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Trail Ride by A Recruit (recovered)
By a Recruit
The bus got to the little town in Wyoming around noon. It was already hot,even though it was still May. School had been out for just a few days, but my summer was starting already. My parents and sister were going to Europe, because of Dad's job, but sitting around in Italy hadn't appealed to me, so I had jumped at this deal when we heard about it. We were going to be with a wilderness trailriding outfitter for the summer. The owner of the outfit, Norm Johnson took on a couple of teenagers each summer as part of his crew. You weren't working for him, technically, being under age, and you paid a pretty good price for it, though a heck of a lot less than the people who went on the trailrides.
We heard about it from some cousin of my mother's who heard about it from somebody at work, or something like that. Anyway, this cousin has a son, Duane, who is maybe half a year older than me. I guess they wanted to get him away from some of the kids he was running with for the summer, so he got signed up. I hardly knew him, and hadn't seen him for a couple of years until we met at the bus depot. He was a big kid, half a head taller than me, blond like me, and looked to be in pretty good shape.
I had debated getting a crewcut for the summer but hadn't got around to it. I was kind of glad I hadn't because Duane had a whole lot of hair. His was straight, with a center part and hung pretty well down to below his ears on the sides and almost to his collar in back. The stuff in front didn't want to stay to the side and kept falling in his face so he would push it aside or toss his head. Mine was long, for me, but nothing like Duane's. My hair had a little wave, and was pretty long on top, maybe 4 inches; the sides were a little shaggy, but didn't hang over my ears or anything. I figured I would be able to get to a barber sometime during the summer.
The bus let us off in front of the drug store and we waited there with our duffle bags for a few minutes until a beatup pickup truck arrived, driven by a guy with a 3 day beard and a ragged wide brim hat. He introduced himself as Lance and tossed our bags in the back and off we went. We drove for about half an hour, mostly on gravel roads and finally pulled in a very long driveway that took us back to the ranch. We pulled up by a low unpainted building and Lance led us inside. The main room was like a big living room with a couch and chairs and a dining table at one end. Lance pointed us into a small bedroom at one end, with a couple of beds and dressers. The bathroom was next door. For a bunkhouse it was pretty classy. Lance told us that he and the other hand, Vince, lived there too. An older couple lived in a small house right next to the bunkhouse and the wife did the cooking for Lance and Vince. Since we were paying customers, we would be eating in the main house with Norm and his wife. Norm's son, Red and his wife and daughter lived in another house a way off. That was the whole crew.
About then Nom came into the bunkhouse. He was a big guy, real laid back and friendly. He explained that Duane and I would be part of the crew during the trail rides. He and Red would lead the tourists, Lance and Vince and us would be in charge of saddling and un-saddling the horses, packing the tents and duffle on the pack horses, taking the pack train to the next campsite and setting it up. All the rides came and went from a camp up in the hills, and we would either be there or on the trail. We'd get down to civilization every 2 or 3 weeks for laundry and such. The next couple of weeks would be spent cleaning and checking gear and saddles and stuff. The next morning we got our horses assigned to us and we spent a while riding each morning, getting used to the saddle, and the rest of the day cleaning saddles and bridles, checking tents and all that stuff. Vince was the horse shoer and he and Lance spent most of their time with that. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun, since most everybody was friendly and got along well. Vince was kind of a loner, didn't talk to us much.
The middle of the second week in June we were having breakfast at the big house when Vince and Lance came in for their daily report to Norm. Norm announced that the horses would be moved to the camp the next day, since he had borrowed an extra truck, so we would be moving up there with them. Norm had a big long list of things that had to be done; fix this, pack that, and ended up with "and shear the sheep!" Well, there weren't any sheep on the ranch, so I figured he was just being joking like he sometimes did. Duane and I got a lift into town to do our laundry and packed our duffle bags. After lunch we wandered back to the bunkhouse. Lance and Vince were coming outside. Each of them had a lasso. Lance announced that they need to practice their roping since they would need to be able to catch their horses up in the hills. Lance told us, "Stand over there, with your arms down and face the other way, so you won't get hit in the face." They did some practice tosses, a few misses a few catches with us standing, and jogging by. Then pretty much simultaneously, Vince roped Duane and Lance dropped the loop over my head. I was expecting him to come up and lift it off like he had when suddenly he pulled the noose tight and did a couple of quick turns with the rope around me, pinning my arms to my sides. "Got mine! Tied up like the old vigilantes used to do. March 'em off to court!" I could see that Duane was tied up too. The ropes were tight around our elbows; we could flap our arms but that's about all. They marched us into the bunkhouse, pushed us down into a couple of the kitchen chairs, and took a couple of turns of rope around the back and under the chair arm. We could wiggle, but we weren't going anywhere.
"What's going on?" Duane asked. Lance replied, "You heard Norm tell us to shear the sheep. Well, you are the sheep and it's haircut time!" Duane spluttered, "I don't need a haircut! I don't want a haircut!" "Yeah, you do. Maybe you don't know you want one, but you sure do need one! You guys are going to be up in the hills for the rest of the summer. It's gonna be hot and dusty and dirty. There's no electricity for that cute hair dryer of yours, there's no hot water, there's no showers except a bucket from the creek. The last thing you need is a mop of hair like you guys have. Anyway, Norm said to shear the sheep, so we're gonna shear the sheep, like it or not!"
Well, I figured, maybe I should have got that crewcut after all. I looked over at Duane; he was looking really upset and mad, struggling with the ropes, but getting nowhere. Vince had got a pair of clippers out of a cupboard and headed over to Duane. He had the clippers in one hand and a plastic crewcut comb in the other. That's when Duane made a bit of a mistake. He was tied to the chair, but his feet were free and he tried to kick the clippers out of Vince's hand. Vince saw the kick coming and snatched the clippers back, but Duane's foot hit his other hand and sent the attachment comb flying. He must have hit Vince's hand hard, because he stood there shaking it "What you trying to do, boy!" Lance answered, "Maybe he's trying to tell you that he doesn't want you to use the crewcut attachment." Vince was obviously a little mad, "Yeah, I think you're right! He wants it all cut off."
He snapped on the clippers and came around to the side of Duane, out of reach of his feet. Duane really began to struggle, "No, please, I don't want a haircut! Don't cut it all off!" He was tossing his head around to keep Vince from using the clippers, with his long blond hair flopping every which way. Finally Vince grabbed Duane by a hunk of hair on the top of his head and pulled his head back hard. "Ow!! That hurts!, Hey!" and then "Oh no!", as Vince pushed the clippers across the front of his head. The long bangs in the front fell away into his lap. Then the clippers mowed a long path back along the top of his head. I could see Duane sort of sag, and I thought for a moment he was going to cry. Vince didn't waste any time, I guess he was still a little mad from the kick. Duane stopped struggling, but Vince kept his grip on Duane's hair, just in case. He pushed his head forward and ran the clippers up the back. I could see the whole process as the long hair dropped off onto his shoulders and the floor. The back of his head was bare, with the long top hair flopping down here and there. Then Vince mowed the side that I could see, up in front of his ear, all the way to the bare swath on top, and behind his ear. Duane was starting to look pretty bald, at least the side I could see. He was also looking totally defeated. I was surprised to see how devoted he had been to his hair. The other side only took a moment more and then Vince stood back. "There you go, Duane, and I didn't cut it all off, like you asked me not to!" Well, he hadn't! The hunk of hair on the top that he had used as a handle was still there, sticking up like a silly topknot from his stubbly head. I was wondering what he would do about that when I realized that it was my turn.
Lance had the clippers. He had picked up the attachment, which I could see was a pretty short one. "Well, Mark, you've been a good boy, so we'll leave you a little." He snapped on the attachment and pushed the clippers right up the middle of my head. Well, crewcut time, here we come! He made only half a dozen passes over the top, and then I could see him take off the attachment. The next thing I knew the clippers were climbing up the back of my head, pushing hard against my skin, all the way to the crown. Crewcut, nothing! High and tight, maybe! He proceeded to work his way around me, running the bare clippers way up high, so the only surviving hair must have been on the top.
When he was finished, in about half a minute, he switched off the clippers. "Oh, by the way, guys, don't think we were kidding about not wanting long hair up there!" He pulled off his cowboy hat and displayed his own head. His sandy tan hair was mostly gone, clipped down to a real close stubble, no more than 1/4 inch long, if that. "I didn't go as far as Vince does, though. Show em Vince!" Vince kind of laughed and swept off his hat. His shaggy brown hair was gone, totally, shaved to the skin! "We'll leave you guys the clippers in case you want to tidy up the jobs we did. Oh, yes, sweep the floor, will you? We got work to do." He set the clippers on the table; they untied us and headed out the door. Duane sort of sat there, like he was in shock. I went into the bathroom and surveyed the damage. It was a high and tight, all right, but the world's most amateur job; not a sharp line, not a taper, but something in between that varied from place to place, and there were skips of longer hairs on the top, and it felt like in the back as well. When I came back out, Duane was rubbing his head, and fingering that ridiculous, 6 inch long hunk of hair that still sprouted from the top of his head.
He got up and went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror and came right back out. "**** them anyhow! I liked my hair the way it was!" He said a couple of other things I won't repeat. I looked at him and said "Sit down Duane. That scalp lock has got to go, and you have lots of skips and misses. At least let me make it uniform. You can't go around like that!" He went back in the bathroom and looked again and rubbed his head. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Took me a year to grow it and bang, it's gone!" He sat down in the chair and I picked up the clippers. I switched them on and gathered up the topknot in my free hand. The clippers slipped across his scalp and the hair came away in my hand. "Want a keepsake?" I tried to hand it to him, but he pushed it away into the big pile of his former locks. Vince had done a really lousy job, so I ran the clippers over Duane's whole head, getting rid of the little tufts and streaks. His blond stubble didn't show very much, so he looked pretty much bald. When I stood back and looked, I couldn't help thinking that it was a real improvement. Duane rubbed his head when I finished, and shook it. He wasn't at all happy. I handed him the clippers and sat down. "Here, tidy mine up, will you." "Which attachment did he use? Do you know?" I don't know really why I did it. Maybe I was feeling sorry for Duane, maybe it was because the high and tight was so very high already. "Never mind the attachment, just use the clippers!" "You sure?" I nodded. He snapped on the clippers and started them right on the top of my head, about halfway back. For a split second I thought maybe he was going to leave the front, but then the clippers dropped onto my forehead and ran back to join the previous cut. It was a crazy feeling having the bare clippers running all over my head. Crewcuts, yes, but never this before.
After we swept up, we decided to take showers to get rid of the itchy bits. When Duane came out, he laughed, "I never did a shampoo with a soapy washcloth before, and I think I'll skip the hair dryer." He seemed to be getting over the shock. And he was right, showering was a different sensation. I wasn't completely sure of my new bald look, but then, I wouldn't have to look at it. Duane looked pretty good; he even seemed a couple of years older. He rubbed his head, "I never had even a buzzcut before, so this is a real change. I was letting my hair grow. I wanted a different look from everybody else. Oh well..."
The next day we headed to the hill camp. Duane wound up having to ride with Vince. I don't think he was looking forward to it, but that evening, in the tent, he allowed that Vince was a pretty neat guy when you got to know him.
The next days were busy and the haircut incident was mostly forgotten except when we washed up, and could slosh the water on our faces and heads and be dry in no time. Our stubble didn't stay sandpapery very long. I was surprised how fast it seemed to grow. On everybody except Vince, that is, who sat by the fire every evening warming a little water in a kettle. Then he would lather up his head and run his razor over it. No mirror, he shaved with one hand and felt with the other. His head had a real shine when he was done, and with his tan he looked like he had never had any hair. The first two trail ride groups went well, and we settled into our routine. It was great to be up in the mountains with the horses and the scenery. The groups switched on the weekend, one ride finishing at the camp Saturday noon, the next coming in on Sunday and hitting the trail Monday morning. On the third weekend, we hitched a ride back to civilization on Saturday. We stopped in town and silted up the washing machines in the laudromat and then back to the ranch for the night.
When we got in, I grabbed the first shower. When I looked at myself in the mirror, which I realized I hadn't done for 3 weeks, I saw that my hair had grown quite a lot and stuck out all over. I shouldn't have been surprised, because Duane looked about the same. In the evening I saw Duane fishing around in the closet and he came out with the box of clippers. "We need to tidy up these haircuts!", he said as he got the clippers out. "Hey, I'm not a barber, but I can try to trim it up for you. You're going to let it grow, I assume." Duane pulled off his shirt and sat down. "Well, actually, I've been thinking about what to do. The guys were right about short haircuts, so I'm gonna clip it all off again." "Are you serious? You what gave Vince such a hard time?" "He grinned, "Yeah, me! It's still only June." "Okay with me, it's easier than trying to trim it." He sat down and I started up the clippers again. No long topknot this time, just blond stubble that peeled away easily in front of the clippers. It only took a couple of minutes and Duane was back to stubble. It looked a lot better this time with the tan he had got.
"Ok, that's as short as it gets." "We're not done yet." Duane got up and went over to his dresser. "Three weeks of a grandstand seat watching Vince shave his head has got to me! I gotta try it!" He handed me a can of foam and pulled a razor out of a pack. "You serious?" "Yes, I'm serious. I wanted to do something different with my hair, and this is sure different. Get to work!"
I squirted a big blob of foam on the top of his head and rubbed it around. I started out kind of gingerly with the razor til I got the hang of it. After a couple of strokes, I realized we needed a pot of water, so I went and got one. I started shaving right in the front, where it was the easiest. The new razor shaved smoothly and easily. It was a new experience for me, of course. I tried to remember how Vince had done it, like shaving upwards on the back and sides. Except for the flecks of foam, the razor left nothing but bare skin behind, and pretty soon Duane was really bald. Because of his blond hair there was no five o'clock shadow and he really looked hairless. It was an interesting look, and it sure was different from what he had started the summer with.
When I was done, Duane went to the bathroom to rinse off and admire his new look. "Yeah!!! This is one cool haircut! Jim, you gotta try it! You gotta!!" I hadn't thought much about what to do about my grown out buzzcut, but shaving my head smooth was definitely not something I had considered. I had kind of liked the clipper job, but this?? Duane came out of the bathroom, rubbing his head. It was really shiny when he stood under the ceiling lightl "What about it, Jim? Let me do it for you. It'll blow Vince and Lance away! It's only the end of June, there's lots of time to grow it back." "I don't know what I want to do. I was thinking maybe I would have you buzz it again." I hadn't been thinking that at all, but it just sort of came out. "Then let me shave it too, it's only a couple of days difference. Sit down!!" I sat.
Duane fired up the clippers and pushed them right up the middle of my head. Well, I wasn't going to change my mind about the buzz, anyhow. It really doesn't take long to run the clippers over someone's head, especially when there is only a couple of weeks worth of hair to dispose of. The first time was really kind of a thrill/shock when the blades went up the middle, but this time it was sort of ho-hum. When Duane snapped off the clippers I was about to get up, but he pushed me back down. "Sit!" "Oh, what the hell. Go ahead if yu want to." A big handful of shaving foam landed on the top of my head and got rubbed around. And then the razor. At least he used a fresh one. The first time feeling came back as I felt the blade sliding over where there used to be a forelock, and worked its way back across the top of my head. I'm nuts doing this, I thought, but what else is new? Somehow having him shave the sides and back of my head seemed stranger than the top. The blade kind of dragged and pulled a bit, going against the way the hairs lay, and then seemed to break free into the clear when it reached the already shaven top. A second pass along the same path and the razor just slid smoothly. All in all, it was a pretty intense experience. When he was done, I went into the bathroom and splashed my handsful of water on my head. It was incredibly smooth and slippery, nothing at all like the clipped stubble. And in the mirror I was totally bald with not a trace of my blond hair showing. It sure looked different, too; not so bad, either.
The next two weeks, back in the mountains, I got to watch both Vince and Duane shaving their heads by the campfire. Duane offered me some razors, but I declined the offer. That next weekend, when we came down for the night, I had Duane use the clippers on me again. When he finished, I kind of surprised myself by accepting his offer of another shave. Duane kept his head shaved all the rest of the summer. He said that if he couldn't be different for the start of school with his hair real long, he could sure be different by being bald. Me, I let mine grow out to a buzzcut the last 3 weeks of summer and got the barber in town to trim the sides and back to a kind of high and tight. I didn't trust Duane with the clippers again.
We are booked to be at the ranch again this year. I saw Duane around Christmas and he had started letting his hair grow out. He said, "We've got to have some hair for the sheep shearing this summer!" I agreed, but added, "Maybe we'll beat the guys to the job, though!"