Heading into the Wilderness we had to carry everything we would need, for all of us, in order to have a reasonable chance of coming out the other side alive. We would not have cell ‘phone reception or internet access for at least 12 days. We needed to be self-sufficient and prepared. So much of this journey has been a daily walk of grace. There is no way to plan for the responses of strangers; for the unknowns of being travelers with horses in a place where all of the land we are traveling through is owned by someone. There is less need for planning when we are moving along roads and past stores and in easy range of communication. The Wilderness is a very different sort of experience. There was not much margin for error – our carrying capacity was finite. What did we Need – and what extras were worth the weight?
“The more you know, the less you need.” I heard those words in my head both as a challenge to my knowledge and skills – and somewhat mockingly as I looked at the pile of gear and food that we planned to pack into the Wilderness on our ponies. Our “extra” packhorse was suddenly carrying a full load of her own. The amount of “necessary” stuff always seems to increase to fill the available space. This is equally true of vehicles, apartments and estates, but it really snaps into focus when the load must be packed up and loaded, carried along with us everywhere we go, with no place to pick up something we forgot. Everything we carry is blessing and burden. This is the balance, as much as the size and weight, of the object in question. Every day we move we have to pack up everything and load it onto the ponies. Every night we have to make camp and stow everything we own Somewhere. This is one of the most difficult aspects of the trip – and we often discuss what we can get rid of in order to make our lives easier.
We become defined by our possessions. We have become “The Women Traveling By Horseback.” Someone at the hot springs asked if we were the people who owned the horses. I later had the realization that the horses own us every bit as much as we own them. At this point our lives are largely taken up with figuring out how to feed and water and care for our herd, and how to move the journey forward. This is who we are. We are the custodians of our possessions, the caretakers of the beings and objects with which we share our lives. When we head off into the Wilderness, the decisions we make about what to take with us can have serious consequences. Do we or don’t we pack the pepper spray as a defense against bears? Two cans? What goes in the first aid kit? How much food do we need for ourselves and how much for the ponies? Can we stay warm enough? What about rain? How many books do we really think we’ll read? Spare batteries? Can we count on cooking over a fire most of the time and how does that effect the amount of denatured alcohol we pack for the camp stove? Do we have a plan B if the creek rises or there’s an accident?
We called the Ozena Ranger station on Friday before we left. The ranger filled us in on which roads were closed for the season, water levels in the creek, campsites on the way out. He said he’d be at the ranger station by 8am on Saturday and we could sign the fire permits and pick up maps. Cool. Saturday morning we loaded the ponies into B’s trailer and he drove us down to the trailhead, via the ranger station. No Ranger. We knocked and called. No Ranger. Plan B – and we hadn’t even gotten started yet. We took photos of the maps on the display boards - they were not detailed maps, but it was something. We left without fire permits ($10,000 fine for Any use of flame without them) but carried a list of the regulations D had printed out for us on his computer. We left without maps.
We’d been in at Willets Hot Springs for a week, supplementing the graze with a bag of alfalfa pellets we found, partially eaten by rodents, in the “bunker” (a cement room with a steel door which we were using for our food storage), when Finehorn colicked. Colic, aka tummy ache, is a serious situation in a horse. Horses lack the ability to vomit, so anything that goes in has to go through, and if they roll on the ground to try and ease the cramps they can twist a section of their intestine so that nothing can pass through. We hadn’t packed Banamine (a muscle relaxant) or a vet. We started walking with Finehorn, listening for gut sounds (a healthy horse Always has gut sounds) and offering her water. She was sweating and uncomfortable, obviously wishing we’d just leave her alone, but we kept walking her, not knowing what else to do. We’d found a 1/2 bottle of Wild Turkey in the cabin and had a 1/2 bottle of Olive Oil; we’d go old school if it came down to that, but after a few hours she passed some dark green stinky piles and rapidly returned to normal. Of course, we know Finehorn is sensitive to alfalfa – and here we’d been feeding her compressed alfalfa – no wonder she got sick! Lesson learned – and cheaply at that.
Sunday, the day before we left Willets, we met a couple who gave us their topo map which covered the route out via Sespe Hot Springs and Mutau Flats. As it turned out, we Really needed that map! But that’s a story for another day…