Ranch Chores and Bike Trails.
Leaving Kansas last month, we drove to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, to stay at one of our favorite destinations, Serenidad Ranch. Our friends Alan and Kara Beth Chapman own the ranch managed by their right-hand gal, Rebecca Taylor. Serenidad Ranch is a working ranch raising specialty beef and pork. Additionally, they have two lovely remodeled cottages on the ranch you can reserve for leisure or your next company retreat. I was lucky enough to help with the windows in the family cottage last year, and it looks incredible now. Kara Beth has an excellent eye for design and does a lot of repurposing of hardware, lumber, and other construction features.
Upon arrival, Alan was waiting for us in the ranch shop. We shared hugs, confirmed our parking spot, and located a water spigot. It started raining and getting stormy when Alan headed to his house. Christina began setting up inside Luna, and I put on my rain gear and got us unhitched and skirted.
Serenidad Ranch is a working ranch, so we woke up first thing in the morning to the sound of work trucks and tractors moving around. The best part about staying at a working farm or ranch is how much there is to learn, at least for an urbanite like me. We worked in our office spaces inside Luna for a few days while the ranch buzzed with activity around us. Christina got to hang out with Kara Beth, and Rebecca in the office a couple of times a day, getting caught up on all things art, design, and construction.
On Thursday, I posted to the Tahlequah Trails Association Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/tahlequahtrails) and asked about the trail conditions. I've been watching the development of these trails since before the land was even acquired through a local donation. Since Alan is the city manager in Tahlequah, I've had an inside view of what it takes to organize, permit, acquire, and manage a project like this. It's impressive. But as remarkable as the legal jargon is, the real work begins when the trail builders show up. The Wellington Ridge Trail system is turning out to be a really sweet ride. The beginner's trail, marked in green, is on top of a series of rolling hills overgrown by tall pine trees.
A carpet of soft green moss covers the trail edges where the soil was open during development; it looks gorgeous. Trail builders are a special breed and can see flow in places most don't understand. They weave soft curves, gentle rises and drops, and challenging hairpins into the landscape like artists. Add repeated showings of volunteers on the weekends, and the next thing you know, getting outdoors on a bike is inviting and full of adventure. Trail volunteers are awesome. My trail condition post caught the eye of two of the local organizers. The trails were open, and I was invited on a tour led by people who helped build the trail. The green trail was excellent, super easy to ride, with just enough rock gardens to keep things focussed. The landscape was thick with pine trees, so there were several pinch points where the trail squeezed between trees. Like my friend Britton says, "don't stare at the trees, and you won't hit them." After a complete tour of the green trail, I was lucky enough to get a tour of the blue trail under construction. More challenging, with steep drops and climbs, this trail gets out on the edge of the slopes, with switchbacks dropping down to the bottom of gullies, crossing creeks, and climbing back up again. We rode out to where the trail workers were, clearing limbs, shaping and packing the trail, and cutting new trail along the orange flags placed by scouts weeks ago. We finished our time together, taking one more whole lap on the green trail, and headed back to the parking lot, inside the prettiest entry gate on the road. We shook hands, and I thanked them for their time and volunteerism.
I hit the street outside the parking lot and headed back toward our campsite. But the ride wasn't over. On my way to the Wellington Ridge Trails through the woods, I had to climb an ATV trail up a forty-five-degree slope on foot, carrying my bike. It was all loose rock, the size of eggs or bigger, and full of ruts. Even though I didn't think I would make it, I wanted to attempt to ride down it on my way back. Heading over the crest at the top, things went well. But as I suspected, the bike picked up speed quickly, braking with the back tire was useless, and of course, the deep, loose rock made it easy for my front tire to wash out at the first turn.
I went down like a bag of bones. Before I could even get un-clipped, my Garmin watch sent out an "incident detection" to my emergency contacts. My grown sons may or may not typically answer my phone calls or return my texts, but when the watch goes off, they call immediately. Knowing this, I sent texts indicating I was okay while still lying on the rock so I didn't have to field phone calls from my concerned loved ones. I love this feature on my watch and know my kids and wife carefully watch out for me. Additionally, they keep my phone tracker turned on all the time, and I feel pretty good knowing I can wander around in the landscape freely. It was a great day out in the hills of
Tahlequah and I was glad to get to ride a trail system I've been watching since its conception.
We built a fire outside Luna on Friday night, and Alan, Kara Beth, and Rebecca came out for drinks. It was a full moon, and Christina encouraged everyone to give up something. Give up worries, regrets, or concerns that are a burden and embrace the friendships we are surrounded by. It was cool and breezy, and we ate a ton of snacks—a perfect ending to the week.
I met Alan, Rebecca, and two ranch hands at the cattle barn near our campsite on Saturday morning. I was about to learn how to sort and tag calves. We separated the calves from the herd into a holding pen, and Alan laid out the plan. He would run the tagging tools, Rebecca and one of the hands pre-loaded with tags, while the other hand and I caught and held the calves by hand. One at the calf's head and the other at the rear flanks. These calves weren't big but big enough to put up a challenge. I was amazed at how far they could jump straight up in the air when I grabbed them. We moved five calves at a time into the little pen we were in and went to work. It took a few tries to get the hang of things, and I immediately broke a sweat. Every calf got a tag in the ear and a friendly pet on the head when it was done. I felt self-conscious joining in on a ranch job with the other hands, but they were nice and showed me the ropes. It was a great learning experience, and I was glad to see another aspect of ranching up close and in person.
Alan and I finished the afternoon up on the hill, feeding the other cattle. He put me on a tractor to move round hay bales while he fed a couple of new foals. As if the day hadn't been busy enough, we headed to the ranch skeet range and shot a few clay pigeons. I'm a terrible shot, but it's always fun to fire off a twelve gauge on a sunny day.
We cleaned up, grabbed Christina and Kara Beth, and headed to town for Mexican food. Alan and Kara Beth have become good friends with us. They are great conversationalists; we all learn something new about each other and the world when we hang out. Not because we are the same or agree on everything, but just the opposite. We are different, but as I've said before, we start our time together with curiosity and respect.
The following day, on Sunday, Christina and I hitched up and headed out of town, even before the ranch hand came to feed and while Alan and Kara Beth were in church. We pulled out of the lush Illinois River basin we were staying in, drove through town, and headed west to Yale, Oklahoma, to see my sister.
If you'd like to get out of town and see a real working ranch with friendly hosts, I recommend visiting Serenidad Ranch. Take your mountain bikes, hiking boots, and some close friends. You'll stay in restored ranch cottages, build a fire, and hang out on the decks. The views are amazing, and watching the bald eagles near the river never gets old.