Where to even begin! I have racked up the frequent flyer miles in the past two weeks. I first boarded a plane to head to Tulsa and then onto the Atoka Trail Riders Rodeo. Hopping in my rental car, I headed to my host family house. I met Paula and we visited downtown Atoka and an Italian restaurant. Friday brought a day filled with sponsor and school visits. I visited each classroom at Atoka Elementary and had a great time interacting with the students! They really enjoyed learning about rodeo and all of the fun events! The next school visit was to the town of Lane. As you can guess, this is where Lane Frost lived. It was assembly style with kindergarten through 8th grade.
To drive me around and accompanying me through the day was Mrs. Alice Foran, sister of Reba McEntire. In fact, I met almost the whole McEntire family during my stay in Atoka. Reba is no stranger to the Atoka community and is a proud supporter of the Atoka Trail Riders Rodeo. One look at Alice when I met her and it was obvious they were family with the beautiful red hair!
I arrived at the rodeo a few hours prior to find my horse, meet the announcer, stock contractor, and get ready to meet the crowd! Part of my speaking at the schools is to advertise to the students that if they come to the rodeo, to be sure to stop by to see me and I’ll give them an autograph. By doing this, I have learned that it’s proof the students really do pay attention because I signed several hundred autographs!
The grand stands were filled and the rodeo kicked off with a fire routine involving the bucking stock. I carried Old Glory in and to this day, I still get chill bumps when presenting the colors. I loped around the arena on my grey horse and took in the crowd smiling and ready for the rodeo. A great rodeo was put on both nights and I am so blessed to have been a part of their rodeo tradition.
Late Saturday night I packed my bags and then left around 1:30 in the morning to catch my flight in Tulsa. It has pretty much become a tradition of no sleep on Saturday nights because I usually have early travel plans. I made it back to Kentucky to catch a bigger plane headed across the world in less than 24 hours. I quickly repacked, grabbed my parents, and headed to the airport in Indiana. This is what I have been planning for ever since January, a once in a lifetime trip to the land down under in Australia.
If you recall from my blog posts earlier in the year, this year is the first time that I have ever traveled commercial on airlines. So you can imagine that I had to make sure I had my ducks in a row for this international trip! Making sure I didn’t leave the house without my passport, American hats, Ariat jacket, and Painted Legend Apparel bags, I was ready to embark on this aussie adventure!
We flew from Indiana (which is only about 30 minutes away) to DFW on the first leg of the trip. After a 5 hour layover and plenty of time to wander around Dallas airport, it was time to board our 17 hour Qantas flight to Sydney. One good thing about the night flying is sleeping is at least halfway normal. I knocked myself out with Benedryl and settled in with my two pillows and blanket. I slept well for only about 4 hours and spent the rest watching movies and tv shows. After touchdown in Sydney, it was a puzzle for both my parents and I to figure out how to go through customs. Although they had been out of the country before, it had been several years ago. Luckily, we met a friendly aussie couple on the flight who walked us through all the steps.
First step was to go through the automated passport photo check. My parents and our guide couple all went in front of me so I was the last to pass through. I placed my passport in the appropriate slot and looked at the camera for it only to say that my photo did not match me. I was sent through a series of complicated lines to speak with an actual person who asked for a form that I had filled out on the flight. Unfortunately, that form was with my Dad who had already passed to the other side. Back I went through the crowd to fill out another form and then finally back to the guards. Meanwhile, my parents had no idea where I went and were actually quite worried. I made it to them and they were obviously glad to see me!
We claimed our luggage and found our way to the domestic flight to the Gold Coast. We had about three hours in Sydney and thought that was plenty of time to make our connecting flight. When we arrived at our gate, we only had about 15 minutes to spare! Time flies when you are traveling from one end of a foreign airport to another! Our last flight brought us to the beautiful Gold Coast. While flying into the airport I had already noticed that the cars drove on the wrong side of the road and there were round-a-bouts. Save this information for a funny story that I will tell you later in this post.
I walked out of the airport and was greeted by a group of lovely ladies, the Australian Rodeo Queen Quest contestants! They weren’t hard to spot with their beautiful matching outfits and cowboy hats! I met Bessie Smits, the current Miss Rodeo Queen of Australia for the first time after following her journey throughout her reign. Along with meeting the contestants, I spotted the lady behind it all, Sharon, who I had communicated with for the last 8 months on planning this trip. I was happy to have made it to the Gold Coast in Australia with my awesome parents by my side.
The queens helped us collect our luggage and then piled into two separate cars. It was only natural to go to the “passenger” side of the car but instead I found the drivers seat. This was going to take some getting used too! We took a little drive to our hotel, got checked in and then loaded back up to start our busy schedule.
First up was the Gold Coast River Cruise with the contestants. We boarded a double decker pontoon boat to see the wonderful scenery of the area. When you fly in somewhere and hurriedly get from point A to point B, you don’t actually get to see where you are. This cruise allowed us to view the area. Photos were taken with the girls and we all had a blast driving the boat and cruising the river.
Dinner for the night took place at the tallest building on the Gold Coast called Skypoint. Piling into the elevator, we ascended 73 floors in 40 seconds or less (I forget what the actual time frame was). From this tall view, you could see anywhere on the Gold Coast. The view was spectacular and so was the atmosphere of the building.
The next day we went to Movie World where you can find rides named after movies and the characters walking the streets. We took pictures with Batman, Superman, Marilyn Monroe, and so many others. A few of the brave girls and I decided we wanted to ride roller coasters. We rode a few and I decided that we don’t have roller coasters like the ones we ride in the US. Most went flying fast and upside down multiple times. I know that sounds normal, but trust me it was different! After our theme park adventure we rushed back to do a few media interviews and take pictures on the beach in Surfers Paradise. We quickly moved onto dinner at what they call a Football Club. Everyone said the food was amazing, but honestly, I was still feeling like I was on the rollercoaster so I didn’t eat much of it!
Horsemanship day was next! All of the six contestants rode the same horse for their pattern. This is where I started judging. I enjoyed watching all the girls ride and display their horsemanship skills. There I met Australian rodeo legend Mr. Colin McTaggart, winner of many championships and part of a long line of rodeo history.
By this point in my trip, I have figured out that aussie’s love good food. We didn’t miss a meal but I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the food was. Everything was so fresh and you didn’t find hardly any processed food. The food had different names and can sometimes be very confusing. For example, if you ordered chips, you received fries. Fish and chips (fries) are a staple item in Australia. Not only was the food different, but the every day terms were. I loved hearing the aussie accent but did have trouble understanding a few of them, especially when they use slang. Words like g’day mate, no worries mate, mackas, brakky, roo, bull bar, and Boot were used quite frequently. During one car ride I taught a group of the girls a little bit of the American accent and they taught me aussie slang! We made several funny snap chat videos and laughed until we cried.
The contestants all had personal interviews and it was my time to jump in on the judging in this category too. Later in the evening the coronation dinner was scheduled. Everyone dressed up and I wore the perpetual Miss Rodeo USA Barbara Ware dress. It seemed only fitting to proudly where the American flag colors! After a fun judging week, it was time to crown the new Miss Rodeo of Australia queen.
I would like to extend congratulations to the winner and 2018 Miss Rodeo Queen of Australia, Rebekah! Everyone did a wonderful job and it was great getting to know all of the wonderful ladies! My time with the queen quest came to an end on Saturday. My parents and I were off to our next aussie adventure: the rental car. Remember earlier when I said the traffic drove on the wrong side of the road and there were round-a-bouts? Yes, now I had to navigate on the roads!! Upon getting in the “midsize” tiny crackerjack box, we quickly wondered how we would even fit all of our luggage in. I sat in the drivers seat on the right and Dad took out his phone for pictures of course. I put the car in gear and turned on the road very slowly. It wasn’t too much longer on the road when it was time to turn and I found the windshield wiperes instead of the turn signals. I probably hit the wipers 30 times before I figured out that the turn signal button wasn’t going to be on the left! It took some adjusting too, but we made it to the hotel.
Now came the real challenge of getting 6 big suitcases in a car that didn’t have much of a trunk plus three people. It took a lot of organizing, but we made it work. We drove off to Tenterfield in New South Wales to Wangrah Wilderness Lodge. The director of the pageant, Sharon, owns the lodge and invited us to stay a few days with her. We were really excited to get out of the city and visit the “bush” as they call it. Our drive let us see the beauty of Australia and the agricultural side. There were large amounts of horses covering properties all over. We went through the Great Dividing Range Mountains and rolled down the windows to hear the birds sing. It was truly beautiful to hear and see. As we rolled through the mountains, the temperature dropped into the 50’s. Six hours later we arrived at our destination.
Five miles down a dirt road we arrived at the gate of the Wrangah Wilderness Lodge located on 10,000 acres. We started a fire in our little house and settled in. The next day I met the rest of the family and Sharon’s husband, Carl. Carl had “morning coffee” with us and took us on what I call a safari adventure in the “yute”. We climbed a mountain up to 3,000ft. On the way up and down we spotted all sorts of wildlife. From wild deer (that are very different from what I have seen) to wild goats and sheep. And wait for it… KANGAROOS! Giant lizards could be found amongst the rocks. What an adventure we had in the bush!
We awoke early the next day to watch the sunrise on a morning walk which took us through their cattle herd by the river. Everywhere we looked we spotted “roos” as the aussie’s call them. The lodge also had a rodeo arena and we walked up to it. We spent the day looking at the beautiful land and learning more about life in the bush. That night we all had family dinner with about 15 of Sharon’s family. I was so thrilled that she had prepared something that Americans like! We had steak, garlic bread, and salad for dinner! I thought we had already returned back to the U.S. with food that good! Late at night is when all the fun started. We loaded in the back of the yute to go spotlighting for roos! I’m sure that we saw well over 500 roos! It was so much fun driving through the bush and experiencing first-hand the wildlife.
The last part of our trip was to make the long drive back to the Gold Coast to have dinner and a show at the Australian Outback Spectacular. This show showcased the outback of Australia and had trick riding, barrel racing, and told of the great Australian history. The food was good too! Dad and I were asked to participate in the show and of course we said yes! We raced lawn mowers around the arena and it’s funny that I can’t recall exactly who won….. either way we had a blast!
For our last day in the Land Down Under we took a tour to a little island called Lady Elliott. This tour included a private flight in a Cessna Caravan. Dad and I enjoyed sitting up front and following along on the flight plan, speed, and altitude. When we arrived at the island, I was surprised that there was any room for a runway on it. It was very small but was the start of the Great Barrier Reef. We took a glass bottom boat tour to see the beautiful corral reef and the marine life. I didn’t want to take my eyes off the reef in fear that I would miss something cool! We hopped out of the boat to do some snorkeling in the ice cold water. I can say that this was seriously the best part. I was snorkeling within inches of beautiful fish and even massive green turtles! It was so majestic to float there and watch them in their natural habitat. From bright purple and green fish to zebra fish we viewed over thousands of different species of marine life along the Great Barrier Reef.
Thursday was our departure day. We woke up super early to pack, return the rental car, and make it to the airport. At this point, as I am writing this blog, we have already taken one flight and have been on board our Qantas 17 hour flight for over an hour waiting to take off. It turns out that when the jet bridge was retracted from the plane, it did damage to a probe. The pilot came on the PA system and said that he “believes that we can fly without it”. No worries, mate.
Overall, this Australian experience has been something that I will never forget. I can’t explain the feeling I have as I leave a country that was truly amazing. From the friendly atmosphere, the hilarious tour guides, Australian accent video sessions, to making memories with friends that I will never forget, it has all been amazing. I am forever grateful to have represented the IPRA all the way in the land down under in Australia. G’day mate!