At some point or another, someone has probably asked you, “what were some of the best times of your life?” I know I’ve found myself stumbling and asking the question right back, given that this is a tough one to answer.
Infinitely subjective and relative questions are nearly impossible to answer if you think about them too hard, but you can usually think of some time when you felt truly alive. For me, the two summers that I spent working at the Laramie River Ranch, a dude ranch in north-central Colorado surrounded by pungent sage brush to the east and the verdant Rawah wilderness to the west, definitely qualifies.
How does this relate to baking? Baking was a significant part of my job as part of the kitchen team at LRR. The head honchos of the ranch, Krista and Bill, have very high standards for all aspects of their operation – not just the guests’ time in the saddle. The kitchen baker is responsible for preparing yummy breakfast specials, desserts for both lunch and dinner, and a mouth-watering selection of freshly baked cookies available 24/7 for hungry riders.
While baking bread was not part of job at the ranch, it was my first cooking and baking job – and I loved it. It just wasn’t hard to get up at 5:30 AM to fire up the ovens and the griddle for another day of cooking. Yes, the days were long and hot and I had to get used to being on my feet 12 hours per day during the busiest times of the season, but I was always excited about it. During the afternoon break I could go for a ride, hike up Bull Mountain, or relax and read next to the soothing rush of the Laramie River. No cell service. No TV. It’s just you, the valley, and the people you’re with.
One of my fondest, and perhaps most surreal memories at the ranch took place during my first week of work in the summer in 2009, though it wasn’t in the kitchen. The wranglers needed some help fixing a section of fence at the edge of Bull Mountain, so I volunteered to get some air and learn more about wranglers duties off the horse. This entailed walking the fence line and looking for any downed barbed wire and talking about life while listening to Johnny Cash. As simple and humdrum as this might be to a wrangler, it was an experience of a lifetime for me. Welcome to the west!
This spring, I had the pleasure of connecting with the Burleigh family and spent a day at the ranch as part of a road trip to California. When Bill and I pulled up to the ranch, he asked me if I wouldn’t mind helping him out with a section of fence in the pasture. His question was met with an excited and enthusiastic “yes!”
It had been four years since I last walked around the pasture, and six years since I first put my hands on a fence stretcher, but I felt as though I’d never left. It didn’t matter that my fencing skills were rusty – it was just good to be back at the ranch.
After we finished, Bill and I walked through the lodge, which is the home base of the ranch. This is where people gather for meals, card games, socializing, or to just relax and enjoy the tranquility of such a beautiful and remote place.
I took a walk through the kitchen, the place where I spent most of my time at the ranch – cooking, laughing, and having a total blast. It was a real treat to soak it all in again. Like any kitchen, we had our good days and the occasional rough day here and there, but all I could remember were the times when we were just rockin’ it. I couldn’t help but smile.
I can confidently say that my summers cookin’ at the LRR were some of the best times of my life – blazing saddles, ovens, skillets, and all ·
This post is dedicated to Kyle VanderBroek. Thank you for pointing me in the right direction – without you I wouldn’t be where I am now.