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Mountain Cleansing

Last spring I decided to write a new series surrounding life on a gay dude ranch. Sort of a gay Love Boat, only on land. So, with a little help from my friend Google, I came across OutWest Adventures, a travel agency geared towards gay and lesbian vacations. I emailed the agency, told them who I was and what I did for a living, and asked if they had any ranch trips that might suit my needs. Aaron emailed back and told me about several week-long trips to his family’s working cattle ranch. I was ecstatic but decided to play it safe and emailed back to ask if the other guests on the trip would mind a forty-two year old straight woman tagging along. Aaron replied that the trips were all very straight friendly, which made me giggle. He went on to say that I was more than welcome on any of the OutWest trips.

Well, last week I finally had my adventure. I thought I was playing it safe by taking several horseback riding lessons before my planned trip, but little did I know the only thing I seemed to have learned correctly was how to saddle a horse. Nowhere in my lessons did my instructor talk about spending hours in the saddle.

I flew into Billings, Montana on Saturday and almost immediately met Roger. I noticed him standing beside me waiting for the shuttle van to the hotel. Evidently Roger spotted my OutWest Adventures tag on my laptop case so he walked over to introduce himself. We finally made it to the airport and I checked into my room. Four hours later, my friend Richie, from Kansas City arrived. With Richie at my side, I was all set.

Sunday morning arrived and Richie and I met the OutWest van and some more of our crew. Rusty, our trip leader was all smiles as he welcomed us. Along for the ride were Brian and Eli, Matt, Roger, Richie and me. We all knew the trip to the ranch would take a little over an hour, so we settled in and got to know each other.

Just down the road from the ranch is the small town of Roscoe. The Grizzly Bar is where we met our last two guests for lunch. Michael and Angelo had driven in from Buffalo, New York but still managed to pull up right behind us. We had a leisurely meal before heading to our final destination.

Pulling onto the Lazy E-L ranch road felt almost magical. The ranch sits in the shadows of the Beartooth Mountains and the views were absolutely breathtaking. Although the sky was dumping a good bit of drizzle on us, it didn’t dampen our spirits. We got settled into the large lodge they call the Summer House and went back out to meet our horses.

Over the next several days we were paired with different horses. Debbie, the wrangler, was obviously trying to find the best fit for all of us. Let me stop here to make an important point. The Lazy E-L is not a dude ranch. It is in fact a working cattle ranch, and all guests ride with the full-time ranch hands, doing whatever chores need to be done. My big butt figured this out on the second day after spending three hours in the saddle.

Tuesday evening, we ate in the old family dining room connected to our Summer House. The meal was prepared by David and Aaron, owners of OutWest Adventures. We enjoyed several glasses of wine and wonderful conversation. Okay, maybe I enjoyed a little more wine than most, but I still had a great time. I stayed up with my new friend Michael until the wee hours of the morning smoking, talking and laughing. Yep, I was in heaven.

By Wednesday, Rusty took pity on a few of us and we got to take a break from the saddle. Good thing because I really don’t think there was an available patch of my butt that wasn’t already bruised and sore. Instead of riding, we spent the morning hiking up into the hills. Rusty showed us some dinosaur bones, and I took pictures of scenery. Before the hard working die-hard guests got back with the wranglers, it started to rain. Did I mention it was freezing cold that day? Bless those guys for braving it out, but I enjoyed myself on the front porch with a bottle of Hornsby’s Hard Cider in my hand. It was a damn good day.

Thursday was my new friend Angelo’s birthday, so after waking him up with a birthday greeting, we headed to the barn. That day was our big cattle drive. Our butts had been preparing for it all week. Some butts were more prepared than others, but we knew we could do it. Right after breakfast in the cookhouse, we saddled up and began our journey. Those of us who didn’t ride the day before were supposed to have an easier go. Evidently they figured out quickly some of us expected more a dude ranch than a working cattle ranch. Okay, on with the story. Debbie and a nice man named Tom, lead our little soft-butted group over the hills. We were to join up with the rest of the crew at some point. Now, I have to interject here once again. Evidently they had a meeting right after breakfast explaining to the inexperienced guests just how to round up a group of cattle. Michael and I however, were out smoking. Damn. I never seem to be in the right place at the right time. Of course we didn’t know we’d missed this all-important meeting until we got onto the large hills. Debbie turns to us and says, “Round up those cows and drive them down the hill into the valley.” Then she rode off like a streak of lightning. Michael, Angelo and I just looked at each other. We heard Debbie yelling from across the ditch and thought she was telling us to run the cattle towards her, which we did very effectively, I might add. Turns out, she didn’t want the cattle towards her at all. Well, so much for that. We tried to drive them back the other direction and some of them started to go back up the hill. Debbie came out of nowhere and yelled at me to get up that hill and drive the cattle back down. Angelo and Michael were to take over from there and help get them down the hill. Scared of getting yelled at once again, I took off on my horse up the side of the hill. There I was weaving through pine trees that could’ve easily left me blind or headless acting like I knew what the hell I was doing. I managed to gather all the cattle and scare them back down the hill. I have a strong feeling it was the look of utter panic on my face that scared the cows into retreating.

Once all the cattle were driven safely into another feeding pasture, we watched Roger and Thad, the head cow boss, doctor the few injured cattle. Nope, I didn’t do it, I swear. They were hurt all on their own. We’d been on a horse for hours and I’d just about exhausted my stash of Nicorette gum when they finally said we were done for the day. Hallelujah! We started riding up a rather large hill and it was all fine and good until we got to the top. Then we had a gorgeous view of the ranch below. Home. I wanted to cry and fall to me knees. Except I couldn’t do that because I was too darn short and I knew if I got off the blasted horse, I’d never get back on.

So, one problem left. I happen to notice that I couldn’t see the other side of the hill. “How do we get down?” someone in the group asked. Jael, the ranch manager pointed towards what looked like a drop off. I’m sure my eyes bugged right out of my head. I even got a little misty thinking about dying on a mountain far away from my children. Jael explained how we were to position our bodies to lean back in the saddle and steady our feet in our stirrups. Sounds simple, right? Crap. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so scared as when my horse, Snickers, took me over the side of that hill. Once he’d taken a couple of steps I began to calm down. The hill wasn’t quite as steep as I’d worried, but I’m not sure that I ever want to do it again. At least it was a shortcut, and we were soon back at the cabin.

A highlight of the afternoon was a drive up the mountains. We enjoyed playing in the snow like a bunch of children. Of course I wished I’d had some sugar, eggs and vanilla so I could have a big old bowl of snow ice cream.

After our fun on the mountain, we went into Red Lodge to celebrate Angelo’s birthday. The guys insisted that I try my first ever Cosmo. When the waitress set the pretty pink drink in front of me, I took a sip. I’m sure my face showed my reaction, because both Rusty and Michael asked me what I thought. “Um…well…it’s not horrible, but I don’t think I’ll ever order one again. It’s actually burning the sides of my tongue.” Now, you have to understand. I was trying really hard not to appear like a complete hick from Kansas. I can do Sex in the City, right?

Rusty lifted my glass and took a drink. “God, this tastes like lighter fluid,” he remarked. Whew, so it really wasn’t my uneducated pallet. Michael took a sip and declared that no, the drink wasn’t made right. When the waitress came back in, I did something completely out of character for me and sent it back for another. The next drink wasn’t any better. When the bartender came in, Richie asked him if he used something…something. Some type of liquor that I’d never heard of. The bartender said they didn’t have that and the guys declared you couldn’t make a proper Cosmo without it. Needless to say, I ordered a beer. You really can’t take the Kansas out of the girl.

Friday was spent driving around, playing in the water of the creek across from the Grizzly Bar. Most of us had a leisurely day of riding in the van and seeing the sights. That night Kim, the ranch chef, made everyone steak, baked potatoes and tiramisu. We sat around drinking long into the evening. I know it was three o’clock in the morning before Michael and I finally gave up the fight and went to bed.

Saturday I flew home, but not before many tears was shed. It amazes me how eight strangers can come together, along with our trip leader, Rusty and bond in such a short amount of time. We may have been strangers when we met, but all eight of those wonderful men became like family to me by the time I left. I’ve been home for four days and still look over my shoulder hoping to see Michael sitting on the porch beside me.

My great adventure may have started out as book research, but it became so much more. The clean mountain air and wonderful people helped cleanse me of the grief and stress I’d managed to accumulate over the past year.

This account of my Montana adventure is dedicated happily to (from left to right) Eli, Michael, Angelo, Me, Roger, Matt, Richie, and Brian. Bless you all in everything you do. I’ll never forget you.


Judith Rochelle said...

Wow, Carol! Almost makes me want to take the trip myself. what gorgeous guys. I'll bet you got a lot of material for your series. Can;t wait to read it. And it sounds like you had an incredible time.

Carol Lynne said...

Hi Judith,

I honestly don't remember a time when I felt as free to be me as I did on that trip. The guys all accepted me for who I am. My spirit really was cleansed on that trip. I'm hoping to go again next year. I think a yearly spirit-lift would do me a world of good.

Bronwyn's Blog said...

Geez Carol, I got a little misty reading this. I'm so glad you got to have some wonderful Carol time - you deserve it!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Wonderful post, Carol! Not to mention hilarious!

Jamie Hill said...

The trip sounded wonderful. Going again would certainly be something to look forward to!

I'm very happy you were able to go, Carol!


Anny Cook said...

Sounds like a great trip!

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