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Irons in the fire: The best, the prettiest and the fastest

Paul Marchant for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 December 2019

As I stepped out at 6 a.m. to get some chores finished before my planned excursion into town that morning, I relished the sight of a clear sky despite the below-freezing temperatures.

A quick glance to the west, even in the darkness of that early hour, reaffirmed my smug gratitude for my “lofty status.” At 5,000 feet, we were above the cold, damp, dismal fog that smothered the valley below. We live at the base of the mountains, about six miles east of Oakley and, while we usually get more snow and colder temperatures than the valley folks, we still have our perks. Clear skies in the winter is one of them.

I was cutting it close again. The liquid nitrogen level in the semen tank was dangerously low. Not too long ago, my negligence and procrastination had cost me a few hundred dollars in valuable genetics, and I wasn’t too keen on reliving that history. A day earlier, I called Dusty, who had checked with me twice before in the past month about refilling the tank, to see if he could meet me in Burley the next morning before he headed up to the Lost Rivers and Salmon country. He was happy and willing to oblige, so we made a plan to meet in the CAL Ranch store parking lot at eight the next morning.

We were short on vehicles because … well, because it’s my life, and that’s how I roll. That’s a story for another day. Anyway, I had to drop my wife off at the school in Oakley at seven so she could help some of her students with homework, which left me plenty of time to get to Burley, some 20-plus miles to the north. As I headed out of Oakley, the despicable fog grew worse and, although the sun would maybe burn the fog away later in the day, we were still several hours from that glorious moment.

The speed limit on that stretch of highway is 65 mph, but in the early morning dark that chaperoned the fog, I figured 55 was plenty fast. Even at that speed, I was almost running past my headlights like a blitzing safety zipping past a stop-on-a-dime Barry Sanders in his prime. I could barely see 75 feet in front of me. If I came upon a wreck or slow-moving vehicle, I most certainly wouldn’t have time to avoid some sort of catastrophe if I drove any faster.

It rankled, but didn’t surprise me, when a big, stout, shiny new black F350 caught and passed me without so much as a tap of the brakes or a signal. He was easily doing 70. I didn’t really want anyone to get hurt, but the gnome of pettiness was sitting on my shoulder as I momentarily wished for the Dale Jr. wannabe to get his comeuppance somewhere down the road. Thankfully, my wish was not granted, as I didn’t come across any traffic tragedies involving vehicles much nicer than what I drove or ever hoped to drive.

I made it to town safely, met Dusty, who was his usual cheerful self as he filled my nearly dry tank, stopped by the bank to drop off a $28 check, grabbed a cheap egg Mc-something-or-other at the Golden Arches and stopped at the co-op to pick up a bag of the cheapest chicken feed they had. By 9:30, I was homeward bound. By that time, I assumed the sun was up, though the cold, gray, almost sticky fog was, it seemed, trying to prevent the day from dawning. I decided to take the back way home. The back way, on Pole Line Road, is about five miles shorter than the highway route, but about half of those shorter miles are on dirt roads. Traffic, though, is minimal to nonexistent. I followed the familiar dirt road until, about five miles from home, it lifted me out of the fog and into a beautiful, bright winter morning.

The road snakes around the 3-Bar feedlot and makes a sharp turn at Daric and Amanda’s horse pens, just a couple miles from my place. As I slowed down to make the curve, I saw an out-of-place, yet oddly familiar winter sight. There, crashed through the fence, halfway in the corral and halfway out, was a newer-model Ram pickup, complete with smashed headlights, crumpled grill and brand-new Powder River green pinstripes, courtesy of Daric’s recently hung gate.

A few yearling colts casually and curiously mingled around the distorted hood of the pickup. It happens every year. Snowy roads and out-of-towners offer up a sacrifice to the gods of speed and rank weather. Every winter, Daric’s newly rebuilt fence looks like it’s been on a three-night bender.

Mother Nature offers the same courses every year, and every year we have to retake the classes. I’m hoping I can test out of some of those classes. You don’t always have to be the fastest to be first. You don’t always have to be the newest or the prettiest to be the best. But you generally have to stay on the road to get where you need to go.  end mark

Paul Marchant is a cowboy and part-time freelance writer based in southern Idaho. Follow him on Twitter, or email Paul Marchant.

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