Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Warren Simpson holds tight as he rides his bull June 25 at the Rodeo Alaska Tour stop at the Soldotna rodeo grounds.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Warren Simpson holds tight as he rides his bull June 25 at the Rodeo Alaska Tour stop at the Soldotna rodeo grounds.

Alaska Rodeo Tour comes to Soldotna

With a thundering crash, the metal gate containing a nervous bull was thrown open and Anchorage rider Bobby Smith was sent on one of the wildest rides an adrenaline junkie can experience. The animal jerked and twisted and tore into the sandy arena surrounded by onlookers with the violence and power of a locomotive.

The entire display was over in a matter of seconds, however, and Smith was sent scurrying to the sidelines. The same scene played out for Andrew Layton, Chris Reno, Jacob Page, David Vallevencio and David Martin.

On this particular Saturday night in Soldotna, no man could tame the bull, but those thrill seekers will get another opportunity in a month’s time, when their desire once again needs to be quelled.

“It’s a total adrenaline rush,” Smith explained after his ride. “It’s an addiction. It’s a lifestyle.”

“I can’t describe it,” added Page. “You do it for the pure thrill.”

Reno said he has done two things in life that satiate his need for excitement.

“Bull riding is the second biggest adrenaline rush for me to skydiving,” he said.

The show was just part of the Rodeo Alaska tour that hops around the state during the summer, making various stops at rodeo grounds like the one in Soldotna adjacent to the softball fields. The tour was in town in early June before making stops in Palmer, Anchorage and Soldotna again last Saturday and Sunday.

The traveling tour continues this Saturday and Sunday in Ninilchik, then makes appearances in Eagle River, Soldotna for a third time (for the Progress Days festival July 22 through 24), Fairbanks and Ninilchik again on Aug. 20 and 21 before wrapping up Aug. 27 and 28 up with the Champions Tour Finals at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer.

With three stops at the Soldotna rodeo grounds this summer, Kenai Peninsula locals will have satisfied their itch to see some of the best cattle roping, horse riding, chute dogging and, yes, of course, bull riding.

Reno said taking on a bull is a difficult task not only because of the sheer power of the animal.

“The one time you think you know what he’s gonna do, that’s when you fail as a rider,” he said. “You can’t predict it. The minute you fail as a bull rider is when you think you know what he’ll do.”

Preceding the bulls, rodeo participants took part in a series of contests that included double mugging, calf riding, ribbon roping, barrel racing, chute dogging (wrestling a small cow to the ground), team roping and breakaway roping.

The last show of the night last Saturday was the most anticipated of them all, and the crowd got their money’s worth. In a display that brought visions of old Westerns to the mind, the crew of men ready to tame their bull waited patiently in their pens before the gates were thrown ajar.

Reno was thrown off his bull and had almost escaped before the animal landed on his right leg. In that particular round, Reno could at least say that he remembered what happened, unlike his first time last year.

“I don’t remember my first ride,” he said. “I got on the bull and thought, oh (expletive), what’d I get myself into?

“I remember hitting the ground and looking up from the dirt, and someone yelling to get up to the fence.”

An Oklahoma native that now lives in Houston — the small community north of Wasilla — Reno has been into the rodeo scene since age 14, but it was as a 7-year-old in Germany that Reno first tasted the thrill of the sport. Reno recalled an older German rider that played the role of a childhood hero with a cowboy hat that made the image stick, and by age 14, he was working the first of four summers on a Pennsylvania ranch.

The other participants Saturday traveled from most corners of the state and beyond. Layton made the move from Florida to Alaska with the Army, and now resides just off of Fort Richardson in Eagle River. Layton has never reached eight seconds on a bull.

“My girl (tells me to stop),” Layton said with a smirk.

Page — nicknamed “Preacher” due to his official status as an ordained minister — said after never having accomplished the eight-second feat since he began riding in 2013, he pulled it off two nights in a row earlier this summer.

“I just sat back in my seat and that was it,” Page said. “The first danger zone is (the bull’s) head, because you could hit his head, or you could go over it.”

A fifth-generation cattle rancher, Page’s journey took him to from California to Alaska via the military, where he joined the Alaska tour.

“I love the rush,” Page said. “My old man did it, and it worked for me.”

Page cautioned that while the prize money in bull riding can be great, it’s not something a rider should lean on for life. His move into the rodeo scene was not due to money, however.

“This is my fourth or fifth time in Soldotna, and it’s smaller and the people are awesome,” Page said. “Usually we’re closer to home, but here, we’re camping out and having fun.”

Reno said the reason he enjoys the peninsula crowd is because of the relaxed atmosphere and easygoing attitudes toward the riders.

“It’s really laid back,” he said. “Everyone’s on their stuff, there’s less complication.

“It’s more friendly.”

Joey Klecka can be reached at joey.klecka@peninsulaclarion.com

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Bobby Smith of Anchorage tumbles off his bull June 25 at the Rodeo Alaska Tour at the Soldotna rodeo grounds.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Bobby Smith of Anchorage tumbles off his bull June 25 at the Rodeo Alaska Tour at the Soldotna rodeo grounds.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Austin Strattman wrestles a steer to the ground in a chute dogging display June 25 at the Soldotna rodeo grounds.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Austin Strattman wrestles a steer to the ground in a chute dogging display June 25 at the Soldotna rodeo grounds.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Wasilla rider Andrea Jennings guides her horse through a barrel course June 25 at the Soldotna rodeo grounds.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Wasilla rider Andrea Jennings guides her horse through a barrel course June 25 at the Soldotna rodeo grounds.

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