On March 1st, 2010, my friend Walter and I set off on an adventure with my Arabian horse, Sojourner. I rode Soj across America and Walter drove our little truck (with no trailer). The trip began in Los Angeles, California and successfully ended in Bath, New Hampshire 8 months and 14 days later. It was a 3,700 mile ride.
We rode in celebration of family and as an outreach to those dealing with divorce-related depression.
This ride tells a tale of love in many forms - through the people we meet along the way, our connection with the horse, with the land, and with each other.
As this blog goes on it gets more and more in depth with tons of photos and experiences. Snuggle in with a cup of tea and read this like a book. I have switched the blog around so it reads start to finish so you don't have to read backward (except the first entry).
Here is our story...
A long road, bring on the dark coffee....
Walter and I just finished the 60 mile trek of nothingness. I was riding at a slow walk on Soj, both of us hot and tired, through the town of Fort Sumner when I heard a whistle directed at me from between a couple of old buildings. There was a man in a plaid shirt and a cowboy hat and he gestured for me to walk his way.
I turned Soj and we were greeted by Arron, his father, and a couple other gentlemen sitting outside of Arron's feed store. Walter had run the three miles from Arron and Shara's house and was cooling himself in front of the air conditioning fan in the feed store. I didn't know this yet (I thought he was still running to us) so I listened to Arron as he told me which road to go on. He insisted that I tell him what I was craving for dinner so he could get what he needed at the store. He already knew I liked cran/cherry juice and said he would pick that up on his way home. Just then Walter came out of the feed store and we took off walking down the road together while Arron went to the market to get lasagna makings.
We met a great guy as we were walking who was sitting on the side of the road hitch hiking. He was from Belgium and he was traveling by himself from Patagonia, South America to Alaska. He had a black beenie on his head and I asked him if he was hot. He said yes, but that his head was burning and he only had that hat. I gave him the baseball cap I was wearing and we got to talking a bit. Hopefully we meet this guy again in our future. He was about our age and had nothing but a hiking bag. I love the courage he had and the massive smile even in the ridiculous heat with no ride in sight. Such a cool guy.
So Walter and I got to Arron and Shara, (and their babies, Juliana and Dorian's) house and gave Soj a well needed bath. We hosed ourselves off as well. When we let Soj go he hung out by us for a second and then galloped off to the 22 year old black mare in the field. They fell instantly madly in love and have been inseparable ever since.
Back in Vaughn, Soj buddied up with another old horse (although it was not like the extreme love he feels with Pepe, the black mare. They were cordial, but not in love). He was staying at a ranch that Stephen happened upon only a few miles before we rode into town. We were so kindly donated a motel room (where I watched "The Hills" on t.v. and got pretty upset...awful, awful show) so we were able to get some decent rest in preparation for the three tough days on hwy 60.
The kids at this ranch were wonderful and I asked them the next morning if they knew of that silly show. They did, of course, but said they didn't like it. Then we talked about other shows like "Sweet Sixteen" and "Bridezillas". Ugh. Yuck.
The kids out here are amazing, much like the kids at Henry's ranch back in the East Bay where Soj lived. They have all of these t.v. shows, but they are so much more capable than anyone they are watching on television. Many of them can drive a truck already, they know how to handle a horse, rope, they understand animals, and life and death. They are outside all the time and come at you with a strong introduction and often times even a handshake.
This little dog came with us for about 5 miles after wildly chasing Walter in the truck out of the driveway.
I have been saying lately that it's like stepping back in time in this part of the country. Cowboys rule the land out here and they carry all the integrity and gentlemanly ways that you read about. Most people around here are dressed in plaid shirts tucked into Wranglers and are topped off with a cowboy hat. They stand tall and don't hesitate to stop and ask if you need help.
Bill is one of the cowboys who stopped and asked if we needed anything. I asked him if there was anywhere we could get anything other than alfalfa around here and he said he had some other sort of hay he could give us.
I said, "Oh thanks! That would be great! We'll buy it off y...."
"No", he said as he was shaking his head, " just hold on here and I'll be right back".
He was back with a bale of hay for us and then handed Soj a little treat. The treat was something called Kake that Soj really liked so he ended up filling up a whole bag for us. The kake came aggressively out of a little shoot on the side of his truck into the old grain bag Walter was holding. The bag must weigh 70 pounds now.
He wouldn't take anything from us. He said he just likes doing things for people and only asks that people turn around and help others as well in return.
He told us about his 16,000 acre ranch that he inherited from his dad and said he wouldn't leave it for the world.
Right now Walter is playing basketball with Dorian, Arron is grilling some Rib Eye steaks, Shara is laughing hysterically with the baby (they just got off the 4-wheeler that goes only 20 mph), and Soj is swooning with Pepe.
Before meeting this Pepe, Soj met another Pepe at the Morris Ranch the night after the highway camping night. We were lucky to find that dip in the highway so we were able to set up a pretty nice camping spot, but we didn't know what we were going to do this next night. There were no trees to high-line to and really nowhere to go.
I asked Walter if he would drive down to the couple of ranches that were in the distance and ask if we could stay near them. He met a wonderful 76 yr. old woman who was living alone at her ranch called the Morris Ranch.
We were welcomed in by 5 horses that circled Soj. I had to fend them off with my rope. Thankfully I had been practicing swinging the rope over my head and on my right and left side fast and I had to put my new little skills to the test here.
It worked! They were very bold and made Soj a little nuts, but eventually I was able to scare them off far into the field and we got there safely. The leader of that bunch was a stocky handsome Quarter Horse called Pepe.
The other Pepe.
"Hey you, little one...why don't you come over here and unhitch this latch for me, huh? C'mon now...just step a little closer...."
Jene Morris is a kind, trusting woman. She let us in without a minutes notice, made us a pizza (even though she had strep throat) and showed us all of the beautiful pieces of art and photographs around her house, some of which were her own paintings.
"He was the most wonderful man in the world", she said as we looked at a picture of her late husband.
They were such a handsome couple. She said he glided on and off his horse and was an incredible father.
"He meant a lot to those boys".
In her bedroom there was a picture of him when he was younger. He has a fantastic, mischievous smile on his face. Next to his photo is her high school picture displaying a beautiful, innocent looking brunette.
She met her husband, Leon, down at the Old Community Building (which ironically is now owned by Aaron's father)...
Oh man...side note...I am sitting outside typing this and Sojourner was eating his mush mix over there by the truck. The black horse won't come up to the truck (even though Soj beckons for her to) so he woofs down his food. Anyway, he just finished his last bite and the second the last bits of food hit his lips he RAN whinnying the whole way toward her! Man o man! I have never seen him so smitten! I don't know how to take him away from this girl!
Jene's husband to be was the guitar player in the band at the Community building and she thought, "he was the just the most handsome thing I had ever seen."
Together they made a beautiful life together a few miles up the road from that Community Building on their 12,000 acres of Paradise.
At this ranch Sojourner comforted a young antelope Walter had found earlier in the day in the middle of the dusty road. The little baby was only a few days old and was nearly gone, but Walter couldn't leave her and put her in the truck.
We gave her water and some electrolytes and a little milk. We did this every 20 minutes or so and she actually started to come around. We thought about calling Shannon back in Mountainair because she is such an animal lover and rescues dogs, but that would have meant either she or Bob would have to drive about 100 miles to come get this baby that might not even make it. So we just continued to give her fluids and keep her warm.
That night we put her in a stall in the barn across the way from Soj. She would have been warmer in there, but she actually got herself up and walked to Sojourner. She was able to get under the fence and folded her little legs right at his feet. He kind of nibbled her ear. I took his blanket and wrapped her in it but it was going to be cold and she was still so weak. She didn't make it to the next day. I had gotten up early the next morning and warmed some milk for her but she was Cheyne-Stokes breathing so I decided to let her be.
When I got up a couple hours later she was gone, but I felt better that she had been by Soj. If Walter hadn't picked her up the morning before she would have died in the dirt in horrible heat. She obviously thought Soj was her parent and made her way all the way across the path and under the fence to sleep by him. Sojourner ended up lying down right in front of her and she was nestled in a blanket.
When Walter and I were leaving the ranch we were talking about how sad we felt and I told him that he was with my Pop now and that when I brought her back into the field I touched my St. Christopher and asked Poppy to go get her. Pop always took care of stray cats and any other little animal that needed his help. He would be happy to have this little antelope.
Right after I said this I looked up and there was one, single antelope standing right there beside us. Walter and I took it as a sign that it was the little baby saying she was okay and both of us felt better.
I talked to my mom about this later. It was actually really amazing. I mean, the second after I said the thing about Pop there was this antelope next to us! There has never been a time before that day that there had been an antelope standing next to us.
I don't know what happens after this life and I don't follow any specific religion, but things like this feel like something else, you know? It's almost too coincidental. No matter what it was, it was beautiful and we both felt a lot better thanks to that antelope and the spirit of my Grandfather.
Dorian is next to me now showing me his stuffed Grover doll (from Sesame Street). He's tying Grover's legs together...oh, and now his arms as well. Dorian does not like Oscar (who lives in the trash can) at all. He sticks his tongue out and says "ahhhh" as he shakes his head quickly back and forth.
The game of HORSE that was commencing in front of me as I sat on this rocking bench has ended and now we are all out here eating No Bake oreo cookie cake that Shara made. It's good. I just asked Walter if he wanted some tea and then I heard myself and started laughing. You see, I wanted tea to go with my cake, but I am sitting here outside with the computer (not inside where the tea pot is. That's where Walter is though). So, my little brain asked him if he wanted tea meaning "would you make us some tea?" but I phrased it "would you like some tea?"
He made me tea.
Sweet one that he is.
Sojourner and Walter and I traveled 6 days before resting here. We rode 34.5 miles the first day to Bob and Shannon's friends house (Jene and Tom and their wonderful son, Colt) and then another 16 miles to the old broken down school we camped behind. After that we rode 18 miles to Vaughn where we were donated the motel and met the wonderful family from Mexico. The next day was a 20 mile ride to the camp spot on the side of the highway and then the following day was 22 miles to Jene's ranch. We were pretty tired on the last day and slowly made the last 17 miles to where we are now.
There is lots more to tell about where we are now, but night is making me yawn...
Walter gave me a box of truffles for my birthday and they had mysteriously disappeared. We had the back of the truck open like we always do when we are camping and when we closed it we found our truffles.
Cute one down there.
Soj walked through this dark, narrow tunnel without even a sideways look. I thought that was really cool.