“When you hit a road block, go around”, is what the sign in the ladies room read at the little restaurant called “Shorty’s” in Marble Hill, Missouri.
“Hm”, I thought.
Dennis would laugh at me because I kept saying, “well, maybe that’s a sign…maybe that’s a sign”.
“If you start looking for signs, you’ll get into trouble!!” Dennis replied with a smile and a wagging finger.
Well, I walked out of the bathroom, through the little restaurant, sat down across from Dennis and said, “the sign in the bathroom said, ‘when you hit a road block, go around’. Maybe it’s a sign”.
“Quite literally”, said Walter.
“You should have taken a picture of that one”, said Dennis.
This “sign” talk started when this guy showed up…
Walter and I named this pup Ozark. Dennis and I rode out early on Saturday morning from his and Joann’s home in Van Buren, MO. Dennis has a favorite little place he eats breakfast at that is about 10 miles from his home in a town called Ellsinore.
And this is the little one that was at Dennis and Joann's...
When we reached the little town of Ellsinore Dennis and I parted ways so he could get his biscuits and gravy and I could finish the days miles. About 7 miles after saying goodbye to Dennis, I met this wonderful dog Walter and I later named Ozark.
I have dogs join up with me for bits of the ride all the time, but they always turn back at some point and head home. Not Ozark. He stayed right next to me and Sojourner and worked that skinny little body out like I doubt it’s ever been worked before.
He traveled 15 miles with us until we came across a man called Kenny and his son, Chris, leaning against their fence in front of their house.
“I wanna talk about his shoes!” Kenny called out pointing to the Soj’s boots.
I crossed the street and told him about Sojourner’s Easyboots and he and his son invited us to dinner that night. Many of his family members have a birthday in August and they just so happened to be having a big cookout that night. We had only traveled about 18 miles that day, but it was ridiculously hot and even more humid so we decided we would go ahead and rest for the night at Kenny’s place.
The cookout at Kenny's.
We put Soj up in a nice corral across from the house and decided to go get Ozark some food and a collar. I wasn’t sure Ozark would stick around while we left for town, but when we got back he was still there resting in the shade.
I wasn’t sure Ozark would stay through the night either. I figured if he did have a home he might wander back down the road in search of what he knows better once we weren’t around. But he didn’t. The next morning I headed out to Soj at 4:30am and there was Ozark guarding the truck. He kind of woofed and paced back in forth in front of the truck until he realized it was me and then he wagged his tail and walked toward me. He was already guarding for us!
Oh, Ozark. I wanted to keep him so badly, but there was that wonder if he wandered from someone’s home (although he’s so thin, I have my doubts) and it really would be hard to have a dog with us on this ride. So Dennis and Joann kindly took him back with them (after he traveled 45 miles total with us) and put his picture up to see if his owners would come for him. If he is a stray, then they are going to find a good home for him.
Walter said maybe Ozark will find his way back to us. I told Dennis that if Ozark somehow shows up on the road again behind me one day then that will definitely be a sign and that dog will be with me forever from then on out! He laughed, “Yeah, that would be a sign.”
So right now Ozark is safe and sound at Dennis and Joann’s and we are safe and sound at Joann’s sister’s house in Jackson. I have only just met Joann’s sister, Elaine, and her husband, Lanny. Joann and Dennis took us out for lunch at The Red Lobster, showed us around the town of Cape Girardeau, checked out the bridge to make sure it has a decent shoulder, and then dropped us off here.
Walter and I were all set up with our computers at the kitchen table when Lanny and Elaine got home from work.
Now, you might be wondering why Dennis and Joann (who we stayed with back in Van Buren) are still with us all the way in Cape Girardeau. Let’s go back to that sign in the bathroom…
The question was a trailer ride. Sojourner has already had little spurts here and there in a trailer to get us out of some bad situations. The very first time was back in Texas when three different people were telling me to get off the road because a tornado was coming. I said I couldn’t because I had the horse. One guy said to leave the horse and get in the truck because I needed to get out of there fast. Of course I couldn’t do that so instead I kicked Soj into a full gallop down the highway to try to beat it with the blackest sky you can imagine right behind me, hail, incredible (and incredibly close) lightning all around, wind, and rain. I realized this was stupid and I couldn’t beat the storm so I turned Soj around and ran at a full gallop right back into the heart of the storm. I had seen a corral a couple of miles back and was going to let him loose in there so I could get in the truck. We got to the corral and it was locked.
I got in the truck with Walter and held onto Soj through the window. He was really calm and just put his head down to keep it out of the rain. I thought a tornado was coming and told Walter to google on the phone what to do in a tornado! Well, instead we called the people we were staying with up ahead and decided it would be best for Soj if they came and got us. In the end we weathered the entire storm and by the time the trailer got there it was sunny and bright. We took the ride anyway because Larry (the man who came to get us) had gone through the trouble of hooking up the trailer and had already driven out and also because I was just tired and soaking wet and Soj was the same. That was an 8-mile trailer ride. The tornado ended up hitting ground 10 miles behind us.
That was a huge decision because we had gone 1,325 miles without stepping foot in a trailer, even with people telling us we were in serious danger and about to get swept away. I still didn’t want to do it, but in the end it always comes back around to Sojourner (who can’t speak and say, “please get me out of here”).
Sojourner was developing some swelling in his hind leg at this time, too, but wasn’t showing any pain so I went ahead and rode him on the next day. Usually the swelling went down after a bit of riding, but this time it was staying pretty swollen. I was getting worried and when our next stop (David Fox) called and said, “Darlin’, how about I send out a trailer for you so you can give your horse a rest and get out of this heat”, I said okay.
That brought us to 28 miles total in a trailer. We were in Vernon, Texas.
Now, if you have been reading from the beginning then you know that this was a scary time when I didn’t even know if Soj was going to be able to continue. He never showed pain, but we still thought something really bad might be wrong with his fetlock. My mom and I were already looking at other horses but my heart wasn’t in it because Soj is really the only horse I want to do this journey with.
Well, we took him to the vet at the Four 6’s ranch and everything turned out to be okay. We took a good 10 days off and kept Soj in a sweat wrap until the swelling was all gone. It is swelling in the soft tissue that is probably from an old injury.
But the biggest challenge has been the heat.
In total now 100 miles of this ride (which is now at 2,250 miles) have been in a trailer and I’m writing about it because it has been a big decision for me every time. Most of those trailer miles came just recently thanks to Michael back in Mountain View, MO, and Dennis from Van Buren.
I almost didn’t even write about this because to tell the truth we have ridden over 100 miles (no exaggeration) in driveways, but I feel like it’s something to write about because it shows how sometimes you have to make difficult decisions and bend your idea of what you want something to be in order to make it a success.
I also was questioning writing about it because we have ridden through so much of this horrible heat (and I mean, it’s horrible). It’s heat like I have never felt in my entire life (and I lived in Houston for 10 years!) so to feel like we already suffered through it all and then to get in a trailer when fall is finally just around the corner is kind of hard.
But I always have to keep a close watch on Soj’s mannerisms and his health and what has been really beating us up for 11 solid (and I mean solid, there has been zero relief) weeks has been this heat. We have been riding in a heat index of sometimes 120 degrees. For over two months it has almost always been above 100. Everyday we’re in record-breaking heat. All the locals say, “This isn’t normal, it’s never this bad”, but we keep telling ourselves it will lift soon and it just doesn’t!
Nobody else is ever outside, but with no home of our own to go to, Sojourner, Walter, and I don’t have much of a choice but to ride through it. Families we stay with are always so open and generous and offer us a place for as long as we need, but the problem there is that this ride is ending in New Hampshire and so we have to keep the weather on the other end in mind (which is the exact opposite). So we ride on. And I tell you, after so long in this heat I was just at my wits end because it’s not just my comfort, but the added weight of worrying about Soj.
I had planned that this ride would take 6 months and we are in our 6th month now and in Missouri instead of new Hampshire. We have changed our NH arrival date to some time in November instead of late August. I’m happy to still be out here riding. A lot of people are shocked that we have ridden this far on only one horse, but the reason we have been able to is because we stop and rest if he seems like he needs it.
The things is, every stop puts our arrival time in NH just a little bit further back. Basically the one trailer ride that Michael gave us from Mountain View to Van Buren allowed Soj to rest 5 solid days instead of one day off, then ride a day, and then 3 days off. So that was a pretty easy decision because I wanted him to have a good rest. It also allowed us to spend a day with Angela and Michael and ride on those cutting horses which was such a cool experience. I can’t see the point in rushing past people when we have an option that will allow us more time with them.
We had a wonderful stay in Van Buren with Dennis and Joann.
We floated down the Current River and Stephen got us a cabin in the park for one of the nights. I loved that little cabin so much, but we were both so tired that we actually fell asleep at 4 in the afternoon and didn’t wake up again until 8 the next morning. We were at the cabin for 19 hours and slept 16 of them! It was still awesome though. Those 3 awake hours were a blast and I have never been one of those people who say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead”. I love sleep and think it’s as nice a thing to do as anything!
Dennis even insisted that the truck get some shut eye...
They played 9 ball pool as well to include me. I didn't win, per say, but I almost did.
We rode away from Van Buren (met Ozark) and met up with Kenny at around 11am after 18 miles of riding. We put Sojourner up, went to get Ozark a bag of food, and came back to Soj absolutely soaking wet just from standing in the field. Walter and I didn’t really know how to get out of the heat other than sit in the river but we were also so very tired and just wanted to sleep.
We decided to go back to the river and set up our tent near it to try and sleep some of the day. First of all, we got a lot of sand in the tent, which I hate, but didn’t really care about at that time, but secondly I sweat while I was lying there trying to sleep like I have never sweat before. Have you ever been just so tired it’s all you can think about? That’s how I felt, but I was so HOT. We were in a shaded spot, but we were both sweating like we were running horrible fevers. I thought it was because I had sunscreen on which maybe was causing it to build up, but Walter was just as sweaty. It was just so humid! I looked at Walter and shook my head and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m tired and I just can’t be this hot anymore.”I didn't mean the ride, just the heat. I didn't want to be in the heat anymore.
It’s really hard to be that hot and not have a home to go inside. Usually we have a place and almost always an offer to stay longer, but there is always a little ticking clock in my head reminding me of the cold in NH. NH doesn’t just get sort of cold, it’s frigid.
So we packed up the tent and sat in the river for about 2 hours. When we went back to the house we met the rest of Kenny’s family and ended up having a wonderful visit and dinner with them all. They treated us like we were family and treated Ozark like he was family as well!
In the end, Kenny’s daughter-in-law, Stacey, told us they weren’t staying in the house that night and offered their room to us. It ended up being one of the most incredible beds ever and it was really hard to get up when that alarm went off at 3am. So we didn’t. We hit the snooze button a million times until I finally said “alright, let’s do it”, at 4:30am.
This was a mistake because we missed the early morning hours and were stuck in the heat. It was just so hot and humid with a heat index of 114. Dennis was coming that night because we were to stay at an RV park so he was going to bring the trailer so we could sleep in air conditioning. We decided to ask him if he could just come earlier and trailer us the rest of the way.
Riding Sojourner was like riding a sack of potatoes and there was no shade on the road. He was dying hot, I was dying hot, and Ozark was absolutely killing himself trying to keep up with us. He would cut down under every bridge we went over looking for water to get in, but every river was dried up.
Finally we came to a big puddle and he stayed in it for about 10 minutes until Soj and I walked on again.
Dennis came out and got us and brought us up ahead to the RV park. Again Walter and I were drained from the weather and went to sleep for a few hours during the heat of the day in the air conditioned trailer. We awoke later to feed Soj and visit a while with the owners of the RV park, Don and Margie Ezell, who were good friends of Dennis and Joann’s.
Rummy with breakfast.
At the RV Park this morning. We are checking my itchy legs for chiggers.
Before going to sleep after Dennis brought us to the RV park, we went out to that little restaurant called Shorty’s and talked a bit about all of this trailering business. Dennis thought it would be good to go ahead and take us the 35 miles up to Cape Girardeau. The heat was supposed to break in the next day or two and it would probably be best for Soj. I told him all of my concerns, how it’s hard to trailer when you know you’ve already ridden the worst of it, how I don’t want our efforts to be at all diminished when we’ve ridden so many miles just because we got in a trailer a few times, and how I don’t want to disappoint anyone.
Walter said, “you haven’t disappointed me”.
“Well that’s most important”, I said.
“Has she disappointed you?” he asked Dennis.
“Absoluuuutely not”, Dennis said shaking his head.
“So the people who are in closest proximity to you are not at all disappointed”.
“Okay”, I said, “Thanks.”
Now of course, today we woke up and it was so much cooler. It was actually a very nice morning, but plans had been made and Dennis and Joann were coming back to take us to Cape Girardeau.
This allowed us more time with them, though, that we were so happy to have. We walked around Cape Girardeau and had a wonderful lunch together.
This ride has been about overcoming challenges and being able to bend and figure things out when things get a little tough. But the biggest theme of this ride has been that no one is alone and that you can’t do things without the help of others.
Dennis, Joann, Walter, and I went into a jewelry store and this is the quote that was in the book the jeweler gave to us. You can click on images to make them bigger...
So this 3,400 mile ride is actually going to be 3,300 true miles. Maybe I would prefer that it was 3,400, but why? This ride has been about the people who have helped us and about this horse that I love dearly who I never want to push to his absolute limits. There are no rules to this ride and I think this has been a good lesson in realizing that your dream isn’t always exactly what you make it out to be. Sometimes it has some twists and turns and sometimes those twists and turns can throw you off and make you say, “No, this isn’t what I wanted”, but maybe it is exactly what you wanted and exactly what you needed. You can never predict the future and how things are going to turn out. You have to just go with it, accept the help when it comes, give it back whenever you can, and smile because life is about the ride, right? It’s not about getting there this certain way or that certain way. It’s not about what you thought it was going to be. It’s about what it is. At every moment at every corner it’s going to be whatever it’s going to be and you just have to take it all in as it comes because it might actually be even better than what you dreamed.
Right now I can hear Elaine downstairs bustling in the kitchen. It’s 10 minutes to 11pm and she has been down there baking for at least 3 hours. She’s making us chocolate zucchini bread and coconut apricot bread for the road. It’s incredible smell has made it’s way up here and into this bed with me. I feel like the Grinch when his heart grows 20 times it’s normal size because he is so filled up by the little elvish people and all of their love down in the town. Not that I was ever the Grinch, but you know what I mean. Every time I hear a clang down there something in me melts a little and my heart pushes against my chest.
Tomorrow is supposed to be cooler. Today was much nicer. No more trailers for us. 100 miles total for this ride is our limit! Done with that nonsense!! Just kidding but not really. Anyway, we have a 32 mile ride tomorrow and we cross the Mississippi river into Illinois! I’m pretty excited.