"They look happy here. I don't think this is going to work. You want to try to bump them toward home?"
I looked at Husbeast and grinned...."If I had been driving up here by myself and found them like this, I would jump out and try to bump them home. Yes. I think it's worth a shot."
We were at the back side of our permit. It's about 6 miles or so as a crow flies from the gate at the top of the switchback. It's closer to 7-8 maybe? if you follow the road. Our initial plan to find cows on the river hadn't quite worked out, so we shifted gears and went to see if there were any cows left on the back side. We ended up finding about 20 pair and a bull. It was 4:30PM.
The next day's plans included a meeting that we couldn't miss and we were thinking of trying to gather them that morning with enough time to get back for the meeting. If you've dealt with cows before, you know that 99.99999% of the time they won't be where you "last saw them" and I was worried about missing the meeting. So I suggested jumping them off their pond and getting them headed closer to home.
I've always loved a good cow trail so I volunteered to walk behind them a ways. My thinking was that if we could at least get them headed that way they might end up at the trough closer to home or even all the way to the meadow. I was feeling confident because this group of cows had a couple of our older cows who know the routine pretty well. Sure enough, once we started them out, the lead cow picked a line, hit a trail and started marching out. The rest of them paired up and fell in line behind her and we were off.
The roads back there are pretty slow going anyway, so Husbeast drove along slow and I just kept walking. I had to "get ahead" of 3 pair who had a different path in mind, but otherwise just enjoyed following them down the hill.
We came to a fork in the road and the cows headed to the right. Off to the left was another favorite spot for cows to hang so I asked Husbeast if he wanted to drive up and check that spot just in case. I told him I would keep following this bunch and he could pick me up on the road. He sent me with his two dogs. The Corgi came along too. Because everyone knows Corgis are superior cow dogs. Just ask one...
Anyway, the cows in my bunch were on the same page as I was and they just stuck to their main trail and kept heading around the back side of the mountain towards home. I just kept the dogs back and enjoyed the cow trail. I have no idea how much time passed, but I came to a spot where the cows cross the road and take a short cut and there was still no sign of Husbeast or of any more cows. It was probably about 6PM and I had two choices...sit and wait or keep walking toward home. I chose to walk. The thought I had was that he must have found some cows but they might be coming over the hill in the opposite direction and I didn't want to wait on the off chance that they would be waiting for me on the opposite side of the hill. Follow me? So I kept going. After about 4 miles or so, my cows hit the last dirt tank and the final stretch of the home trail. By that point I knew they would be in the meadow likely before we were. There was still no sign of my ride home or any more cows.
I walked the dogs down to the water trough and then climbed back up the hill to look back behind me. At this point I needed to wait. If I followed the cows I wouldn't be visible from the road. I could stay put and see both of the two options that Husbeast could have taken in making his way toward me on the road.
After about 10 more minutes I finally glimpsed a faint shimmer from the hood of the truck and about 200 yards behind it a line of cows. They were coming off of the short cut where I had been about an hour before. I watched for a minute waiting to see if he saw me and noticed the truck was moving pretty slow. I thought he might be driving along and calling to the cows on occasion. I started walking their direction instead.
When I met the truck it was Weebeast driving and he explained that Husbeast had indeed found some cows and had him drive the truck around because the cows took an over the mountain path when he started them toward home. I asked him if he had been given any specific instructions and he said no. I swapped him spots and we backed up toward Husbeast. When we met up with him we took a minute to explain ourselves to each other and talk about the hundred of miles we must have walked. By this time it was about 7:30.
He had thought that I had dropped my cows a while back and had been in the truck the whole time! I explained that I had sent nearly 30 cows toward home and had walked back toward the truck when I saw it. When those cows get the memo to head home, they don't waste any time! We stood and visited about our adventures and watched as his cows did the same thing mine had done. They ignored the trough and the dirt tank and side hilled toward the final stretch of trail.
When we headed toward the gate there was no sign of my group of cows until we dropped down the hill onto the switchback. We caught up to the drag and on the next corner found the lead bunch trucking on down. We made our way around them and by the time we pulled in to the yard we saw Husbeat's bunch hitting the switchback as well. When we saw them Husbeast chuckled..."why do we have horses?!"
All told we walked...well...probably way too much in some people's minds. But the crazy truth is, we both enjoyed it. You know me...I'm a fan of cow trail running above all things so I never have a problem volunteering to walk cows home. I've done it before and I'm weird enough to do it again. We were there! Why not?! Husbeast admitted that he enjoyed it too. He said he'd always wanted to see the spot where he ended up following those cows, but in his mind, when he explored it he would have been horseback. I'm sure we will get the chance to do that next year!