This story has nothing to do with triathlon, endurance sport, or anything else that you are likely familiar with. But it’s a story I like to tell so just humor me and read on.
Romantic Life of the Cowboy
In the 1990’s, I used to work for a very large cattle company in Billings, Montana. Before you get all romantic with ideas of riding a horse into the sunset and spending Christmases singing songs on the back of a horse drawn wagon on a starry night, let me paint a more realistic picture.
My office was not a 60,000 acre calving pasture and my executive chair had neither horn nor stirrups. It was in a building on Airport Rd in the city. As far as offices go, it was nice. I had a great view out the sliding glass door, but it was not often that I had a chance to put my roping and riding skills to use.
Before taking that position, I had always dreamt of being out on the range and living the romantic cowboy life even though I knew better. At one level I knew the cowboy life was difficult and didn’t pay much. But at another level I wanted to believe that the Hollywood version of the Lorne Greens, Barbara Stanwicks and Chuck Connors was waiting for me. I also wanted to believe that I could still qualify for the National Finals Rodeo if I could just practice my roping. What I wanted to do and what I actually did are two different things.
Real Life of a Cowboy
One day in late Spring, possibly 1999, Lori and I decided to meet for lunch. Actually, Lori swears it was Fall of 1997, because she remembers being pregnant with our daughter, so let’s go with that.
Anyway, we met at the office, jumped in my truck and headed up Airport Road, by the (you guessed it) airport. To the North of Billings is a line of Bluffs that look out over the city and the Yellowstone River. It’s really quite beautiful. Billings Logan International Airport sits on top of these bluffs. There are three ways to get to Billings from the airport. Airport Road leads to the East side of town, 27th Street to the center of town. And Zimmerman trail is a tight, curvy little road that takes its travelers to the West part of town.
We drove down 27th street where we found our restaurant. Afterward, it was an easy decision to take Zimmerman Trail back to the top of the bluffs just for some variety and scenery.
After reaching the top of the bluffs and driving a little way toward the airport, we noticed a truck and stock trailer parked on the side of the road. Something looked odd about that situation.
It took me a couple of glances to realize that the back door of the trailer was broken which can only mean one thing: loose livestock. Sure enough, a big beautiful heifer was running loose along the fence around the airport. There may have been others, but the memory is a bit foggy about that. This was my chance to show off some cowboy roping skills that I had acquired from watching Will Rogers movies in my childhood.
I was on foot and Lori followed with the Truck. There was an officer in a patrol car helping out too. Lariat in hand, I was ready to catch a 700 pound heifer (that’s about 320 kg for my Canadian, Mexican, Australian, South African, Italian, Spanish and British friends). The patrol car slowly moved behind the heifer, pushing her toward me along the airport security fence. Within 30 feet of me, that young cow picked up her pace to a jog making a path between me and the fence. I was ready with the rope.
All it took was two swings of the loop. On the first swing, miss bovine shifted gears from jog to “get-the-hell-out-of-here” : still on course between me and the fence. After the second swing of the rope, I let go aiming for the back of her neck. It’s a pretty sight to see a lariat’s loop gently graze the back of a cow’s neck and fall into place over her head, but she was too fast and I was too slow. There was no time to pull out the slack so she ran through the loop… almost.
There’s an immeasurably small moment in time when you execute a decision and when you realize the consequences of that decision. The slack pulled out of the loop after her front feet ran through. The rope was around her body, not her neck. And that’s the moment I had the realization: I’m on foot, what am I going to do with a 700 pound heifer? The answer came rather quickly in the form of a nasty rope burn as the nylon rope slid through my hands and I was yanked to the ground.
Staring at the ground which was inches from my face, I could only think of one thing: there’s a heifer running loose around the Billings airport with a 30 foot rope dragging behind her. When I pulled myself up, I saw that the heifer was standing still in a face off with the patrol car. That’s just weird.
Walking closer to the scene, I could see that one of the car tires was parked on the end of my rope and the heifer couldn’t get away. I don’t remember the rest of the story. I know I got my rope back somehow and the heifer was loaded in a trailer.
The rope burns are long gone and the story is a bit hazy in the memory, but it’s one of those things that brings you out of the fog of romance and into the brightness of reality.
If I ever call myself a cowboy, it’s only because I don’t know enough about being a cowboy to know that I’m not a cowboy.
Until next time…