My Cowboy Adventure — Circa 1992 — Or, how I bailed out of my comfort zone for the first of many times in my life!
Life is meant to be lived, and these lyrics from the Chris Ledoux song, “The Ride” are how I live because life is about the journey and experiencing everything life has to offer. These words say it all, “Sit tall in the saddle, hold your head up high. Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky. And live like you ain’t afraid to die. And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride.”
With the words of that song reverberating in my head, I can look back and see I have lived a life filled with doing things unexpected and off the beaten path because life is meant to be lived. It is through these off the wall experiences that I have received some of my most significant rewards and learned painful life lessons because of my choice to live life on my terms.
Growing up in a small town where my last name meant something, the expectation was that I attend Cotillions and other training to learn manners, etiquette, and ballroom dance so that I could excel in the social graces required. Upon graduation from high school in 1988, I initially took the traditional path to adulthood by going immediately to college where I would study veterinary medicine with the thought that I would become a veterinarian after graduation. That lasted about two years because I was not prepared to go from a class of 200 at South Point High School to a class of 25,000 at North Carolina State University along with the freedoms that come from being away from home. Needless to say, I made a mess of college and came home in the summer of 1990 to begin the process of figuring out what to do with my life.
For the next two years, I fumbled and fiddled at a local community college while reading book after book about the heroes, villains, and the cowboys of the American West by authors, Louis L’Amour; Larry McMurtry; Ralph Compton; and others. Those books spurred the imagination of this city boy, and I became infatuated with the cowboy lifestyle and the freedoms it portrayed.
In the Spring of 1992, I used some of my Grandfather Cromlish’s laissez-faire attitude of jumping off the ledge without thinking about the consequences and started calling ranches in the Wyoming, Montana, and Northern Colorado region of the western United States. To each rancher, I asked them for a job during the upcoming summer. For the first thirty or so, they politely thanked me for my interest, but they had no use for a greenhorn. But, my perseverance was rewarded when a Montana rancher and his wife took a chance on a green wet-behind-the-ears kid with no experience with horses, cattle, sheep, or ranching life and willingly accepted me for room, board, and a little spending money. Having grown up in a white collar household, I had no idea what it meant to do hard manual labor, but for the first time in my life, I would learn the meaning of the word, WORK.
I left Belmont, North Carolina on my first solo adventure in my 1989 Ford Bronco II with the dreams of a wannabe cowboy pushing me on to my ultimate destination of Jordan, Montana. In 1992, cell phones were just beginning to find use, but I did not have one. If you grew up during this time, you knew how to dial a rotary phone and make a collect call because that was what you did. No text messages, no email, and definitely no phone calls from the car. Everything during this time was ‘analog,’ and sometimes I wax nostalgic for those halcyon days of limited mobile technology and no social media because life was engaged fully without distraction. But, I digress for days gone by and of an adventure that genuinely kicked off a pattern of growth, solo travel, and my participation in experiences that most people find difficult or not really all that fun.
On the third day of the trip, I witnessed a horrific single car traffic accident. The driver of the car took the reverse cloverleaf exit with excessive speed and lost control of the vehicle, and it flipped several times violently before coming to rest in the median of Interstate 90. I was first to the scene as I saw it happen and called the police and highway patrol on CB channel 9 to let them know there had been an accident and what exit. I immediately stopped and tried to render aid. One man had been thrown clear of the vehicle, and I checked him first. There was no pulse, but my Boy Scout training took over, and I cleared the airway and did CPR until emergency first responders arrived. The driver and the passenger were pronounced dead at the scene, and the first responders told me I did everything right. And, with an impressionable 22-year-old, they also asked me if I was all right and when I could not answer affirmatively, they put me up for the night in a hotel. Due to the traumatic nature of the experience, the county offered me the services of a psychiatrist that evening to listen and help me process what had happened. I availed myself of that opportunity, and it made a world of difference to be able to unload my fears and the trauma of the day. After that, the county took me out to dinner, and the next morning I was back on the road to Hell Creek Ranch.
On the day of my arrival at Hell Creek Ranch, 25 miles outside Jordan, Montana, they were in the middle of herding sheep into catch pens to dock tails, castrate buck lambs, and earmark those that would be raised for consumption and those that would be raised for wool. From the time I arrived until they quit at 7:00pm, I rode a horse to help round up the sheep and then held the lambs while they were being doctored. Throughout that first day, it was work like I had never known before.
To quote from the journal that I kept for that summer of the second day,
“Yesterday I was up at 6:00am. I ate breakfast at 8:00 and then mowed the grass. From 10:00am to 3:00pm, we herded a second group of sheep for docking. I did it horseback with Mr. John and his granddaughter. I’ve never been so sore in my life after that, but that was just the beginning. We still had to dock the lambs. I got sick and had to quit. This day was the hardest I have worked with my body ever. We finished dinner at 9:00pm, and I was asleep at 9:45pm. All in all, a very good day. I feel good about making it until 9:00pm.”
The work that I did that summer was arduous, but I learned day to day if I persevered and kept at it, I could accomplish anything I chose to have my mind and body do.
And, that solo trip was the first of many trips and jobs I have taken to see and experience life up close and personal. Out of the experience, I decided that I wanted to rodeo for a living and I learned to ride bucking horses and bulls. For five years, I worked rodeos doing everything from riding rough stock to working the events in various capacities.
That summer, I learned what it meant to live the ‘cowboy life’ and through all my career choices and life experiences is that I have maintained the cowboy life of saying what I mean, meaning what I say, and doing precisely what my word obligated me to do. I also learned I could accomplish anything I chose to attempt by persevering and working hard no matter the pain or setbacks suffered. The saying that came out of that adventure for me was, “Mind over matter. I don’t mind because it doesn’t matter except to prevent me from accomplishing my goal.”
My choice to live life fully started on that first solo adventure, and I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and just go for your dream because when you push yourself, you learn about yourself, and you discover that you can endure and do more than you thought yourself capable.
Thank you for reading and tell me in the responses about your experience of stepping out of your comfort zone and daring to live life fully.
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