I’ll Follow You Into The Dark

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Once again Nancy and I had planned to do my long ride, but the elements threw a curve. There was heavy rain on Friday and the Jackson River was rolling high. Nancy didn’t think Mireyah was ready for a high crossing yet, so we improvised once again and decided to take the long ride from Bolar to Warm Springs (her house) via a longer route that I had never actually ridden but believed I could piece together- and wouldn’t involve crossing the Jackson.

IMG_8415What an amazing day! The route took us along a nicely kept ridge trail above Big Valley that went past a fire look-out tower then descended into Burnsville (that was the part I’d never ridden, and it worked out pretty well by following the GPS), then we hooked up with the trails Nancy rides regularly to finish at her place.

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Nancy & Mireyah with Big Valley in the background
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Jaime & Faygo overlooking Williamsville and Burnsville

The ride one-way was just under 22 miles and took us over 6 hours. We took an easy pace, especially because this is early in the season for Mireyah who is just getting her trail miles under her, and her little Paso Fino legs don’t quite cover the ground that Faygo does. I was glad to have the company for a change and considering I had hoped to ride Faygo back home- keeping her from draining her energy was wise.

As for the scenery- it might be one of the prettiest rides close to home I know of. There are beautiful views in many directions from that ridge and going this early in the season you can still see without so much leaf density that comes later in the summer.

IMG_8451We rode into Nancy’s barn, untacked and I turned out Faygo to rest up and eat while I snacked on some leftovers and had a drink with Nancy. I wasn’t sure how the first part of the day would go and had left my mind open as to if I would get a ride home or actually RIDE home depending on how Faygo seemed, how I felt, and how the weather looked. I decided that this was the day we would finish after dark and get some night riding in. According to my GPS the sunset and moonrise were only about 20 minutes apart, and the moon was just a day after full- so bright, and we had clear skies; it also wasn’t windy. The circumstances seemed right. My only concern was that the river was up. I believed Faygo could handle it, as our crossings are usually pretty shallow- so even with the River high, they shouldn’t be impassable.

After about a 90 minute break I saddled Faygo back up and when I hopped on she took off at a good gait pace immediately as if to say “OK! Lets go home!” and we headed off into the end of the day, sun already beginning to sink toward the horizon. I knew that in good conditions it was only about a 3 1/2 hour ride home and we have done this route enough times that my mare could do it blindfolded. Nancy & Eric sent me off with a headlamp & extra jacket and made me promise to call when I got in.

The route included about 10 water crossings. The early ones were often dry beds that only have water in wet seasons. Those were fine and gave me confidence that maybe the water had gone down a bit throughout the day. The first Jackson crossing was the only one that I truly worried about because even in low water there’s a bit of a current. I decided not to think too much about the things that could potentially go wrong and we settled into a good fast walk- occasionally gaiting before it got too dark to see well.

It was a beautiful night. The Hidden Valley wetlands were alive with peepers and it was different to hear them at night on a horse. I watched the stars slowly appear and as it got darker hoped the moon would rise up far enough for us to see in the valley soon. There was one spot that we had two choices- Faygo assumed the longer way, but I was going for shortest distance possible and that turn off was harder to see at night. I knew roughly where it was and that she’d just missed it. I asked her to turn around and as I began trying to see where I was and not turn her into the marsh she knew exactly what I was doing and on her own cut back and got on the right trail that she’d gone past just a few minutes ago.

Faygo: Oh, you want to go that way… why didn’t you just say so?

We did not use the headlamp except in the rare case of going around a downed tree to see footing or the very short time I was on the road and wanted to be seen in case of cars (which we did not see one). There is one spot where we leave the large trail for a smaller one-track through the woods. In good light I’m not always sure I can see where this cut through starts, in the dark I knew we were getting close, but couldn’t see well enough to guess I’d find the blue paint on a tree. I had no reason for concern, Faygo beelined onto that trail and took me through the woods as if on rails. I trusted her completely as she kept a steady, safe, fast walk I held on and stayed balanced and let her do the steering. She moved with purpose and control and I felt there was no better partner to do this ride with than her.

The video and pictures can’t do it justice- you could still see bit with the ambient light. The video seems too pitch black.

When we came to the first crossing of the Jackson about half way into the ride I heard the rolling water and she walked right in without hesitation and though it was high (this is the first time my foot got wet which was a drag especially as the night cooled down) we were pushed a bit downstream as we crossed but she charged right through onto the other bank. The place on the bank we ended up wasn’t our usual exit and I think the bank was a little high there (hard to tell with the water up) and it took a little extra effort for her to pull us up, but she charged right on and we continued into the valley.

I wondered if I would be afraid to ride alone in the dark. No. I was pretty sure I would be afraid- at least to some extent- to be in the woods after dark. I decided it was just like the treadmill. The night before I’d gotten on the treadmill and I wanted to get in 6 miles; I wasn’t getting off until I had accomplished that. I ran myself pretty hard and a few times felt like I wanted to stop. But I decided my commitment to myself was bigger and that I wasn’t going to die. Yes I was tired. Yes my legs started to ache a little. Yes, I was breathing hard. Yes- this was all ok and part of it. I thought about that work out as I headed into the dark and decided that yes- it would be a little scary. Yes. I would be tired. And yes- I would come out the other end ok. There is a connection between mental toughness and physical toughness I think. At least I’ve found it in my own life. I’m not perfect with either, but they feed each other and I try to encourage a positive cycle.

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moonlight reflecting off the Jackson River at Poor Farm

I was a bit surprised that once I got into the rhythm of the ride it wasn’t nearly as scary as I’d feared it would be. My horse had absolute confidence and she never faltered or considered stopping. She took me through parts of the trail that I would have had to navigate with my GPS if I were on foot like they were her own backyard. She had no fear. She crashed through the Jackson river at least 4 times in the dark with the sound of the river much louder that usual like it was a puddle and the worst thing was by the end of the ride both my socks had gotten wet and my feet were getting cold. The moon- when it did rise high enough to light our way in the river valley – was spectacular, and I’ve never seen anything like it as it reflected on the river as we speed walked along.

A few times she seemed to smell or sense something. This was prime time for animals to be out, and I would talk to her- mostly to make human noises the animals might steer clear of us. At one point I decided to sing a bit and thought the Death Cab for Cutie song “I’ll follow you into the dark” was oddly appropriate- yet also a little eerie on the flip side as it is about death, but also about love. It just happened to be the song that was running through my head as we motored on through the dark together.

Love of mine, someday you will die, but I’ll be close behind — I’ll Follow you into the dark

You and me have seen everything to see, from Bangkok to Calgary, and the soles of our shoes are all worn down…..

If heaven and hell decided that they both are satisfied, illuminate the “NOs” on their vacancy signs. If there’s no one beside you when your soul departs, then I’ll follow you into the dark.

When we finally clip clopped into the driveway Khaleesi started calling to us and Faygo called back.

Yes. We’re home!

IMG_8463I was chilled but not cold, exhausted, but felt great. I gave Faygo some grain and brushed her off- she had hardly sweat all day and seemed to be in great shape overall.

I was so glad to finally be home. I thought about the people who ride 100 miles. They would pull into this place at night like a vet check and be ready to say- sure, I’ll do that again plus a little more.

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? I had to ask myself.

AM I ONE OF THEM?

Honestly I’m not sure. I certainly am not today. There’s no way you could have gotten me to take a few minutes rest and hit the trail again last night. I was ready for a hot tub soak and a warm bed.

It did make me think about my crew bag- you send it on to the vet check so when you pull off to have your horse looked over and take a mandatory break you have a few things available. I think I’ll be working on a check list for my crew bag as the day of our ride gets closer. I think clean socks and underwear will be on the list. Just in case.

Thankfully this was the end to our amazing ride. I was relieved and pleased that she did so well. We put on more miles that I’d needed to- 35.58 miles in total. That is the longest ride in one day I’ve ever taken, and I assume the longest she has as well- and I won’t ask her to do that again for a while. The ride in three weeks is only 30 miles, and until then we will ramp down to shorter faster rides and let her build reserves again.

The next day (this morning) I went to see her and she might be a little stiff in her back legs- but it’s hardly noticeable and she looks fantastic. How lucky we who have horses are to develop relationships with these amazing creatures. She’s earned a day off, that’s for sure! As for me, I haven’t taken a nap in months, maybe a year… but today…….

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Faygo & Khaleesi the following day- looking forward to breakfast.

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