It all started when I was assigned a research project on states in 5th grade. We each got to pick a commonwealth and dive deep into the history, topographical geography, and economics of the region. I really wanted Vermont, which is known for its great show jumping horses, and the 10-year old me loved horses. Fortunately for me, a classmate had already taken this state, and I was assigned Montana.
After the completion of my project, I became obsessed with this state. The photos that I found on the internet and in our encyclopedia were so rugged, expansive, and vast, completely different than the quaint towns and hillsides of New Hampshire. Tales of cowboys rounding up cattle; hunters controlling the populations of beasts like elk, mountain lions, deer, moose, and bison; and the idea of unobstructed views as far as the eye could see overwhelmed my travel bucket lists, and filled my most daring dreams since that day.
After hearing about a life-altering, all women’s trip called Kicks for Chicks at Triple Creek Ranch in Darby, Montana from one of my closest friends nine years ago, I started realistically planning to take this amazing trek of my own. The highlights included climbing thousands of feet in altitude on horseback in the snow, exploring the sage-covered hills that rolled their ways to the feet of majestic mountains, and creating a bond with the work horses you ride over the four days.
Back in January of this year, this same friend from nine years ago connected with two mutual friends who were also down-to-earth horse-passionate friends and convinced us all to actually book our spot on the Klicks for Chicks adventure in 2019 to celebrate our friendship and my 30th birthday. I immediately felt a rush of excitement as soon as it was official, the fresh mountain air would finally fill my lungs and the accomplishment of achieving this life-long dream would actually come true. It was finally my turn to live out this wild Montana vacation that had been floating around in my head for the last 20 years. Once I saw the path to this aspiration become a reality, the hardest thing I had to do was wait for the day to finally arrive.
A few weeks out, I started packing the largest suitcase I owned with all of my riding pants, helmet, riding boots, waterproof gear, snow pants, and multiple layers to keep me warm while braving the ever-changing weather that comes with being at an altitude of 6,500 feet above sea level. I was determined to be prepared for everything, which in hindsight is ironic since I dislocated my shoulder on my last day. I ended up wearing the majority of what I packed, which was a good sign that I was plenty prepared.
The morning finally came. Nervous, excited butterflies filled my stomach on the way to the airport. What was the ranch going to look like? What would my horse for the week be like? How are the rooms going to be set up? Would I like flying Alaska Airlines? Would we make all of our flight connections and would my bag make it to Montana? What would the food be like? All of these questions subsided when I saw my friends waiting for me at the gate. Hugs, squeels of happiness, and pure joy filled my soul. I knew this vacation was going to be more than my dreams could have ever imagined.
As the second plane soared through the monumental mountains with snow capped peaks coming in for a landing, I smiled and sighed with immense satisfaction. The next week I would be living my dreams in the Big Sky State. Once debarking the plane in Missoula, Montana, we met our driver from the ranch at the small airport gate and made the 1.5 hour drive to the ranch. We wove our way through the Bitterroot mountain range to our homebase for the next few days. Herds of elk, bison, cows, and horses spotted the grass fields as we climbed the winding drive to the main cabin to check-in.
Greeted by Barbra at the front desk, the first thing I noticed was the rustic structure covered in original artwork of cowboys, native american tribes, and horses — it felt like a western art museum nestled in the peaceful quiet of the mountains. She informed us that dinner was being served and we immediately headed to the second floor, where we were greeted by pleasant wait staff, some of the nicest individuals we’d ever encountered. The menus rotated for every meal, serving up dozens of appetizer, soup/salad, entree, and dessert options each night. Since this was an all inclusive trip, we were able to order whatever we wanted, even a double serving of dessert. The food was delectable and the portion sizes were just right. Never once did we feel like we over ate, but knew we were going to leave each night with our stomachs perfectly full. Upon finishing, we were given our cabin assignment — Sapphire, a two bedroom, four person cabin which is considered one of the best.
When entering the front door which was on the second floor, we walked into a compact kitchenette with a four-person kitchen table, which opened up to the living space complete with a small desk, sectional, and fireplace. A sliding door was located at the opposite side of the room which lead to the hot tub, one of the favorite aspects for all guests as it can be used any time of year. The bedroom was to the left, after the staircase that lead down to the second bedroom. A large king bed was the focal point of the room, flanked by artwork and bedside tables made from solid wood. The real star of the rooms were the bathrooms; central to the space was the massive shower completed with three shower heads and a bench. On either side of the shower were sinks and two toilet rooms, yes, each person had their own toilet! The space was exactly the same on each floor, bedroom, small living space, and bathrooms. We fell into our beds, ready to start our Big Sky adventure on horseback!
The next few days were filled with indescribable sights and 360 degree views of untamed, unbridled, untouched landscapes and wilderness at top my trusted steed, Duke. The eight-year old Fox Trotter had a story in his eyes and raised to 16.2 hands. In other words, he was a pretty tall horse! He and I connected after about 30 minutes of riding. He was a fast walker and not the most sure footed, but he was sturdy and took care of me when traversing the mountains of Montana. Riding him, even when I dislocated my right shoulder trying to get on him the last day, was one of the greatest joys from my trip. I truly felt the same energy from him as my late dog Duke. I don’t think this was a coincidence — it was a sign that he will always be with me, to open my heart to new animals, and to continue to enjoy the slower side of life. I was lucky enough to have received a piece of his mane tied around a candle at the end of the week, so that I can be reminded of these moments with him.
The horse bonding, mountain climbing, and hill exploring were all true and so were five-star delicious meals at all times of the day, authentic cabin-living with fireplaces in every room, and the most cathartic moments to be had on horseback in lands with unobstructed views. Overall, this trip far exceeded my expectations and rung in a new decade for me, full of reminders of patience and calmness. I can’t wait to head back to this ranch someday soon, and this time, hopefully with Phil!