Thursday morning the ponies and I were in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Thursday evening found us in Delaware, Ohio. A distance that would have taken us over a month to travel by hoof was done in a day. It’s hard to know how to even think about that. The entire way I didn’t have a single conversation with anyone outside of the truck I was riding in beyond “cheeseburger, catsup only” and “thank you”. Cincinnati flew by (or, more properly, we zoomed through Cincinnati) so quickly that all I had time to register was surprise at the interesting architecture of the large buildings there (who knew?) and Columbus was marked by the traffic of rush hour. The rolling hills and sink holes west of Bowling Green gave way to close, wooded hills and then flattened out to farmland and I have no idea what any of it smelled like. The magnolias have been left behind along with some of the humidity. The rivers are still flooded and muddy although the mud seems to be less red and more brown here. I am left with a vague feeling of having missed something.
Rereading my previous post I realize that, unless you’ve been following me on fb or checking the “daily update/contact info” page (at the top of the blog) you may have a vague feeling of having missed something as well – like, why are we suddenly in Ohio (via trailer?) Long story short, Finehorn came up lame on the 4th of July. As in, “Don’t make me walk over there for a treat, please bring it to me” lame. After consulting with two vets and an Amish farrier the cause was determined to be my own bullheaded stubbornness on two counts. One was the goal of reaching Kentucky for my birthday. The other had to do with how well the ponies had been doing barefoot and my not taking some extenuating factors into account. 1).The ponies had been standing in grassy pastures for most of their 6 weeks of rest and had lost much of the toughness they’d built up in their hooves. 2).The back roads in Tennessee are made of some awful pressed composite rock substance that looks smooth but is actually pretty rough. 3).Jesse is usually the more tenderfooted of the pair and since he was doing fine and it was Finehorn’s back hooves (out of sight… ) and she’s such a trooper (Not a whiner!) I just didn’t catch it in time. Why it took two days to manifest is still a mystery.
She’s already doing much, much better. I painted her soles with the special paint and walked a mile with her today and although Jesse whinnied frantically from the pasture, running along the fence and missing us desperately, Finehorn walked out beautifully. Renegade is sending 6 more hoof boots so that both ponies will have a full set to go on with and we should be on the trail again within a week. Which brings us back to the subject of schedules and deadlines and what this Journey is really all about – which was never supposed to be schedules and deadlines and “destination at all costs”. I realized, belatedly, that I’d gotten my priorities confused and we were all suffering for it.
In the midst of my freak out, when I was feeling like a fraud and a failure and a few other f-words, I got an e-mail from CuChullaine O’Reilly of the Long Riders’ Guild. He had noticed that I was in Kentucky and was sending contact information for several interesting and potentially helpful people in the area as well as sharing that not only had Mesannie Wilkins travelled through Glasgow, KY, that was also where he’d gone to write his book, Khyber Knights And that was where he and Basha had been married and gotten the Long Riders’ Guild up and rolling. All this the day before I was due to leave for Ohio via trailer. Oy. I wrote back, a long rambling e-mail alternating between explanation, justification and angst – pouring out my soul and my situation – half afraid I was about to be booted from the Guild but knowing that I couldn’t be the first to face a similar scenario and hoping that he’d share some wisdom and perspective to help straighten out my head. Blessings on CuChullaine, he did exactly that.
Among other things he reminded me why I started out in the first place: “to see my country, one hoof print at a time, to connect with people, to explore the corners of my own soul.” And he reminded me that I’ve done all that. Ok. I’ve also decided to end my ride in Minot, Maine to pay homage to Mesannie and Tarzan (her horse) on 8.November. Ok. I’ve already ridden well over 1000 miles and there’s no shame in putting the needs of my ponies ahead of my ego – that’s expected of a Guild member. But the best thing he wrote, after pointing out how long it took Marco Polo to reach the court of Kublai Khan, was this: “Enjoy every moment left in the saddle.” And that’s what I intend to do. There’s no sense in pushing the miles and rushing the Journey and being stressed out and exhausted. There’s no sense in pushing the ponies (or myself) past the limits of endurance. If I’m in too much of a hurry to stop and talk with people along the way? That’s failing.
After 21 months on the trail the ponies and I are worn out. We have 4 months left to travel before we’re due in Minot, Maine for the end-of-the-trail party. The last weekend of September I’m planning to attend a Nature Writing workshop led by the editor-in-chief of Orion Magazine in Rowe, Massachusetts (with the ponies ;-)). From there to Minot is 250 miles and we’ll have 40 days to cover it. Between now and then I fully intend to enjoy every moment I have left in the saddle, continue to “see my country, connect with people and explore the corners of my soul.” Because That’s the point, not how far or how fast – not proving anything to anybody – just riding each day because that’s what I’m doing with this part of my life. If the ponies are tired, we’ll stop and rest. If somebody offers me a cup of coffee or a cold lemonade, I’ll say yes. If we find a sweet camp beside a creek with plenty of grass and the weather is perfect maybe we’ll decide to stop an extra day. It seems so silly to me that I’d made the conscious choice to step out of the mainstream – off the treadmill – and then I somehow tried to turn this ride into that sort of experience after all. No more. The ponies and I will amble and ramble and make friends with chickens and children and all who cross our path. That’s why we’re out here!