The Triple Creek Ranch is a luxurious Montana resort into which ranch owner Barbara Barrett has poured her passion for horses and riding and all things western. She created the first Klicks for Chicks event, a ride of 100 kilometers (Klicks) that she custom designed for 11 enthusiastic cowgirls. The idea originated from the men’s 100-mile Desert Caballeros horse ride in Arizona, and I was honored to be included in the inaugural event in October 2010.
I brought my husband Tom along; he’s a fun travel companion and we were allowed to bring our spouses if we wanted to. We had breakfast and dinner together every day. Tom had a memorable adventure visiting the nearby ghost town in Banner, Idaho, that was the site of a prosperous silver mine in the mid 19th century.
Training for the Ride
I’m a dressage rider, so I signed up for Western lessons twice a week at a local horse farm in Delray called Johnson’s Folly Horse Farm. Lindsey, my instructor, taught me how to sit back in the saddle. She also showed me the correct way to hold the reins and use some of the Western vocabulary. For instance, a trot is called a “jog,” and a canter is called a “lope.” I also took a “barre” class at my local gym and at Studio 8. I also came across a “barre” class in Delray Beach. The classes are based on the Lotte Berk method of strength training. I took classes several times a week, which definitely helped strengthen my core so I would not have low back pain during the endurance ride.
Arriving at the Ranch
We were greeted at the airport by some friendly cowboys. They drove us two hours south to the ranch where Leslie McConnell, the general manager, showed us to our cabin, which was called Pintler. It was the most luxurious log cabin I had ever been in. It was cozy with a large king-size hand-carved wooden bed, a dinette, a fireplace, and a large bathroom with twin showers, a steam shower, and his and her private commodes. The outdoor whirlpool boasted powerful jets. Leslie reminded us that if we used the hot tub in the nude, we should be careful not to lock ourselves out as many have done–it can be cold as well as embarrassing. The back porch was beautiful with towering pines and a peaceful back woods to look out onto. Here we were in the heart of Montana! Back inside our cabin we had a basket of goodies with fresh-baked cookies (a different flavor made daily!). Pintler is situated in the middle of the ranch, and we took a fun golf cart ride to get to the Main Lodge each day. There are 23 western-style log cabins with 63 rooms on the property. The ranch can accommodate 60 people, 16 years and older.
There is a beautiful fitness center with an outdoor grill overlooking the ranch and outdoor pool area. The two ponds on the property are stocked for fishing with a catch-and-release fly-fishing policy. They also offer casting lessons through Orvis (the ranch is Orvis endorsed). There are also outdoor tennis courts that are lovely.
Each night turndown was a treat, since housekeeping left chocolates with a cowboy and cowgirl poem on our pillows. The bed was very comfortable with the softest sheets and down pillows and comforter. On our first night at the ranch Tom and I sampled the menu at the dining hall and enjoyed a relaxing dinner next to the fire. I loved the garlic and potato soup; Tom liked the crispy beef wonton. We both had the salad Niçoise and Atlantic black cod and for dessert chocolate layer cake with huckleberry ice cream. I slept like a baby.
First Trail Ride in the Bitterroot Mountain
It was a very cool autumn morning, so I dressed in layers in full cowgirl attire: long underwear, riding pants, chaps, turtleneck, down jacket, riding boots, cowboy hat, and warm gloves along with glove and toe warmers. Tom and I joined some of the chicks (the name that the cowgirls called each other) for breakfast in the dining room. The room was glowing with the warmth of the fire. The variety of wildlife outside looked as if it were really inside due to the large panoramic windows. Some of the species included exotic blue jays, very fat turkeys and a fox squirrel stretched over the bird feeder nibbling at the birdseed. The bright orange and crimson leaves and fragrant smell of autumn left Tom and me so relaxed! I ordered my favorite, old-fashioned oatmeal with fruit.
For the warm-up ride I rode Napper, an extremely gentle and very furry 22-year-old black Arabian. He couldn’t have been cuter or easier to ride. He did everything that I asked of him and more. The wranglers chose him for me because I told them that I would be taking a lot of photographs and they said that he would behave well. This ride began at 10 a.m., and we rode 10 miles into the Bitterroot National Forest, located behind the Triple Creek.
The trails winding into the forest were lovely. The fresh smell of pine was so fragrant as the gigantic trees hovered above us. The soft brush beneath the horses’ hoofs gently eased them forward around the bending trail. There were no signs of civilization in sight. The land was breathtaking. The horses had backpacks filled with water and supplies. As Leslie led the way we chatted with one another and enjoyed the scenery.
We arrived back at the ranch just in time for cocktail hour. Just before dinner, Deb Chara, property manager of the ranch, gave me a tour of the property and told me some interesting facts about Triple Creek:
– Castle Rock is the honeymoon suite and the only cabin with an indoor whirlpool that is shaped like a clover leaf. It also has a sunroom, a bedroom and a double bathroom with huge mirrors on the wall.
– Big Sky is the only cabin that overlooks the trout pond; guests love it because it’s very secluded.
– Ponderosa is very large and can accommodate up to three couples. They also offer cooking classes there. It overlooks a beautiful pond as well.
About Triple Creek Ranch
The ranch is nestled among the Rockies with clear views of Trapper Peak Mountain. Triple Creek is known for its innovative cuisine, extensive wine cellar, and superb service.
The Triple Creek Ranch was a 2010 Condé Nast Readers’ Choice Awards winner and also rated the #1 U.S. Inn.
Travel + Leisure magazine rated the ranch #2 among hotels worldwide. There are so many activities to experience at the ranch, from photography and group cooking courses and oil-painting classes to the most adventurous outdoor activities including old-fashioned cattle drives. Here is a list of many of the activities the ranch has to offer: fly-fishing, snowmobiling, hiking, ATV tours, downhill and cross-country skiing, and of course horseback riding! All-inclusive rates include outdoor activities such as guided nature and birding tours, hikes, tennis, fly-casting lessons, and snowshoeing, fitness center, daily meals and snacks, and cocktails.
The Triple Creek Ranch is a repeat recipient of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence and the Wine Enthusiast Award of Distinction. Tel:406-821-4600, 800-654-2943. Twitter: @TripleCreekRanch
22-Mile Ride to Tin Cup Lake, Day Two
(October 29, 2010)
My wake-up call came in at 6 a.m., and I got out of bed knowing this was going to be a challenging day. Twenty-two miles in the saddle would not be easy for anyone today, especially the horses, considering the steep uphill grades on rocky trail from the base; of course it would be downhill on the way back, which is a lot easier. The morning was a bit chilly but warmed up. At breakfast, I met Barbara Barrett for the first time. She is strong, tall, and very confident. She told us that most of the day would be spent in the shadows of the trees where there would be no sunlight, so we should be sure to dress warm. I left my sunglasses behind and grabbed two sets of toe warmers. The wranglers trailered the horses to the base of Tin Cup Lake, which is about a 30-minute drive. This is the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, where not many have ventured. I kept telling myself all I had to do was sit back and enjoy the scenery, converse with the nice cowgirls, and breathe!
The white Suburban we were riding in came to a sudden stop. I looked out the car window and noticed that the horses were being unloaded by some very nice wranglers. As I opened the car door, I heard my name being called. I walked up to a wrangler who said, “This will be your horse today; his name is Deuce.” Well, Deuce was a gorgeous 12-year-old 16-hand Bay who reminded me of my horse Aeden back at home–very muscular and referred to by a female wrangler as a “beef cake.”
As hard as I knew this day would be, I savored every second as I looked around at how rugged these women and their horses were. Each horse fit its rider’s personality perfectly. I felt physically fit and mentally ready for whatever was up ahead. What frightened me the most was the Bitterroot Wilderness sign. My whole life I had used the word “wilderness” loosely but had never actually entered it. This time I was on horseback with women–real, strong women–and about to travel 22 miles through the thick of it. That first river crossing was a downward slope. The horses were reluctant to merge down into the slippery rocks of frigid rushing water. It was loud, some of the chicks were anxious, and the horses took leaping steps to get across. I held on, grabbing a little mane while gripping tighter with my legs, while Barbara up ahead asked me to smile for a photo op. Deuce glided over the river as if he had done it a thousand times before. Up and over the other bank he went, and I leaned forward to help him as he broke into a lope (canter). We traveled at a fast bouncy jog (trot) as the sun began to disappear behind us. Into the dark wilderness we went, one by one, single file.
Soon we found ourselves traveling up a rocky mountainside in a perfect line. I thought about the Lewis and Clark expedition and how they managed to stay warm while outside fighting the elements day after day. This was cake compared to that!
The Selway Bitterroot Wilderness
Right when I realized that my toes were getting cold, I smelled something burning–it was a campfire! We had climbed to the top of this mountain. We heard men’s voices, then some hooting and hollering. It was about 1 p.m., my stomach was rumbling, and our lunch was being served lakeside by Chef Jason! They had arrived the day before, five of them on horseback with two pack mules. By the time we reached the top and finally dismounted (that felt amazing), it was snowing.
A wrangler was there to greet me and tie my horse and give him lunch as well. Deuce was grateful for his bag of oats. I went around the bend to a remote area facing the crystal-clear lake. The view has been permanently embedded in my mind. It was so quiet and serene. This was a slice of heaven right here at the top of Tin Cup Lake! I just wanted to stay in that moment forever, but my stomach reminded me that there was some gourmet food around the corner. When I returned I could see the ladies walking across a small stream to a huge campfire.
Tin Cup Lake Lunch by the campfire
This was something I have never experienced before, and believe me, it was very well received. We gathered around the large campfire and watched Chef Jason in his T-shirt and chef pants sauté freshly caught rainbow trout in a lobster sauce. A young girl came around offering us hot spiced cider. I was so relieved to be warmed by the fire and have a hot beverage in my hands. There was another station set up with a huge cast-iron kettle full of venison stew. It smelled divine! Flashing her contagious smile, Barbara announced that lunch was served. I wasn’t shy, so I was one of the first to try the venison stew, and I have to say, it was delicious! It was boiling hot, thick, and fragrant with lots of meat and vegetables. As it began to snow harder and the wind kicked up, the stew really hit the spot. Then we each grabbed a plate and silverware and were handed menus. There was trout with lobster sauce, homemade macaroni with parmesan cheese, and quail. For dessert we enjoyed huckleberry crumble. The day’s cookie flavor was pistachio and chocolate chip–I saved mine for the ride home, and they were honestly the best I have ever had. I filled my cup with another hot cider for the way back.
Besides the cookies, what I most enjoyed was a long soak in the hot tub at the end of the day and then the very cheerful and talkative cocktail hour upstairs. I would have thought after a ride like that I would be in bed taking it easy, but not this crowd… We had so much adrenaline flowing from the outrageously beautiful scenery, fine horsemanship, and unbelievably delicious catered lunch that we were buzzing around mentioning the highlights of the day’s ride! Jimmy Harrison was there with his custom western hats and horsehair belts. Better known as Jimmy the Hat Man, he’s been in many periodicals over the years. Jimmy is a master hatter from Darby and owns Double H Hats. He uses 50 percent beaver, and it takes two months to craft a custom-made hat. His horsehair belts are colorful and so unique. I immediately fell in love with a chocolate-brown hat with a fancy beaded Indian band. Double H Custom Hat Company (877) HAT-MAKR.
The 15-Mile Ride at the CB Ranch, Day Three
(October 30th, 2010)
Waking up at 7 a.m. was painful. I lay in bed for a few minutes, contemplating whether I could get up and onto my horse again. I took another Aleve and then put both feet on the floor. I walked to the powder room as if I were the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. Should I stay at the ranch, or go to a ghost town with Tom? Perhaps today would be a good day to just take it easy and have a massage? But I didn’t travel on three planes to be a quitter; I was here for the 62-mile endurance ride, not the pampering at the Relais & Châteaux ranch. I took a hot shower and dressed in layers. The Aleve finally kicked in. After getting dressed in my gear I officially looked like the Marlboro Man! I opened the door of our cabin and it was pitch dark outside. I made a run for the diesel golf cart that took me up to the breakfast hall–and fast! Many of the women had arrived. My breakfast was delicious soft-boiled eggs with whole-wheat toast, huckleberry jelly, and fresh OJ.
Best Ride of My Life
We arrived at the CB Ranch still groggy from the early morning. As we pulled up to the mountainside, we could see the western silhouettes of our wranglers in the distance. The fog was thick as they unloaded the horses from the trailers. As I leaped out of the warm Suburban, I once again heard my name, and was given a drop-dead-gorgeous black horse with a white star named Ace. The wrangler who helped me looked like a James Dean look-aalike. Hey, this is a Relais & Châteaux resort after all!
The wrangler gave me a leg up, and I was ready to ride. The girls lined up for a photograph, and off we went. This time it was straight up the mountain. The good news is that there were no trees, just vast open fields, lush and ready for us to seize the day. Barbara asked us to look behind us. She said that it was the perfect shot, special for the chicks. I looked and didn’t notice anything, but then squinting my eyes I saw that there along the peak of the mountain behind us, with the sun rising and fog lifting, was an enormous elk running on the crest line, sticking his chest out as regal as can be. It was a euphoric moment. I had never seen anything like it before! I tried to get the shot with my small Nikon, but it happened so quickly. As the sun came blasting up behind him, his heavy antlers weighing more than he did, the elk kept running and shaking his head side to side along the crest line until we couldn’t see him anymore. The riders were in awe.
We moved quickly at a canter in some areas. Within a half hour, Ace was sweating profusely. The horses had their heads down, and we gave them plenty of rein as they climbed the steep open mountain. Ace breathed heavily. The wranglers assured us that the horses were used to this, with the cattle drives all summer, and that Ace was in the best condition. Luckily, these were different horses from the day before. The Tin Cup horses had a day off and were back at the ranch, relaxing and munching grass in the field.
Up ahead were Black Angus cattle, being moved forward by our group. It was exhilarating, and I felt myself once again in the moment here. I’m living my dream, I told myself. Barbara led us and told us about her ranch, the cattle drives, and why she does what she does. Basically, she said that she and her husband enjoy making their guest’s dreams become a reality. I must say, she is a pro at that!
We also chased white-tail deer and more elk as we climbed higher up the steep mountain. A large herd of elk darted in front of us and on both sides of the lush, green grass. Barbara snapped some very memorable photographs of us individually and as a group.
I was still upset with myself for even thinking about staying home. I noticed all the women were smiling. Montana was here in front of me in a panoramic view, and I was on top of a mountain on horseback with all of these amazing women! Trapper Peak was straight ahead with God’s light shining down from the clouds as Barbara spoke about the Lewis and Clark expedition. I looked around at the chicks in their chaps and cowboy hats and thought about how adventurous we were. How we rode up the mountain at sunrise, chasing wildlife on horseback. We crossed over fresh wolf tracks while sharing great stories with one another. This is what I call fun. We made it up to the highest point of the CB Ranch to the hunting lodge and where the staff reside. There waiting for us was yet another delicious meal upon our arrival. Chef Nick and his crew had an unbelievable spread that included Nick’s famous hot chili in a huge crock. Next was a beautiful display of salmon salad wraps, a large chef salad, and white wine. We were all so happy to be together and to enjoy this delicious food that just seemed to hit the spot. For dessert there was homemade baklava and coffee or hot chocolate with whipped cream. We later had individual photographs taken with our horse against the magnificent Montana mountainside backdrop.
The way home was also adventurous, since we descended from the mountain top and traveled at a good gait. We saw a lot of mule deer, trophy elk, and buck.
Back at the Ranch
James, the bartender at the Triple Creek, is superb and always knew the right drink to make for us. He made me a delicious pomegranate cocktail with huckleberry juice. Sweet and delicious, huckleberries are native to Montana, and as you may have noticed they were in many of the gourmet foods that were prepared. Tom and I later went to dinner and started out with the wild boar and flat bread, a panzanella salad, and then my absolute favorite, Canadian lobster tails that were out of this world! Dessert was another favorite, pumpkin-spiced bread pudding. Dinner could not have been more delicious! The candle-lit tables, crackling fire, waiters serving us in unison, and epicurean delights made the perfect combination for an outstanding fall getaway.
What made this most extraordinary was the company. I felt so at home with my new friends. All of them were so nice and easygoing. We all got along so well, as if we had known each other for years! All the chicks at the table shared fun stories, and there was plenty of laughter. There were some local cowboys that joined us as well. We got a huge kick out of their stories–Tom and I could hardly stop laughing.
Halloween Trail Ride, Day Four
(October 31, 2010)
The weather started out with light rain, but our spirits were high. What was nice about this day was that we were able to choose our favorite horse for our final ride. I loved Deuce, because he was the one that had brought me safely through the wilderness and back.
The chicks met at the barn and were all lent “chinks,” which are extraordinary leather cowboy chaps. I have never seen such works of art before! These were the real deal and quite fancy. We headed out through the trail behind the barn. The Bitterroot National Forest goes up to the Piquette Ridge, and as we ascended the mountains the scenery just became more magnificent. We had a relaxing, fun, easy ride, and many of us had a chance to converse. Once at the top we tied our horses and sat on soft pine and hay for a picnic lunch. I had a delicious shrimp cocktail, a tuna salad sandwich with coriander on whole-wheat bread, and some Halloween candy. The chicks were all in great spirits. Earlier, the weather had briefly turned to snow and hail, but the sky cleared and a giant rainbow appeared across the mountainside. What more could we ask for?
As we rode in unison up the winding hill, which is the driveway of the Triple Creek Ranch, Barbara rode her Blue Rhone ahead and snapped photos from afar. Her self-assured smile shone gallantly from a distance as her horse held his head high and vigorously pranced in place while she clicked away. The chicks were asked to gather in a line across the vast field to cross the imaginary finish line that marked 62 miles (100 kilometers). A photographer was radioed in to take our picture, and tears began to roll down my cheeks. I wasn’t sure if these were tears of joy because I had finished or if they were tears of sadness, because I was going to miss this amazing group of women. It was emotional for me since it was such an adventure–like none I had ever experienced. The horses began chomping hard on their bits, and the pace increased. The horses felt the energy of our excitement and emotion as the cameras clicked and flashes went off. They knew dinner was just around the corner. Once we were in a perfect formation, all 11 of us began our march forward as if we were in the cavalry. The photographer who had situated himself approximately 500 yards in front of us sat low in the grass, snapping away. You could see the flash going off and the horses’ large strides as they lunged forward. It took all we had to hold them back. Then one of the wranglers called out, “It’s official, chicks! You have just ridden 62 miles! Congratulations!”
As we rode by the Triple Creek Ranch toward the stables we experienced a very special greeting from the entire staff who came outside to congratulate us. We did it!
A Magical Evening at Barbara and Craig’s Home
Tom and I attended a very special awards cocktail party just up the road at the private home of Barbara and her husband Craig. We were all invited to dress up for Halloween. Barbara was so generous to open up her closet and let us borrow her exceptionally fine western gear for the night.
We were greeted at the large heavy wooden front doors by James. There was a beautiful spread of food and champagne on the massive dining room table. The equestrian artwork was beyond anything that I have ever imagined. The gigantic stone hearth had a roaring fire and guests filled the room with laughter. As Tom and I walked in, James poured us some Champagne. Then he took our coats. We feasted our eyes on the art collections throughout the house and later had a private tour with Craig. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. We all gathered downstairs to see a short demo of Craig’s home theater. He put on Top Gun and it was better than any movie theater, with a huge screen and an incredible surround-sound audio.
Then we went back upstairs for the chicks’ awards ceremony. The girls all gathered round; once again there were plenty of laughs. One of the riders in our group wrote a beautiful poem about the week together. Each rider received a gift prize for something that they had contributed to the group. I happened to have brought the most gear! They gave me a very beautiful canvas and leather tote bag with the Triple Creek insignia on it. I now carry it on all my trips.
This is a trip that only happens once in a lifetime. If you are a rider and love horses, seriously consider doing this. The next Klicks for Chicks will be November 3rd until November 7th, 2011, so put it in your calendar now and start training! It has changed my life. I met such wonderful people along the way and the facilities could not have been any more luxurious. I feel better, stronger, and happier now that I have accomplished this endeavour.
See you next year!
Carol Calicchio has been traveling for over 25 years and has a background in photography. Her passions are her family and traveling. She is a mother of two and has been married to Tom Calicchio for 17 years. Carol graduated from the New York School of Interior Design. She is an Allied member of the American Society of Interior Design (ASID) and is a board member at the Delray Beach Sandoway House. Carol loves to read and enjoys many outdoor sports including tennis, golf, skiing and horseback riding. Carol loves animals and has been an active member of the Humane Society. In the past, she has also helped find homes for many homeless animals on her Adopt-A-Pet TV segment.
Note: This trip was sponsored by The Triple Creek Ranch.