throw down our sleeping bags and catch some zees. I’ll hitch with the tire to a town tomorrow and get it fixed.”
“OK. But watch out for scorpions and rattlesnakes. This is the desert.”
Lonnie’s wide eyes darted around, “Holy crap!”
At first light, we removed the front wheel. Lonnie caught a ride in the back of a dilapidated pickup, clutching the damaged wheel in his free hand. I stayed behind with the bike, waiting for hours watching the occasional vehicle pass by, sitting back from the road so the semi-trucks wouldn’t spray me with gravel. Finally, before the sun had baked me to the bone, a green pickup pulled over in the westbound lane and Lonnie hopped out with the repaired tire.
With the wheel remounted, we crossed over the remainder of Nevada and viewed infinite mirages across the Utah Salt Flats. The idea to swim in Salt Lake was scrapped when the funky water grossed us out. Pushing through traffic near the Mormon throne, we turned south and then west again.
My rear-end was hurting something awful. Gassing up in Grand Junction, I told Lonnie, “I’m going to have to get my butt recapped.”
“Whew,” he said. “That was a bitch. It’s good to finally be in Colorado. Shall we eat and look for a place to crash?”
“Hell no! We're close enough to Redstone Hot Springs to push on. A couple of more hours won’t kill us—and a soak will be worth it. You’ll love it. Redstone is the best. Super-hot water next to a cold mountain stream! Our muscles will be delighted, man.”
“Groovy. I’ll let you drive since you know the territory.”
It was great to be back in the Rockies. As the sun set, the cool mountain air was refreshing, and the curves in the road felt soothing after the arrow-straight interstate. We grabbed a bite in Glenwood Springs, then turned south at Carbondale.
I watched the landscape as I navigated the narrow, winding highway. There was just enough moonlight to make out the terrain. When the shadowy outline of steep cliffs appeared above us on the right, I decelerated. I was relying on memory from a few years back and at last, I found what I was looking for. The cliffs above and to my right were familiar, and a light-colored van was parked on the left shoulder. I pulled the bike over, maneuvered it down an incline, and parked next to a tin shed.
“We’re here, man. You’re going to love this.”
“Hell yes, I am. I can’t wait.”
We fished towels out of our packs and opened the door to the shed. There were five hippies—two girls and three guys—squeezed into the steamy, sunken trough.
I called out as we entered, “Hey, you got room for two more?”
A husky bear of a fellow with a scraggly beard responded, “Shit, yeah, man. Here, join the party.” He handed me a half-burned joint.
I took a long toke and went into a coughing fit as I handed the joint to Lonnie. We stripped down and squeezed in. It was good weed, and between the pot, a few slugs of wine, and the hot water, we were pretty toasted. I was transported into the land of AAAHHHHHH!
Once we were well cooked, I showed Lonnie the ritual of an occasional dip in the chilly stream. We soaked and partied for over an hour. Lonnie and I were sitting in the shed, out of the bath, when a strange, foreboding sensation settled over me. I turned to Lonnie and said in a quiet, definite tone, “Let’s get out of here.” He tilted his head but didn’t question me, then followed as I slipped on my clothes.
We said our thanks and good-byes, then left. Several miles farther down the road, we pitched our sleeping bags in an Aspen grove. We were exhausted and relaxed, so we slept until the morning sun brought us back to life. When I went to wash up, I realized my towel was missing. “Hey, man. We left our towels at the hot springs.”
“I guess you’re right. We can pick them up on the way to Aspen. I’m starved. Let’s pack and hit the road.”
A half-hour later, we pulled the bike behind a pickup and walked down the incline to the shed. A man dressed in dirty coveralls, a duck-billed hat turned backward, and a plastic visor covering his face was working on the door with a blowtorch.
I approached the man and said, “Hi there. What’s up?”
The man tipped up his welding shield and wiped the sweat off his forehead with his sleeve. His face was thin, damp, and rough. “I've been asked to weld this door closed. They busted a bunch of doped-up hippies here last night. I guess they were smoking marijuana.”
“Yep. The Sheriff said he was shutting this place down.”
The news was a real bummer, but I was relieved that I’d listened to my gut. “Damn,” I said, “I heard this was a great hot spring.”
The fellow shook his head and said, “Used to be.” He lowered his visor and returned to his work.
As we walked back to the bike, I whispered to Lonnie, “Crap! I’m glad I followed my intuition last night. We got out of here just in time.”
Lonnie’s eyeballs nearly fell out of their sockets. “Freaky, man!”
To be continued...
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Trippin': Roads, Rails & Mountain Trails
In book 2 of his Hippie Adventurer Series, Rich takes us on another wild ride during the 1960s as he and his faithful canine companion, Charlie, hitchhike, hop freights, work in an Alaskan gold mining camp, and manage a Sacramento Valley cattle ranch.
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s were a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
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If you haven’t read the first book in the Hippie Adventurer Series, the award-winning Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes, you can find it on Amazon and Audible.
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns