Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Weekend from Hell

Two years ago, my best rope horse went lame. I have no idea how she injured herself, or the exact nature of the injury, but she came up short on her left hind leg. It didn’t get better. Not that summer, or that fall, or the next summer. Then miraculously, in March of this year, I went out to check the horses in the pasture and she was running sound.


I sat down and plotted out a dozen rodeos I wanted to enter, mostly approved by the United Indian Rodeo Association, mostly within an hour’s drive of my house. At the first one, in Standoff, Alberta in March, I was so excited to be roping on Ember again I could barely see straight (yeah, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).

I missed the second rodeo due to a rather large snowstorm. And in mid-May, before I even started practicing for my summer run, our three year old kicked Ember and took her out of commission again. Possibly for good. I should have taken the hint and quit then.

To say that the remainder of the rodeos did not go well would be something of an understatement. I can’t blame it on the horse. Nico did his part. I roped bad when I drew good and drew bad more often than not. But as ugly as it’s been, it cannot compare to the Weekend from Hell.

It was early in my marriage, when we were still living in South Dakota, and it started, as most disasters do, with a Plan. After perusing the mid-July rodeo schedules, we figured out we could enter five rodeos in three days, beginning on the east end of South Dakota, circling up to central North Dakota, then back down to central South Dakota.

The first glitch in the plan came when we called back to the Central Entry offices to see how we’d drawn up. Yes, we could still make all five rodeos. But we would be roping in the timed event slack after the rodeo on Friday night in Webster, a hop and skip from the Minnesota border, then I was up the next morning in White Shield, a fair hike north of Bismarck.

I gathered up clothes for both of us. Spent approximately half a day ironing shirts. Packed a cooler full of sandwich makings and Pepsi. Put on my favorite black shirt, a little on the heavier side because it was going to be chilly in Webster. We were set.

I nodded for my calf in Webster at just after eleven p.m., slack being slightly delayed by the bucking bull that hurdled the arena fence and went for a stroll through the contestant parking lot, right between our trailer and the one parked next to it. Anybody who says white men can’t jump didn’t see our friend Jeff hop flat-footed into the back of a four wheel drive pickup. I have noticed that athletic ability is greatly enhanced by a ton and half of snot-blowing motivation.

I missed my calf. Greg broke the barrier. Money won: zilch.

Slack in White Shield was scheduled to start at eight a.m. Which meant I needed to be up by seven, minimum, to be dressed, saddled, caffeinated and ready to rope. We left Webster at eleven-thirty. There are three hundred and forty five miles of mostly narrow, two-lane, deer-infested highways between the two. Go ahead, do the math. Yes. You got it. An hour and a half of fully horizontal, non-mobile sleep. That’s not even a better than average nap.

When the alarm went off, I dragged myself out of bed, dug clean socks and underwear out of the duffle bag, pulled on last night's jeans and stuffed contact lenses into a pair of bleary eyeballs. Times like this, it would have been good to own a decent pair of glasses, but I hated mine and hadn’t updated the frames or lenses in years.

I reached for a clean shirt. Something a little more lucky than old black had turned out to be. My hand came up empty. I blinked a few times, forcing the gritty contacts into focus. But the spot where the shirts were supposed to be hanging was still bare.

Which was when I realized I’d left the garment bags with all the clean shirts and jeans hanging on the back of the bedroom door.

I fished old black out of the laundry bag, shook out the wrinkles, and got myself ready to rope what turned out to be one of the fastest Longhorn calves in existence. Well, I think it was a calf. All I really saw was a narrow white blur somewhere in the distance.

We had four hours to kill between slack and the afternoon performance, when Greg would rope. Had we been anywhere near civilization, this would have been a prime opportunity to find a store and remedy our shirtless situation. But I’ve been to White Shield, North Dakota three times and have yet to locate an actual town.

Also, the temperature had climbed considerably from the day before. Those heavy cotton shirts we’d worn to the night rodeo in Webster were beginning to display their thermal properties. Thank the Lord we packed the deodorant in the duffle bag.

Greg roped, we threw the horses in the trailer, and peeled out. Normally, evening rodeos don’t start until around seven o’clock, but Turtle Lake doesn’t have any lights so they were rodeoing at five. We rolled in with ten minutes to spare. I don’t recall exactly what transpired in the roping. I do know it did not involve winning money.

The minute we were done, we jumped the horses back in the trailer and hauled butt for Bismarck. It was our one and only chance at replacement shirts, given that it was the only town on our route with a population of more than two thousand. Probably, things have changed by now. But back in those days, Bismarck locked up tight at nine on Saturday evening. Their mall didn’t even open on Sundays.

We rolled into the WalMart parking lot at nine o’clock straight up. Greg refused to let me pound on the doors and beg for mercy.

Rumpled, smelly and dejected, we meandered the remaining three hours south to Lemmon, where we didn’t have to rope until the next afternoon, when the temperature was expected to climb into the nineties. I wondered if anyone in town might be having a yard sale. Greg told me to suck it up, ol' black was a perfectly good shirt.

We slept until the morning sun turned our mobile bedroom into an extra large oven. My eyeballs felt like they’d been rolled in river silt, so I didn’t bother to put on my contacts while I stumbled around feeding and watering horses and dousing them in fly spray. Then we decided to wander into town to find some breakfast.

The temperature inside the pickup was approximately two hundred and ten degrees. I settled into the passenger seat, still groggy, and started scrubbing two days worth of rodeo dust off my right contact lens. Greg fired up the ol’ diesel and rolled down the windows. I ran half a bottle of contact solution over the lens, propped it on the end of my finger, and lifted it toward my eyeball, just as Greg turned onto the highway.

A breeze whipped through the cab, plucked the lens off my finger and flung it out the window.

I stared after it, stunned. Greg slammed on the brakes. But there was no way we were going to find a contact lens somewhere in a ten yard stretch of waist high grass. I had no spares along. Hadn’t bothered to even pack my out-dated glasses.

Thus began a mad scramble to find a replacement lens on a Sunday morining with three hours to go before rodeo time. In a town barely large enough to support two gas stations. The optometrist’s office was closed, of course, but God bless small towns, because the lady behind the counter in the convenience store happened to know the woman who worked for the eye doctor and called her at home and explained our predicament. And I—yes, the same person who yesterday did not recognize the guy who works at the auto body shop across the street from my office and whose Pepsi machine I regularly pump quarters into—I knew my contact lens prescription from memory. And they had one in stock.

One hour before rodeo time I was once again able to see out of both eyes. Not that it made me rope any better, but at least I felt like I had a fighting chance if I could actually locate the calf. Greg made an awesome run. Seven point eight seconds. Plus ten for the broken barrier. Sigh.

We, along with everyone else competing, blasted out of the parking lot for Dupree, ninety miles south. If we could maintain an average land speed of seventy miles an hour over the rolling hills, we’d make it with a minute or two to spare. The temperature had blown past ninety and was closing in on a hundred. Ol’ black was beginning to smell like a locker room full of sweaty hockey players. But at least there was air conditioning in the pickup.

“Oh, crap,” Greg said. Or something along those lines.


“The pickup is overheating. I either have to slow down or turn off the air conditioner.”

Dupree is nothing but a hazy, sweat-logged blur. I think I may have caught my calf. I know I didn’t win anything. But finally, the Weekend from Hell was over. I peeled off old black, tossed it in a corner, and put on my short-sleeved pajama top. We pointed the pickup for home, but only as fast as we could go and still have air conditioning.

Two and a half days, five rodeos, nine hundred and fifty two miles. Zero dollars won. But hey, at least I didn’t have a big pile of laundry to wash the next day.. 


Rachel said...

My goodness what an adventure! Wish you'd won a little something out of it all, but now that you're sitting in good air conditioning and looking back I'm sure it was fun?

Linda G. said...

Oh. My. Gawd. I just feel to SORRY for you. After all that, you deserved to at least win something. :(

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I'm sure it seems more an adventure when looking back upon it than it did at the time. But no big pile of dirty laundry surely made up for it.

commoncents said...

Just wanted to say I really like your blog - keep up the great work!

Common Cents

TheRanchWife said...

Nice to see another Ranch Wife Blogger! Love it! Your southern neighbor, Kacee aka TheRanchWife

Kari Lynn Dell said...

My computer has been acting up, so I'm a little slow responding, but thanks for the comments everyone, good to see a couple of new faces. Hope you'll all keep stopping by!

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