I keep getting asked this question, or these questions: How does it feel to have crossed a continent on horseback? How does it feel to be done with your ride? How does it feel to have accomplished your life’s dream – and now to be facing the rest of your life? How does it feel to be sitting in your parent’s warm house, looking out at snow, living apart from the herd, getting around via automobile, cooking standing up in a familiar kitchen, not wondering where you’re going to sleep every night, to be safe and comfortable and have a long, hot bath any time you want one? How does it feel when the ponies look at you like a food-providing, two-legged almost-stranger? How does it feel to come “home” after living for two years immersed in another culture? How have you changed? What have you learned? What have you done to yourself and how will that matter to your future?
In many ways I feel that I shall be unfolding the answers to these questions for the rest of my life. But right now these questions are about how it’s unfolding right now. Two weeks and three days ago I finished the ride in Minot. Two weeks and three days from now I will be walking into my new home. I find myself existing in the between. It’s a strange realm, Between, a bit like knowing I’m “safe” in the eye of the hurricane but that the only way out is through. On many levels what I am feeling is a deep gratitude. Gratitude that the ponies and I are together and safe and still reasonably sound, gratitude that the ponies and I have this place to rest, to hide, to decompress, to have time to figure things out a little bit. (And there’s a Lot to figure out!) Gratitude for all of the people I’ve met, the havens I’ve been offered, the conversations I’ve had, the meals I’ve enjoyed, the bales of hay and help with maps – the daily miracles of guidance and provision. Gratitude that Life backed me into the sort of corner where the only reasonable option was to actually Do the thing I’ve always known deep in my heart was mine to do. Gratitude for Gryph who joined up to get me started and Jesse James and Saint Finehorn who carried and informed this Journey from beginning to end. Gratitude for my parents who prepared me so well and have been so patient and understanding in the aftermath as I try to get my two legs back under me after so long being carried by 8 hooves.
I’m crying a lot, tho less than I was two weeks ago. Not tears of grief, particularly – just an overwhelm of FEELING that pours out of my eyes and rolls down my face. I want to curl up in my bed and hibernate – forever! It’s taking as much will power as I currently possess to deal with the absolutely essential ‘phone calls and correspondence necessary to deal with life and prepare for the impending move to Big Creek. Last weekend I went and retrieved a bunch of boxes from a friend’s self-storage, things I put there 10 years ago (!) and I honestly don’t remember the woman who set such store on those possessions – I kept shaking my head and saying, “what was I thinking? what am I doing? who Was I?” And yet somehow, by the very saving of those things over time I have become responsible for them. Books mostly, papers and journals and the paraphernalia of a kitchen, childhood keepsakes, oddments of clothing and a pack saddle from the last time I thought I was going to ride across the country – a pack saddle I was mightily surprised to see and that might have come in handy if I’d remembered it was there!
The hardest thing, and the thing I didn’t expect, is the feeling of estrangement from the herd. The ponies live outside and I live inside and we’re not doing anything together any more. I go out to feed and water them and they’re polite but that’s about as far as it goes. We’re losing our common tongue. The mission is over and they’re not really interested in just hanging out once in awhile. They don’t want to be patted or scratched. They’re bored and we’re not going anywhere. After all this time of living, sleeping, travelling, grazing and communicating as a herd on the move we’ve stopped. Our security and companionship is no longer with one another – and that’s hard. Harder on me than it is on them, I think.
When I reached the Atlantic Ocean on many levels “my” ride was finished. I was quite ill with a cold that had gone into my chest, the weather had turned and my enthusiasm was flatlined. That was the last day that I packed Finehorn and I was and am incredibly, deeply grateful that I was offered places to rest and recuperate between that day (24.October) and the day we rode to Minot (8.November). The celebration in Minot was the “official” end of the Journey. It was planned and public and really wonderful! Not many Long Riders end their rides with any amount of fanfare and I feel very lucky and blessed on that account. So, there have already been two endings to this ride, yet on another very real level, my Journey isn’t done. There is still a book to write. On some level that I can’t explain, this is part of the contract for me, part of how I can give back, part of the assignment, the culmination of the dream. My plan at this point is to keep the blog (and Free Range Rodeo facebook page) going as I Settle in to Smallholding in Big Creek, Mississippi and write the book. I really hope you’ll stick with me through that process! Meanwhile, I’m heading over the river and through the woods for a much anticipated Thanksgiving Celebration with family – and Gryph has come to spend some time with the ponies and care for them while I’m away.