Saturday, 23 November 2013

Ride 'em cowboy

So you may have heard everything is bigger in Texas, well it looks like our blog is too. Get yourselves comfy and enjoy another of our most excellent adventures.

So we pick up where we left off once more, trucking into the night with our new companion. We rolled out through the never ending tungsten glow of Houston. Sat Nav guided us first down some back streets, despite my better judgement of taking a much larger route but in fear of unexpected tolls I listened for once. It was late and our busy day of shooting the breeze and occasionally tinkering had drained us all a little so the next hundred miles is but a blur in my memory. It was about an hour and a half before we made our turn into Huntsville State Park, to give Matt a gentle introduction to the road life. We made our beds grabbed a few snacks and sat down under the dark canopy of trees and tucked into a few celebratory beers and went over footage and photographs of the off-road excursion before turning in for the night.

The next day started slowly as per usual, a brief wander around our surroundings and a re-shuffle of the ‘Burb saw us closing in on mid-day. We headed out to Wal-Mart in the nearby city limits to not only restock ourselves after a week off from the monotonous task of walking the aisles, but to set up Matt with a few bits and pieces he’d need as and when he goes his separate way. From there we packed up ate and put the hammer down in the direction of Fort-Worth, one of the few places I had heard of and was looking forward to visiting, with the promise of the ‘real’ western experience. I was now out in front and running alone as Chris rode shotgun in the GMC making for an eerily quiet drive, although not without a slight bit of drama to keep us on our toes. Matt’s new Sat-nav despite being barely a day out of its box was a little wayward with its directions meaning he failed to enter the I-40 before getting stuck headed into town. I knew where I was headed so had already joined the 40 expecting to be joined at the next slip road by Matt and Chris. They sailed straight past it. I reduced my speed and sat in with the heavily laden trucks and old folks for mile after mile waiting to see the distinctive GMC L.E.D headlight surrounds in my rear view. Upon having no luck and a little fed up of waiting I pulled out the map from under the seat and spotted a rest area a few clicks north of my 20. It would give me a chance to try and either wait to spot the other two or they would pass me sometime while I took a break and I would catch them now as the ‘burb was fully capable and tested to 94.9 MPH (under safe conditions). I took my rest, had a bite to eat and hopped back in the cab of my little rig, I grabbed my phone to see what time it was and there was a text from Chris who had had to turn on his phone in hope of reconnecting the convoy. Turns out they had just passed my rest area, so with a co-ordinated speed check 5/6 junctions later I had picked up my tail and we put pedal to the metal and headed onwards before quickly stopping again as the extra turn of speed had cost us a lot of MPG’s.

A rather cheap refill of less than $100 for 34gallons at an exceptional rate of $2.80 per gallon (it doesn't quite add up I know, we don't get it either) made my day and with the trucks both brimmed and a more exact plan hatched we rolled back out onto the interstate and hit Fort Worth a few hours later.

We turned into a motel again, as we do for all our city tours and began planning the next day’s adventures. There was a sort of show at 1130am in the stockyard stations where a small herd of Longhorns would be driven through the streets by ‘cowboys’ and a few other odds and ends during the day capped by a rodeo at 8pm. So we got ourselves a bite to eat and got a reasonably early night. We woke up with a bit of toilet drama but after a bit of an educated guess we had it all working and prepared ourselves to leave. Chris and Matt dragged up the rear once more and we were now a few minutes behind schedule but not so much to get in a rush over. We popped next door to a quaint little Waffle House and ordered some grub and a cup o’ Joe. From the breakfast joint we hopped into Matt’s rental and made our way to the stockyards, unfortunately Matt had not quite adjusted to road signs or the Sat-nav and despite a few prompts took a few wrong turns. These wrong turns added up to just missing the herd moving through the streets, so we had a quick nose along the old western streets, and I mean just like the movies, although not situated in a cactus patch, it was by far the most stylish place we’d been so far if not a little touristy. We stumbled across a bit of an old western styled gun-fight which was enough to amuse us for about 10 minutes before we decided to head back out and sort our other tasks and return for the rodeo, we shot back to the motel and swapped out for the Suburban as I needed my laptop to take it in for repairs.

First on our port of call was Cavender’s boot city. I wanted to find a pair of smart cowboy boots and a few other bits and pieces while Chris wanted a flannel shirt and a trucker cap and it seemed an ideal place to start as it was just a few miles away. Conveniently for me it was also next to best buy which I needed to visit after cleverly getting my laptop soaked and after a frantic field strip to save the hard-drive the keyboard was now inactive rendering the whole machine useless so I popped in to see what could be done and a few minutes later I exited with a plug and play keyboard, which later I would find out was completely useless. I had no luck in Cavender’s while Chris exited sporting a Cavenders logo’d trucker hat. It was then on to T-Mobile, so Matt could get himself an American sim so that he could be in contact if anything goes wrong when we part company. It took a bit of time waiting in line and then even longer when they had technical difficulties with their computer. So an hour had passed and we hadn’t really got very far. Time was pressing on and we were a fair way through the afternoon, so we pressed on to Sheplers western wear for another browse. Matt bought himself some boots and a few bits and pieces while I spent a lot of time trying things on to check sizes before ordering the whole lot offline to make it easier for shipping. Before I knew it I had spent the best part of 2 hours going through various hats, boots and shirts before only leaving with a few pairs of jeans. I felt disgusted with myself and how this store had temporarily turned me into a woman. I got outside, pulled myself together and planned with Chris and Matt what we should do as the rodeo was only 30 minutes away and we still had to drive there. We opted to head back to the motel again to pick up Matts car and then run in convoy.

We made our first successful convoy and arrived in good time for the rodeo. We bought our tickets and sat down just as the show started. Just like in boxing although with a western twist a girl would come out at the start of each event on horseback waving a banner first of the USA flag, and then for each event after one bearing the name of various sponsors. The bull riding was the first event as you may well have expected. This for those who don’t know is an event where one rather un-friendly bull is ridden by one rider. They start off in a coral or bucking chute, which is essentially a bull sized pen where the bull is held until the rider attaches their grip, which is a long braided piece of rope, and gets into onto the colossal beast. Each rider selects a bull randomly to keep it an even competition as each bull like rider has different attributes. Once the rider is happy the gate to the coral is pulled open and the bull jumps around trying to dislodge the rider. The rider may only use one hand and must stay on the bull for 8 seconds. Should a rider succeed there are two judges, one who scores the bull and the other the rider, they both score on a scale of 0-50 and the two scores go together. The highest score for the night, and well the only score was 79points. Everyone else was thrown from the bull in an array of spectacular tumbles. They don’t call it the most dangerous 8 seconds of sport for nothing.

Once the riders are unseated the three rodeo clowns spring into action to distract the bull long enough for the rider to get clear, they themselves have an exceptionally risky job as they narrowly avoided a good mauling by just inches at times. It all added up to be a thrilling and very enjoyable first event.

The second event was calf roping also known as tie-down roping. The calves are lined up in a row and moved through a narrow handling system which leads to a chute with spring-loaded doors. When a calf enters the chute, a door is closed behind it and a calf rope, attached to a trip lever, is fastened around the calf's neck. The lever holds a taut cord that runs across the pen or "box" at one side of the calf chute, where the horse and rider wait. The barrier is used to ensure that the calf gets a head start. When the roper is ready, they must call for the calf, and the chute operator pulls a lever opening the chute doors and releasing the calf. The calf runs out in a straight line. When the calf reaches the end of the rope it trips the lever, causing the rope to fall off the calf. This then releases the barrier for the horse and roper, at this point the clock is started. Timing is critical. From a standstill, a rider will put his horse into a gallop from the box shortly after the calf leaves the chute, so that the horse saves valuable seconds by being at near-full speed the moment the barrier releases. However, if the rider mistimes his cue to the horse and the horse breaks the barrier before it releases, a 10-second penalty will be added to his time. This was referred to as a "Cowboy Speeding Ticket.” Once the rider is away they must lasso the calf from horseback by throwing a loop of the lariat (lasso) around the calf's neck. Once the rope is around the calf's neck, the roper signals the horse to stop quickly while he dismounts and runs to the calf. The calf must be stopped by the rope but cannot be thrown to the ground by the rope. If the calf falls, the roper loses seconds because he must allow the calf to get back on its feet. When the roper reaches the calf, he picks it up and flips it onto its side. Once the calf is on the ground, the roper ties three of the calf's legs together with a short rope known as a tie-down rope or "pigging' string" which the roper carries between their teeth. The horse is trained to assist the roper by slowly backing away from the calf to maintain a steady tension on the rope. When the tie is complete, the roper throws his hands in the air to signal "time" and stop the clock. The roper then returns to his horse, mounts, and moves the horse forward to relax the tension on the rope. The timer waits for six seconds, during which the calf must stay tied before an official time is recorded. Top professional calf ropers will rope and tie a calf in 7 seconds. The world record is just over 6 seconds. The best we saw on the night was 7:43. A 6:39 was recorded but a speeding ticket had to be applied.

I have to say it was a bit different from how we handle the calves back home on the farm but I still found myself intrigued by the speed and different techniques used by each roper.

It was now time for event number 3, saddled Bronco Riding. The rules were similar to that of the bull riding but this time with a horse in place of a bull. It looked a lot more dramatic and from the grimaces of nearly every rider it was quite a painful event. Although faster paced and with bigger spills I didn’t quite find it as exciting as once the rider was off there was no threat after. Still it made for good entertainment as each rider flipped off in spectacular fashion. I completely forgot to keep track of the scoring so I have no Idea who won but it was now time for a short break and we were given a brief half time display from a group of cowgirls who rode in tight formation. I guess it was a cowboy form of the red arrows. It was quite amazing to watch.

Event 4 was more calf roping this time for the cowgirls. It’s identical to the men’s event apart from they are only required to get a rope around the calves neck and then let the calf pull the rope out of there hand to stop the clock. It was a lot less exciting than the other events as in most cases it was over in 3 seconds. Then there would be a few minutes to the next rider.

The fifth event brought in more roping this time an event known as “Team roping”. It starts a lot like the calf roping only now they were roping steers. Not only were they now attempting to rope a larger animal but also work as a team. The first rider like in calf roping aims to get the lariat around the steers’ neck. Once he has done so it is up to his team mate to rope the hind legs. Some ropers were so skilled they were able to rope head and tail of the steer almost simultaneously. All in all it was another exciting event, but once more I lost track of the times so I can only say it was around 6-7 seconds for the winning pair.

Round 6 brought back the cowgirls this time in an event known as barrel racing. 3 barrels are placed in a triangle about 25 feet apart. The riders and their horse come in to the arena at full tilt then proceed to round each barrel before heading back out of the arena to stop the timer. They were mostly hitting 13-14 seconds although some did pick up 5 second penalties for each barrel they knocked down. It was fast paced and ridiculous to watch as the riders were barely in contact with the saddle at any point.

Quickly enough it was over and time for the 7th and final event or at least the 2nd round of the bull riding. Several riders were riding again as they were not happy with the flank strap, the strap around the back of the bull designed to force the bull to buck, no one made the 8 second mark so it was just another chance to get more photos. I quickly found out though that I had now filled nearly all of the 700 slots available on my SD card, so it was quite good news that it ended not long after.

We sat around to let the crowd disperse and then made our way back out to the parking lot and hopped into our trusty steeds grinning and talking about our nights thrilling entertainment, and once more headed out into the night and onto our next great adventure.