Standoff with the Montana Freemen

On March 25, 1996, an 81-day standoff began between FBI agents and an anti-government group known as the Montana Freemen. The standoff continued until the last members of the Freemen surrendered on June 14, 1996.

The group, which had become increasingly frustrated by the government in the midst of foreclosure proceedings on the property near Jordan on which they gathered, began holding mock trials of public officials and filing claims against officials, private citizens and journalists.

The situation was the third major armed standoff involving federal agencies in the 1990s, after the 1992 incident at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, both of which ended in multiple casualties. The Freemen standoff produced only one casualty, when FBI Special Agent Kevin Kramer rolled the Ford Bronco he was driving along a dirt road leading to the Freemen farm and was ejected from the vehicle. Kramer died later at a nearby hospital.

Members of the Freemen were tried for various offenses, including bank fraud, mail fraud, making threats against public officials (including a judge for whom they wrote a writ of execution) and the armed robbery of an ABC News television crew in October, 1995.

Also in March 1996

President Bill Clinton approved a comprehensive national policy on the future management and use of the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS), making the technology available for civilian use. Previously, the primary purpose of GPS was enhancing the effectiveness of U.S. and allied military forces. Both Garmin and Magellan immediately introduced hand-held GPS units for the civilian market.

At that time I was teaching outdoor courses (map reading, wilderness survival, etc) for a chain of outdoor stores in Arizona called Popular Outdoor Outfitters. They told me I needed to learn how to use GPS right away because they would be selling the new devices and wanted me to offer courses. I had been an instructor in the Army and received several commendations for teaching land navigation. MGRS (Military Grid Reference System) and UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) are very similar so I had no trouble learning and teaching GPS.

May 1996

Not sure how, but word spread that there was a GPS instructor in Phoenix, Arizona. I was contacted by the FBI about training agents who were involved in a standoff near Jordan, Montana. Small teams of agents arrived for training, then headed back to Montana.

Not surprising to me, a government purchasing agent used some criteria other than common sense when purchasing GPS units for the agents. The civilian Garmin or Magellan units would have been a safe bet, but instead the agents arrived with units capable of only one function — provide a grid coordinate. There was no “go to waypoint” feature. By necessity the instruction included plotting the grid coordinate delivered by the GPS unit to a 7.5 minute topographic map, plotting the desired destination on the map, then using a good old fashion compass to follow the bearing.

Really enjoyed training the teams and found myself more interested in the news story than I would have been otherwise.

Grandson JeRICHo

23 May 2018

My daughter, Ashley gave birth to a son. They named him Jericho. I pointed out that his name should be pronounced, Je-RICH-o. Mom and dad insisted they would call him by his nickname, Rico. Of course I pointed out that Rico is Spanish for Rich.  🙂

Fun with Friction

When you have a cool toy like the Rock Exotica Enforcer load cell, you just gotta find some fun ways to play with it. How about measuring how load on an anchor changes when holding, raising or lowering a load? How about how the load varies when you are using a real pulley vs using a carabiner as a pulley vs employing friction with something like a munter hitch?

Well, here you have it. Just a simple quick look. Nothing scientific, but the results may be of interest.

Static Load

This first photo shows the 10-pound weight suspended directly from the load cell. Static load was 11 lbs. More than 10 because there is a carabiner and a bit of rope added to the weight.

Efficient Pulley

Rock Exotica pulley rated around 92% efficient. If it was 100% efficient the load should register 22 lbs – 11 lbs on the load side, plus the 11 lbs of force I must apply to hold the load. The load cell read 20 lbs (+/- 1 lb). I applied only 9 lbs of force to hold the load in place because the friction of the rope passing over the pulley held a portion of the weight.

While lifting the weight the load cell read 24 lbs (+/- 1 lb). I needed 13 lbs of force to lift the 11 lbs weight because I needed to lift the load, plus overcome the small amount of friction created by the pulley.

While lowering the weight the load cell read 19 lbs (+/- 1 lb).

Carabiner as Pulley

Rock Exotica Pirate carabiner used as pulley. No efficiency rating.

The load cell read 20 lbs (+/- 1 lb). I applied only 9 lbs of force to hold the load in place because the friction of the rope passing over the carabiner held a portion of the weight. The +/- in my readings may account for a difference I was expecting. This reading was the same as that of the efficient pulley, but I think the higher friction of the carabiner should have resulted in a slightly lower rating than I got for the pulley.

While lifting the weight the load cell read 34 lbs (+/- 1 lb). I needed 23 lbs of force to lift the 11 lbs weight because I needed to lift the load, plus overcome the friction created by the carabiner. Friction is a disadvantage when raising.

While lowering the weight the load cell read 16 lbs (+/- 1 lb). Friction is an advantage when lowering.

Munter Hitch

Munter hitch, no efficiency rating. The load cell read 16 lbs (+/- 1 lb). I applied only 5 lbs of force to hold the load in place because the friction of the munter hitch held a portion of the weight.

While lifting the weight the load cell read 140 lbs (+/- 1 lb). I needed 129 lbs of force to lift the 11 lbs weight because I needed to lift the load, plus overcome the substantial friction created by the munter hitch.

While lowering the weight the load cell read 13 lbs (+/- 1 lb). I only needed 2 lbs of force to lower the load because the munter hitch did most of the work.

Friction is a definite advantage when holding or lowering a load.

I had no idea in advance what the actual readings would be, but I did know when they would be higher and when they would be lower. I will expand on this information more in an upcoming video about the principles of mechanical advantage in hauling systems.

My Doppelganger?

Several years ago I was training canyon guides in Costa Rica. During one of several canyon descents I met a travel writer who was working on a story. Early in the day he told me that I reminded him of someone, but he couldn’t think of the guy’s name. Several more times during the day he said the same thing, but still couldn’t remember the name. A few weeks later I received an email from the writer encouraging me to check out the article he wrote. In the article he said he descended a canyon in Costa Rica with an instructor who could have been Philip Seymour Hoffman’s twin brother.

Having no clue who Philip Seymour Hoffman was, I had to search on the internet. I don’t look anything like that guy. Not even close.

Philip Seymour Hoffman died on February 2, 2014 as a result of drug abuse. I was in Nepal at the time. Sitting at a table in the Rum Doodle I noticed everyone at another table staring at me. Staring at me and pointing. Staring at me and whispering. Staring. I checked my hair. Did I spill something on my shirt? Something stuck in my teeth. There was nothing behind me except a wall. Why were they staring?

As I got up to leave, two people from that table came over and asked me if I had only faked my death.

There have been many other occasions … “Do you know who you look like? Well, I know he’s dead now, but you really look like him.”

Conversations, Part Three

Random bits and pieces of conversations with people I’ve met along the way.

Just Need Someone to Talk To

Hitchhiking is not as easy as it was 40 years ago, but there are still people who will give a ride to a stranger. Their motivation is most often a simple desire to help another human being. I got the impression that a few gave me a ride because they wanted someone to talk to. I know things about strangers. About relationships that didn’t work out. About parents who are worried about the choices their kids are making. About parents who have kids serving in the military, who miss them and worry about them, but are so proud of them. I know about lost jobs, lost homes and lost loves.

People are the same everywhere in this world. We want a good life for ourselves and our families. We want to feel safe and we want to be happy. Sad that these simple desires seem so elusive. This world just needs more love and compassion.

Choctaw Confederate

The driver of a late model van went to a lot of trouble to cross over from the left lane to the right, then over to the shoulder to offer a ride. As I approached the van I noticed a bumper sticker on the back that read, “I’d rather be shooting Yankees” and one on the passenger door that read, “Choctaw Confederate”. I didn’t learn his name – Steve – until he dropped me off.

Me (as I climbed into the van): “Thank you for stopping. Should I be nervous being a Yankee.”

No reply from Steve.

Me: “I’m actually from Utah. Pretty sure the Mormons stayed out of that war. They were busy trying to set up their own country back then.”

Steve: “I don’t talk much. Just enjoy the ride.”

Steve cranked up the volume on “Sky Pilot” by the Animals. Loud enough that conversation was not an option. He held a remote to the stereo in his hand so he could adjust the volume for each song. If he liked a song the volume was set to loud. If he loved a song the volume went up to very loud. He took me about 20 miles, but we didn’t talk until he dropped me off. As I was getting out of the van, he handed me some papers about Lincoln’s War.

Steve: “You might find this interesting to read.”

Me: “You know one of the things I have enjoyed about my time here in the south has been the opportunity to learn more about American history from another perspective. I believe that the history written by victors of wars tends to be incomplete.”

That’s when Steve smiled, introduced himself and shook my hand. Perhaps we could have had an interesting conversation if not for my Yankee comment when I got into his van.

Preacher Rick

I had been walking for quite a ways without a ride. It was late afternoon, so I started thinking about where I might camp for the night. Plenty of trees along the road, but also plenty of No Trespassing signs. On foot, the next town would not be reachable before dark, so stealth camping would be my only option if I didn’t get a ride. But I did get a ride, from a guy named Rick. Long hair. Full beard. The rough voice of a smoker. When I told him I was on my way to New Orleans he offered to take me all the way there. 

Rick: “Heck, it’s only 50 miles. I used to live there and always happy to have an excuse to go back. I just need to stop by my house first to let my son know.”

Before we got to the turnoff to Rick’s house, we passed a county jail.

Rick: “That’s where my wife is staying. For awhile anyway.”

Me: “Does she work there?”

Rick: “No. She’s a guest.”

Rick is certain that his wife is bipolar. I heard the story about the night she became violent and was arrested. I also heard about Rick’s service to his church. He attended bible college and became an ordained minister. I heard passages from the Bible and I heard Rick’s interpretation of those passages. 

Rick: “You know the Bible says in the book of Revelations ….. Oh, you see that house right there? That’s where I buy my pot. There used to be a place across the street called the Moon Bar. You could go around the back of that place and buy a joint from a guy, but it isn’t there anymore.”

Rick drove me all the way to New Orleans, into the city to the French Quarter. During the drive he pointed out various landmarks and how things changed due to Hurricane Katrina. He also pointed out three places where he had car accidents in the past. He came close to having a couple more while I was with him. Each time he told me about an accident the memory was triggered by something I pointed out to him. Like the school bus with red lights flashing. He didn’t notice until I pointed it out.

Rick: “Man, I almost hit one once. I had to swerve to miss it and hit a brick wall instead. The cop asked me if I had been drinking. I couldn’t really lie to him. I couldn’t even stand up.”

When Rick dropped me off he asked if I needed anything.

Rick: “Will you be ok, man? Do you need some money? Do you have a place to stay?”

Me: “I’ll be fine, no worries. In fact, here’s $20.00 for your gas. You really went out of your way for me and I appreciate it.”

Rick: “Thanks man, I really appreciate it. I’m broke. This will go right into the gas tank. God bless you. I’ll be praying for you.”

Acts of Kindness

I did some hitchhiking back in the 70s. It was easier then. 

Walking feels good in the morning when I’m fresh. Sometimes I stick my thumb out. Sometimes I don’t. Early in the day I don’t NEED a ride, but I will take one if offered. Later in the day – after I’ve already walked 10 or 12 miles, the next town is still 30 miles down the road, and I’m not seeing anyplace to camp – I NEED a ride. 

Watching hundreds of cars whiz by without stopping can be very disheartening. Why aren’t they stopping? I’m a nice enough looking guy; clean cut, nice clothes, obviously friendly and harmless. Then I start thinking about all the times that I whizzed by someone who needed a ride and I didn’t stop. I found myself making excuses for everyone who didn’t stop for me.

Woman alone in the car? No worries. I understand. Kids in the car? No worries. I understand. Don’t let your guard down. Stay safe.

18 wheeler? I understand. Not easy bringing that big rig to a stop, then starting up again. Driving a car with an 18 wheeler following too close behind you? I understand. You don’t want that big rig rear-ending you.

Company vehicle? I understand. There’s probably a policy against having passengers. Insurance reasons.

Two or more people in the car? I understand. You’re probably engaged in a deep meaningful conversation and don’t want to be interupted.

Older person in a nice car (Mercedes, BMW, Lincoln, Cadillac)? I understand. You’re probably concerned I will rob you or I might smell bad. Young person in a nice car? I understand. You’re probably moving drugs and can’t take a chance getting caught. I might be DEA working undercover as a hitchhiker.

Guy alone in a pickup? What are you afraid of? Lock your doors, crack your window and tell me I can ride in the back.

Long haired hippie-type guys? I see you looking out of the corner of your eye pretending you don’t notice me. 

I have some catch-all excuses for everyone, too, including those last two categories: Road is too narrow and there isn’t a shoulder, so no place to pull over. You’re doing 65 and can’t slam on your brakes to stop for me. Too many cars behind you and you’re afraid stopping might cause an accident. I understand.

When thousands of cars pass without stopping, passing without stopping is the norm. So when one does stop, the driver is someone performing a rare act of kindness. Not only did they stop, many went above and beyond with their kindness, going out of their way to do more. Like Mark, coming out of Waycross Georgia, taking me a few extra miles to a spot he thought would be more convenient for catching my next ride, while apologizing profusely that he had to work that day or he would take me the remaining 60+ miles to Tifton.

Kyle, near Conroe Texas. David, north of Jacksonville Florida. Anthony, out of Orrville Alabama. Mitch, near Thomasville Alabama. And there was Jacob Black, a few miles south of Tuscaloosa. Jacob took me quite a few miles down the road, out of his way. He had an appointment, but was willing to take me as far as he could. He said he would have to turn around at 10:30 to get to his appointment on time. It was closer to 11:00 when he dropped me off.

And there was the guy in Georgia who gave me a ride in the back of his truck. We didn’t get a chance to talk and I don’t know his name, but when he dropped me off he wanted to give me $5.00 so I could get a good meal. I explained that I am not homeless and didn’t need money. I was just out on an adventure. But he insisted that he wanted to share his blessings, so I accepted the money and passed it on to someone I encountered who needed it much more than me.

People selling produce along the road offered free fruit and vegetables as I walked by. When the sun was beating down, people invited me to sit on their front porch or come into their shop. When it was cold, there was a cup of hot coffee or tea.

My wife and I have hosted a number of couch surfers, but hadn’t had much luck finding someone to host me until Justin Towers offered in Macon Georgia. Justin opened his home and then some. I stayed with him two nights. Both mornings he offered to drop me off where I wanted to be. When I mentioned in passing that I had left my water bottle in a hotel, Justin handed me an extra Camelback bottle he had in his cupboard. He didn’t just save me the cost of a new bottle; he saved me the extra walking I would have to do to go somewhere to buy a new bottle. 

And there were all those people I met along the way, on the sidewalk and standing in line at coffee shops, who offered warm smiles, friendly conversation, words of encouragement and promises of prayers.

Little things? To me they seemed big because they were offered to me, a complete stranger, with no expectations of anything in return. The way the world ought to be. It is extremely unlikely that I will cross paths with these people in the future, but the encounters have added so much to this adventure.

Conversations, Part One

Random bits and pieces of conversations with people I’ve met along the way.

You’re Lying

Standing in McDonalds waiting for my coffee, wearing my backpack, trekking pole in hand. A woman walked up to me and said she saw me walking along the highway the day before.

Woman: “Why are you walking? Don’t you have a car?”

Me: “Yes, I have a car, but it is back home in Utah.”

Woman: “Where were you coming from?”

Me: “Lake Mary.”

Woman: “Oh, you’re lying. Lake Mary is a long way from here. No way any human being can be walking from Lake Mary.”

Me: “It took two days. 19 miles yesterday and 14 miles the day before.”

Woman: “Now I know you’re lying. Lake Mary is more than 33 miles from here.”

Me: “More on the highway, but I was on a trail going through the forest.”

Woman: “Through the forest? With snakes and wild animals? Now I don’t know if you’re lying or just crazy.”


My first ride coming out of Jacksonville FL. Father and son. Son got out of the passenger side to open the back door. He let me know they were in a hurry because they were running on fumes and needed to get to the gas station just up the road.

As soon as I got in the car …

Father: “We probably just saved your life, buddy. Niggers in this neighborhood will kill you for sure.”

Son: “Do you want a cigarette?”

Me: “No thank you. I don’t smoke.”

Father: “Where are you heading?”

Me: “North toward Atlanta.”

Father: “I-295 is right by the gas station where we’re going. We are doing you another favor. You can get a ride on the interstate real easy. And you know we saved your life back there. I’m not lying. Niggers around here will just as well kill you as look at you.”

Son: “Do you want a smoke?”

Me: “No thank you.”

As I was getting out of the car at the gas station …

Father: “You be careful around here.”

Son: “I have an extra cigar. Do you want it?”

Father: “He said he don’t smoke.”

The neighborhood where they picked me up is near the Amtrak station. I walked from the Amtrak station four blocks in the dark the night before. I had dinner in that neighborhood. I spent the night in a hotel in that neighborhood. I didn’t feel threatened in that neighborhood. Fortunately, I was only with those two peckerwoods for a couple miles before our routes split; I didn’t want to carry on any conversations with them.

He Didn’t Kill Me

Outside of Callahan FL a guy named Brian stopped to offer a ride. Before I got in his truck he showed me his semi-auto just to let me know he would be happy to give me a ride, but would defend himself if I meant him any harm. I rode with him for 30 miles and enjoyed a long conversation about life and the pursuit of happiness. Brian is black and he had a gun, but he didn’t kill me. Go figure.

Brian: “Where are you going?”

Me: “Toward Atlanta.”

Brian: “What are going to Atlanta for?”

Me: “Nothing in Atlanta. It’s just my next destination.”

Brian: “Where are you going after that?”

Me: “West and then south through Alabama.”

Brian: “You’re going north now. Why are you going to turn around and go south again?”

Me: “I’ve never been to Alabama.”

Brian: “It’s the same as here. Just the same.”

Me: “Sometimes things look the same, but they are really different. Sometimes things look different, but they are really the same. I just want to see for myself.”

Brian: “What do you mean?”

Me: “Like you and me. On the surface we seem much different, but I bet we have a lot in common. I bet what you care most about is being happy and making a good life for yourself and your family.”

Brian: “That’s right. We’re the same.”


Brian: “I saw you walking earlier today, way back there, but I was going the other way. Why do you walk when you hitchhike? Why don’t you just stand someplace and hitch a ride?”

Me: “If I just stand there and nobody gives me a ride I won’t make any progress. If I walk, even if nobody gives me a ride I will get where I want to go sooner or later.”


Brian: “So you are just wandering around doing nothing and you don’t know nobody?”

Me: “I do have some friends in Carrollton Georgia and I am looking forward to having Nepali food in Mobile Alabama.”

Brian: “What’s Nepali food?”

Me: “Food from Nepal.”

Brian: “Nepal Alabama?”

Me: “No. Nepal between India and China.”

Brian: “What do they eat?”

Me: “Rice and beans.”

Brian: “You want to go all the way to Mobile Alabama to have rice and beans? You can get that around here.”


Brian: “You weren’t afraid when I showed you my gun. You’re not afraid of guns?”

Me: “A gun is an inanimate object. I’m not afraid of a gun any more than I’m afraid of a chair. You’re a big guy. If you want to hurt me you could do it with a chair or a tire iron or probably with your bare hands. Besides, if you meant to use that gun on me you wouldn’t have shown it to me before I got into your truck. You would have waited. I trust my instincts and believe you to be a good man.”


Brian: “Why are you down here in the winter. It’s too cold to be walking.”

Me: “This is nice weather compared to Utah right now. It’s cold and snowing back there. My wife is home shoveling snow off our driveway right now.”

Brian: “What does your wife think about you walking like this?”

Me: “She is actually glad I’m gone. She knows that shoveling snow is one of the best forms of exercise. If I was home I would insist on doing it and deprive her of the opportunity to get the exercise.”

Brian: “For real?”

Me: “No.”

No Music When You’re Walking

A guy named Mark stopped to give me a ride. His truck was a bit “rough”. There was a 5-gallon bucked filled with an assortment of wrenches and bolts on the floor. I’m in Georgia. If there is a stereotype, Mark fit it – camo shirt and jeans, scruffy face, missing a couple teeth, heavy drawl. I would have expected to hear country western music when I climbed into his truck. But Mark only listens to classical music and knows his favorite composers and pieces.

Mark: “Where are you going?”

Me: “I hope to make it to Tifton today, then Macon tomorrow.”

Mark: “Why are you walking? Don’t you have a car?”

Me: “I have a car back home.”

Mark: “You should have brought it. Driving is easier than walking and you can listen to music while you’re driving.”

Me: “I know. But walking is good exercise and I find it to be more spiritual.”

Mark: “There was a truck stop back there. You could have asked one of them drivers if they were going to Tifton. Maybe even to Macon.”

Me: “Yeah. But then I wouldn’t get the chance to walk part of the way.”

Mark: “Why do you want to walk? Getting a ride would be easier and you could listen to music.”

Mark (as he took another drag from a cigarette): “I quit smoking cigarettes two months ago.”

Me: “Started up again?”

Mark: “No. This isn’t a cigarette. It’s like a cigar cigarette. Cherry flavor; it tastes good. Cigarettes are $4.50 a pack. These are only $1.75. These aren’t cigarettes.”

Mark: “I have another job delivering for Dominos. I like listening to music while I’m driving, even when I’m just delivering. There are 12 drivers, but I’m the only one who don’t use GPS. All them other guys use GPS. I don’t need it. I was born and raised around here and know every street. I just want to relax and listen to music. I don’t want to worry about no GPS.”

Mark took me a couple miles past his turn-off and apologized profusely for having to work that day, otherwise he would be happy to take me the remaining 60 miles to Tifton. He dropped me off at a gas station where he was certain I could catch a ride with someone. I should be riding, not walking, so I could listen to some music.