Friday, August 13, 2010

In Perspective — Taming The Wild West on a Rhino

In Perspective -- Taming the Wild West on a Rhino

By Rodney Hays

What would Marshal Matt Dillon think of the world today?

I started pondering that a little last week as I spent the weekend on a real life trail ride. My trail ride was quite a bit different than anything Matt Dillon was probably ever on.

The trail ride started on a ranch in Western Oklahoma on the South Canadian River near the town of Camargo. Camargo is a thriving community of 115 people or so with a store, a post office and, as most small Oklahoma towns, a bank to serve the hundred or so customers.

I got there a day early, so our gang decided to go up the river to check things out.

Back in the day when trail rides meant driving cattle to market or discovering a new frontier, most of the riders rode horses or sat in some type of horse-drawn carriage. I'm sure when the cowboys of old started out they looked forward to the trail, the freedom, the wide-open spaces. They saddled their horse, put a bed roll on the back, filled up a canteen and some jerky and took off. Their jobs and their lives depended on it.

Our lives didn't. Thank the good Lord.

Matt Dillon, Festus and the gang probably didn't have to drive too many cattle but they spent many hours on the back of horse chasing criminals and checking on the people around Dodge City.

As I said, our trail ride was slightly different.

Instead of a horse, my trail ride began in the driver's seat of a Yamaha Rhino ATV. ATV stands for "This Ain't Matt Dillon's Horse." But, man, was it great for a ride down the sandy bed of the South Canadian River.

Instead of a pair of chaps, spurs and a cowboy hat, I wore swim trunks (a red Speedo in case you're wondering), a pair of flip-flops (thongs for those of you over the age of 40) and a cheap cowboy hat I picked up at a truck stop along the way. I have to admit that I was pretty darn sexy in my attire. Not Matt Dillon sexy, but still.

We didn't have any beef jerky but we did have plenty of ham, cheese, bread, chips, cookies, vegetables and enough beer to get the whole town of Camargo drunker than Cooter Brown.
The trail ride lasted three days. On Day One we rode from my friend David's ranch --- Riverview -- up the river to Camargo. After a brief rain two nights before, we had plenty of water to splash around and keep us cool. Day One was probably about six to 10 miles. It was fun and relaxing and made us really look forward to the second day.

Day Two we set out south to a destination that always seemed to be "just around the next bend."

There's a saying on the river where something is always just around the next bend, but it never is "just around the next bend." The destination is always more like 93 miles then around that next bend.

My friends decided to join the other dozen or so people on horseback that day. They wanted to experience the trail ride the way our forebears might have. I decided to stick with the Rhino.
Everything started out nicely. The horses were behaving, the air was warm but not too hot and the water stops along the way left us refreshed.

That was the first 30 minutes.

Then all hell broke loose on the trail. The horses were still behaving splendidly, but the saddle that was so soft and comfy in the beginning now felt like straddling a Mack truck. The air felt like it was blowing in from the Devil's lair. And the water was becoming warmer than a Starbucks' Americana. It was miserable.

After a couple of hours, my friends couldn't take the horse anymore and asked if I wanted to ride, it was really more than just a suggestion.

So my wife and I climbed aboard some horses. It was the first time we had ridden a horse in 20 years or so.

I jumped on Hank and she climbed onto Biscuit. They were buddies, good friends. Biscuit followed Hank like a puppy following a small child. And we trudged on while my friends took over the duty on the Rhino.

One small piece of advice on riding horseback: Do not attempt to ride a horse with a red Speedo -- or any color Speedo for that matter -- and a pair of flip flops (thongs for those of you over the age of 40). That attire can make a short ride seem like the Chisholm Trail.

But I was a trooper and I wanted my friends to get some relief to their hind quarters.
After what seemed like four to six hours, I asked my friend if he wanted to take back over on the horse because my ham hocks were a little tender. He told me I had only been on 38 minutes, but that he would indeed mount the fare steed Hank once more.

He lasted another 20 minutes or so before we tied up the horses to the back of the Rhino and led them the rest of the way there.

At the end of Day Two, we were tired, exhausted, dehydrated and riddled with saddle sores. We stayed for dinner, then went back to the ranch for about 12 hours of sleep.

Day Three didn't happen.

The whole experience took me back to the days of Gunsmoke and the cowboys who made so much of the great west possible. Those guys took a lot of discomfort to make a way for lots of people to have a great deal of comfort today.

In the end I don't know what Marshal Matt Dillon might think about our world today, but I think he would like the folks I met.

I got to meet plenty of people around Dewey County Oklahoma and I have to say some of them are a lot like Matt Dillon and Festus and the gang. They work a little and play a lot. They spend their days in the hot sun in the summer and the cold wind of winter.

In between they carry on the dying legacy of the cowboy and what it means to tame the wild west.

They could use a few more Miss Kitties though.

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