Cattle Drivin’ & Cow Pokin: What does one bunch of professionals do to let off a little steam? They hit the trail for a real life “City Slickers” adventure!
“I think you’ve had enough, partner,” said the cowboy with mix of gravel and grit in his voice.
“Well maybe I’m just getting started,” replied the other.
Another couple cowpokes at the card table looked up, their ears tuned to the possibility of action.
“We’ve got a big day on the trail tomorrow,” said the first cowboy. “Probably a good idea for all of us to get some shut-eye.”
“Well who died and made you trail boss?”
The next thing heard was the unmistakable clicking of a Colt single action peacemaker. All eyes were on the two as they squared up.
“You talk pretty tough…for a CPA!”
No, that wasn’t actual dialog. The real thing was much saltier and laughter certainly followed. You see when The Desperados get together, it’s a tough crowd to hang with. Jokes are more prevalent then flies on cow pies. But these guys wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, the first adventure they took was such a success, it’s now an annual escape for this group of otherwise buttoned-up professionals.
“The whole concept of these trips began at a networking meeting,” tells Jim Cagle of the now infamous City Slicker-style trips. “The question that day that sparked our interest was ‘what is your favorite John Wayne movie?’ Mine, for the record was “The Quiet Man.”
As they took turns sharing their favorite Duke movies, a bond began to form over the shared love of John Wayne movies, most of which were Westerns.
“It turned out that a bunch of us were really closet cowboys at heart,” says Jim,“ and we made a vow that night to do a cattle drive. Eventually, the group of guys who were interested were whittled down to a smaller group now known as The Desperados.”
And so, being men of their word, five hard-working professionals from Southern California put their plans in motion. Soon they were heading out for their first adventure. Jim became known as “Abacus.” Eric Hawes became “Dusty.” Robert Feldman became “Indy.” Aaron Belliston became “Durango.” And Jeff Baum, unable to come up with his own handle, was dubbed “Side Saddle.”
“We proudly wore our cowboy hats all through LAX,” tells Jim of their first trip, with the destination being a remote ranch in the mountains of Colorado. “Once we landed in Colorado Springs, we immediately stocked up on booze and cigars, then headed up to our rendezvous high up in the Rockies.”
Cut loose from the shackles of their successful businesses back in California, the boys took to having fun their very first night. And more than one of the participants admitted that their excitement got the better of them. Way more of the official beverage of The Desperados was consumed than should have been, especially at high altitude. You see the fellas, in addition to choosing nicknames, also decided bourbon would be the official beverage of the Desperados.
“Our orientation that night was loud and raucous,” recalls Jim, “and I know that by the end, the ranch hands thought they made a huge mistake letting us participate. What they did not realize was how committed we were. We were up and helping early the next morning, horses groomed, bridled, and ready to go. The ranch hands admitted they enjoyed our stay, but I am sure 2 or 3 more rules were added to the safety lecture after our stay.”
To understand why these trips have become so popular (they’ve now taken several trips in the past few years, and plan to every year from now until the cows come home), one needs to dig a little deeper. We picked on Jim, er, Abacus, to shed some light on why these guys love doing it.
“Growing up, my father was a huge fan of Westerns,” tells Abacus. “Bonanza, The Rifleman, Rawhide, and Wagon Train were always acceptable TV viewing. And, of course, any movie starring John Wayne.”
Abacus grew up bouncing along what is now the 118 freeway in north L.A. County, with various homes throughout his childhood in Van Nuys and Simi Valley. If you think about it, he grew up in the area that is arguably the most filmed area for westerns in the world: Big Sky Movie Ranch, Corriganville, Lasky Ranch, Iverson Ranch, and Paramount Movie Ranch are all filming sites of many great western movies or television shows. Gunsmoke, The Cisco Kid, Have Gun Will Travel, Bonanza, Fort Apache, The Lone Ranger, They Died With Their Boot On, and hundreds of others were shot nearby.
Upon graduating from high school, Jim looked to the Air Force Academy for schooling. His original plans were more about engineering, but that didn’t stick. He eventually found himself back in the Valley.
“I never had a grand plan to become a CPA,” he recalls. “In fact, until I switched my major from engineering to business, I did not even know what a CPA did. As an aftermath of the Vietnam War, jobs in engineering and design were non-existent. A friend from high school suggested switching to business and that I should major in accounting. Oddly enough the orderliness of accounting suited my engineering mind and the rest is history.”
Abacus took to accounting, and even though he interviewed with the big firms, he knew they weren’t his style. He was turned off by them immediately. He went to work for a small firm in Beverly Hills for 10 years to gain experience at his craft.
“My time there was spent working with clients who owned their own businesses. This gave me tremendous insight into the skill set that is necessary to make a small business successful. I listened to their problems, observed their mistakes and passed on what I learned from others. I soon discovered that this was way more fun than just doing taxes and filling out financial reports.”
But he felt the “great wild beyond” calling his name, and like any real cowboy, he just couldn’t be corralled any longer. He left the firm and headed out on his own.
Jim is now a partner at Allegent Group in Woodland Hills, Calif., with a mix of individuals, families, and small to mid-sized businesses as clients. The firm offers a broad range of services, from tax prep and planning to full-service accounting and bookkeeping, estate planning, strategic business planning, and fiduciary accounting.
Which brings us back to the trailhead. As most successful professionals have found, balancing a busy and successful work life and a personal life is not always easy. And since that first trip with The Desperados to Colorado, Jim and the boys have found something that helps them unwind, have fun, and have it all wrapped in outdoor adventure. As he says, “Accounting can be emotionally exhausting, which is why completely disconnecting from the world on a cowboy vacation is so attractive.”
Since Colorado, other Desperado trips included rafting down the Snake River through Hells Canyon (dubbed “riding a snake through hell”) and a working ranch out of Bozeman, Montana. These trips all had one thing in common that the guys had not initially planned on, which was the lack of any electrical connection to the outside world for an extended period of time, and they all found it was very therapeutic.
“This disconnect plus the camaraderie make for some great adventures,” says Jim with a smile. “Like Ronald Reagan said, ‘There is nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.’ “
Happy trails, Desperados. Hope you can be back in the adventure saddle real soon!