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Ranch Life, Responsibility is the Only Option

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Ranch Life, Responsibility is the Only Option

Learn about responsibility through our rural ranch lifestyle

Ranch life, responsibility is the only option in order to thrive in this lifestyle.

The ranch community is located two hours from the nearest town of Lillooet, out in the bush. The road is partially unpaved, narrow, bumpy and has steep drop offs into the lake. Rocks fall onto the road which add another challenge to be avoided. Mud and snow slides can also close the road, shutting us off from the outside world for days at a time. This isn’t a problem for us because we take responsibility for ourselves and what we do. If we were relying on the government, the power company or somebody else to look after us, we would quickly be in big trouble.

We get groceries once a week and fill up on gas every time we leave Lillooet, which means we have to take responsibility to plan ahead. If we run out of something, we can’t just go to the store to get it. The small community of Gold Bridge has a basic store and gas station, but this is still more than an hour’s round trip. There are also no guarantees there will be food or gas when we get there. We have a good supply of tinned and frozen food that will last us a lot longer than a week if necessary. We also have Jerry cans full of gas as back ups.

When we operate from a mindset of personal responsibility, which is also closely tied to self-sufficiency, commitment and being capable, independent and self-reliant, there are many things that we do to ensure we can continue to live our lifestyle.

We heat our buildings with wood heat so we aren’t reliant on a power company and electricity. If the power goes out, we still have heat. A simple wood stove is a lot easier to fix than a complicated electrical heating system that needs a professional to fix any small issue. We own the process from start to finish. We fall the trees, then skid them to the ranch house with our skidder or bulldozer. We cut the wood to length with a chainsaw.

Once the wood is cut to length, we use a splitting maul or a sledge hammer and wedge to split the blocks of wood into pieces the right diameter to fit in the stove. Learning to split wood is a right of passage that every new arrival at the ranch must go through. This is even important in the summer time as at our high alpine camps it can get to freezing overnight in August.

For someone in the city who only has to adjust the thermostat to get heat, the idea that you need to take responsibility for the whole process of making heat could be an alien concept, but out here, it is the natural process.

The concept for how we get our water is the same. If we don’t take responsibility for maintaining the creek, the intake and the pipes, we soon won’t have any water. There is no water company to maintain the system or call when there’s a problem. We do it all ourselves.

We also take responsibility for our actions at the ranch and in the bush so that we don’t attract grizzly bears such as by leaving food lying around camp or not disposing of our garbage quickly. Attracting a grizzly bear not only poses a danger for us, our guests and the animals who could be attacked by a bear, but also for the bear who becomes habituated to people. This bear becomes a problem bear and ultimately ends up being shot, either in self-defence or by the conservation officers who are called to deal with these bears.

We take responsibility to harvest some of our own food from nature which makes us less dependent on the system for providing food. However, this also brings another responsibility, to not over-harvest. By following regulations and taking only what we need, we ensure our wild harvest is sustainable. We also reciprocate the natural environment by carrying out nature conservation projects.

We share the ranch environment with cats, dogs, horses and chickens. While being in this environment makes them all more independent than a pet in an apartment we still have a responsibility to provide them with food and water and take care of them. If we didn’t shut the chickens in the chicken house at night and count them, they would be eaten by predators such as coyotes. If we didn’t shoe the horses, their hooves would become worn down with all the walking on rough terrain. Then they wouldn’t be able to walk and it would be a long, painful process for their hooves to regrow.

As with making sure the dogs and cats have access to food and water, these aren’t tasks that can be done when we feel like spending time with the animals or when we remember. Because we have the animals here, we are responsible for their well-being. That means we have to take care of them every day. On days when it’s -35°C, snowing a blizzard or treacherously icy, it’s even more important we check and feed the animals as they will eat more to stay warm and there is greater risk of them getting into trouble. If we are not committed to our responsibility to care for the animals, they will die.

Although we take responsibility for looking after our animals, they also have their own responsibilities, which is part of the law of nature. In the wild, the lead nanny in a herd of mountain goats has the responsibility to keep the other nannies and kids safe. A mule deer doe has the responsibility to care for her offspring and give them the best chance of survival. Cougars, bears and wolves have a responsibility to hunt prey to keep the populations in balance. Here, the horses carry us safely through the mountains. The chickens lay eggs to feed us. The hound dogs contribute to predator management. The barn cats catch mice, squirrels and pack rats to keep the rodent numbers down.

Our responsibilities to our guests in the bush mean we have to assess their abilities as best we can before they arrive and then when they get here, before starting their trip. A simple rule in the back country is you should never ride, bike or fly into an area you can’t walk out of. If your horse runs away, your bike becomes damaged or the float plane that brought you can’t make it back to pick you up, your only option is to walk out. In our environment this means scaling tall, steep mountains, crossing shale slopes and generally rough terrain. If you aren’t able to walk out, this makes an already bad situation worse. Now you are going to have to call search and rescue and hope they can find you. When we have guests, they might have booked a seven day pack trip, but if they arrive at the ranch and can’t walk from the truck to the house or can’t get on and off a horse by themselves, we have to change the trip to a ranch stay.

In this situation, the customer isn’t always right. If they make the decisions when they don’t know all the variables, the whole trip is in danger. As the guides, we have to take responsibility and make sure the guests are physically and mentally capable of doing their planned trip, right up until the moment we leave, and even during the trip, perhaps having to make the decision to come back early. Safety always comes before the guests’ emotions or desires. There are always risks to riding out into the back country and increasing those risks by having a guest who isn’t capable of fulfilling their part of the responsibility can lead to bad consequences. Another responsibility of being a guide is that if something happens to a guest’s horse, you have to switch things around so they have another horse to ride. This could mean you as the guide end up walking out.

If we don’t take responsibility for what we are doing or look after the equipment or animals, we soon end up in a dangerous situation which causes accidents, breaks equipment and negatively impacts the whole community.

When we take responsibility, trips run smoother, the animals are happier and less likely to run away, we learn more and enjoy the experience and opportunity rather than complaining about it. Taking responsibility for a task increases our confidence, competence and empowerment. We naturally want to take on greater responsibilities which benefits the community and the environment.

Personal responsibility is just one of the many essential personality traits you need to thrive in a wilderness environment. Want to read about more? Charlie Botting’s latest book, Lessons From a Lead Mare, shares this story and many others which show you what life at the ranch is like and the mindset you need here. You can purchase her book from fortress-press.com.

Does this sound like the lifestyle you want to live? Are you ready to take responsibility for yourself and others? Take a look at our practicum, work exchange and volunteer opportunities here, then complete our Wilderness Readiness Survey here to begin the application process.