Saturday, February 20, 2010

Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy

(To the friend who keeps reminding me I haven't updated my blog regularly ... you see? I listened and I'm catching up. :-) )

If you've read the previous two posts, you know that I took the train from Toronto out to Vancouver, where I visited my sister. (Poor Steve, my brother-in-law, had to put up with both MacLellan sisters-in-law in less than a month, as Shelley also went out a couple of weeks later. Fortunately he's a very tolerant and patient man. Lots of practice living with Julie, I expect ...)

I got up at 4 a.m. one dark and damp Vancouver morning, and caught a flight to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I travelled through most of the States as a child (lots of travel being a fringe benefit of having two teacher parents with summers off) but hadn't ever made it to this particular corner of the country.

After a long, long layover in Denver -- I was flying on airline points and couldn't be too fussy about connections -- I finally made it to Jackson as the sun was setting. Sunset over the Rockies was spectacular, and I got to get off the plane down the stairs to the tarmac (for some reason, I always find this very amusing), so I was off to a good start. I had tried to organize the entire trip -- Toronto to Vancouver to Jackson and back to Toronto -- by train, but the American rail system, at least for this particular itinerary, is just silly. (Hence the arrival at the airport instead.)

A transplanted Canadian friend (he now lives in England) had arranged a ski trip for himself to Jackson Hole, so I'd opted to join him. The reviews I'd read ahead of time about skiing in Jackson made me a little bit nervous -- it's challenging, and I knew how out of shape my legs were going to be, since my very good intentions to do lots of squats beforehand did not turn into reality (at least not very often ... I kept forgetting).

I did eventually get up the courage to try a few black runs, however, and since I am now writing to tell you so, you know that I lived through the experience! I didn't even injure myself. Although, by the standards of the boys staying in our hostel, that meant I wasn't trying hard enough -- they seemed to gather in the common room at the end of every day specifically to compare injuries and see who'd hurt himself the worst. That guy "won". Ah, the joys of testosterone.

Oh, yes, the hostel ... did I tell you I stayed in one in Jackson? It was pretty basic, but perfectly respectable as hostels go, and uncrowded enough that we didn't have to share our bunkroom with any of the testosterone-fuelled snowboarder boys. I'm not a hotel snob, so I was pretty happy with the hostel environment ... at least once I got used to being, oh, twice as old as most other people there! (But I look younger than my age, don't I?

We stayed in Teton Village, which is the purpose-built village at the base of the ski resort, but went into Jackson (the town) a few times. (Jackson Hole refers to the entire valley, as well as the ski resort.) It looks like a John Wayne movie -- a perfect little Wild West town where I could easily picture a gunslinger or two hitching up their horses outside the saloon. The dominant decorating theme is antlers (the elk variety): antler arches in the town square, antler lamps and wine racks and coat hangers for sale in shops all around.

I declined to buy any Western-themed souvenirs, although I was very tempted by a pair of cowboy boots with teal embroidered flowers (and a stetson to match). I think I would have looked very fetching.

Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, Jackson
Lots of cowboy hats and western drawls everywhere I went ... on balance, I'm a big fan of the cowboy look. This possibly wouldn't be so entertaining if I saw it every day -- maybe then I'd ooh and aah over men in banker suits instead. But, being the urban Toronto chick that I am, I see the guys in suits all the time. Cowboys? Never. Well, except at Pride, but that's a different kind of cowboy.

We even hit an authentic cowboy saloon, called (appropriately enough) the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Saddles for bar stools, classic bluegrass band on stage, and couples two-stepping in perfect sync ... and steaks large enough to feed you for a week, should you wish to order one (I stuck to the modest 6-oz version). I think I found this place much more amusing than my friend Steve, but I'll chalk that up to his jet lag and not to any prejudice against cowboys.

National Elk Refuge, Jackson Hole
As well as the cowboys, I got up close and personal with other wildlife -- thousands of elk take refuge in the valley during the winter, and are not at all bothered by horses pulling a sleigh-load of camera-happy tourists through the herd. The elk were magnificent, but I am too much of an urbanite to tell you the difference between elk, caribou, and reindeer, so we'll just have to take it on faith that the guide knew what he was talking about.

The coyotes I recognized, although they were very much smaller than I'd expected; I think an average-size Siberian Husky would be larger than a coyote. And I also learned that, in Wyoming at least, it is a "KY-yoat", not a "kye-OH-tee" as I would pronounce. Not sure if this applies to ALL coyotes, or just the Wyoming variety, but it sounds oddly charming in a flat Western twang.

I started to get sick before I came home ... which is why I'm now so delayed telling you about it all, as I slept almost round the clock for a few weeks with pneumonia. All's now well, though, so watch this space for further developments!

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