Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cattle Drive on Country Club Road

Angus cattle grazingImage via Wikipedia

That's right, a true cattle drive, right down the middle of the paved road named Country Club Road! And I even played my own very small role.

As I was heading back into Salina on a two-hour bike ride, I noticed a car stopped right in the westbound lane of traffic, blinkers flashing. Cars would slow down, stop for a moment, then proceed slowly. I finally puffed my way up to the car, where a woman said, "Cattle drive coming! You might need to speed up." Still panting after the previous hill, I replied, "I'm afraid speeding up's not an option!" She then recommended that I pull over into the ditch when the cattle came by. I crested the top of the hill, and there they were, coming out of the pasture on the south side of the road, a small herd of black cattle.

Now, before you picture dusty cowboys and cowgirls astride their dun and gray and spotted horses, let me fill you in on the actual details. First, no horses. Instead, there were trucks and a four-wheeler, and a woman wearing a bright orange vest jogging alongside the cattle. Second, no dusty trail. I already told you why--they were driving the cattle along a paved road. Third, no chuck wagon. After all, the drive was only about 1/4 mile, from one pasture to another. Finally, there were probably only 25 cattle or so all told. Small peanuts compared to the drives of the Old West.

The small herd trotted down the hill toward me, completely covering the road. I pulled into the ditch, as recommended, but spectator wasn't to be my role. The driver of the lead truck shouted over the rumble of his diesel pickup, "Will you ride back and block that open gate?" I turned around and pumped downhill about 100 feet, then pulled off into a small drive where, sure enough, the gate was open. But this wasn't the cattle's destination, so I planted myself--bright red shirt, black athletic shorts, silver bike helmet, and sandals--right in the middle of the drive, holding my bike. No cattle were gonna get by me!

And only one even seemed to consider it. He (or maybe she, I didn't notice) turned and eyed me for a couple of moments. No problem, I've been around cattle a bit and wasn't intimidated. Then I remembered my RED shirt. A RED shirt blowing lightly in the southeasterly breeze. Was that what he was contemplating? The story, of course, is that waving a red flag (or a red shirt?) in front of a bull will make him charge, after all! I know that's an old tale, unsupported because of a bull's color-blindness. But I wondered . . . until my brief stare-down ended when the cow simply turned and joined the rest of the herd. So, maybe I looked threatening enough? Maybe this was a particularly non-aggressive bovine? Maybe it was just warm enough that this beast felt more like heading to the water hole than facing me down? Or maybe it was curiosity, pure and simple.

The rest of the cattle had jogged on by during this short encounter. I stayed in the drive until the traffic backed up by the herd was past, watching the 21st century wranglers turn them into a pasture. Then, with the thanks of the driver of the trailing pickup, I renewed my ride into town.

And there you have it. The true story of my brief participation in the '09 cattle drive on Country Club Road.
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