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Typing with Gloves On

September 15, 2011

It has been a while since my last post, but mostly because that time has been completely filled with lots and lots of treadmill and resting metabolic rate studies. There were more 12-14 hour days of data collection than I can remember. However, the last 24 hours take the cake. I had to meet the first fall semester in the mountains to pass the heart rate monitors and doubly labeled water dose. This was scheduled to coincide with the courses re-ration, which in the Wind River Range is done by pack horse. So, we arranged for me t ride out with the pack horses. I went to the Diamond 4 Ranch on Tuesday evening. This ranch is less than 40 miles away from Lander, but with the winding, dirt mountain roads, it took well over an hour and a half to get there. The ranch is owned and operated by a wonderful old Wyoming cowboy named Jim Allen. The ranch at this late point in the season consists of Jim and three other members of his crew. There is one main cabin, the stable, a few smaller cabins, and an outhouse. There is no electricity, all the lamps are fueled by propane, the water comes directly from a mountain spring, and there is a wood stove for heat. It was a wonderful feeling of being thrown back into a different time, very relaxing actually to be removed from so many distractions.

That first evening was spent meeting the crew and chatting with Jim. Jim is a fantastic person, once the crew had left for the night, Jim and I chatter for well over an hour on topics ranging from evolution and geological time to third world country property rights and common horse illnesses. It was a great conversation and one of the most intellectually stimulating talks I have had since I have been out here.

The next morning started very early with a hearty cowboy-style breakfast and getting the horse team packed. We were taking out a 12 day food ration for 18 people which required 4 pack horses…you would not believe the amount of cheese NOLS students get on these courses! Chris was the cowboy/rancher who rode out with me. He led 3 of the pack horses and had me lead the 4th. The horse I rode was named Diamond, a big chestnut colored male with a white star (or perhaps diamond) on his forehead. The horse I lead was named Dandy, a smaller girl who has had a privileged life of mostly being ridden by children which means she lacks discipline. We had a 4 hour ride to meet the course and then another 4 hours to make it back to the ranch. The entire time, I had to yank on Dandy’s lead rope because she kept trying to stop and snack along the trail.

The morning was beautiful, the sun was shining and the scenery was gorgeous. The ride is was rather uneventful until about the last hour before we met the course. Low clouds were rolling in, which meant rain. Now, we fully expected to get rain, it is almost a daily occurrence in the mountains to get some afternoon showers. We had packed accordingly with our rain gear. We thought it would be the typical 20 minute storm and then the sun would come back out as is typical…we were very wrong.

We got to the course safely, unloaded all the food, they got it all organized, and as I was getting the heart rate monitors out the rain and thunder began. The sprinkles turned into a steady rain round about the time Chris and I were packing to leave. Instead of the rain going away like it normally would, it actually picked up in intensity and even worse the temperature started to drop. The saddle was wet and cold, I was wearing jeans (as I was told to wear) which just soaked up the rain and made the colder temperatures far worse. The trail we took in had now become a flooded, muddy disaster. There was seriously a small river of rain water running through and along the trail, the horses HATED it and were very unsteady. We got to the steepest part of the trail we had to go down which was nothing but slippery, muddy rocks of death. Chris decided that it would be safer to walk the horses down rather than ride them down. So, this meant that he and I had to hike down the muddy rocks of death wearing cowboy boots (which have no grip by the way) with 1500 lbs animals behind us who were prone to slipping on the rocks. So, there was the fear that I would slip but even the greater fear that the horse would slip and fall into me. This was a very frightening half mile, one that I am not quite sure how we made it through without a single slip or fall.

The rest of the ride home was cold and wet and muddy and just plain miserable. With about three hours left in the ride my fingers and toes had gone numb. I had to frequently check that the reins were still in my left hand and the lead rope for Dandy was still in my right hand because I could no longer feel them. At about this time my butt was also becoming incredibly sadly sore, my inner thigh muscles were tensing up, and my knees were screaming…again there were still 3 hours left to get through! With about an hour left, my entire body was soaked and I was shaking and chattering my teeth. I have very little memory of this now and I am not even completely sure how I kept going when all I wanted to do was fall off the horse, curl up in a ball, and go to sleep.

When we finally got back to the ranch and I got inside, I was shaking so strongly and uncontrollably that even the basic functions of removing my shoes and changing into dry clothes became nearly impossible. I could not hold a mug of hot chocolate without spilling it because I was shaking so much. It took two hours, two cups of hot chocolate, a cup of hot tea, a hot spaghetti dinner (thank you, Chris) and sitting by the wood stove for the shaking to stop. The goal was to be able to drive back to Lander that night. However, the steady rain during the ride became a torrential down pour and flooded out the roads. And these mountain dirt roads filled with switch backs basically disintegrate in heavy, sustained rain. So, I was at the ranch one more night, and sadly no hot shower to look forward too. But you know what, I made it through. I am back in Lander, my fingers and toes are still cold and tingling, I am wearing gloves and it is 70 degrees out, but I got through it. Now for the big hike out next week…in the same area!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Kay permalink
    September 16, 2011 10:34 am

    What a day!!! (Two days…) Well, it will become an exciting memory in years to come. Hope the hiking is not as bad, or at least that it doesn’t rain on you again.

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