Nearly everybody in town knows that Bayard Fox used to work for the CIA, and in his spare time (such as it is) he has been working on a memoir about it. But he spends most of his working hours today running his ranch and managing the websites for his business, Equitours. The company’s customers travel to Italy, Botswana, Australia, India, Belize, and many other countries on 6 continents, for horseback riding excursions–all arranged from a bungalow on the western edge of Dubois.
“We’re by far the largest in this business,” he says. “But it’s a niche business.”
Equitours is also the only equine travel agency that runs its own riding operation on the side, which is at Fox’s Bitterroot Ranch, 26 miles to the east of town. One advantage of this arrangement is that Fox can personally keep in touch with his customer base by taking rides with the guests. This way he can keep his fingers on the pulse of both Americans who want to ride horses in an exotic location overseas, and visitors from overseas who want to ride horses in the real West.
The ranch keeps 200 horses and also some Black Angus and Highland cattle. “With the vacation business the way it is right now,” he admits, “it’s damn nice to have a little income from the beef.”
They say that everybody in Dubois has a back story, but Fox’s tops most of them for adventure. Even his summer jobs during college were extraordinary: He worked as a seaman, as a forest fire fighter, and as a longshoreman in Alaska. After graduating from Yale, he lived and worked in Europe and Africa, and later set up a langouste fishing business in the Solomon Islands. (This happened after he was badly injured in a horseback riding accident while working for the CIA in Iran. He couldn’t walk, but he could dive for the fish.)
Of all places on earth (and Fox knows many of them), why settle for good in Dubois?
“Montana’s nice, but it’s a bit more populated,” he replied. “I like this place politically and economically. You can be freer here than anywhere in the world.” East Africa used to be like that, he added—for whites. “I like the wildness of the country. I love the climate. The existence suits me really well.”
Fox bought Bitterroot Ranch in 1971, tipped off by a relative who lives in the area. Initially the ranch operated as a wilderness hunting camp, and later he added a guest ranch serving primarily international visitors. The idea of twinning the business with an international equine travel agency came to his wife Mel (whom Fox met when she worked as a wrangler at Bitterroot). They founded Equitours in 1978.
Mel had many contacts in Kenya, where she grew up, and she was eager for a reason to return. After all his travels, Fox had his own contacts in many other countries.
“The idea appealed to me,” Fox says. “It seemed like a great way to make money in the winter” when the action on a Wyoming guest ranch are grinds to a halt in many feet of snow.
For the first five years, the couple accompanied guests on overseas tours. As a result, Fox can write compellingly about the advantages of touring a foreign land on horseback. “Horses and horseback riding are deeply woven into the culture and history of most cultures,” reads an article on Equitours’ website. “This is how our ancestors travel, and for those with a sense of history there is no more appropriate way to go… Horses are a great introduction and ice breaker almost anywhere.”
These days, he and Mel stay closer to home, except for one month-long trip to escape part of the hard winter. “It’s not everybody’s cup of tea to spend the whole winter here,” Fox says. “After the end of December, the place is not hopping until the end of April.”
Speaking as the search engine optimizer for the content of his websites, however, Fox maintains that Dubois is just as good a place as anywhere else for an online business, and better than some. He has one consultant in Michigan and is about to engage another in North Carolina.
“I think 90% of the stuff you need to do you can do by phone and email, remotely,” he says. “The bottom line is, I don’t see a hell of a lot of difference between here and New York City.” Except, perhaps, that there may be more service outages in the city, where he wouldn’t be able to enhance his consumer relations by riding with his guests.
He hastens to add that there are some “handicaps” to operating Equitours out of Dubois. If something goes wrong with a computer, the nearest repair service is an hour away. Travel can be cumbersome, especially in winter when the Togwotee Pass between Dubois and the Jackson airport may be closed by a storm. Anyone who needs to commute regularly from Dubois will face challenges, especially in the winter.
In order to be happy in Dubois, he goes on, “if you have much intellect, you need a lot of independence of spirit. And you need to be able to amuse yourself without a lot of company.”
For such times, Bayard Fox recommends reading and writing. In fact, it’s probably the ideal circumstance in which to finish your memoir about the CIA.