Monday, August 9, 2010

The Big Kahuna

“She is STROOOOOOOONG, capable!” the announcer bellowed in his southern drawl. “Here she comes, folks…she is POWERFUL!”

How I ended up hooting for cowgirls on a frigid summer night at a rodeo in Cody, Wyoming, I’m not sure. Then again, it was my idea.

My college roommate had previously mastered an impeccable swan-dive off the highest bridge in the world and come face to face with a buffalo “knocking” at her door in Kenya. Because she had already toured six continents, and I had just conquered law school, we decided to “see America.” Truthfully, I thought that if I was traveling on my dreaded 30th birthday, and away from home, then it wouldn't really count.

“It looks like a hearse,” I told the car rental clerk in Denver. “I’m sorry, I just can’t pick her up in that thing. Not unless there’s a dead body in the back.”

The clerk rolled his eyes. “The only other car available is that Dodge. It has a v-4 engine, no power windows, no CD player.”

“As long as I can plug in my ipod, I'll take it!” I decided hastily.

Rule #1: A good road trip requires good music.

“Nice wheels!” Sara joked as she hopped into the passenger seat twenty minutes later. She surveyed the car quickly. “She looks like a ‘Gloria!’” I had to agree, yes "she" did.

Rule #2: A good road trip requires a vehicle with a snazzy alias.

We motored, or should I say crawled, west in “Gloria,” stopping at a lovely bed-n-breakfast in Aspen.

“Watch out for the bears, sometimes they come in through the back door!” our host chuckled. I took no chances and locked all eight locks.

Rule #3: A good road trip involves the threat of bears busting up the party.

We stayed in the “Little Nell” room, named after an infamous madam from the 1800s.

“You look like a ‘Little Nell,’” I declared as Sara climbed into the raised antique canopy bed next to me. “You’re petite and you would have made a great 19th century madam!” Sara was flattered.

Rule #4: A good road trip requires a traveling companion with a snazzy alias. Clearly.

Gloria, Little Nell, and I trekked on to Moab, Utah, which may well have been the end of the earth.

We hiked through spectacular natural arches and later wandered into a dive bar, where we were greeted with stares appropriate for serial killers. The gum-chomping hostess spat something about a $4 “membership” fee. We chose not to become members.

We spent my 30th birthday in Jackson, Wyoming, one of my favorite places in the world.

"Now who is brave enough to "cow-girl up" and ride the BIGGGGGGGGGGGGG KAHUNA?" yelled our white water rafting guide over the churning category 4 rapids.

"Stacy is, it's her birthday!" Little Nell volunteered. Ah, thanks, Little Nell.

Rule #5: A good road trip involves a good dare.

The twelve people on our raft cheered and patted my back as Sara thrust me to the front of the raft. There were two gigantic men, perfect strangers, on either side of me.

"Listen," I told them, "I don't care what you do, just do NOT let me fall out of this raft, okay?"

The guide told me to sit up on the puffy part of the raft, hold on to the rope between my legs and dangle my feet over the front of the raft into the menacing rapids. I turned around to catch what I thought might be my final glimpse of Little Nell. She had a huge proud smile on her face, just like the one captured on video moments before she bungee jumped off the highest bridge in New Zealand.

Our raft slowed down to a near complete halt, like a rollercoaster at the top of the track. We plunged head first at a ninety degree angle into the "Big Kahuna."

The rush of water over my head drowned out my screams. I was completely submerged, but for a toe or two. I heard people from the raft yelling, "Man overboard! Man overboard." I was sure I was that man.

But then I realized I somehow managed to stay in the raft. It was one of the bodybuilders who had been sitting next to me who was overboard. Not just overboard, but under the raft. His three children were screaming and crying hysterically. Within seconds, he popped out from under the raft. He appeared fine, if not shellshocked.

"Thumbs up?" yelled our river guide. "Give the thumbs up if you're okay," he instructed.

The children on our raft were inconsolable.

"GIVE THE THUMBS UP!" Little Nell hollered furiously.

He refused to give the thumbs up. He floated toward the raft with a sour puss. But despite his brawn, he could not pull himself up.

Leave it to Little Nell to save the day. She used superhuman strength and sheer adrenaline to singlehandedly hoist and rescue a 250 pound man who refused to give the thumbs up. His children cheered and wiped away their tears.

Rule #6: A good road trip involves a hint of danger and activities you would never attempt in "real life."

“Next stop, Gloria, is Cody, Wyoming! Yeehaw!” Of course, that was after we hit a dozen Dairy Queens across Utah and Idaho. We imagined the locals posting our pictures, warning of the “Blizzard bandits.”

Rule #7: A good road trip requires lots of ice cream.

We stayed at a "horseback riding resort" in Cody, Wyoming, although Little Nell and I had probably been on 2 horses in our entire lives. It was funny how cowboys and cowgirls whom we met were fascinated by our daily existences. “

Y’all are law-yers?!” they asked, eyes wide. “Wow, y’all are like big city law-yers?”

“New York and Philly . . .”

“Amazin,” our wrangler responded, shaking his head, smiling. I think he thought we only existed in the movies.

“Please,” I countered, “you ride bulls for a living!” I definitely thought rodeo stars only existed in the movies.

"We both deal with a lot of bullshit!" Little Nell added, moments before our horses were spooked by a bear on the wooded trail and stampeded through heavy brush, crashing into tree branches.

It was time to head back east.

With hugs goodbye, the cowboys and cowgirls told us that they would never forget us.

Rule #8: A good road trip involves good will.

Little Nell and I hopped onto the mechanical bull at the rodeo campgrounds for one last hurrah. I barely held down my BBQ dinner, and tried to remember the words of the rodeo announcer, “She is strooooong! Capable! Powerful!!!”

Rule #9: A good road trip involves shutting down your computer, cell phone, Blackberry and all other hand held devices banned by the FAA for takeoff and landing. Go ahead, get out there and ride your own Big Kahuna.


ps. If you need some inspiration, here is a great look at the Big Kahuna. It is no joke!

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