I have always dreaded “leaf season” in the North East. The bright colors of the trees clash and jar and make me cringe. I find it gaudy and overblown and frankly kind of embarrassing to have to bear witness to such flamboyant tackiness on the part of usually quite sensible and decorous trees. I know – I’m weird. I have learned something about myself this autumn tho; I can handle the display much better at horse speed than I can at vehicle speed. It’s really been not so bad, riding through New England in October. Mostly the days have been in the neighborhood of 70 and sunny, drivers have been courteous, hospitality has been astounding and the ponies are doing really well.
Actually, riding through New England in October has felt a little bit like one of those hut-to-hut vacations you read about in fancy travel magazines. I’ve only set the tent up once since arriving in Massachusetts (and that was in an idyllic setting between a brook and an orchard). Since the writing conference at Rowe I’ve been passed along from gracious host to helpful neighbor, I’ve skirted the borders of Vermont and New Hampshire from beautiful back road to perfect trail, from mountain top to stream to lake to charming town, horses and riders coming out to show us the best route or simply to keep the ponies and me company. It’s late harvest, winter vegetables and the very last of the sweet corn, apple cider and donuts – big orange pumpkins anticipating Halloween.
And then there was Monday. Monday I rode all day in a chilly drizzle. Sometimes it rained hard. I have a half-kidding sort of theory about Walmart’s conspiracy to make sure people don’t spend too much time outside. For instance, their tents only really work when it’s dry and calm. I got one of their “frog togs” rain jackets awhile back – super light weight, breathes well, kept me dry enough in brief rains – I was pretty happy with it. Well, in persistent wetness over many hours it started to leak – not in a few spots – All Over. I wasn’t prepared with adequate zip-locks and my maps started to disintegrate. I walked a lot to keep my toes from getting numb. I tied the ponies to a lamppost in a parking lot in Ashburnham, MA where they were much fussed over while I ran in to Dunkin’ Donuts for a pumpkin coffee and a pumpkin donut and an egg sandwich. En route to the bike bath I encountered a young couple who asked the usual questions. I invited them to walk along with me while we chatted but they were slower than Finehorn in the desert in July and as they fell back the young man called out forlornly, “but we’ll never see you again…”
The bike path was perfect, albeit soggy, heading out of town past a variety of mushrooms and then under dripping branches of pine, paralleling a very busy road at rush hour as dusk was falling and I was expected at the barns of Bill Clark, an AQHA reining trainer who had offered a place for the night. He’d just about given up on me but we got the ponies situated in adjoining stalls and when I was shown to a long trailer where Bill’s students sometimes stay when they come for lessons from far away it was already dark. There was no water or electric, but I was incredibly grateful to be out of the wet and sleeping on a real mattress. Luxury!
Tuesday morning the weather looked to be improving, the 6 miles along route 12 went well, I found a delicious calzone at Village Pizza and headed up River Styx Road. Those of you who haven’t forgotten your mythology will understand why I was feeling a little nervous. The road was narrow and winding and steep and when a school bus came up behind me at the very moment a big Asplundh tree trimming truck, complete with basket, came over the hill towards me I hopped off mr.James pronto. The law in Massachusetts gives equestriennes the right of way to the point where vehicles are required to slow down and wait until the rider gives a signal that it’s safe to pass. Not everybody has heard of this law, but once I did I was careful to give a sign when drivers slowed down or stopped. Blessings on the truck driver, he waited at the top of the hill until the school bus carefully went past me and I gave him the thumbs up.
As we topped a hill a guardian angel drove up in a silver Volvo station wagon. She rolled down her window and said that the ponies and I needed to seek shelter. A big storm was coming in with high winds, it had brought tornados to the west – we had about two hours. I thanked her and spent a few minutes riding along pondering how seriously I needed to take her warning (the Mutha Hubba tent has proved itself a worthy shelter). Suddenly a gust blew up and we were bombarded with hundreds of acorns. They hurt! The ponies weren’t particularly pleased with this development and I remembered the Bradford Pear tree in Tennessee blowing down in a storm a couple of hours after I’d moved Jesse from where he’d been tied to it. I had no plan for a place to stay that night but I did have a ‘phone number for the woman who’d invited us the next night. I called. She sent friends with a horse trailer who met us in Ashby in a turnabout by a pond with a red boat and a big house for sale. Half an hour later we were safely under cover and for once the ponies seemed quite happy about being inside in nice safe stalls – even Saint Finehorn!
I am writing tonight from my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Harvard, MA. The ponies are waiting for me up in New Hampshire. We’re only 20 miles apart as the crow flies and I know they’re being well taken care of but it feels awfully strange to be away from them – I’m sure they feel it too. Last night my aunt invited a bunch of people over for a potluck dinner and I talked and answered questions for four hours! I’ve run errands and seen teenagers coordinate to put long, heavy crew boats into a lake and I’ve waded in chilly (tho not yet Atlantic) waters. I’ve been working on figuring out my route and timing from here to Minot (anybody know anybody up near Wells, Maine?) I’ve been eating delicious food, fielding ‘phone calls, returning e-mails and trying to decide if it’s safe to leave the tent behind (and save 8# of pack weight) for the last 3 1/2 weeks of the Journey. I’ve been drinking too much coffee and fantasizing about catching up on sleep. Last week over a dinner table I mentioned something about having to get caught up on my “homework” and it was obvious that office chores and pragma were not part of the romantic, adventurous, wild cowgirl image dancing through the heads of my dinner mates! Such is life – and I’m feeling very much behind in that realm.
For anybody planning to come to Minot from out of town -> my folks have arranged for a block of rooms at a group discount at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn under “Free Range Rodeo”. The hotel is a 15 minute drive from Minot – rooms are $89+tax and contain two queens or one king – some are large enough to add a rollaway. Call the hotel directly at: 207-784-4433 if you’d like to reserve one of them! More to come soon on Minot Plans!