Alas, all good things must come to an end, and my free wheeling; do what I want, when I want; eat from my car; devil may care days have come to a distinct end. Picked up Hubby at the Jackson Hole Airport 36 hours ago and have been re-aclimating to a bigger, busier world since. I can’t deny, it’s been a bit of a shock to my system. It’s not that I’m not happy to see him again, but coordinating things with any one person right now, would be hard for me. I liked my freedom; I liked being out of the bustle and chaos of towns like Jackson Hole; I liked not worrying about others’ needs/desires/preferences; I liked being selfish for a while! While I haven’t broken this to my family yet, nor would they necessarily take me seriously anyway, but I think this may need to be an annual thing. While Jackson Hole is a beautiful place and there’s lots that I normally enjoy doing (shopping, good food, people watching, great scenery, culture, etc), I was really starting to like those funny little cabins and motels, the totally different people that live in TINY towns in the middle of nowhere, and the solitude of being alone and not having contact with other people, unless I chose to. Here, there is a real bustle and pushing through the crowd to get to a restaurant is not fun anymore.
My last day, as it turns out, was one of the absolute highlights of the past two weeks and a perfect example of why being on my own and open to experiences can make for some of the greatest adventures. My last “free day” I woke again in Cooke City, MT. To call it small, would be a gross exaggeration. You pass through Cooke City as you come down from the Beartooth Pass/hwy and there are probably 20 building all together in town: 1/3 of those motel/cabins, 1/3 bars or restaurants, and the other 1/3 homes or other small businesses, mostly wilderness opportunities, for the tourists who crowd the town in summers.
I had been hoping to go horse back riding this entire trip, but every ride I found was the classic tail to nose, walk through some pretty place. Not so much riding, as sitting on a moving horse and pretending to ride. They are dominated by: people who have never been on a horse, and sit yanking on the reigns, usually saying things like whoa and giddy up; horses that follow whichever horse is in front of them and don’t know a real command if you whipped them with it; guides who say the same things day in and day out and are sick to death of it– boring. For someone like me, who has owned horses and loves riding, it is the last resort… or something to skip all together. Consequently, as my last day lay before me, I had given up on a going riding, which was one of the only bummers of this wild west adventure.
As it happens though, when you’re open to a last minute adventure, they often fall in your lap. I was at the little bakery in town –which has the best home made muffins and decaf lattes, and a sharp, no nonsense, multiple-pierced waitress, who I had come to really enjoy, when I got talking to a local cowboy. He told me to call a guy named Matt at Stillwater Outfitters. They run pack trips and this guy thought Matt might be willing to take me riding. When I called, the calmest, coolest voice greeted me, and informed me that they didn’t have any day rides available. I told him that I’d just been hoping to get out in this incredible country on horseback and Matt said “Well… we’re going out to scout trails today, you’re welcome to ride along, if that suits you… be about 3 hrs up in the back country.” I jumped. However, they weren’t leaving for 2 hrs and I had to be in Jackson Hole by 9:00 to meet Hubby’s plane, a good 3.5-5 hr drive still (depending on traffic from animal sightings and weather). When I told Matt that I didn’t think that would, work, he must have heard the sincere let down in my voice… “Ok, well, when can you be ready Miss, we can go sooner I suppose.” Lickety split, that’s how soon!
I stopped on the side of the “highway”, shimmied into my jeans (hoping no cars would come) and threw on my hikers, the closest thing I had to boots and arrived at Stillwater’s 10 minutes later. Matt, a tall, incredibly thin cowboy, who is all legs and hat, met me as I pulled up. He was cleaning out a cabin. “Well, that was quick Dawn, we’re just about ready. JT here’s gonna take you today, ’cause he’s just been dyin to get out there. (wink)” This was clearly an inside joke, as they both did that silent, Montana cowboy laugh. JT nodded in my direction, and we shook hands, but he said very little else and I suddenly wondered if perhaps I would have been better off spending my last morning watching wild life and trying to get a pedicure back in Jackson Hole; my toes were looking mighty gnarly, and JT was looking might disinterested. I started picturing a silent ride along some lame trail. But, the dice were already thrown and within minutes I was watching JT load our 2 horses in to the trailer and I was climbing up in to a truly classic cowboy “truck”. This thing had seen more than it’s day and then some and as we pulled out of Stillwater and back up the pass,and then along a rutted, dirt road to the trail head, I wondered if we would make it at all. The dirt road, was kidney rattling and JT apologized a couple of times for the “bumps” (think punch to the back and sides, and seat belt burns), but said little else. We finally stopped at a beautiful spot, me rattled enough to already be wondering if I was in over my head, but posturing for JT and saying “I’m fine, tougher than I look,” to his silent smile and nod.
I’m calling my horse Whiskey for this entry, as I can’t for the life of me remember his name… that sounds about right though. Either way, having never really asked me if I had much riding experience, JT had informed me right away that my horse was “bullet proof.” He was riding a horse named Pain, and I was about to learn why. JT told me it was because he wasn’t really broke yet, and was a “Pain in the ass.” I tried reasoning that it wasn’t a very nice name, and maybe if the horse had a kinder name, he would behave, but JT assured me that “he’s truly earned his name. If he grows out of it, then someday we can say ‘shoulda seen him ten years ago.” We weren’t 2 minutes in to the ride when Pain showed me what for and I earned my stripes with JT. A deer, which I hadn’t seen at all (something that would prove amusing over and over on our ride) jumped out of the bushes and Pain wheeled up and did a full 360 on two legs, both horses neighing shrilly, and causing Whiskey to bolt back, rise up some and do who the hell knows what; I was too busy staying on and reigning him in… sure that I was finally being attacked by a grizzly. Later, JT would tell Matt “I knew she could ride when I saw her handle that horse … ’cause she should have been on the ground!” Gave us something to laugh about and a big old mallet to break the ice.
Our ride took us up in to the woods, crossing rushing streams and through deepening snow, and our conversation got richer as we went. I learned that JT had packed up right after graduation and just driven west, with no place in mind and no idea exactly what he’d do, other than compete in rodeos. He’d been riding all his life and had tried bull riding in Mississippi, where he grew up. He’s now a competitive bull rider, who has earned a full rodeo scholarship to Montana State this fall. Coming from a world where X Country, Track, Football, Basketball get you scholarships, this was a new one for me! He has no regrets about not starting school right away, as he’s met some fine people and had lots of experiences he wouldn’t have otherwise. He wants to travel, more than anything, and was fascinated by my travel experiences. He especially liked my stories about India with Middle Man, as he thinks that having that kind of experience must have changed my son and me. We realized that we shared similar tough childhoods and before you know it, JT wasn’t as quiet and we were sharing some very personal life stories, riding through some of the most beautiful country I’ve seen. Crossing a stream, I teared up (you knew that was coming) and JT asked if I was ok. I told him that I was just so happy to be back in a saddle in a place this beautiful. He smiled his charming smile and said “that’s how you should feel. I never get tired of this.”
The longer we road, the more humor came out and the more comfortable we got with each other. It was magic to see the change. He was intrigued that I had taken off on my own and got a particular kick out of my Siyona Yona story. However, he missed a few details in the telling (horses clopping and all) and I later figured out that he’d been thinking that I found some guy at the top of the pass, homeless, had picked him up and let him stay with me. “Well, you are pretty adventurous!” he chided me, and teased me from that point on about the possibility that Siyona and I had, ahem, well… run with that. To get him back, riding behind him, I told him “that it does get lonely on the road. But, I’m not easy JT.” I could see him smile, and then hit him: ” but hell, I didn’t just pick the guy up! I waited 24 hrs before sleeping with him,” and trotted past him, punching him in the arm as I passed. From then on, we were old friends, laughing about things and sharing more stories. (photo is of an old homestead chimney, in the back country)
My favorite story was JT’s biggest disappointment in high school… he didn’t get to go to his prom. However, it wasn’t because (as I anticipated) he was an awkward kid and didn’t have a date. Noooo, it was because when he and his date got to the door, he found out that 22 was the cut-off for attending; his date was 24. JT, a true cowboy cutie, has a way with the ladies I learned. His stories were peppered with jumps out girl’s windows when their daddies came home, cowgirls at rodeos and older ladies, who he prefers– girls his age tending to be “a bit silly and expensive, two things I have no time for.” He told me that when he got his first car, his dad told him that there was no drinking and driving, that he needed to take care of his vehicle and that if he was going to be spending time with the ladies, his car was the place to be doing it, adding, “don’t be bringing any sex in to the house son. That’s what your car’s for.” Sex ed, cowboy style. As I said though, Cooke is a very tiny town, an JT’s pretty excited to get to Montana State and see some girls again. Most nights in C.C. he ends up dancing with much older ladies, and while “it’s fun”, he’s been missing the company of girls his age, who have some intelligence and adventure in them. As we road along, I could see why he does so well. Despite a distinct baby face (“yep, I hear that a lot”), JT seemed much older and is a good looking guy: solid and strong enough to be a top bull rider. It was a shock to learn that he’s 19, same age as my Middle Man, but worlds apart in experience and character. Very different lives, leading to very different personalities. Still, I told JT that he was always welcome to stop by and see us in WA. No doubt, Middle Man and his friends would get a kick out of JT!
I told him about the two rodeos I went to while traveling and asked him all about some of the things that had been a mystery: how the bulls are trained to buck (hard to do, but just like breaking horses); the heavy doses of prayers and patriotism (“yep, not really my thing… no offense I hope.”– Nope, turns out JT and I have similar spiritual beliefs… we agreed that when things go the way they did when we were young, you stop believing “anyone” is really looking out for you, and make your own way); what makes a cowboy a cowboy (“real ones can ride anything, handle cattle and horses, and dress as certain way. You know you’re one when your Wranglers get tight enough!” JT’s were pretty tight.); and I finally got to ask about all those rodeo Princesses. How do they get to be Princesses and what do the cowboys think of them? The funny smile, I would come to love on our ride, spread across JT’s face and he told me- “well, we call them Buckle Bunnies.” This cracked me up! An authentic cowboy term, that totally fits what I had been thinking all along! JT explained that they’re called this because they tend to “really like cowboys”; they wear big sparkly buckles… and, often end up notches on cowboy’s buckles. When I looked it up later, there’s whole Wikipedia entry on these girls. JT says that they’re generally “fun” (translate: easy) girls, and that the “REALLY fun ones tend to be from Texas.” Well, why doesn’t that surprise me? Lordy, Texas should probably be its own country for all the character that comes out of there! Just the name Buckly Bunny had me laughing the rest of the day!
When we were finally headed back to the truck, JT told me that this had been “the most fun he’d had in a long time! He hadn’t expected it when we headed out.” Neither had I. “If I was off at school already, I would never have met an interesting lady like you.” I am honored. He figures this is part of the trade off to not being at school with the other kids his age: he gets to meet all kinds of “good people, who he never would have met otherwise.” He gets to ride in these beautiful places and sleep under the stars (“the only place he really sleeps well”), and he has had adventures that he couldn’t have at school.
For my part, I figure this is my reward for taking off and finding some adventure. I’ve met some amazing people and done some things that I haven’t done before, or, as in the case of my day with JT, rediscovered my love of riding and the reward of a day in the mountains in a saddle. JT and I rode for 4 hrs; he told me he was happy to ride longer, as he’d had enough fun that it wouldn’t be right to charge me. I could barely walk when we dismounted, and I’m still sore 2 days later! I was relieved when JT told me his legs were hurting too, we’d “covered a lot of miles” he stated. Indeed.
I had to pass a lot of perfect bear shots on the way back to Jackson Hole. I got a quick, amazing, pizza at Miner’s Bar in CC before getting on the road, but then drove as quickly as possible to make Hubby’s flight. I stopped for a moment to watch the sun set behind the Tetons, as spectacular sights that demands a stop, and pulled in to the airport just as Hubby was calling to say he was getting his bags. Today, he left at 2 AM to climb the Grand Teton (a dream from his college days, when he did his first climbing course right here) and I am enjoying some quiet, in our very nice condo. It’s amazing how nicer digs illuminate all the grown in eyebrows, the ugly toenails, the grown out hair cut and dirt under your nails, that two weeks on the road masked. Things I haven’t cared about jump out at me in the mirror again and I am overwhelmed by the tourists and noise. This morning, sitting here alone, in the quiet morning, I can think back on that mountain trail, JT’s wisdom beyond his years, the joy and thrill of being in a saddle again and Buckle Bunnies… and smile.
Benefits of civilization: (freshly pedicured toes)
I have used different initials for “JT”. I told him I was going to write about him, and he was fine with it, but just in case, any BBs stumble upon this site, I’ll leave him anonymous… I’ve changed only the letters.
Also: from now on, I’ll refer to my husband as “Hubby”, daughter as “Principessa” (part of a nick name her brother’s borrowed from Life is Beautiful), my oldest son is “Middle Man” (something I’ve called him since he was little); and my youngest son, “Little Man.” It’s too hard to keep up w/initials, but I prefer not to use their names. No doubt, the fact that I blog about them at all will have its consequences!