Remembering a special ride
Libraries are usually depositories for adventures real or imagined. But my adventure started there. The old library in Whitefish was above the police station so for the innocent it was an easy choice to go upstairs. The new library was hardly just on a checklist when making a town in Montana. It was designed probably by a library architect if there is such a thing. A cross between a ski chalet and a Hollywood version of a western ranch house punctuated with cozy corners for reading, a fireplace, a bank of free computers. and ample natural light. I attended almost daily to read the Whitefish Pilot, some magazines and if lucky stumble upon a good book.
Well one day in September I glanced at "What to do" in the Flathead Valley. Staring me down is an announcement of a trail ride in the Moiese Bison Range in Charlo. I had been in the range by car. 18,000 acres of the way the west was 100 plus years ago with about 500 buffalo roaming around like movie props. I could only imagine what it would be like to travel through on horseback.
Not having a horse and not having a clue as to how to ride I talked with the representative of this affair. She matter of factly stated it wouldn't be a problem. How she solved it by just talking to her I was about to discover. She gave me the number of an outfitter in Missoula who was attending.
Again explaining my situation to Sue in Missoula she also informed me it wasn't a problem, she would bring an extra horse. My confidence soared before even getting to the riding of the horse itself. Somewhat sceptical I questioned her about my lack of riding skills. She replied, “Come a half hour early and I'll teach you." Sarcastically I thought if coming 3 hours early maybe I could learn to play the piano like Billy Joel!
The ride is a one day ride with a catered lunch atop Red Sleep Mountain and about 8 hours of riding. I came an hour early thinking a little more instruction might help. To her word, she taught me the commands to use when instructing the horse what to do. Start, stop, go left, go right was the main part of the curriculum. Of course there was a sidebar on how to get on and off without
breaking my neck or spooking the horse to Kentucky!
One day a year, the U.S. government allows the local saddle club to run a ride in the range since 1952. To horse people this is like a high school prom for horses. They cull out their finest steeds and put on a "cowboy tuxedo," a clean checkered shirt, bandana and straight legged blue jeans. I had to borrow a cowboy hat and chaps and I still looked like one of those golfers that has " rental" written on the side of their bags!
250 horses were lined up in front of the gate along the road under one of those only in Montana "Big Sky" days. The trail gave a completely different view than the road. Mostly the rangers use these trails to drive the buffalo to new sections of the range with fresh grass. The rhythm of the horse seduced me back to the 1800s. Trying to get back to the here and now, I decided to look for items that were obvious indicators of the 20th century. It was like trying to find the gladiator in the movie "Ben Hur" who forgot to take off his wristwatch. Try as I did the only nod to now were jet contrails in the sky. Horses, cowboy clothes, wildlife, not even a smokey the bear fire danger sign (the Forest "Circus" would put them on the moon if they could sneak it on their budget) gave away my trip down this trail with Lewis and Clark as my imaginary companions. Ultimately it was the discomfort of the chafing of my thighs that rounded me back away from this transcendental moment.
The day ended telling stories by a creekside campfire. One of the horses tried to spread wings like pegasus and flailed itself down a slope rolling over its rider (no one injured). The vet said it was colic, potentially dangerous affliction. I witnessed an imitation of the Lone Ranger's signature hi ho silver move. I saw the rider walk that horse back to the campground and gave it a "timeout" for misbehaving. She came back in the lineup with another horse. Then of course my horse decided it wanted to roll around on a sandy patch. I jumped off and Sue grabbed the reins and yanked my horse back from its intended sonesta on the beach. My horse and I came to a negotiated agreement where I would not sit as an idle passenger but assume the role of rider!
For whatever reason the U.S. government has not allowed the saddle club to have their ride for many years now. I cherish the memories of “time travel” trail ride in the Moise Bison Range to a time of struggle and to some extent innocence. Everyone knew I was a “tenderfoot” but treated me as if I was a horse not yet broken but with some potential. For that I am most grateful!
Richard Beady, Whitefish