Sunday, July 22, 2007

Midnight Ride (or, why you never ride at night with two stoned/drunk cowboys)

This happened in July

So the other night we were finished with quite a long day of hard work. We, referring to myself and my coworkers up here at the A-OK Corral. Someone then got the idea to go for a "midnight ride" rather than go dancing like we had planned. So we all dispersed to get ready for this ride. I gathered a sweater and warm jacket, granola bars, my cell phone, and bottled water. I began to get nervous when I saw that their preparations included a 24 pack of Bud and mari-j. I should have recognized this as foreshadowing. But, I thought, they're big boys, they can take care of themselves. We start up the mountain, all of us on our favorite horses only to see the boss coming down the road. Now, all the horses have an 8 o'clock curfew, and it's nine right now, so this probably isn't a good thing that there are three of us leaving the barn. The boys, pretty lamely, try and hide their beer cans, behind their legs, or slip them in their saddle bags, only to have the beer drip out and down their horses legs. The boss stands there for an eternity shooting the breeze and relishing that he caught us doing something we shouldn't have done. Finally after the boys promise to have the horses back within the hour and I keep silent, the boss leaves and we continue on.
Now, the wilderness we were going to be exploring was pretty rough. It was not a rolling meadow with flowers and cell phone towers and trails, it was mountainus, with steep drop-offs, there were creeks and ditches and holes, no cell phone coverage, and it wasn't the best place to go for a midnight ride, but we went anyways, and we decided to avoid the one trail there was.
For two months we had been taking people on trail rides and we were sick of the same old trail day after day. We wanted to explore and find new places that we could take dudes on rides. We chose a particularily steep side of the mountain to climb. The horses had a hard time getting to the top, nearly slipping back or falling sideways, but we were finally at the top. Once we got to the top we took in the last few minutes of the sunset and looked around to see where we wanted to go next. I rolled my eyes at the boys while they rolled a joint. Then we continued on.
We had not planned ahead and looked at the calendar to find out if the moon would be out that night, but it turned out not to matter, as the sky was cloudy. So, between clouds and no moon, it was hard to see where we were going. This is about the time when you are glad that you brought a horse you trust. You have to have a horse that is smart enough to ignore you when it knows better, like when you tell it to go straight down a cliff, because you can't see where you're going.
We had a bit of fun, galloping down the road, shouting and hollering. Well, Mike and I had fun, Ryan, not so much. His horse had been a dude horse for so long that it didn't know how to run anymore. No matter how hard Ryan kicked him and shouted and the other horses galloped, his horse (Matt) would not gallop. He would, however, trot. He would trot as fast as a gallop, bouncing Ryan up and down at light speed.
Once we had gone out a few miles, we took a right into wilderness we were unfamiliar with. (I know what you're thinking right now, that that is not the smartest thing to do, to get lost at night, but out horses would have taken us home whever we wanted to go home. Getting lost wasn't a big concern.) So we start climbing this mountain and wondering if the land we are on is part of the land that people are not allowed to be on. A few minutes later we get our answer.
A truck came bouncing towards us with a huge spotlight jumping up an down with every pothole in the dirt road. It is still about two hundred yards away, and there is no way that it can come closer up the mountain. But we still start freaking out, there are no trees or scrub to hide behind on this ountain side! Ryan starts cursing me and my white-ass horse. My horse, Nell, stands out like a beacon on the mountain with her dappled grey hair when they shine the light directly on her. Mike's horse; Jenny and Ryan's horse; Matt are practically invisable, blending in with the mountian behind them. We take off as people start getting out of the truck, visable only by their bouncing flashlight beams. We find a stand of trees and I guide Nell behind them. We wait for a second, hoping that the forrest service guys are out here for some unrelated reason, that it is just a coinsedence. A few minutes go by and we don't think they are.
We take off up the mountain. If we can get over the ridge, then there is no way they will find us. It is again steep going, and the horses are having a rough time of it, but eventually we get to the other side and start back down the mountain. We rest on the other side, giving the horses a breather, and letting our pulses calm down.
We ride on a little ways and decide we want to make a loop to get back to the ranch. So we need to cut through this valley, and then there should be a creek, and we will cross a road, and so forth as we decide where we are going. Ryan decides to take charge. He says we need to go straight between two high hills. I look over at where he has decided we need to turn. See, where I am, all I see is a fence. But he must have found a break in the nence that he is going over. He coaxes his horse and kicks his horse, guides his horse, but Matt refuses to go forward a single step. So I ask Nell to walk over and I ask confused. "Um, are you trying to go through the fence?" It is hard for me to understand that someone can't see that fence, but that turns out to be exactly what happened. He had been getting angry with his horse for refusing to walk through a fence. That's how dark it is, and/or how drunk or stoned they are. He couldn't see a fence no more than 30 inches in front of him.
So, Mike decides to take charge. He decides that his horse, Jenny is going to take the lead. Now, in any normal horse, this would mean that we would go straight home. But Jenny is not any normal horse. She wants to explore as much as Michael does. So she takes us up and down a few mountains, going left or right with no sense of a final destination. A few hours later we look around to find that we are just outside of the game warden's house. We find this out by hearing the pounding of hooves coming straight at us. Our horses spooked and ran through some trees, which isn't too much fun when you can't see where the branches are, or control your frightened horse. During this excapade, Michael realized that his cinch (The strap that holds the saddle on) was loose, so he hopped off to fix it as soon as the horses were under control. When he went to get back on, those horses came galloping up the the fence again and Jenny jumped sideways in fear. Michael had been jumping up to get on her, and as she jumped toward him, he went directly over her back and flopped to the ground on the other side. At first Ryan and I started laughing, but Michael wasn't moving. And he had kind of landed on his head. So I started freaking out. "Michael, you answer me right now, are you ok? Michael? Michael?" A few seconds later we hear giggling coming from the ground. Apparently he's ok.
Over the next hour or so, we try and get over this mountain. But we can't figure it out. It is pitch black, we can't see each other from the backs of our horses, and from time to time out horse will walk too close to a tree and scrape our knees painfully, or under a branch and nearly scrape us off. At this point I can't be sure that it was accidental anymore. We decide to turn around and once we get to the bottom of the mountain again, we decide to try a different route.
Except that Jenny doesn't want to go that way. Jenny wants to explore over there, and Michael sees nothing wrong with going over there. But I am tired and I want to go home, and my horse is tired and I am feeling for her. (I'm no lightweight) But Michael is uncontrolable. We follow him and Jenny around as he waves his hands in the air, letting Jenny walk wherever she wants. He's almost out of beer at this point and has to keep getting off to pee. Eventually we give up and just follow Jenny for a while. Soon enough I decide I am tired of this. I have followed these stupid boys around enough. They galloped at night when we couldn't see the ground and I let them even though I shouted after them how unsafe it was, as their horse could step in a hole and break its leg. I followed them as they tried to find a way over a mountain we were unfamiliar with, even at night, and I had even followed around Michael's horse, but now I was done. My cell phone wasn't getting reception and wouldn't tell me what time it was, but I knew it was late and we had to work at six-thirty the next morning.
I got in front of Michael and told him. "Michael stop. We're going home and I'm taking you." Ryan followed me as I got in front of them both and pointed Nell for home. She could see better than I could and started heading for home, avoiding all the fences and ditches and streams and fallen trees that we had run into on our way out. The way back was just as nighmareish for the boys as the way out had been. Ryan lost his saddle twice. The first time we walked around for 10 minutes looking for his saddle blanket with the light from my cell phone until we found it. In between loosing his saddle blanket for the first and second time he fell off twice. Matt apparently wasn't very excited about the late hour. And Ryan was being pretty stupid, like running his horse up and down extreemly steep trails. The second time he fell off, Michael and I were walking our horses down the trail and we hear a plaintive voice coming from around the bend. "Don't step on me! I'm on the ground. Matt threw me, then stopped on my leg." We rounded the bend to see Matt calmly eating grass a few steps away from Ryan. Matt's saddle was hanging around his belly, and his saddle blanket was nowhere to be seen. We couldn't find it that night at all. Ryan ended up being able to hop back on his horse just in time to finish the night off with another stupid idea, to race Matt home on the road. Matt's shoes sending up sparks, Ryan's hat flying off, all this with no saddle blanket. Matt's back must have been pretty sore. I ended up getting off Nell and walking beside her, and so Michael felt like he had to walk Jenny too, even though he wanted to run home and send up sparks too. He couldn't understand why I wasn't on my horse. When I said she was tired and didn't have to carry me the last .3 mile, he couldn't comprehend it. "But, why are you walking?" He was a true cowboy, only getting off his horse to pee, unsaddle, and walk in the house that night.
We walked in the door and noticed that it was just after two-thirty. We had been riding for five and a half hours, after putting in a 13 hour day working that whole previous day. I personally rode 11 and a half hours that day. It is a testament to how hard we worked every day that none of us were saddle sore the next day.
The next day we instructed the guy who took out the first trail ride to look for the missing saddle blanket somewhere on the trail and so hide it where we could go back and find it later. We also spent the next few rides we went on picking up all the beer cans, empty and full that had fallen out of the saddle bags, or been thrown by drunk boys during the ride. Matt, Nell, and Jenny also got the next two days off work and enough treats to make them sick.