Deep Sea Driver

| April 11, 2005

“I was coming into a dock and clear customs on the way back from Victoria, Canada, in some heavy wind and seas, and a 50-foot power boat trying to get into the same dock just crunched right into the dock,” Whitchurch says. “After I tied up, the customs guy looks at my ID and sees it’s a CDL. ‘I knew it,’ he said, ‘truckers make the best sailors.’ And that’s not the only time I’ve heard that.”

Controlling a boat on a wave is similar to guiding a truck on ice, Whitchurch says.

“You can’t just stop and get off. Your mindset has to change, and you have to handle it, to feel the vehicle and know what she can do and how you can make her do it,” he says. “Good truckers spend so many hours behind the wheel they get to drive by ‘feel,’ and that’s how you handle a boat. You feel her weight and movement and know the best ways to maneuver. There’s also a sense of independence and freedom out there on the ocean that is similar to being on the road crossing the country.”

You can buy Whitchurch’s thriller on the Web at, or

Modern cattle drives give you the real-life experience of trailing a herd

Years ago, before cattle got to market via tractor-trailer, they walked.

Truckers are like cowboys – fiercely independent, rugged and refusing to be tamed or straightjacketed by the mainstream, the last of the truly American pioneer types. So why not visit a place where you can be cowboys?

Cattle drives still go on, and vacationing adventurers can be part of them at ranches specially set up to let you make those little doggies get along. Think of Billy Crystal in the movie City Slickers. Or for more reality, think Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in Lonesome Dove.

Most of these ranches are run by real cowboys who know and love their land and their work, although the inevitable hand of corporate ownership means the occasional boss might be a suit-wearer in Manhattan. Costs can range from around $100 a day to $2,000 a week. And if you find the right ranch, you’re doing real, satisfying work without a diesel, a phone, a television set or an air-conditioning unit in sight.

After the Civil War, cattle drives became common in the West. The newly peaceful country wanted beef, especially the big eastern cities, and there was a lot of it in Texas and the Southwest. But cattle were a long way from the rail lines that could carry them to the country’s beef-hungry big cities. Trails were developed to run cattle up to Kansas and the railhead, a journey of 1,000 miles or more that could take four dangerous months.

The men who drove the cattle were tough, especially the main man, the trail boss. For herds of several thousand cattle there could be as many as 50 cowboys and the associated cooks, horse wranglers and scouts. Amazingly, the average cowboy wasn’t even 18 years old, facing a life of 12-hour days in the saddle; night watches trying to keep the herd settled and safe from predators and rustlers; basic biscuit-bacon-beans-and-coffee diets; and a bed on the ground, rain or shine.

But when the herd reached the railhead, it was a wild scene. That’s when the cowboys got paid (a little like drivers, getting their money only when the cargo is safely delivered). Finally in a town and with no work, the cowboys made places like Dodge City and Wichita some of America’s original “sin cities,” with gambling, women and liquor freely for sale. But once the effect of the celebration wore off, there was only one way back to Texas or Arizona – the same way they had come. “Saddle up, boys, we’re riding home!”

But then the railroads reached down into Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and after that came the tractor-trailer. The American cattle didn’t walk to market anymore.

Today’s drives are not as primitive as the old ones, but a really good ranch drive will let you share something of the life of those old trail cowboys. Good cattle-driving ranches today aren’t too fancy; there’s just you, horses and cows, so luxury is a rare commodity. Here are just three examples to whet your appetite and help you start looking for your ranch.

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