We saw the thermometer get as low as -14F. It snowed almost every day. Winds were between 35-50 mph at points. The route was about 70 miles but that doesn’t include rounding up the cattle, chasing after them, back tracking, etc. Shawn figured it was over 100 miles in saddle. It was challenging and I have enormous respect for people who can do this for a living. Was it fun? I’m not sure that’s the word I would use, but I loved it and will do it again without hesitation.
I kept a journal so I’ll be going off those notes for this post. Unfortunately we had a rough day early on and my watch died on me so my dates might not be completely accurate. For a few days I slept in a trailer with no heat in freezing weather and I also couldn’t shower for most of the week. It’s fair to say at some point I became an unreliable narrator.
Day 1 – October 19th, 2019
I’ve mentioned too many times in this blog my fear of heights so it should come as no surprise I normally medicate to fly. I didn’t this time because I didn’t want to be loopy when I first arrived at the ranch. I actually did well flying sober both there and home…except my second flight from Denver, CO to Casper, WY. It sounded and felt like driving an old car on a dirt road. No one could understand the pilot or steward over the microphone, think stereotypical 1980’s fast food drive-through speaker. My side of the plane only had 1 chair in each row. Unfortunately the rows were so small I had to angle my feet into the aisle to fit. It was only an hour, I got a stroopwaffel, and I survived. Overall I’d call it a win.
I was the first guest and felt like a lost puppy. All I did for the first afternoon was drive around with Shawn running errands and following Morgan looking pathetic. I wasn’t hungry but they fed me, as written in my journal, “BANGIN’ GOOD fruit salad” called frog eye salad. It was cold, refreshing, and hit the spot after that horrid flight.
My first notes were written sitting in a pickup waiting for Morgan. My first observation was that there were dogs everywhere on the ranch. I had no idea how useful they would be. Then I noticed a turkey…my notes are as follows:
“Currently a wild turkey is outside the truck. I think it’s stalking me. I’m not scared. Stoops turkey.
So far moved saddles & gear, grain/feed, cake. Funny story. It was Blake’s daughters birthday yesterday, she turned 2. There was left over cake at lunch. Today her and her mom left after lunch to go to another birthday party. People kept talking about which truck to haul the cake in. I was super confused until I found out cake is a type of cattle feed.
All of a sudden I notice I’m surrounded by wild turkeys. Ten that I can see. Still not scared. Morgan took the 4 wheeler to get horses with Blake. I’m just hanging in the truck, perfect time for this journal. Up to 15 turkeys.”
Maybe I got a little scared, after all they are descendants of dinosaurs! Stupid turkeys.
My next notes were from 7:59 pm at our lodging for the following two nights. I heard it referred to as the cow camp and the small house. Either way I had a bed and bathroom. It was a luxury. My bedroom didn’t really get any heat but my sleeping bag was epic good. This is Dr. Jen trying it out before I left (she did not go on the trip with me).
My notes about the ride to the small house are as follows:
“Drive here was nuts. Window was caked w/ mud, we were towing 4 horses, no seat belts, & it was a stick shift so Morgan couldn’t keep both hands on the wheel. By the end there was visibility about 20 ft. A large elk cow was standing in the middle of the road at one point. It was too dark to see anything but stars so I’m not sure what the landscape is like.”
It was crazy windy and brought in the first of many snowy days. When I woke up the pipes were frozen so my idea of washing up was foiled. I had enough water in my bottle to brush my teeth at least. Morgan was busy warming up the pipes outside because she’s awesome. I opted to use the crazy outhouse for a morning pee. Blake laughed that I wanted to but agreed it was at least out of the wind. Ha! That thing was so full of holes and cracks I may as well have been outside. At least Morgan got the water going early so we could all start using the inside toilet.
The temperature dropped and snow picked up so we weren’t able to go looking for cows. I spent the morning on the couch with a snoring Teddy. I tried to read a bit but every time I stopped petting him he would smack me in his sleep. Eventually Blake took Emilia and I out to shut off the water pipeline for the winter. He basically brought me to get out of the truck to open gates for us to drive through. At least I ended up proving useful! Poor Blake had to keep sticking his hand into near-frozen water to shut off the valves. He was a good sport about it.
A few years ago the ranch switched to solar pumps to get the water to the cattle. Shutting them off was easy, I sat in the truck and Blake flicked a switch on them. It was amazing how great his sense of direction is. There were no real roads and the paths were covered by snow. By the time we were out there the snow was coming down too hard to see much. It was a big joke at the time because I still didn’t know what the landscape was like. The night before everything on the horizon was pitch black and on day two everything was pure white.
Emilia tried to snap a picture of me but as I backed up for her to frame it I fell into an animal den. It was the first of many times I would fall on my ass laughing. It was also the first time I had to tell Emilia not to pity me because pratfalls are funny! As long as nothing’s broken, I can laugh at myself. Actually even when things got broken I was able to laugh at myself.
Eventually we made it back to the house and had nothing to do. We sat around reading and watching movies. They had millions of VHS tapes so we picked out Open Range, Black Thorn, A Time to Kill, and part of Blazing Saddles. It was a great relaxing day which was perfect to let us rest up for the drive.
Hours after they were scheduled, Shawn, Mark, and Lisa arrived. With the white out and hunters on the road, they had an accident. We weren’t able to go out to the airport to pick up the Germans so they stayed in a hotel for the night.
If I’m remembering right, the small house was purchased in the 80’s for an obscenely low price. Because it’s in the middle of nowhere, it was cheaper to buy it and have it moved by truck to the property than build a new house. It would have been too expensive to ship supplies and people out for multiple days of construction. One winter during another white out, a hunter got his truck stuck. He did what you should never do in that situation, got out of the truck to look for help. By some miracle he found the house. Actually he walked straight into the wall because he couldn’t see it through the snow. He managed to run into a tiny house in the middle of a giant prairie. He got inside and had to use the above fork to get his frozen clothes off. Someone said he suffered frostbite and lost some fingers but at least he survived. I love that they’ve kept the fork and zipper all these years.
My journal starts “6:39am – Slept well & got that shower! Fuck it was good” That was all I wrote all day since it was a rough one as my body acclimated to the cold and riding for long stretches. Emilia, Morgan, and I took 57 heifers from a field to the small house to prepare for the long drive. We rode from around 9:30 am until 6:00 pm. My thighs were killing me from keeping my legs spread for so long, so I got down twice and walked the horse. The cows don’t move fast so I could keep up and I found out that the walk stretches the muscles perfectly. The end of the day was rough because as the sun went down the temperature plummeted. I later learned I was going to have to wear every layer I brought. For the remainder of the trip I wore 2 pairs of thermal underwear under my jeans, shirt, and jacket. My hat rarely came off, even when I slept. My boots and socks were great and the only thing that failed were my gloves. Even with heat packs, my hands were consistently cold.
The German ladies were waiting for us when we got back. We were right next to an AT&T tower, so even though I didn’t want to be able to look at the news or email, I had a perfect signal. Immediately after meeting, Christine made me turn on my phone as a wifi hotspot so she could contact her new boyfriend. I was disappointed by how often people were using their phones during the trip. For the most part, mine stayed turned off and in my bag.
This was our hardest day and our first night sleeping in the trailers. We started out before the sun came up and we didn’t get to camp until after the sun went down. Our morning was spent riding out over a wide prairie looking for the cows. There were some medium sized herds and a lot of strays that needed rounded up for the drive. Little Brown Jug would freak out and scream anytime she couldn’t see the other riders. It was a difficult morning. At the end of the day we drove the cows as hard as we could to pasture so we could get in before it was completely black out. How does one drive a cow hard? Our entire group got behind the herd and rode into them screaming and hollering for them to move faster. I went hoarse (ha!) yelling. We didn’t slow down or let the cows wander.
Ignoring brevity and embracing laziness, I’m going to just type up what I wrote in my journal for this day and throw in some pretty pictures.
Watch battery died. It’s snowing again. It’s snowed for 2 days. Didn’t write yesterday because we worked before sun up to past sundown. I skipped dinner because I just wanted to lay down. Last night, tonight, and the next 2 nights are on the road. We’re in trailers. First night no power, 2nd we have power but still no heat. Yesterday was a rough ride especially when the sun set. It was cold but survivable. We went roughly 22 miles.
Each day starts gathering the horses and saddling them. Little Brown Jug is starting to respect my authoritay.
After that we search the fields for cows, drive them to the trailer road, and push them as we go. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they’re assholes.
Both Mark and Emilia said I’m good at this. I’m getting pretty comfy chasing strays into thick trees or high hills (I did almost fall off after hitting a branch though…only Morgan saw).
We’ve been going through the mountains. It’s cold and the top is so windy! Today Mark, Morgan, and I were sent out alone after lunch. When I got to the top while pushing over a hill, I was blinded by the snow and wind. It hurt too much to keep my eyes open.
I have 7 days of riding left. They say after 3 days the pain of riding goes away. They were right! I did get down to walk once today but only because 2 others were already walking and I wanted to stretch. It wasn’t a necessity. I also dressed heavier today which kept me super warm. Coat is great! Gloves aren’t great. Glad I packed 3 face shields. I’ve been wearing all three at once.
I’m not sure if I should be doing something. Morgan is fixing everything, Mark is helping, Lisa got stuck in the snow with her trailer, and the ladies are all bundled up in their heated trailer. I’m going to bury myself in my bag and try to warm up. My hands instinctively went between my knees for warmth while I slept. Each time I woke up my wrist was in pain from my breaks. I need gloves though so I can’t wear my brace.
Christine got drunk and told us about her ‘weird hobby.’ She LARPs as an Orc and talked about how scary her clan is. Apparently they sometimes abduct people from other races and pretend sacrifice them. Weird.”
The day started at 14° and ended at 33° and the wind was still crazy. I’m not sure how, but at times it blows from every direction at once. I was at the top of a mountain and really had to pee. No matter which direction I aimed, boots got wet. Those poor boots went through all manner of hell on that trip.
There were a few note worthy things that happened today. Jim Brow talked to me about Delaware! Day 6 is when I got to know him a bit better and stopped thinking there were bodies buried on his ranch. There may well be bodies but probably less than I initially thought.
Mark scolded Christine. She continued to not pay attention to her surroundings or look where she was. She would ride in the center of the herd which poses a major problem. The cows go away from the horses, that’s how the drive works. If you are in front of the cows they split off to the sides or stop. If you have half the cows going to the left and half going to the right, being split like some bovine Red Sea by a cowboy Moses, the works get gummed up. You can see from the picture, she was all about gumming up the works. She never seemed to get the hang of it.
There were also multiple drives going on in the same area. One ranch held theirs back as we passed by but their cows had to visit our cows. Jerks. So we spent some frustrating time at a gate pushing theirs back while making ours continue forward. What we didn’t know was that a few miles down the road, the front of our line hit another drive and mixed everyone up. One might call it a herd on collision! Ha! I don’t have pictures of that since I was in the back, so enjoy what I’ve dubbed a Wyoming traffic jam. You can just barely see the trailer trying to make it’s way through the crowd.
There were two horses on the drive with us that had no riders. They just kind of tagged along and one was a big asshole. Oliver. Apparently Oliver is a teenager with loads of angst but there is no excuse for his behavior. He walked up to Little Brown Jug, while I was on her, turned and kicked her three times! Jug jumped, I held on tight with my heart pounding, and then was skittish around Oliver the rest of the day. Later in the day when I was off Jug, Oliver started to walk over. Jug got edgy and started moving around and stepped right down on my foot. On my right toe. On the toe I broke in August. Fortunately Dr. Marten saved me! My foot was protected. Later my left foot was stepped on but again was saved by my boots.
This might be my longest post so far. Thanks for hanging in, we’ll reach the conclusion at some point and there will be a video reward. A lot of these days/posts are shorter also. In fact day 7 was super easy. Twice my job was to act as a barrier. My mom always said I was dumb as a fence post. Well mom, I finally found a job for me!
We had to create a temporary pen in the morning around the horses to saddle them. Honestly, I got pretty good/fast about catching Jug and saddling her towards the end. I did it a few times with zero help! Also that day I guarded a “crick” making sure the cows stayed on the trail and out of public land where a fence had been hastily put up. Four cows got past me and poor Morgan had to chase them all over creation. They made me look bad and made Morgan’s day harder. Go eat a bag of dicks, cows.
That night the cows slept in a friend’s pasture. So they didn’t eat all his grass, we parked on the side of the road and let the herd graze for a bit on sweet, sweet public grass. It was also a bit sunny although still not warm. It was nice to take a break, lounge in the sun, and think about the shower I would take the next day. Yep, this was our last night in the trailer with no heat and like everyone else, I was really starting to smell.
Christine did much better this day and just as I was getting less frustrated with her she began freaking out about having internet the next day so she could talk to her boyfriend. My appreciation for her vanished quickly.
The one nice thing about being on the road with the trailers was the lack of light pollution. That night Shawn took me out to look at the stars. I could see the Milky Way! It was amazing and I got dizzy looking up. Spending a few minutes alone talking with Shawn and appreciating nature was a highlight in an already amazing trip.
This was the day we got back to the ranch, slept in a bed in a heated cabin, and took a shower! Since my journal entry was so short, I’ll just put that here.
“I had a good day but several people didn’t agree. It was an easy ride with fences so the cows couldn’t wander off. It was only 10ish miles. It was cold and snowed at the end of the day. Mark and I thought our trailer was going to blow over last night. The wind rocked the entire thing and we were at a slight angle. It was eerily cool how loud it was howling.”
Here’s where I would spend my last few nights with the group.
I slept on the bottom bunk, Mark slept in another bed across the room.
My journal entry for Day 9 started “Stopped mid-writing last night because Mark, Emilia, Shawn, Morgan, Lisa, and I were talking for a bit. I had 4 shots of Pendleton. In the three hours we were inside about 3 to 4 inches of snow fell.”
It was a very cold day and Morgan lent me her chinks. They’re essentially short chaps and damn did they help! It was technically the last day of the drive. Still left is sorting Jim’s herd from ours then sorting yearlings from the older cows. After that the pregnancy testing…that ended up being my least favorite part.
It got up to a balmy 18° F, that’s -8° to you Celsius people. I ended the drive on foot without a horse. It was just easier to push them down the road than to go get Jug and ride her back to the end of the herd. I just remember I could not get my hands warm that day.
I found a pile of antelope carcasses mixed together with their skin partially on and partially in heaps. Morgan told me that when they are in a pile it’s usually from some form of disaster like lightning. This time most likely hail. They huddle together for protection and end up being wiped out together. Gross find.
I spent a bit of my journal bitching about Christine and the fact we had both wifi and intermittent cell service. “Everyone is trying to call and text others. Isn’t the point of this to get away? I’m so happy not to read emails or the news.”
That night we took the family out to dinner as a show of appreciation to Morgan, Shawn, Lisa, and Blake. On the way home we stopped at a taxidermist to see a giant elk someone had just shot. It was being butchered and the experience left me a little sad. I get hunting, it’s not my thing, but I appreciate they keep the herd population from growing too large to sustain itself and that they eat the meat. The owner of the shop’s wife however, went to Africa with 6 friends to hunt. There were zebra skulls on a table and 2 boxes of other random skulls. Depressing to think of the resources wasted so someone could kill a beautiful and defenseless animal. Hunting for food I get, this just seemed unnecessary.
The best thing about this day was watching the German ladies freak out about cornbread. They’d never had it before and went to town on Lisa’s. We ate it with chili. I really don’t like beans but I found I actually like chili if it’s 1-part chili to 3-parts cheese. Essentially I ate a flavored bowl of a cheese and loved it.
It was -7°F (-11°C) that morning. We sorted the cows for the vet to come but she canceled during the day. The forecast for day 11 was supposed to be even colder and they were worried about the medicine freezing. It was a cold day since we weren’t riding and moving much. I acted as a gate keeper letting a few cows in at a time so that Morgan could sort them. Here was my view for most of the day.
Mark stayed with family that night so I had my bunk alone…at Halloween time…in the middle of nowhere…on a crazy ranch. Did I watch horror movies in the dark to try and scare myself? Of course I did!
We went shopping! We drove all over town so Christine could find chaps to take home. She never found a pair she liked. At a pawn shop I found a kick ass belt buckle that has been on my non-work belt since I got home. Sadly Morgan could not and did not want to go as she was the first to be hit with the plague!
Day 12 – Last working day!
I hated day 12. It was gross work. Hated it. I’m glad it was the last day because I didn’t want to put my jacket or gloves back on until they’d been through the wash on at least one heavy cycle! Pregnancy testing is the worst. Up at 5:30 am and started processing 600 or so cows. The process only takes about a minute per cow but standing around in -14°F (-25°C) was rough. And it was dirty, dirty work.
What happens is Shawn, Sandra, and some guy I never met round up the cattle from the fields and drive them into a pen. From the pen they go into a shoot. I stand at the shoot and drive them into the “squish shoot” above. I stand further down from where Blake is now and scream out their tag numbers to Morgan who enters their weight, pregnancy results, and possibly other info. If the cow won’t go into the shoot when I yell, I slap its butt. If it still doesn’t go I use a cattle prod (I’ve been prodded before and it doesn’t really hurt so I didn’t feel bad about this).
Once in the shoot, the vet sticks a huge ultrasound wand right up the keister! If she’s pregnant she gets a shot of medicine and Blake puts some pest control gel on her back. The gross part comes when they pull the wand out. All sorts of nastiness pours out. Often the cow behind the one getting probed manages to get its head in. I saw way too many cows with at least a cup and a half of poop down their face. Nasty. The vet’s pant leg was foul.
Where I was standing I didn’t get it as bad but I got pretty gross. The cows would wag their tail when they pooped, spraying me. Twice cows sneezed in my face. One asshole turned its head, looked dead into my eyes, and then hacked some kind of berry or grass into my face. It made eye contact as a challenge like “what are you going to do about it, bitch?” You know what I’m going to do, cow? Eat you when you’re a Big Mac! Who’s the bitch now?! Okay…sorry…bad memories.
One cow wouldn’t move with my yell, slap, or prod. Morgan knew a secret way to motivate them by lifting their tail. She asked me to hand it to her and when I did the cow pooped into my glove. All of it, just me standing there holding a cow patty. I hated that cow so much.
When we were done I showered until I was raw. I put all of my clothes in bags within my bag and didn’t touch them again until it was time for them to go into the washing machine. Emilia never joined us because she caught the bug. Shawn and Sandra left the process early to go throw up. I have no idea how I didn’t catch it.
And that’s how it ended. Smelly and gross. I flew out seriously early on Halloween and made it back to my driveway just in time for the first trick or treaters. Dr. Jen had a 2 cold, tall boy Diet Cokes waiting for me since I hadn’t had any all of October!
I didn’t dress up for Halloween because I didn’t need to. I’m a Super Puncher and we don’t need to pretend to be anything. What’s a Super Puncher? Well I promised you a video…
“Say it different than normal people.”
When I get new boots, I don’t say “Look at my new boots”
“You don’t say it like that if you’re a super puncher…you’re almost pissed off. You’re almost mad.” I say it like this.
Lastly how were the metrics? Perfect score! I ranked fear higher than I thought I would because 1) I thought I was going to be terrible at this and the cowboys would make fun of me for 2 weeks 2) that airplane right into Casper 3) I was helping move 1,000 big animals that could have easily turned and crushed me. I realized and respected that danger when a dozen or so Shawn was moving turned and started coming at me while I was on foot…