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TRAVEL JOURNAL INDEX >Cowboy Up!

Calgary Exhibition & Stampede, Calgary, Alberta, Canada   07/14-16/06 (Day 80-82)
Cowboy Up!
 

Ever since we first heard about the Calgary Exhibition & Stampede we’ve wanted to see it for ourselves. The word “stampede” is right in the name! So is the word “exhibition,” but that’s another issue….

Through sheer luck, we arrive in the town that cowboys built (but which energy interests currently command) just in time for the big closing weekend of the 10-day annual Stampede event. At the Fairmont Palliser Hotel in downtown Calgary (read Karen’s review of the Fairmont Palliser Hotel for iTraveliShop.com) we hand the keys to our Silverado to the valet, tell the front desk that we’ve arrived and high tail it out to the fairgrounds where the Stampede takes place (read Karen's review of the Fairmont Palliser Hotel for iTraveliShop.com)

We are not disappointed. The sun is out and so is what appears to be all of Calgary—mostly dressed in their cowboy best. There’s a whole concourse of carnival rides and all manner of fair food including all the usual suspects (hello corn dogs!) plus a local cult favorite called Mini Donuts—basically tiny, tiny donuts that everyone buys and eats by the bagful right before they get on a big, fast, spinning ride.

But the main attraction, for us, is the rodeo grounds where we can watch the afternoon’s cowboy competitions. We expect to be amazed by the seven core rodeo events (bareback bronc riding, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, tie down calf roping, barrel racing and steer wrestling) and each competition truly is full of awe-inspiring athletes, both human and animal. But it’s the nightly Chuckwagon Races hat prove to be the biggest surprise—and  the biggest thrill.

Meant to recreate the important duties of traditional chuckwagons—the mobile kitchens which fed the pioneers heading west by covered wagon train—each modern-day chuckwagon team includes the following:

A smaller, lighter replica of a chuckwagon
A chuck driver
A team of four thoroughbreds to pull the chuckwagon
A team of four outriders on four additional thoroughbreds
A barrel to represent the chuckwagon’s traditional cast iron stove
A pair of poles with a tarp between them to represent the chuckwagon’s traditional tent

At the beginning of each race all four outriders from each chuckwagon team must dismount. One of them throws the barrel into the back of his team’s chuckwagon and another tosses in the poles/tarp. Then the chuckwagon speeds off as the four outriders re-mount on the gallop so the whole team can fly through a figure eight course before thundering (the ground literally shakes) down an oval racetrack in a frantic bid to beat three other teams doing exactly the same things at exactly the same time.

The result is (barely) controlled chaos and, after a night of it,  we can see why the outriders wear helmets (not cowboy hats) and cleats (instead of cowboy boots). We can also see how horses could get injured or even die during the event, as two did during the previous evening’s racing—one of them dropping dead from a heart attack.

If you ask us, chuckwagon racing is the new extreme sport. But you can judge for yourself since we have plenty of action-packed Calgary Stampede Chuckwagon Race Photos and Calgary Stampede Rodeo Event Photos to share.

We are so inspired by the whole Stampede experience that Karen finally gives in to her decades-old desire for a pair of true cowboy boots. Since this is no faddish whim, we head straight for the Alberta Boot Company. Listen, if they’re good enough to supply boots to the Canadian Mounties, they’re good enough for us.
 
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