City Girl Meets Dude Ranch

PHOTO: Nick Battiste, (in foreground) and Nikki Battiste in background during a dude ranch ride.Courtesy Nikki Battiste
Nick Battiste, (in foreground) and Nikki Battiste in background during a dude ranch ride.

My vacation at a dude ranch in Montana is a far cry from life as an ABC News producer in Manhattan.

Forget my cell phone, BlackBerry, stilettos and make-up.

This trip's necessities are simply riding boots, well worn jeans and "can get dirty" shirts.

My journey to Montana is no assignment, no "go spend a day as an urban cowgirl." This real life adventure is a trip with my father, Nick Battiste, to Broken Arrow Lodge, a ranch 25 miles south of Alder, Montana.

It is so surreal, I feel like I am in a cowboy movie.

Picture this: City girl has no cell phone reception or blackberry for five days, gets trapped in a hail storm on top of a mountain at 10,000 feet, rides horses for 50 miles, sees a living, breathing bear five feet away and eats like Michael Phelps.

Then she does not ever want to leave, despite her really sore backside from sitting in a saddle all day.

This is what you might get when you are hosted by Erwin and Sherry Clark who own Broken Arrow.

Erwin is a real, legitimate cowboy. His is tough and rugged, his legs are bowed, he is not seen without his token hat and he is a man of few words. Sherry, his wife, cooks better than Emeril. Every day feels like Thanksgiving.

The couple, who met in high school, have hosted guests, many cowboy wannabes, from all over world. They have entertained families from as far away as Saudi Arabia and China.

On this trip, one family is from a city, and the father has on his bucket list: Go to a dude ranch. He arrives in Nike sneakers, jean shorts and a brand new cowboy hat – he is not exactly a spitting image of John Wayne. But he could not be happier, and he is in awe of the stunning scenery.

Thankfully, I do have cowgirl genes.

I grew up in central Pennsylvania with my father and mother, both retired teachers, and brother, in a tiny town of just one thousand people. We lived among the Amish where we had no cable television and no stoplights in our entire county.

We did have horses, and I spent my childhood riding with my dad. Most would say we lived a pretty rural life.

But when my father and I arrive in Montana, "rural" has an entirely new meaning.

Driving for two hours from the Bozeman airport to the ranch, it becomes abundantly clear why they call Montana the "Big Sky Country." With the clearest, bluest skies and breath-taking mountains, Montana is an oasis.

Erwin and Sherri's ranch sits on a mountain, near Ted Turner's, with a view from their porch that tops any panoramic postcard. The sunrise is spectacular, coming up from behind the mountains into the pristine sky.

Their lodge, home to them and thousands of visitors, sits on 20 acres where they have 25 horses, mules, turkeys and the occasional visiting bear.

This urban cowgirl's playground is too remote to have mail -- much less pizza -- delivered. The closest grocery store and post office are well over an hour away. They stock enough food for their long, cold winters where temperatures can hit as low as minus 15 degrees.

I asked Erwin what he does if just wants a slice of pizza like us city folk. He explains they have to drive to a pizza place that is over an hour round trip.

Then there are the ranch workers: Jeremiah, the wrangler, a young lady who helps cook and two farmhands. Erwin and Jeremiah lead horseback rides, hunting trips and fishing outings.

Jeremiah, who is sporting sharp spurs, explains that he lives in a tent part of the year when it is hunting season. He also cannot fathom the thought of New York City.

Sitting on the lodge porch, chatting in total serenity, I'm not sure I can blame him. My dad is beaming. He does not really like cities either.

An avid horseback rider, my father has visited the ranch several times. Horses have been our bond, and I finally joined him this year.

On day one, Irwin tells us we are going to ride horses to the top of Slide Rock Mountain, where he has never been. Considering he has lived here for decades, I know I'm up for a challenge.

The trip is so treacherous, it is just Irwin, my dad and me. This journey will take riding experience and sheer guts. The father in the new cowboy hat might not make the cut.

I'm riding Brandy, a bay-colored mare with a pleasant demeanor. Two hours into the ride, we come to the first significant mountain ascent.

My dad looks back and says, 'This is where you trust." He means to trust Brandy, to trust a horse. What lies between my life and death is the sureness of her footing. One slip, and I may be rolling down a mountain.

We make it. Four hours into the ride, we get to 9,700 feet where we tie the horses. We have to climb the rest of the way on foot.

This mountain is called "Slide Rock" for a reason. There are sliding rocks everywhere, and walking on them is a delicate dance. My heart is pounding.

As we near the top, we are ambushed by a fast approaching storm – rain and then hail. We are at 10,000 feet on a mountain with dangerous terrain and no rain gear, which we have mistakenly left with the horses. We climb to the other side of the mountain and hide under a rock overhang.

It is freezing, as the temperature is about 30 degrees. We are soaked and shivering.

All I can think is, "Do not look down."

The views are stunning though. The lightning is exploding.

The moment is both frightening and exhilarating.

An hour later, the hail has let up. We have to make a run for it. As we climb down, we fight against 50 mile per hour winds. It is scary. I wonder if the horses will be gone.

Finally, we see them. Brandy looks calm. These dude ranch horses are trained for such situations.

We mount the horses and head back down. Because it is raining, Irwin decides to bushwack, which means not following the trail and making our own bee line down the mountain. It is a race against time.

My life is flashing before my eyes. Trust, I think.

We make it. And this is when I know for sure I have passed the test. Irwin admits that it is one of the most intense rides he has ever had.

Ten years in New York City has not stripped me of my riding blood.

But it is when my father says to me, "This is one of the happiest moments of my life -- riding with my tough-as-hell daughter" that I know he is proud.

I am now an urban cowgirl.