Date: Saturday 12th June 2016
Location: Double Diamond X Ranch, South Fork, Cody, Wyoming
Have you ever felt so removed from your own reality that you feel like you may have just followed Alice down the rabbit hole? This picture represents that moment for me.
In this picture I am sitting crossed legged on the floor behind a bar. I am the barmaid at this bar and the bride of the wedding taking place at the ranch is having her official wedding photos taken. She’s currently lying across the bar, holding a shotgun, while the groomsmen pretend to be passed out on the bar, holding the shot glasses into which I just poured them all their 5th shot of whiskey. Now when I write it down it doesn’t seem quite as strange to me as when I was in the moment, or maybe I’ve just replayed it over so many times in my head that it’s become normal to me, but right at that moment there was nothing I could do but laugh. Screw stepping outside your comfort zone, I’d cliff dived off the top of it.
So how did I get myself in this situation? Well, it was one of those life choices that you never really planned on making but then the idea pops into your head one dull day and it just sounds really fun. The idea that I had was going back to a ranch in Wyoming I had visited while I was travelling (you can read about it here) and helping them out for the summer. I had nothing else going on so why not give a couple starting up a new business a helping hand (for free, I may add). Totally selfless right! Except that it comes with the perks of living for a summer in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, horse rides on the best trained horses I have ever ridden and access to the restaurant’s fabulous (and I mean FABULOUS) organic, home grown food to die for. Ok, so not quite so selfless. Despite all this I’ve got to say, after I said yes to the job I did slightly wonder what I’d done – I mean cleaning cabins and working behind a bar for the summer doesn’t exactly fit in with my career plan (but then I’ve never really been sure what that is anyway). However the moment we came off the main road in Cody and drove onto the South Fork and those mountains spread out in front of me I knew exactly why I had done what I did.
© Photo copyright to DDX ranch
So my first week starts and I’m put to work cleaning the cabins after some of them have been closed up for the winter. Fine by me, I love cleaning, always have (as a child I used to clean the bathroom for fun. Yeah I know, weird child … weird adult too though) so I’m scrubbing and brushing and dusting and wiping and I move the bed slightly away from the wall and underneath is a dead mouse. Now I had been warned about this, the cabin had been closed up for the winter and, let’s be honest, I’m in the middle of the wilderness, it’s pretty likely small furry guests are going to move in with the absence of people. But I’ve got my cowboy boots on and my stubborn ‘I can do anything’ head on and so I try to clean the mouse out of this house. First I tried to pick it up with my fingers, I got within maybe 3cm before I squealed and jumped away. Looking around just to make sure I really was alone and no one had seen that hideously girly reaction to a mouse, I tried to find something else to help the situation. The only thing I could find was a pair of rubber gloves, at least then it wouldn’t be skin on (dead tail) skin. So I tried again telling myself I had removed tarantulas out of toilets in the jungle and jumped out of a plane – I could pick up a dead mouse. Nope, no I couldn’t, cue the involuntary reaction of squealing and jumping back again (I sounded like the women who use to be in the Tom and Jerry cartoons). At this point I saw the owner of the ranch drive past on the lawn mower and I realised I was going to have to suck it up and ask for help. I headed on to the porch to flag him down … and just couldn’t do it. Going back in I tried one more time but the squealing thing happened all over again. The only thing for it was to call him to come and help me. I’ve never felt more pathetic and more grateful for American male chivalry all at the same time. Oh well, at least I’ve learnt dead mice aren’t my friends. I’ll work on it.
My first week passed incredibly quickly and settled comfortably into the second … and then we got to that point where I was hiding from a photo behind the bar. This was a wedding held at the ranch this weekend which had cowboy written all over it. The groomsmen in cowboy hats, jeans and cowboy boots. The bride in a white wedding dress … and cowboy boots. A stampede of horses running past the altar as the couple said ‘I do’ (have to admit that bit was pretty romantic) and more whiskey than you can measure. When I was told the ranch had a wedding booked I was excited, I love weddings! Everyone is happy and having a good time. But I was imagining a British wedding with all the women in pastel colours and hats, the men in their comedy ties that they bring out once a year, Pimms on the lawn that your stilettos are sinking into and polite small talk with that slightly strange cousin from the groom’s side of the family that the bride thinks you’re ‘perfect for’. This is not how Wyoming weddings go. They are full of yee hahs and woops, the odd fight and ending the night sleeping around a bonfire. It’s always situations that you think will be so familiar that end up feeling so unbelievably foreign when they’re not what you expect (such as posing for your wedding photos with a gun). So when I ended up sitting on the floor behind the bar, refilling shot glasses for more photos and trying to place them on the bar without tipping them on my head I felt my adventure had only just begun. Time to do a double somersault off that comfort zone cliff and let the adventure continue. I have a feeling it’s going to be a good summer …