Diary of an English Cowgirl – Part I

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.

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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.

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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 …

 

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Wyoming, why did your skies have to be so blue?

Date: Saturday 1st August to Wednesday 5th August 2015

Location: Double Diamond X ranch, Cody, Wyoming, USA

The last time I was at the Double Diamond X Ranch I was three years old. I had a holiday with my parents and my cousin, aunt and uncle. It was one of those fantastic holidays that goes down in family history (much like France ‘98) and countless stories are repeated about it until I feel I could tell you everything we did there despite only being three and obviously not actually having any memories of it. So when I had a week left in America and no plans to fill it I thought I would just check if DDX was still around. After 23 years, two foreclosures and two sets of new owners it’s still there, snuggled in the mountains of Wyoming about an hour outside of a little Western town called Cody. As the new owners told me ‘things on the ranch may have changed but the mountains and the lakes are just as beautiful’.

It took me three days to drive from Minneapolis to Wyoming, staying at various small towns along the way and driving through some of the most beautiful wilderness I have ever seen (several times I had to quickly swerve back onto the road after staring out the window for too long). When I arrived all you could see for miles and miles was mountains, rivers and fields of horses. Out of the window of my cabin I could see two cowboys on horseback rounding up a herd of horses with a movie worthy backdrop and other than the sound of the horses’ hooves I could hear … nothing. There was no noise, no shouting people, no traffic, no planes overhead and at that moment in time not even any birds singing. It was wonderful.

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The current set up at DDX has each family/guest staying in individual cabins or a shared bunkhouse (I had booked their bunkhouse to be shared with 6 people … however I was the only one in there, score!). In the cabins there are facilities to cook your meals yourself or you can join everyone in the dining room for dinner. I booked dinner for the first night and was given a lovely meal which I ate with a couple who had been staying at the ranch for a few days. After dinner we all moved to the Saloon to be joined by the wranglers for beer and whiskey and enjoyed a happy evening hearing stories about the ranch, meeting new people and getting to know the current (super lovely) owners.

This is the night I met YW who was to be my wrangler while I was at the ranch. Over the next four days we headed out together on our horses every day. One day we rode to the top of a mountain to see the view of the valley on the other side, one day we rode down to the river (and through some portions of it) and stopped for a snack of Trail Mix on the river bank. All the time we were surrounded by the most beautiful landscape that calls for you to travel it on horseback and just inspires stillness and quiet … which there would have been had we not been shouting our conversation to each other as the tracks are only one horse wide. I’m sure it helped to keep the bears and mountain lions at bay. But don’t worry every now and again even I was struck dumb by the beauty of the place and shut up long enough to appreciate it.

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Evenings were spent enjoying the delights of Cody. Its main attraction is the Rodeo which takes place every evening in the summer. This wasn’t my first Rodeo (… saying this amuses me) but I really don’t think I could ever get bored of watching insane people jump on the back of a bull, it’s just such a bizarre ‘sport’ to do. Another night after fried chicken and sweet tea for dinner (I’m not sure any true Brit could call it ‘tea’ but it was still pretty good) YW and I found what I’m going to call the ‘second main attraction’ of Cody which is the ‘Dan Miller Cowboy Music Review’. This was such a great evening! Dan Miller and his band played a great selection of Western songs some of which I knew and could sing along with, some of which I didn’t but I was glad to have learnt them. Dan’s daughter Hannah is also in the band and she performed a song (that sounds like it was written just for her) called Wyoming. The mixture of Hannah’s voice and the beautiful lyrics of the song captured both our hearts and we immediately bought the CD to play on repeat on the hour drive home. However after I left Wyoming I had no method of playing the song so I emailed Dan to see if I could download it anywhere. The lovely man just sent me the audio file no more questions asked. I am listening to the song as I write this and I wish you could listen too but I can’t find a link or a video to it anywhere online!

I did not want to leave Double Diamond X ranch. I did not want to leave the mountains and the horses. I did not want to leave Wyoming. I did not want to leave the USA. But this part of my journey had come to an end and it was time to fly south for the remainder of the summer.