This is an amazing story and one that you may or may not believe-but it’s true. The business of dude ranching is so much more than horses and ranching and wildlife and spectacular country. It’s really the business of people-but only if you take the time to watch, sit and listen….and believe.
This family (unnamed) visited the ranch about 3 years ago. A family of four: mom, dad, daughter and son. They came to ride and they specifically came to book a pack trip in the back country in our wilderness camps. It was August. We were long into our season and starting to get tired. And we were busy. If the truth be known, the wranglers were really struggling to make the trip. These pack trips are a lot of work for the crew and the ranch. Packing mules, preparing meals, being away for 3 days, etc. It’s a wonderful experience for the guests, as well as the crew, but it’s the preparation that’s overwhelming before it even starts.
This family was insistent on taking this trip and we just couldn’t even figure out why-but it was extremely important that they go on this trip. So off they go-3 wranglers, 4 mules and the family of four. Gone for 3 days. On the third day out and back to the ranch, they ride over a 10,000 foot mountain, with 360 degrees of spectacular views. you’re literally on top of the world. Once they reach this point, they soon return into radio contact with the ranch. We always anxiously await their call to make sure everything went okay.
Our worst fears are realized. The call comes in. Several of the horses and mules escaped the hot wiring fencing that night and one of the wranglers was out there rounding them up. He had to stay behind with 3 of the family members while they packed up and saddled to head out. Our lead wrangler and packer, experienced in wilderness certification and first aid, called in to say that the mom was sick the whole trip and she was bringing her out. She didn’t want to wait any longer since it was going to take a while to pack everybody out. Nothing serious, but mom just didn’t feel right the whole trip and really needed to get back to the ranch. At least it wasn’t anything serious like a medical emergency. She could ride out on her own and was feeling up to the task.
Upon her return, I went to her cabin and did some basic vital signs: blood pressure, temperature glucose level, etc. Her vitals were very low, including her blood sugar. I reviewed her symptoms with her (in my previous life I was a clinical pharmacist and somewhat knowledgeable about health care issues) and got a background on her medical history. Now this information is taken prior to any pack trip, but sometimes we only get the information that is immediately relevant from the family. In this case, the mom had been diagnosed with early stage cancer five years before but had been in remission for a long time. I was concerned.
All moved along smoothly. Mom felt much better after she rested. The rest of the family, herd and crew all returned as planned, and everybody was happy and showed up for dinner that night. We were all “happy campers”. When the family left, I asked them to please keep in touch and let me know how she feels, and strongly encouraged her to visit her oncology doctor when she got home. Another “satisfied” customer.
Unfortunately, as I feared, when she got home she discovered her cancer returned and she went through a very difficult year. Her prognosis was poor. It was very sad to follow. Her husband told me that this pack trip was their last trip together as a family and it was extremely important they did this. He kept a picture of the mountains and wildflowers that they got to experience on their trip and put it in her hospital room to always bring a smile to her face and remember how much fun they had. This was their “bucket list” and we had fulfilled their dream.
It was almost a year from that trip when Mom passed away. It broke my heart to hear that. At the same time this was going on, a mother fox had just had kits right behind the ranch and she started hanging around the cabins.
She was definitely a wild animal. Not a pet by any stretch of the imagination. But she was friendly. It wasn’t like you could go up and pet her, but she stayed around the ranch, and specifically around the cabins. Ironically, around the cabin where the family had stayed just a year before. JT and I have never seen a fox at the ranch. And after this experience, we have yet to see another one. It was quite unusual and somewhat eerie how close she stayed to the cabin.
This mother fox very clearly wanted to stay around the ranch, but just for the period of time that paralleled the passing away of the mom from the family. Now here’s the “rest of the story”. The last name of the family (and I have permission to tell this story) is “Fox”. We have never seen her again, even years later.
So what did I learn from this amazing story that still gives me chills even today. I firmly believe that our guest returned to the ranch for one last visit. This experience meant more to her and her family more than I ever realized. I’ve also learned to understand that these trips to the ranch from our guests go far beyond a simple vacation. It’s a drink for the soul. A family sharing a common bond. A chance to experience life away from the hustle and bustle of every day living. It’s not a reservation-it’s a dream come true. But only if you see beyond the business.
I love this family. They will always be in my heart and I’m grateful for the lessons they’ve taught me. I know you’re reading this, and I want you to know just how special you all are. Thank you.