Naked And Annoyed
Harper’s a cowgirl. Like, a real one. If something needs to be wrangled, tied, hauled, fixed, rode, watered, trained, branded, or shot, she’s your girl. She’s a striking woman - tall, with hair like Pocahontas. She loves adventure, challenge, and is what people would readily describe as ‘direct.’ The only bullshit Harper has time for is if it’s coming out of a male cow’s asshole. It’s not unimaginable that some people could be intimidated by our heroine. So when the summer rolled around in Southern Montana, she was out in the field mending some fence and took a mental inventory of her social life. So far she’d spent the week pulling a newborn calf out of its mother with her buddy, Chuck, floating behind her horse through the river with her boyfriend, Brett, and ended up shotgunning beers at a bonfire that turned out to be a bachelor party where she was the only female attendee. She didn’t intentionally seek out guy friends, it was just how things always panned out. Mike said it was because her face was hard to read.
Harper paused, cleaned what she hoped was dirt out from underneath her fingernail. She looked out over the snow-capped peaks she called home. This is when she decided, in no uncertain terms, that she needed to make an effort to befriend more women in her small mountain town. She’d tried, she really had. But her social speed always landed her with the cowboys climbing her trusty gelding, Fry Sauce, “Sauce” for short, through the Bitterroot Mountain Range, instead of on a “walk” with the ladies in the neighborhood. With all the time and money I spend on horses, she always thought when invited, I don’t walk, I ride.
The universe must have been listening because literally thirty seconds later she got a text from two local girls asking if she’d like to go on a horseback ride to a secret swimming spot two hours away. Harper quickly replied, sure, love to, and put her phone in the back pocket of her thread-bare Wranglers. She hopped on Sauce to get back to the house with nothing more than baling twine around his neck. As her long hair bounced across her back and the sun sank into the trees, she thought, this is going to be great. She was wrong.
Harper met the two new friends for the second time, Becky and Sam, when she picked them up at their homes. Harper insisted on driving with her trailer. She might have been forcing herself to be more ‘out there’ but she certainly wasn’t going to let someone else take that much control over the outing. Harper was smart and had been around horses long enough to see firsthand what could go wrong and while she intended to make some girl friends, she certainly wasn’t going to risk bodily injury to do it.
The three women piled into the front of Harper’s truck and headed out to the trailhead, Harper taking directions from Becky, whom she didn’t realize she didn’t trust until they were well beyond cell service. That was dumb, Harper chastised herself, I always make sure I know where I’m going.
The truck ride was long and dusty and twenty-six minutes into it, Harper ran out of things to talk about. The women seemed nice enough and looked like decent enough cowgirls but something just wasn’t clicking. That’s ok, thought Harper, You don’t have to be their best friend. But, this could be a nice ride. Maybe we’ll - her internal monologue was interrupted by Sam and Becky trying to remember the directions that some guy had given them at the bar two nights earlier.
“So, that’s how you know where we’re going?” Harper took a deep breath, trying to slow her heart rate out on the dusty road in the middle of literal nowhere.
“Yeah,” Becky didn’t seem to see a problem in the situation, “He said he came up here all the time,” Becky sounded considerably less sure than she looked. She rolled down the window and squinted her eyes.
“Was that the guy with the mudflap bolo?” Sam tried to place the conversation in her head.
“No,” Becky was certain of one thing, “it was the cutie in the plaid shirt who did that flip with me on the dance floor.”
Sam snorted, “That guy dropped you on your head.”
Becky was more sensitive about being single, “At least he tried. A lot of guys won’t dance at all.”
Before this conversation could make Harper too uncomfortable, Becky seemed to figure out where they were.
“It’s there!” She exclaimed, pointing to a trailhead thirty yards away.
“Um, are you sure?” Asked Harper who was definitely not sure. It looked like a two-track road for cars and she knew that no motorized vehicles were allowed at the lake. It also didn’t have a sign. Or any manure or shoe prints.
Remember, Harper lectured herself silently, You are not always right. She ignored the other voice in her head that said, ok, but you are, like, most of the time and now is probably one of those times.
Harper pulled into the trailhead, unloaded the horses, and tacked them up with their heavy Western saddles and brightly adorned bridles. Harper watched Becky and Sam out of the corner of her eye. She knew what could go wrong with a twelve hundred-pound animal out in the middle of the mountains and knew that you didn’t go out with people you didn’t trust. But the women laughed and joked and proficiently took care of their horses so Harper tried, tried, to put the voices in her head out to pasture.
They got on their geldings and headed down the trail. Sam’s horse tried to run from the group and came thisclose to kicking Sauce. This was when the voices in Harper’s head got a little louder. Not only are these girls a pain, but their horses also suck too. Harper bit her lip in a literal attempt to silence her thoughts.
“Does this seem right to you guys?” She tried to take all the judgement out of her voice but that skill wasn’t exactly in her wheelhouse.
“Absolutely,” said Becky, wrangling her horse back to them, “I remember Caleb describing this exact bend in the road.”
“Was that before or after he dropped you on your ass?” Sam laughed, definitely enjoying herself the most out of the group.
Harper squinted at the road with no discernible “bend” and just shrugged. Every half mile or so, either Becky or Sam would exclaim that some very vague landmark was a very specific landmark depicted to them by a very drunk guy in a very dark bar. Four miles in, Harper had enough. She spurred Sauce to the edge of the trail and looked out down the mountain. There, she could see their destination, the perfectly clear, sparkling lake, partially shadowed by a large tree, and, hanging out of it, a rope swing. The lake, the tree, and the swing, however, were off of a very different trail.
“Yeah…” Harper again tried to find her ‘nice’ voice, “This isn’t the right trail.” Sam and Becky were genuinely surprised. But there was no way around it, this was not the way to the lake.
The three women turned around and exclamations such as, “I could have sworn!” And “But it looked exactly like Caleb said,” peppered the ride back to the truck and trailer.
Could Harper have called it a day at this point? Eight miles on a sweltering, dusty road, to absolutely nowhere? Sure. But now she was hot, dirty, drenched through her bandana and chinks, and had seen the beautiful lake, and dammit did she want to swim. She imagined herself swinging through the mountain air on that piece of rope and dropping her body into the crystal water. And, maybe Sam and Becky were actually cool? Maybe they’d been having an awesome time at the bar and it was an honest mistake? Harper wanted to be out at the bar with fun girls talking to cowboys about new riding adventures, didn’t she? So, loaded up the horses and started up her old diesel. Then she drove another few miles down the road to the right trailhead, trying to ignore Sam’s jackass horse kicking the back of her trailer, forcing it to rock behind the truck along the bumpy road.
The second ride, the one on the right trail to the right lake was somewhat smoother. Sam’s horse was still being impossible and the conversation was still so, so forced, but the three women had their eyes on the prize and, eventually, (because Sam’s horse would not cross a small creek without loads of prodding,) found their way to the mythical lake.
Harper smiled at their reflection and looked for a place to tie up Sauce and the other two. There wasn’t any. So, fine, they took turns. Wanting to be a good friend and trail mate, Harper held all three horses so Sam and Becky could hop in. They splashed and swam and laughed while Harper did her best to keep Sam’s horse from ripping her arm out of her socket.
When it was Harper’s turn to finally get in, she stripped quickly, trying to put on her new one-piece bathing suit that she brought just for the occasion. It was blue and black and looked super rad online. The sides featured six cutouts that would have looked awesome on her long torso — if she could have gotten it on. Trying to step through the leg holes in her boots standing in a field full of sagebrush was a feat. She pulled off the suit to try again.
And that was the exact moment when Sam’s asshole horse decided to spook and make a run for it. Sensing danger from his herd, Fry Sauce ran too. And that is how Harper found herself running a mile and a half through the foothills of the Bitterroot Range on an extremely hot summer day in Southern Montana, buck-ass-naked, trying to catch two horses in front of two almost strangers. I don’t walk, I ride, Harper cursed to herself as she gripped her dusty hand over her crotch, trying to keep at least that part of her from getting ripped apart by the brush. The flies and gnats swarmed her sweating body and she clenched her teeth together to keep from inhaling a cloud of bugs, her lips curled high and wide to help her suck in more air. She threw her hips from side to side desperate to circumvent the thorny underbrush. It was a minor nightmare. But from a distance, it appeared to be a different story.
Sam and Becky watched Harper, her hands (seemingly happily?) placed over her nether regions, dancing through the range as if following a choreographed rain dance with her dark hair flying from shoulder to shoulder, and what seemed like a giant smile plastered across her face. They (incorrectly) assumed she was having the time of her life.
Eventually, because Sauce was a good boy, she managed to wrangle both of the horses, find the trail, and trudge back to the girls, covered in dust, wearing nothing but cowboy boots, bleeding from too many places to count, her teeth peppered with a genocide of tiny flying bugs. Sam and Becky tried not to stare but it was hard not to. Harper looked like an Indigenous princess triumphantly from the fields of war. She was the perfect look for a Tom Cruise movie but this wasn’t exactly the adventure that she’d planned.
“Woah!” Sam cried with more enthusiasm than the moment called for. Harper threw her horse’s rope to her and trudged back to her pile of clothes. She took a long look at the lake, deciding that risking another naked run wasn’t worth it, pulled on her dirty clothes, and got back on Sauce. The three women made a little small talk as they guided their horses back to the truck.
The car ride back could have been bad. Thankfully, Harper kept a cooler full of beer in the trailer. It was still cold and her hoo-ha was still in one piece. It could have been worse, she told herself. She looked over at the two new ‘friends,’ who had now seen her naked from angles that not even her boyfriend of six years was aware of. Sam and Becky offered genuine smiles through their glassy eyes and beer-filled stomaches. They laughed, they toasted, they relived the ‘highlights’ of the day. But they recounted a very different story, one where their new friend just had the time of her life, where she danced through the mountains with the biggest smile ever and even had time to feel good while doing it. Harper gripped the wheel, mildly buzzed but utterly confused as to what these girls had seen. Wait, she thought, they had fun? And they like me? Harper was very honest with herself about how close she had come to murdering both of these chicks in cold blood. Had they not all been on the same ride? Was Mike right about her having a hard face to read?
“So,” burped Becky, smashing down her can of Mountain IPA, “where should we go next weekend?”
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