Jennifer Vernick

Elk Creek Ranch

At the age of fourteen I was unwillingly deported from Lexington, Massachusetts to the middle of nowhere, Cody, Wyoming.  Months prior to the summer of 2004 I had attended a camp fair with my mom.  I left the camp fair with brochures to camps in Maine, safaris in Africa, and a ranch in Wyoming.  All of the other camps sounded interesting, but Wyoming boasted of treks through the Beartooth Mountains, a horse that would be my own for four weeks, log cabins, and beautiful views of mountains and cliffs and canyons and rivers wherever you turned.  Life in the middle of nowhere.

Wyoming won out and plane tickets were bought.  For the first time in my life I would be flying alone.  At first I could not have been more excited.  I was finally considered an adult.  My parents trusted me.  The excitement was short lived.  Within a month I started dreading what would be a day full of infinite possibilities to get lost and end up in Scotland rather than my intended destination of Wyoming.  At first I joked with friends about airplane bathrooms but soon enough the jokes turned to debilitating fears.  What if I got stuck in the bathroom and nobody noticed that I had gone missing? This was easily remedied by abstaining from using the unsanitary plane restrooms.  Not so easily resolved was navigating all of the gates of a massive airport.  My mom printed out a map of the airport where I would be changing planes.  At first it was a reassurance but then that too led to incalculable terror.  What if I held the map upside down and ended up boarding the wrong plane?

The countdown to Wyoming was getting shorter and the list of nightmarish scenarios kept multiplying.  What if all the people there hated me?  What if my horse hated me?  What if I fell off the side of one of the gorgeous mountains while enjoying one of the breathtaking views of the precipitous heights and orange cliffs?  The list went on.  An agreement between my mom and me was reached.  If I still hated Wyoming five days after I got there I could fly home.
The alarm blared.  Through bleary eyes I could see the numbers 4:45.  Delightful.  I pulled myself out of bed and readied myself for the long day ahead.  I boarded the plane in Boston, and about seven hours later and one mad dash across the Denver airport I landed in Billings, Montana.  After a long car ride in a van that was filled with a rancid odor, awkward silence, and hot and dusty air, we arrived in Cody, Wyoming.  Welcome to Elk Creek Ranch.

By the second morning in Wyoming I had no desire to return home.  Ever.  The next three and a half weeks flew by.  The words middle of nowhere gained new meaning.  Not only was I in the forgotten state of Wyoming, but we were forty minutes away from town and only got mail on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  From the infinite fields of long green grass only eight houses could be seen.

Also to my liking was my horse, Kahlua.  We formed a bond involving oats and her listening to my every command.  She hardly ever walked me into trees and she sped up whenever I asked.  In the first week of ranch life we headed down to the barrel fields.  I had only seen barrel racing a few times before, and it had always been by professionals who cut the turns so sharp that the horses were nearly horizontal.  They would go with blinding speed as if their only goal was to intimidate the spectators.  The examples in Wyoming were equally intimidating.  And to think I was expected to navigate the obstacle course that was the barrels.  I mounted my horse and prepared for the race. My horse, being the oldest on the ranch, clearly knew the ways of the barrels and aptly guided me through my fears.  I lacked the blinding speed and horizontal turns but I imagine the feeling was just as phenomenal.  The wind blew my hair back as my horse and I charged forward.  Just like every other experience from Wyoming, its excitement and exhilaration remains unparalleled.

My last week in Wyoming brought me even further into the middle of nowhere.  We mounted our horses and embarked on a four day trip to a place ominously labeled as Damnation Basin.  My horse, fittingly named Calamity Jane, was a cute little bay pony with a chunk missing from one of her ears because of frost bite. She was sweet to nearly all people but would not abide other horses.  Every time another horse got too close, her mutilated ear would shoot back and her hooves would fly.  It took us two days of walking and bucking to arrive at our destination and a most painful ten hour ride to return to the ranch.  The agonizing waddle upon dismounting our horses and a diet of mush also known as oatmeal were all worth it.  Damnation Basin was nearly 11,000 feet up and you felt as if you were on top of the world.  You could see the surrounding glaciers and the violet of the Grand Tetons in the distance.  The night brought stars the likes of which I had never seen and cold the likes of which made my brand new EMS sleeping bag seem like a ratty old sheet.  The next day we returned to the ranch only to face the tragedy of going home.

Four weeks after my initial expulsion to Wyoming I was once again being deported against my will.  This time however, it was from Wyoming to Massachusetts.    

The next summer I couldn’t wait to get on the plane and return to Wyoming.  I returned to the ranch to find it just as I had left it.  The middle of nowhere.  Welcome to Elk Creek Ranch. 

 

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