The threatening sound of hoofs stop us in our tracks.
“We’re too exposed,” I think to myself, as my husband, daughter and her friend crouch low in the forest. Do we hunker down deep in the underbrush and hope the horse passes us by? Or do we make a run for it and risk the crunch of autumn leaves giving us away? We’ve lost all sense of direction and the map isn’t much help now.
How did we get into this spot? It all started with a drive to Red Deer, where a quick turn off Gasoline Alley took us to Heritage Ranch. There we met Joel Martens, to be known from then on as our enemy: Ranch Tracker. Like the popular TV show Mantracker, we’re attempting to outwit the man on the saddle, except this experience is thankfully condensed into two hours.
Ranch Tracker is the ultimate game of hide and seek — on a much larger scale than anything you played as a kid. Our playground is 100 acres of woods cradling an open meadow and flanked by the Red Deer River. Equipped with only a Google map printout, the goal is to remain at large and capture four flags scattered throughout the area. Participants have two hours (and a 10-minute head start) to complete the course, but it’s game over should Ranch Tracker and his trusty steed catch you.
Martens has the rancher look down pat, sporting a cowboy hat, chaps, boots and beard. He was even considered for the lead role on Mantracker. Before being on the lam, we meet his horse Hummer, aptly named because he’ll go through any terrain. They both seem so nice, it’s hard to believe we’ll soon come to fear them. After our head start, we arrive in a clearing and text Ranch Tracker. The hunt — and our adrenalin begin.
Successful fugitives know when to lie low and when to make a break for it. We aren’t that savvy. Racing diagonally across the meadow for longer than my lungs would’ve liked, we dive into the bush.
“Don’t step in the mud! We can’t leave any tracks!” my daughter whispers furiously to me. Plodding along the edge of the path, branches scraping my arms, we head toward the river in search of our bounty.
Our initial manoeuvres pay off. The first two flags are found with relative ease. The third, not so much. We haven’t heard or spotted Ranch Tracker, but there are telltale signs he’s been in the area. Fresh manure lies on the path. How fresh, we don’t want to test, so my husband decides to leave his cellphone in the bush as a decoy.
In and out of the woods we dart, based on our extensive study of spy movies, occasionally calling the phone in the hopes it throws Ranch Tracker off our scent. But we’re stuck. Where is that third flag? We send the girls on a recon mission, while we adults remain inconspicuous, updating our Instagram feeds.
Our scouts motion us to follow — they’ve spotted the third flag hanging from a tree. High fives are issued all around. There’s only one flag left and we still have an hour to go. Time to brief the team on the final stage of our mission. Do we wait it out and hope to confuse Ranch Tracker or do we make a run for it?
Suddenly, we hear a rustle and a whoosh, and there through the thicket we spot Hummer. They don’t appear to see us. Frozen in our tracks, we remain dead quiet, only the sound of creaking trees can be heard. Ranch Tracker and Hummer circle around the area. We think we’ve gotten away unseen, but they turn back and plow through the dense bush right into our hiding spot. The girls console themselves by petting Hummer, and we congratulate ourselves on making it this far.
But the game is far from over. In a classic bumbling dad move, my husband can’t find his (company) phone. And so Ranch Tracker morphs into phone tracker. According to him and his well thought out strategy, the phone was placed under a log, near a dot on the map. Uh huh. We divide into three teams: the girls and I take the map, my husband uses the Find My iPhone app and Ranch Tracker goes it alone with nothing but his instincts. Naturally, it’s Ranch Tracker who finds the phone and saves the day.
Good to Know
Ranch Tracker is an all-season activity suitable for families, friends and corporate outings.
Carry water, and wear long pants, closed toe shoes, and a long-sleeved jacket.
Increase your chances of success by wearing camouflage and being unpredictable.
Treat yourself to a meal after your experience at Westlake Grill located on-site.
Visit HeritageRanch.ca for more details.