This article was written to my family — the experiences shared are all true. 




strait-laced suitSo I think that you’re all pretty confused. Yeah, that’s right. You don’t really know too much about me. Well, admittedly, it was always my intention to keep you guessing—and it worked.


I mean, you probably all think that I am a strait-laced person who always hands in projects on time, never goes out of the house past 9:00 p.m., and keeps excessively strict requirements in manners, morals, or opinion. Hmmm… That’s where you would be wrong. There is a wild side to me as well. Take, for instance, my upbringing as a biker dude. Read on.


It turned out there was a stigma being from Castle Valley, which was that the people in Moab and other students thought it was a community full of hippies or hillbillies. What if the students found out that I lived in a tent? I thought my life was nearly unbearable in those days. I had no idea of what was yet in store.


I also learned that because the middle school started earlier than the other schools, there was an hour or so after school before the bus came. It doesn’t seem like it should have been a big deal now, but at the time I dreaded it. How could I look normal and cool lingering around the school for an hour every day with nothing to do? There was a candy store up the road a little. I could hang out there after school even though I didn’t have any money.


This lasted for a time until one day a big dude and his thugs came strutting up and asked me for money, to which I responded truthfully, “I don’t have any.” But that wasn’t good enough. So during this particular encounter, the leader wound up and struck me across the face. I was an easy target, and he and his friends just laughed and thought they were so funny. Of course, I did nothing to solicit this, but waiting for the bus became a burden—I needed to look cool, avoid the bullies, and maintain my semblance of an image (whatever that was). Then one day while trying to juggle all these objectives, I missed the bus home. I’m not sure I ever considered what a predicament that put me in, because we didn’t have a phone yet. So how was I supposed to get home now?


But who am I kidding? Even if we had a phone, we didn’t have the money to spend on gas for an extra trip down to Moab, so I started walking toward Main Street. Maybe by a miracle, I thought, somebody I know will drive by. They didn’t. In those days, hardly anyone lived in the valley, so I kept walking toward the end of town in the direction of Castle Valley. There were plenty of cars going past, but few (if any) were headed to Castle Valley, so I just kept walking. After about two miles, I reached the river bridge and turned onto the road that wound along the Colorado River for the eighteen-mile drive up to Castle Valley. At that junction I looked ahead of me and wondered what was in store, then began walking up the river road. There was no sidewalk, but that didn’t really matter because at that time hardly anyone drove the river road.


I realized if I was going to get home that night, I would have to start hitchhiking, and I couldn’t be too selective on which vehicles I chose because there were so few cars to begin with. Well, pretty soon along came a man and his wife and they slowed their car down just few feet past me. I looked in their window and asked if I could catch a ride. Of course they said I could, so I climbed in the back seat. They were continuing up the road past Castle Valley, so they dropped me off at the bottom of the valley and I walked the final mile to our farm. Somehow I made it home in one piece. I was only 13 years old at the time and couldn’t have been happier to see my family. Of course, there were many questions about what I was doing that caused me to miss the bus and amazement that I had actually hitchhiked home as a young as I was, but no ridicule. It was necessary given the circumstances. And that was only the beginning.


Future hitch-hiking bouts involved many other incidents over a number of years. Most people were just trying to help, and I appreciated their willingness, but there are a couple that stand out in particular. One time I raised my thumb and was happy to see the oncoming car slow and stop. As I think back now, it was kind of an old vehicle, but I thought nothing of it at the time. The man inside told me to hop in the back seat, and we started up the river road. He mumbled something unintelligible; then I got a whiff of the alcohol on his breath. I realized he was drunk. He held a beer in his hand, plus the fact that he was weaving around the road as we drove confirmed my suspicions. Well, that was probably the longest ride to the valley that I ever remember. But needless to say, I made it home in one piece. I didn’t even mind that he dropped me off on the river road a couple miles from my house. Curiously, I felt both empathy and appreciation.


Another time, I was not getting too many takers and the afternoon had turned into evening. So when a group of leather-clad Harley riders sauntered by, I raised my hitch-hiking hand not really thinking they would stop. To my surprise they did. And following instructions, I hopped on the seat behind a burley, white-haired dude. When I climbed on the bike I was thinking what I should do with my hands. There wasn’t anything obvious to hold onto, but I had barely swung my leg over the seat and sat down when he gunned it. Without thinking, I grabbed around his waist and held on for dear life. For the first 30 seconds, I couldn’t even breathe. Eventually I loosened my death grip and moved my hands to a more appropriate position on the bike. As I remember, the seat back curled up behind me so that the Harley dude didn’t lose me altogether when he accelerated.


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Thinking back to the experience, I bet he was smiling broadly. Anyway, it was a great ride and the fastest I ever got home before or since. I can’t remember for sure, but when we got to the valley, I think he offered to drive me to my door, and I would have said yes if we really had one at the time. But considering his offer now, I wish I had taken him up on it. Can you imagine the scene I would have made driving down our country dirt road with a pack of Harley-Davidson bikes and riders in their black, leather garb? I would have given a million bucks to see my mother’s face when I climbed off the bike as a 13-year-old. “Yo, Rico. Thanks for the ride home. You HOGs are the best. Catch you later, bro.”


People would still be talking about that day.


Every day was filled with excitement back then. Some things never change.


I love you,




About Walter Penning
In 1989, Walter Penning formed a consultancy based in Salt Lake City and empowered his clients by streamlining processes and building a loyal, lifetime customer base with great customer service. His true passion is found in his family. He says the best decision he ever made was to marry his sweetheart and have children. The wonderful family she has given him and her constant love, support, and patience amid life's challenges is his panacea.

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