CASPER — On Monday night, a dozen people gathered in a Glenrock garage, parking motorcycles and cars in the alley outside. They sat in a circle of folding chairs or leaned on the wooden bar, trading stories about James Michael Harrison, better known by most as Mileage.
Many of them are members of Central Wyoming’s ABATE (A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments), a biker group Mileage had been a part of since it began.
By the time they took their seats, cracked a beer or lit a cigarette, they had lived their first day without Mileage. And his presence was already sorely missed.
He was honest, and never judgmental. He loved to make people laugh. He fought for what he believed in, a list that includes biker safety, disability awareness and giving back to his community.
He was ornery, ABATE membership coordinator Vicki Dike said. Very ornery.
“There’s a lot of respect for him everywhere,” said Mike Everhart. “He is definitely a legend. Everybody knows Mileage.”
On June 4, Mileage was on a run with Never Forgoten 77, a local suicide prevention nonprofit, on Wyoming Highway 93. He was riding a new bike, a Harley-Davidson Street Glider.
Around the turn to Fort Fetterman near Douglas, he was hit by a semi truck.
After two weeks in a Colorado hospital, he was taken off life support. On Sunday night, Mileage died. He was 67 years old.
A few weeks earlier, he was showing his new bike to a few ABATE members outside the Horseshoe in Mills.
“And he told them, that’s how I want to go out, on my bike,” Dike said. “Which is what every biker says, you know.
“And he got what he wanted. I can tell you he wouldn’t want it to happen any other way.”
Hog Fest, an annual bike rally put on by ABATE in Glenrock, was Mileage’s “baby.”
He started the event around 20 years ago, as well as the yearly awareness ride through Casper and a Christmas toy drive that delivers thousands of gifts to local kids every year.
“I wish we could figure out over the last 40 years, how many hundreds and hundreds of dollars he’s raised for the less fortunate,” said K.J. Bigford.
This year, ABATE officers plan to hold a vote to change Hog Fest’s name to honor its founder. They expect the vote to go over easily, without the group’s most frequent dissenter present.
“He locked horns with everybody,” said Brenda Sanders. “He argued to argue,” said John Harrison, Mileage’s brother. “With a grin on his face, too. He’d get the point settled, then he’d start it over again.”
Kody Hill, ABATE’s vice president, said he once had to physically throw Mileage over his shoulder and carry him out of a meeting when he got too rowdy.
ABATE and family members mimicked Mileage’s signature wily grin, the one he’d put on for a good argument. They “umm”ed and “uhh”ed in a chorus, like he used to when he was trying to gather his thoughts to make a point.
For a few years, Hog Fest didn’t happen as the Central Wyoming ABATE group lost members and steam.
Allan Dike, now the group’s president (at Mileage’s urging), said Mileage rallied new members to join and got the event back up and running in 2020.
Many ABATE members can credit Mileage for getting them to join the group.
Sharon Kemp, dubbed the group’s “Mama,” said she told him she couldn’t ride a bike because she has problems with balance. Fine, Mileage told her, ride a custom-painted 1960s Harley golf cart. So she does.
He wasn’t the most organized man, but when it came to Hog Fest, he had a checklist “like you wouldn’t believe,” said Dike.
“It went clear down to how many clipboards need to be where, how many fives need to be in the cash drawer,” Dike said. “It blows our minds that he was that organized.
“We’d always talk, you know, him getting older, if something happens, we’re going to be screwed.”
Mileage seemed to have some magic power to get things done — for Hog Fest one year, at least four other ABATE officers had tried to get trailers for the event with no luck. Mileage walked into a dealership and left successful.
He knew everyone, from police to bikers to city council members, state legislators and business owners across the state. You walk into a biker bar with Mileage, his friends said, and it seems like everyone in the place knows him. He’d even got Gov. Mark Gordon to agree to try to come to Hog Fest this year, and found a sidecar he could ride in.
Posters for the event, made by Mileage, tell those interested in getting more information or signing up for the biker rodeo to call him.
Mileage’s wife, Kathy, was “just like him,” his niece Doral Harrison said. They married in 2007 — not the first marriage for either of them. He loved her to death, friends said.
They threw themselves into ABATE, with Kathy doing much of the administrative work to put on the group’s events. Kathy died in January 2020. Mileage still had her voice on their voicemail message (on a landline — he didn’t get a cell phone until last year).
When Hog Fest came back after its brief hiatus later that year, Dike said they could feel her over the event, protecting them.
“She definitely kept him on his toes,” Everhart said.
Kathy was also how Mileage got in touch with Mark Sterken, who runs Never Forgoten 77, around five years ago.
The group’s suicide prevention mission resonated with Kathy, a member of the McMurry family who was still feeling the loss of Mick McMurry after his suicide a few years before.
She introduced Sterken to Mileage, who helped the organization put together its first poker run. The June 4 event was the group’s fourth run, and Mileage had helped with every one.
ABATE, which Sterken joined after meeting the couple, gave Never Forgoten the first donation for its first run. Now, Sterken said, he’s been assured that the group still has his back. “It would never have got off the ground if it wasn’t for Mileage,” Sterken said. “Everybody’s just lost, you know?”
Sterken was three bikes ahead of Mileage at the time of the crash. Three others went down, but Mileage was the only one seriously hurt. The rest of the group didn’t finish the run that day — it would have been disrespectful to Mileage, Sterken said.
The money raised from the run, a few thousand dollars, was all given to Mileage to cover medical costs.
“He gave us his time, his respect,” Sterken said. “It was the least we could do to show respect back to him, and to show our love for him.”
Mileage had his fair share of accidents in his time. When he was 8, he tried to do tricks on the monkey bars at school, despite teachers warning him not to get too crazy because of a heart murmur. His brother, John, said Mileage broke his leg and ended up in a cast from his torso all the way to his foot.
When he was 14, an accident with a hay baler cost him his leg. He started riding a motorcycle that same year. For the rest of his life, Mileage used a prosthetic leg, an impressive feat when you’re ripping down a highway on a bike.
He’s the reason Wyoming has handicap license plates for motorcycles, his brother said, after he fought for them.
Those who rode with Mileage said it would be impossible to count the number of crashes he’d gotten into — there was the one with the horse trailer, or the time he fell off the curb. He loved to ride “right on the line” in the middle of a road, and would pass people with reckless abandon. He paid taxes for both sides of the road, Mileage would say, so why not use them?
Once, a driver hit him, causing his prosthetic leg to come off and skid across the road. Mileage was mostly all right, but the driver was so shocked by the stray leg that she had to be taken to the hospital.
He was always on a bike, hardly ever in a car. Even with snow on the ground, Mileage would ride his Harley and wipe away frozen snot as he got off.
He’d even battled prostate cancer, but would never have let that be the thing to take him out.
“He had lived all nine of his lives, to the fullest extent too,” said Doral. “That man, nobody could live through the stuff that he’d been through,” Dike said. “None of us.”
Biker bars — including Butch’s in Evansville, Four Aces in Glenrock and Double D in Douglas — put out buckets to collect donations for Mileage’s medical fees. The group hadn’t gotten around to collecting the money by Monday.
One said she’d seen someone throw a $100 in the bucket at Butch’s one night.
Mileage grew up on Park and K streets in Casper, and most recently lived in a house on North Jefferson Street where he’d made his mailbox out of an old gas tank.
He never knew a stranger, Kemp said — once you met him, you were a friend. And you could spot his black leather cap anywhere.
On Facebook, hundreds of well wishes and prayers poured in as ABATE posted updates on Mileage’s progress. Other biker groups from around the state have also reached out looking for ways to support.
A few members of ABATE went to visit Mileage at the Colorado hospital he was transferred to after the crash. Many said they never really thought he could die — even though the odds the doctors gave him were slim, they said, it would be just like Mileage to beat them.
Allan Dike, the group’s president, said he wanted to go see him there — to tell him he wasn’t done with him yet, to say that he needed his help.
“But I didn’t want to take him from his wife,” Dike said. “I kept coming back to that.”
Now, the unpleasant part begins. How to put on Hog Fest this year, without its champion? How to get the trailers, the toys, the permits without him? And how to honor him in a way that lives up to his legacy?
John, Mileage’s brother, says it’s lucky Mileage cleaned out and fixed up his north Casper home recently.
“It’s like he was preparing,” Doral, his niece, said.
Vicki offers the help of female ABATE members to make food, lots of it, for a memorial service whenever it happens. They’re used to feeding big crowds, she said, and want to do whatever they can to help the family members Mileage leaves behind.
It won’t be an ordinary service, that’s for sure — it wouldn’t do Mileage justice. But they’re bracing for a “huge” turnout when it comes time to pay respects to the man who knew everyone.