The first day I was on Hwy 50 for the entire 30 miles. It was 92 degrees and sunny and the cars and trucks going by seemed especially loud. But the next day, fall happened.
We left Somerville Stables in Parkersburg, WV on Saturday. Somerville Stables is a lovely little horse facility owned by Lisa Somerville. There is one old horse who wanders around outside of the fences that became Soj's buddy for the couple of days we rested there.
Walter and I went to stay at Rusty Horse Stables in Wadesville, WV because Becky and Jim Dines (the owners) got in touch with us and offered us a bed which we needed. Soj stayed at Somerville and we headed over there for an evening. The next morning we crossed out of Ohio into West Virginia.
Parkersburg was a difficult town to ride through. There were a lot of sexual crude comments thrown out time after time, but on the upside it has a historic section that is full of old houses and they were some of the most amazing houses I've ever seen (and I've lived in Charleston, SC!!).
Before Parkersburg we were with a pretty exceptional couple for a night. They have raised over $125,000 for St. Jude Hospital. Every year they have a 10 mile trail ride to benefit the hospital. We arrived just after this year's ride which brought in 261 horses. I thought we were going to pull in to a pretty ritzy place with a lot of land, but all of those horses and people piled on to a 16 acre plot before hitting the ten mile trail.
Michael. He was quite the character! Isabelle tries to slip him half and half coffee so he gets less caffeine, but it wasn't long before he figured it out and went back to the real stuff again.
"Forgive the mess", Isabelle said as we walked into the comfortable trailer home.
It wasn't messy at all except for piles of paperwork she had yet to sort through. Not only do they put on this massive ride, but after they distribute prizes that are offered by St. Jude. Isabelle said it takes most of the year to send out all of the thank you and tie up everything from the last ride before preparing for the next one. They have been doing this for 15 years now and broke their record this year bringing in over $20,000.
"It must be expensive for you to put this all together", I said.
"Well, a lot of business and people donate. The pig is donated and prizes are donated to raffle off. For example a local saddle maker makes a saddle every year and we raffle it off. We have a 50/50 raffle to try to help pay back some of our costs, too. This year the 50/50 gave us $200!"
"I can't imagine $200 would cover your costs", I said.
"Well, it doesn't, but you know, we want to donate too."
After Michael and Isabelle's we headed to Tony Kennedy's place in Tuppers Plain, Ohio. Tony put Soj up and his mom, Judy, gave me and Walter a bed.
Judy lost her daughter in a car crash. She fell asleep at the wheel. Judy told me that you never get past something like that, but eventually you start to live again.
After her daughter's death she sold all of their horse trailers and the horses. Her daughter was into showing and for about 5 years Judy and her husband, JR, were unable to be around horse related things.
"We didn't do much of anything, really."
But after about 5 years they got another horse and now they are surrounded by them again. Judy's son, Tony, moved back to be near them and started a horse facility. Tony is an all around cowboy. He trains horses to do pretty much anything you want whether it be showing, cutting, or reining. I saw many photos of him next to horses with blue ribbons around the barn.
Judy said Tony has never fallen into doing something just for money. His love is horses and even though at times it was hard, he stuck with the horses. He does what he loves.
He used to ride bulls and then later became a bull fighter. One of the bulls in particular came to know Tony and would actually stop once he would put his hand out! I saw bull riders for the first time on this trip back in Phoenix with my aunt and uncle. I can't imagine getting to a point where you could just put your hand out and stop one of those bulls.
I asked Judy if it was at all therapeutic letting the horses back into her life.
"Yes", she said "Yes, I would say it's been very therapeutic."
Tony has a couple of pretty adorable children who are always running around under her feet as well. Pictures of Tony's sister are hanging on the wall and his little daughter looks almost identical to her. In a way it's like she's back again in a new little life running under her Grandma's feet.
We said goodbye to Judy and Tony the next morning and headed to Parkersburg and then went on to a very kind man's home in Ellenboro. Burton has a cool old country home with a winding staircase that he is planning to turn into a Bed and Breakfast. He showed us all of his horses and mules which made him as happy as a kid in a candy store.
"It was cool to see how much joy he got from those horses", Walter said to me later.
I was pretty tired that evening because that was the day I rode 30 miles on the highway. I was kind of in a so-so mood and a little wound up from all of the traffic whizzing by so loudly. Walter set up the tent and I laid down in there and watched Soj who was eating in the round pen next to me. Slowly I started to unwind.
Jordan, who had visited us about a week ago when we were at Kirk's place, came out for a second visit with his girlfriend, Robin. Burton, Walter, Jordan, and Robin all sat around a campfire telling stories. After lying in the tent for a while I joined them and ate a delicious pasta and veggie meal that Jordan prepared.
Burton grew up in New York and talked about the days when he would go to the ball game at the Yankee Stadium for $1.25. He would go all the time and watch Joe DiMaggio and Roger Maris.
Burton also told us a story about how one day he was going to go for a ride and when he opened the gate one of his mules jumped out and took off. Once before this incident a bunch of the mules and horses had gotten out and ran all through town, rolling around and bucking and having a good 'ol time. He got them all in that time, but this time he couldn't find the mule.
He lives very close to the highway so as he searched and searched with no success he started to panic and then started to cry. He headed back to the house so upset and walked over by the trailer...
The mule was in there.
He had run out and got into the trailer on his own, ready to go for a ride. Burton said he was so weak from getting so worked up he could hardly close the trailer doors.
From Burton's we were able to get on the rail trail. It made the 31 mile day feel like a piece of cake (and long days like that rarely feel like cake). The rail trail is where the old train tracks used to run, but the tracks have been ripped up to make a nice walking, riding trail.
The trail is so beautiful and really fun because you have to pass through the big, long tunnels which are pitch black. One time Soj walked straight into the wall head on. Usually you can keep your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel, but this tunnel was so long that it was still hard to walk a straight line.
We hit the wall, had a little spook because of it, but then straightened out and headed toward the little lit up arch way in front of us. What was on the other side was beautiful. Moss and vines hanging down and beautiful trees. My dad always says the best time to take photos is after a rain. I thought about this as I looked at the trees, the tall granite walls, and the windy road beside me. Everything popped out because it was wet. Magic.
We ended the ride in the dark last night. Walter was behind me and Carl Star led the way in his truck to his Arabian Farm called Wind Drinker Arabians.
"These are like the Arabians in the pictures!" I said to Walter.
They are all straight Egyptian Arabs and they are pretty incredible looking. The most incredible is a little filly.
"She's something special, isn't she?" Carl said. "If look over and she's dancing it doesn't matter what I'm doing, I'll stop and watch. This is why I got into Arabians."
He clapped his hands and the little filly showed us what Carl was talking about. She trotted like a deer. I had never seen anything like her. It was like she was trotting on spring loaded clouds. Her tail sticks straight up in the air and her little dishy face is held high, cute as can be.
Mr. Rowland here has a birthday coming. I never used to be able to remember his birthday and so he told me it was the expiration date for most coupons, September 30th. Now I remember.
Today is a rest day, but tomorrow we are riding to Clarksburg. It's only 16 or so miles from here. The next day we head to Fairmont, then to Morgantown. We'll be taking a little rest in Fairmont though to celebrate a pretty special day. Maybe the whole world should celebrate the day this wonderful man next to me was born. I think the world became just a little bit better that day.