For whatever reason, I’ve developed a habit of not researching places before I visit them – I just book and go. Rather impulsive I know, but researching tends to fill your head with preconceived notions and I’m the kind of girl who would rather be surprised. Let me also preface this travel story by saying I’m not a fan of horses. I know, I know – what kind of adventure-loving human doesn’t like horses? The answer: me.
I recently visited Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish, Montana for their Cowgirl Up Weekend. Yes, it’s a dude ranch and yes that means horses galore. I knew there were a ton of other things to keep me occupied while at the ranch – archery, skeet shooting, hiking, canoeing, line dancing, wine tasting, a spa day, campfires and s’mores, getting lost in nature and tons of other outdoor activities – so the omission of horses on my part didn’t bother me. It was the simple fact to be around them and see staff (and other guests) going on all day rides, and coming back sharing their smiles and their experiences. I get it – it sounds cheesy – perhaps one of those you had to be there moments.
The ranch itself was beyond beautiful, but it’s the intangibles from this trip I will hold near and dear to my heart. Back to my not researching places before I visit – I was completely clueless that guests stayed in a lodge (or in tents glamping just outside the lodge) – which meant all of us were basically under one roof. Some sharing bathrooms, others not. It created a unique bonding experience I wasn’t quite expecting. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure that was an experience I wanted, until after a few days when the intangibles started to settle in.
Each meal was family style (about eight people at each table all in the same kitchen area) and at a designated (and rather strict) time each day. A dry erase board in the kitchen would denote our daily activities each morning, including mealtimes, which were always signaled by an actual dinner bell that rang throughout the property including the barn, the stables, the camps and cabins.
I feel like I learned more life lessons after spending six days with these women (13 women total), than I have in six years – maybe more. The ages of the women varied – I was the youngest by at least 15 years and the oldest was 80 (Peggy). Peggy, also from Texas, was by far the most interesting. I found myself stuck on every word she had to say – even the silly ones like “I only drink bourbon and water.” Why? BECAUSE SHE’S 80 and moves, acts and talks like she’s 40. She’s happy. She’s seen life, she’s experienced it, and she has so much knowledge and so many stories bottled up inside her barely aged skin. As someone still clumsily traipsing through life, I soaked up each of her stories and life lessons she so willingly shared with all of us.
Another woman, from Ohio in her late 50’s shared her experiences with adoption and the heartbreak that came along with losing one of her sweet babies. Her oldest son has Autism, but her spirit and love in which she spoke of him and described his daily life was unearthly. She didn’t hide the fact it was a hard journey raising him, but it also showed her incredible strength and reminded me to not sweat the small stuff. Three others owned their own companies – two were married with kids, the other not. One woman was from England, another a recovering (and very open and honest) alcoholic. Imagine the unlimited wisdom just from a sampling of these amazing women.
And then there’s the staff at Bar W, all with their own very unique and intriguing stories. My room actually had a TV (only two in the entire lodge), but over the course of six days guess how many times I turned it on? Answer: ZERO. Who needs TV when you’ve got women with true grit sitting across from you at the dinner table or next to you at the campfire roasting s’mores?
The time we spent in the close and intimate quarters of the lodge afforded us the chance to bond and share our stories. Not just our own individual wisdom we learned along the way, but the mistakes we’ve made and the prices we’ve paid. We laughed. We made fun of each other. We made fun of ourselves. We even caught some of it on video!
“Life beings at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch
I am by nature a pretty private person (minus the life I lead on social media of course). I’m an only child and sometimes Type-A. The setup of the lodge was a bit scary at first. Sure my room was large enough to keep me sectioned off from the others, but if I hadn’t stepped out of my comfort zone, I’d probably have just left this quiet little ranch with some great pictures and nothing more. I’m starting to learn more and more that life is all about the intangibles – and there’s no reason intangibles can’t be found on vacation. Well, a good vacation that is.
Click here for more information on 2015 Cowgirl Up dates and information.
Jayme Lamm is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Houston focusing on travel writing and is in a full-court press writing her hugely opinionated sports column, The Blonde Side. Be sure to follow Jayme’s travel and sports adventures on Twitter @jaymelamm.