On any vacation it is likely that on one day the stars will align to produce a magical day. So it was July 17, in Jackson Hole.
Yesterady, my first here, was ordinary really. I arrived after a too-long drive from Cheyenne, checked in to The Hotel in late afternoon, got settled and had some supper. The most important detail was the recommendation from Wyatt, the desk clerk for the A-OK Corral, to host my horse riding adventure.
I made a reservation that night for a three-hour ride and woke at 5 a.m. to be on site for the 8 a.m. start. When I arrived at A-OK I found a large corral filled with two or three dozen horses of various ages and dimensions. Stacy, the yard boss, directed me to a massive horse I later called Perch for his Percheron lineage. I was joined by Nate, my guide for my solo ride. He met me with a broad smile behind which I could hear “Howdy Pardner.”
Nate and I mounted and headed out, down a road for a bit and then off-road into deep woods. We began to share stories immediately, both about our backgrounds. Nate learned about my career ups and downs and about my illness, though not about its cause. I began to learn amazing things about the life Nate led for his eighteen years. Nate’s disclosures would continue throughout the morning.
Our ride led us over “hill and dale.” The climbs weren’t difficult for the horses, both veterans of the trail. They were more difficult for me, 42 years removed from my last horseback ride. It wasn’t long before my thighs ached and my bum legs burned. But I soldiered on, reveling in the beauty surrounding me.
We went slowly. This was a ride, not a gallop (thank God). We traveled rocky trails, the horses measuring each step. We crossed broad plateaus with panoramas of forest, field, stream and sky. Twice we stopped at my request though I am surprised I asked for the second. The first I fell on my ass dismounting. I remembered doing the same at six years old.
The morning passed so quickly! Perch had a mind of his own as befitted his upper-middle age. He liked grass but I couldn’t bear the delay for a snack. Not so we challenged each other, he sneeking a nibble, me closely minding the reigns. It was all an act. We were buds.
Nate kept up a steady stream of conversation and I, chatty Cathy, chimed back in. Over the morning I learned this about Nate: He was a professional champion snowmobiler. He was also a champion bull rider and a veteran bull dogger. He has set records in all and broken twenty bones. He and his love are expecting a child.
I couldn’t help but marvel at these facts. How could an eighteen year old accomplish enough for any person’s life? When I asked Nate this question he simply smiled and said, “I guess I have some skills.” Indeed he does.
For me, thighs notwithstanding, the ride ended too soon. It had brought back fond memories and sour regret. If only I had not chosen baseball over riding at age ten, I might have become a championship rider like Nate. Thighs notwithstanding, I wished for that now decades later.
At the corral at the end of the line Nate and I posed for photos and promised to be in touch. I hope we will. He is certainly the most unique person I have met, in a life of unique people. What a joy and wonderful surprise.
Later I was worn out and thought I’d crash very early. But walking back to the hostel, I ran into Mort, lot attendant and attraction booster. He sold me on taking a ride on the Hole’s gondola which climbs nearly to the top of an adjacent peak. I had enjoyed rides like this before and this was free so I bought in.
The ride was fine, but I was eager for the view to snap some shots from 9,000 feet. At the top, thoug,h that was largely scrubbed as the view was obscured by what I learned was smoke from a fire in nearby Idaho. And so I got a glass of Malbec and shot in black and white for a time until I saw a very unusual site. A man stepped off the gondola with a woman and child and a large box strapped to his back.
My journalist genes kicked in and I needed this story. I found Brandon to be open and friendly, perfectly willing to speak to a writer for an unknown blog. He explained he was a technician for a corporation that manufactures avalanche prevention devices. This equipment blows up portions of a mountain when a disaster is imminent. Cool, but who knew?
Brandon and his wife Jen were charming and became two more spontaneous friends. I had been disappointed with the standoffishness of some habitants of Jackson but Nate, Brandon and Jen changed my mind.
At the bottom again I dropped in to the Mangy Moose for a drink and supper. I was in for a wonderful surprise.
A singer, Wendy, was performing. But she was not alone. She was fronted by a group of more than twenty outlandishly dressed teens performing a perfectly choreographed accompaniemet to her songs. I was witnessing a spontaneous episode of Glee.
A smaller group took the stage and belted out their own tunes while their friends cheered in unison before them. Wendy’s expresson said she had no idea what was going on but she was charmed and excited as were the confused diners nearby. The show had been hijacked by the crew of the good ship Lollipop and it was a blast!
Back in Clark Kent mode I grabbed pics and identified the ringleaders, three older young people. I quizzed them and learned that the group members were students from a Midwestern private high school that was traveling the country pulling flash mobs on the unsuspecting populace to tremendous result. Jackson Hole was their latest assault and I congratulated them on their ingenuity, then asked myself who had scripted my day.
Today I met the world’s busiest teenager, a dude who blows up mountains and twenty-odd soldiers in a guerilla army spreading good cheer. It is a day I will never forget that confirms the reason for my pilgrimage. I came to the mountains to experience life in a way I could not at home. July 17 filled that bill.