Saturday, June 4, 2011

Help from the President of the Back Country Horsemen and Goodbye to Chance

June 4, 2011
12:25 AM

Another long and overemotional day is over.

I woke yesterday to beautiful sunshine and light breezes, but no text or message from Chance.  I began to get ready for my pick up by Cathy and Bill at 10:00 am, but I felt weary, sad, and confused.

I worked hard from 6:30 to 9:30 and managed to saddle the horses, move all the gear to gate, and clean up the manure from Butch's yard and driveway.  I visited a bit with DeAnn and showed her some photos that I had taken of her family.  At a few minutes before ten, I ran through the shower and felt a bit better.
DeAnn and her family

All through the morning I wondered about Chance.  Was he OK?  Why doesn't he call?  Is he coming back?  Will he try looking for a horse on his own?  Where is he?

Finally at 10:00 am, Cathy and Bill pulled up with their beautiful horse trailer, ready to run me down to Cabazon, to avoid the 9000 foot climb and 8000 foot drop from Anza.  The horses loaded beautifully as always, and I hugged DeAnn goodbye.  All six kittens are doing well.  I feel like I have new family in Anza now, and plan to return again one day.
Cathy and Bill trucked me and the horses to Linda's place.
Incredibly kind and generous people.

We drove the winding road again, and dropped into the valley.  It was then that I got the call from Linda, a Back Country Horsewoman.  Eventually we got the the highway near Cabazon, and Linda told me she would meet me there with maps so I could navigate the PCT a bit better.  She arrived shortly after we did, and it was then that I realized Chance had taken the water filter and that I was about to enter more desert.  Linda offered to lend me hers, and invited me to come back to her place in Cherry Valley and spend the night, then she would truck me over to the trailhead.

What wonderful people again.  The kindness of strangers just blows me away.  Makes me want to be a better person myself.  I was feeling emotional, angry, and sad that Chance was not communicating.    We joked about it, but as each hour of the day went by, deep down I felt abandoned and betrayed by my partner.

We pulled in to Linda's place.  Chip, her husband was standing by, ready to help unload my project.  All the gear, the horses, the saddles, the tarps.  Such a load!  Everyone helped and we were done, the horses rolling in the paddock in no time.  Turns out, Linda is a nurse, and Chip is President of the Back Country Horsemen for this region of California.  What gems!  We chatted for a while and talked horses and mules, as they had just returned from Mule Days in Bishop.  Lots of great stories.
Chip, Regional President of the Back Country Horsemen
Thanks for everything Chip!
Fed me, hauled my gear, put up my horses, gave me a bed, helped me set up a camp,
and then drove me all the way to Altadena so I could get my truck to pick up Clover.
And all with a smile and a friendly way.  What a guy!
Cathy and Linda.  Horsewomen and instant friends.
Hardworking, generous, kind, and in love with all horses.
My kind of gals!  
Backcountry Horsemen do much for the PCT, including offering incredible help to people like me.

Late afternoon, I got online and finally got an email from Chance.  He told me he didn't feel ready and didn't know how to gear up for hiking the PCT.  He sounded positive, but defeated.  He is not coming back.  I'm so disappointed, but I understand.  I was there - I know what he went through and how hard we tried to make it work. I'll miss him in the miles to come, and wish him the very best.  He must be so disappointed too.
Paul's salad creation.  Yum! 

Paul, Chip and Linda's engaging and friendly son, prepared us an amazing meal of fresh salad, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and grilled steak.  Wow.  COMFORT FOOD!  Linda pulled out map after map, and resource after resource.  We talked and talked.  She's a nurse also, so we have an immediate bond.  More new friends!  I start to feel happy again, and reassured that I can do this well on my own.

I'll miss the benefits of having a partner.  The safety factor, the shared load, the laughter, the friendship, the shared experience, the shared joy.

I wish you well on your journey, wherever you go, Chance.  We hoed a good row.  Too bad we didn't get to share the harvest.  I so appreciate all the good things you brought into my life.

Disappointment and Disengagement

Pacific Crest Trail
June 3, 2011
2:50 AM

It’s difficult to write now.  I am sitting alone in the shack behind Butch and DeAnn’s place.  Chance left hours ago and I haven’t heard from him.

The day was rough.  We looked at several horses but couldn’t find one that seemed fit for the job.  I spent most of the day trying to understand why Chance didn’t like the Mustang, and when it was too late, he decided to talk to Bob, the seller, but couldn’t reach him. 

I started feeling bad after spending hours at Starbucks online, trying to find information about the PCT that would help us with planning the rest of our ride, and having no success with it.  We also tried shopping for shoes, but Chance couldn’t find a pair to his liking.

We went to eat at a cheap Mexican place, and I burned my mouth on roasted jalapenos.  I had never had jalapenos that spicy before and the pain just went on and on.  The waitress suggested I try salt and I poured from the shaker into my mouth.

I also could not use the restroom as it was closed.  I ate my small shrimp taco and Chance ate a huge meal.  He donated one of his potato tacos to me, but I was so upset by that time that it all just tasted like cardboard.  And my mouth was on fire.

Suddenly the stress of the past weeks just bowled me over, and it was all I could do to sit there, the Mexican game show blaring as the waitress swept under our table, letting us know it was closing time, even though we had only just sat down with our food.

But sit there I did as Chance wolfed his food, feeling rushed.

Back in the car, we began our long drive back to Anza over curving mountain roads.  I tried to call a number listed in the PCT info for equestrians, but the man who answered seemed appalled by my questions for info, maps, permits, ANYTHING.

My reception cut out before he could reply or offer suggestions.

We rode most of the rest of the way in silence, both of us stewing in our own brand of misery.

When we finally arrived, we had a conversation.  With no horse and no prospects, and no running or even appropriate hiking shoes, it looks like Chance must head back home.   I told him I was worried about his knee, which has been causing him pain and swelling quite often.

I had also been feeling pressure all day to get the rest of the shoes done for the horses and get our gear organized.  I also still needed to repair the tack saddle and sew a sheepskin pad over the breast collar for Midnight.

Chance told me that “we probably both assumed the other of us had the skills for this, and maybe we don’t?"  I told him I felt prepared to go it alone if he was thinking of bailing.  I told him he needed to do whatever made him feel happy and safe.

After chatting for quite a while, I just had to start on Maggie’s feet.  I knew I had hours of work ahead to repair the pack saddle strap, sew on the new pad, wash clothes (by hand in a bucket), and pack all the gear.

While I was working on Maggie’s feet in the dark, using my headlamp for light, Chance started gathering his gear and putting it in the rental car, and suddenly I realized he might not be coming back. My heart began to pound.  We had talked about how much things had changed with Clover being lame and having to be pulled.  Now it would be a hike/ride, and he didn’t have the gear or the physical stamina to handle it.  I wasn't sure I could do it either, although I'm feeling better than ever.

In a shaking voice, he told me “I can’t make any decisions right now.  I have to leave because I don’t have reception on my phone and I need to call my friends that will help me get the car back tomorrow.  I have to leave to make those calls before people are asleep”.

I was just shocked.  Shocked that he was leaving me, and shocked that I hadn’t seen it coming.  He talked about maybe finding gear and/or finding a horse and meeting me on the trail again.  I felt incredibly sad, because it didn’t feel sincere.  I felt abandoned.

“Are you cool with this?  Can you handle all the packing tomorrow?”

“I guess I’ll have to”.

“No, (with irritation) you could say NO!”

I started having lots of regrets, and feeling worse by the second.  I just stared at him.

We hugged briefly, and Chance pulled away in the rental car facing a long ride back to Fullerton.  My friends with a trailer are planning to pick me up at 10 this morning to transport all of us plus horses and gear to Cabazon.  

The enormity of what I was facing alone as he drove away just crushed me.

So I called my son Jesse.  I told him the situation and he said “I know it’s dangerous, and I’m sorry you lost your partner, but I know you can do anything you put your mind to Mom.  You are strong and you can do it”.   Have I mentioned I love my son?

We talked about logistics for a few minutes, and then hung up. 

I burst into tears at last.  This is not what I had in mind for my trip with Chance.

Expectations again, creating disappointment and anger and sadness.

Time to quit feeling sorry for myself and get to work.

I began to clean and organize gear, washed my clothes and hung them on the line.  Tears streamed uncontrolled down my face, but I kept working.  The horses surrounded me, offering comfort and peace.  I recovered a bit and worked harder and faster.

I replaced the leather strap on the pack saddle that had broken when Midnight nearly fell down the mountain the day we turned around on the trail and brought Clover to Anza.  I used a knife to pull the screw and an awl to punch the hole because Chance had taken the hole punch with him.  

Then I entered into a project to cover the pack saddle breast collar with sheepskin.  Midnight has two bare skin patches where the collar is rubbing him, and I don’t want him to get sores.  I cut two long strips of sheepskin from the pad I had purchased at Thrifty Horse in Norco.  I thought about lots of things as I cut and sewed.  The meditation of sewing gradually helped me feel better.

It took about an hour to sew the pad on the collar, and I feel pretty good about it.  It’s the same collar I made in LA, at the Tandy Leather Co, with help from the fellas that work there, and the leather maker near the Broken Horn Tack Shop.  It would have been a lot less hassle and probably cheaper to have bought it outright, but in the end, I feel a satisfaction at having made it myself,  and I learned enough making it, and now have tools to fix just about anything on my saddles that might break.

Except that Chance took the hole punch.  I assume it was by accident.  He also took the only book we have about the trail, useless as it is, and the GPS, which doesn’t really work anyway.

So here I am alone on the PCT.  I never really wanted to do this challenging trail alone, and wouldn't have undertaken the project if Chance hadn't committed to be my partner.   I had other plans, and now I am committed to riding this thing because we wanted to do it together.  But I found I love it.  Like the Colorado trail, I love riding outdoors in beautiful weather, enjoying the incredible scenery.  I love the work of it and how my body responds to the effort.

Most of all, I love being with my herd 24/7.  I really miss them when I'm not sleeping next to them.  We've become very attached, and I'm excited to see what the PCT will bring into our lives.

I will quit if my horses begin to suffer.  I will not risk their well being.  There are still dangers of many kinds, and a risk of injuries, but I have enough experience to prevent a lot of the usual problems.

I will attempt this on my own, as long as it seems appropriate, and eventually I will move on to complete my goal of riding 200 miles in every state.

At some point, I will have to get serious about raising money to replace my retirement funds, which are quickly dwindling.  I'm thinking about holding pack clinics along the route, for people interested in this awesome way to be in nature with horses.

And alas, I will miss my friend and soul mate, Chance.  It may be easier in some ways to do this without him and a green horse, but I will miss his humor, his smile, and his company. 

Time to sleep.  I will need to be up at day break to saddle the pack horses, make a call to my retirement account for another disbursement, and move all the gear to the gate. 

Hopefully, I’ll have time to take a shower in the morning and I sure hope my clothes get dry.