"Fly fishing is my passion, hunting is my weakness, and mules are a perplexing addiction."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013



My life is full of “it seemed like a good idea at the time” moments.  Like when Lecil Hadley and I packed into the Golden Trout Wilderness on our annual deer hunting pack trip, and on a steep section of trail with a drop-off steeper than a cows face to our right, I noticed the load on one of Leese’s pack mules began to shift dramatically.  Of course the load couldn’t tilt to the uphill side of the trail; that would make the situation considerably easier.  No, it began sliding to the right and it was just a matter of moments before things were about to turn western. 

I informed Leese of the predicament, and glancing back at his string, the old muleskinner grumbled something about some place in Florida with a sunny beach as he stopped to dismount.  He would, however, need some help as the boxes were heavier than Tammy Faye Baker’s make-up bags.  

With my three pack mules neatly in tow, I dallied the lead rope to my lead mule, Zane, and jumped off my horse, rushing ahead to help Lecil get his panniers off his mule and retie the load.  I overlooked one, minor detail, however, I failed to secure my horse’s lead rope to something simply because Cody is the good child of my herd and always stands quietly.  In other words, I don’t have to worry about his wandering off.  Besides, where could he possibly go?  He was on a narrow, mountain trail that wasn’t much wider than a well-fed needle. There simply was no way he could possibly turn around.  The brush on the uphill slope was so thick the snakes had to climb to see out, not to mention he had three loaded pack mules behind him that were all tied together and tethered to him.

In a jiffy Lecil’s load was on the ground and we were in the process of resituating the pack saddle when I couldn’t help but take notice of a mildly disturbing event unfolding behind me; that would be my riding horse leisurely waltzing up the trail away from us, and yes, the three pack mules were following; still tethered together.  Faster than a fat lady on a buttered handrail I left Lecil to his misery and shot up the trail in an effort to foil the escape of my four criminals. 

Upon reflection, I suppose it might have been the sight of my eyeballs popping out of my head at the terrifying thought of my remuda and pack gear scattered from hell to breakfast as the result of the potential wreck I was envisioning. Or maybe it was the curious cackling noise of my coughing up a lung as I raced up the steep trail, sounding much like a tractor trying to start on a cold Montana morning.  Even more probable was the fact that my riding horse had no doubt come to the sudden realization that my pistol was nestled in the horn bag that was secured on the saddle upon his back, and the thought probably crossed his pea-brain that I might well use it on him.  Whatever the reason, Cody began to quicken the pace as I closed in on the wayward felons.

Now this particular section of trail is a corn maze of switchbacks for about the first mile or so, and being only slightly smarter than my horse, I cleverly hit upon another of those absolutely genius ideas I am so famous for; the thought being that if I could dash up the mountain through the thick brush to the trail above quickly enough, I could cut off the foursome’s getaway and be back in a jiffy, thereby avoiding the inevitable ridicule from Lecil that was sure to come.  Imagine my glee to discover, some twenty minutes later, that I had made an apparent miscalculation in regards to the exact location of the trail above. 
Upon this enlightening discovery I determined I couldn’t go back down hill from whence I came because, well, that would be embarrassing, so I calculated that if I changed direction and headed ninety degrees left, traversing the side of the mountain, I would have to encounter the trail reasonably soon.

Rocky Mountain sheep would have gazed in awe at my nimbleness and daring as I crawled, clawed, climbed, and leapt across the side of the mountain.  Suddenly, there in front of me, was the trail.  Woo-who, I had done it!

“Ah thought ya’ll went ta catch yer critters,” drawled Lecil, sitting on a rock and puffing on a cigarette as I stepped out of the brush and onto the trail not ten feet from where I had began my torture trek.

“Naw,” I said, brushing the leaves and dirt off me. “Had to use the bathroom; took longer than I thought.  Welp, guess I better go catch my critters!”

I must confess that after following my herd’s tracks back up the trail for another thirty-minutes, it was disturbingly comfortable to look up on the ridge above me and discover my renegade remuda standing quiet as a stone watching me trudge up the trail.  I then noticed something else.  My number two mule’s load seemed a bit askew.  In fact, the entire load was hanging as upside-down as cave full of bats.

Upon arriving at the scene of the crime I had to do a double-take.  Cody, my lead horse was now at the back of the pack.  Abby and Emma, my number two and three mules, were still tied to Zane Grey, but the number two mule was standing atop of Zane’s lead rope that had come unwrapped from my horse’s saddle horn and was trailing behind him as he led the parade up the mountain.    

Lecil was propped up against a rock, his hat pulled down over his eyes.

“Okay, ya ready to go,” I said, as I pulled up behind his string and stopped.

“Don’t it look like I’m ready ta go,” he drawled, scooting his hat back into position and grunting as he pushed himself up?  Lecil pulled his lanky frame up on his saddle mule and settled in.  Then he placed his hand upon his mule’s rump, leaned back and turned around.
“Ya know; Ah seen it right off and figured what wus gonna happen, but why azactly din’t ya tie thet horse-a-yourn when ya jumped off,” he asked, grinnin’ like a dog eating peanut butter from a wire brush.

“I don’t know,” I grumbled, a bit puzzled by his statement.  “Guess it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Half-an-hour later, as we stopped at the Little Kern to water our stock before crossing and heading up the canyon, it suddenly dawned on me as Lecil’s earlier comment rattled around my head like a BB in a boxcar.

“You mean to tell me you saw that I didn't tie my horse, not to mention you knew what was going to happen, and you didn't think that maybe, just maybe, it might have been prudent to say something like, oh, I don’t know, like, hey idiot; tie your horse?” I asked.  

“Ah, I dunno,” he said thoughfully, as he placed his hand on his mule’s rump, turned in the saddle and grinned.  “Ah suppose it wuz fer the same reason why ya din’t tie your pony ta sumthin’ in the first palce.”

“Yeah,” I grumbled, “And what might that be?”

“Welp,” he drawled, turning forward in his saddle clucking for his mule to move out. “Guess et jes seemed like a good idea at the time!”

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