Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wreck at Mile Marker 11

Marker 11
March the second started out well enough. It was the second day of spring training for Far Rider’s four geldings. The previous day’s trail out had gone well and he was hopeful the ride would be a repeat with the exception that it would be longer in time and miles.

The original order of march was maintained. Stryker under saddle, Trooper loaded with the decker, Lancer packing the sawbuck, and Chino as tail gunner with saddle and pannier.

Keeping inside the highway fence on deeded ground, the merry bunch followed the telephone poles as they marched north. At the north west gate, rigs were checked for balance, cinches tightened and they passed out onto the highway right of way. The horses lined out nicely and Caesar took up his customary flanking position between the pack string and the fence line. It was a beautiful day harkening of the spring to come with temperatures in the lower sixties and a stiff breeze out of the west occasionally gusting to over twenty miles an hour. Far Rider was glad for the braided leather stampede string keeping his hat on.

A gray van bearing Iowa tags slowly cruised by with a woman in the rear seat  busily taking photographs of the rider and pack string. Flatlanders for sure. He smiled and waved knowing that for their part it was an unusual sight. A man mounted and leading three pack horses down the roadway is not something many people see, even in the west except in the National Parks and other public lands that have professional outfitters packing hunters and fishermen into what is still called back country.

As the string approached the Hubbell Road cutoff leading northwest across nearly seventy miles of empty country to Saint Johns, Arizona, he noticed that the van had parked about three hundred yards ahead and the occupants were standing outside along the roadway. It was obvious they wanted to chat with what must have appeared to them to be an apparition out of the past. Bypassing the stock gate adjoining Hubbell Road he continued on to meet with them.

The van was parked about thirty yards north of the standardized highway department rectangular, white on green mile marker 11 signpost. Keeping to the right-of-way side of the sign, he eased Stryker up to an older couple and a middle aged woman that looked like she could be their daughter smiing at him and snapping away with their digital camera.

It was then that things unraveled. Stryker, Trooper and Lancer were in line as protocol dictated. Some sixth sense that horsemen develop to compensate for lack of a rear view mirror or eyes in the back of their heads caused Far Rider to twist in his saddle to view the string just in time to see the wreck happen but too late to do anything about it. Chino. Bless his heart.

A word about Chino. He is the youngest of the geldings and also the tallest. If not on a side hill, getting mounted is no small effort. Once up, a nosebleed from the altitude seems imminent. Chino is a cross between Ferdinand the Bull and Ichabod Crane. The Ferdinand side is always looking at butterflys, flowers and anything else that comes within view. He is not a stargazer, but he is definitely off in his own world. Calm and mellow, he takes most things in stride even when he scares himself. Tall and gangly, at times it seems to require most of his attention to get all four of his long legs going in more or less the same direction at the same time. He is smooth, surefooted, willing and sensible. He is a great horse and a pleasure to ride, but at this moment, he was surely in a fix. He hasn’t had that much time bringing up the tail end of a four horse string so the fault had to be laid on Far Rider’s inattention.

Marshal Flats

Chino must have had spied something way out across Marshal Flats to the west and he sort of wandered out of line which put everybody else on the east side of the highway marker, and Chino on the west side. The lead line, tied to the sawbuck on Lancer snapped tight jerking Chino’s head sharply to the right. Lancer, knowing something was not right began to pull forward and poor Chino, having no place to go, does what any sensible horse would do when his face is slammed into a highway sign - he sets up and hauls back for all he is worth. Approximately twenty three hundred pounds of horseflesh is pulling in opposite directions with the highway marker sign bending precariously between them. Lancer is two horses behind Far Rider so there is no way he can reach him to help back him up and take the strain off of the rope. He can’t just get off of Stryker as they are hard on the edge of the pavement with traffic coming from the south and the north. Backing Stryker, Far Rider attempts to move Trooper back up hoping Lancer will also back up. Ha! Not! Lancer moves his hips to the right putting more pressure on the rope that is now bound beneath the marker plate and under his tail. Chino is sitting on his haunches with a look of bewilderment and trying to avoid getting his nose cut off by the sharp edges of the sign. The situation qualifed as a sure enough mess about to turn into a full scale wreck.

The major concern was the integrity of the lead rope. If the sign severed it, Chino would flip over backwards out into the roadway. At this moment, approaching from the north at a good sixty miles an hour, some sort of trendy, bright yellow urban-type vehicle is bearing down on the group of horses and people. A northbound vehicle pulls up and stops between the metal guard rails because Chino is taking up most of the northbound lane. The idiot in the yellow yuppie vehicle, no doubt on his cell phone or texting his hair dresser, sails obliviously through all the commotion. If Chino had flipped over backwards onto the pavement, the blow to his head might have killed or permanently injured him not to mention that if he had fallen into the path of the speeding vehicle there would have surely been a dead horse and maybe dead people in the resulting collision.

Far Rider is neither of a calm disposition, tolerant of fools, nor is he of a forgiving nature. He is convinced that there are an alarming number of homo sapiens that society and modern medicine have made it possible for them to remain among us because they are too stupid to be alive on their own, and they are allowed to remain alive because it is against the law to kill them. On this day however, guardian angels were on duty.

Things were not getting any better and everybody seemed stuck in a freeze frame. Far Rider called to the good folks from Iowa and told them he really needed help and as one might expect from that demographic, they sprang right to the task. Under Far Rider’s direction, the younger woman took hold of Lancer’s lead line and untied it from Trooper’s pack saddle; the gentleman went straight to Chino, and speaking softly, helped extricate the lead line from the sign post as slack was gradually made available. Far Rider dismounted and the other lady held Stryker’s mecate while he moved Trooper further off the roadway.

In the meantime, Caesar had repaired to the fence line and was watching the hullabaloo with a “You have got to be kidding me” look on his big square face.

Turns out, the folks from Iowa were farmers and owned horses. They knew what to do and with the typical calm competence of heartland America, they stepped up to aid a horseman in trouble. All the human participants were in their sixties and that too was no doubt a critical component. Most young people are too self-absorbed and involved with their electronic baby sitting devices to either learn or know anything about life that does not make beeping noises. With the exception of the rural Future Farmers of America (FFA) kids, most have no connection with the natural world, and, sadly, few if any seem to want it as it oftentimes involves heavy and dirty labor.

The fault for the mishap lay with Far Rider. He had not paid sufficient attention to how close he was to the signpost. He made the error of assuming everything would be alright based on the previous days travels in a similar environment. He had failed to add the breakaway twine to the anchor point on the sawbuck because Chino never pulled back from anything, at least not until he had his face banged into a sign.

With all the commotion, Far Rider forgot to give the folks from Iowa a business card and ask for some of the photos they had taken. He would also have liked to have sent them a copy of this story. It was just one of those days.

Hubbell Road Stock Gate

After the van got underway again towards Iowa, Far Rider and crew returned to Hubbell Road and proceeded west. The company was relaxed and subdued and all seemed to be grateful for the relative safety of a seldom travelled dirt road away from the speed and frenetic pace the idiots of urban America seem to thrive on.

A big, black dog, rider, and four good horses were all, each in their own way, thankful for guardian angels and nice people from Iowa.

See to your weapons and stand to your horses,
Far Rider


Big John said...

Far Rider ~ er... Felix? ahhh, oh, James! It is really enjoyable reading the Far Riders escapades in the land of yesteryear that should be "thisyear" but ain't. With any luck (or maybe not)the N. Korean idiot in command will hang an EMP over the USA and everyone will be wishing they had four hoofed horseflesh locomotion. Jo and I will get out to see you both again and perhaps I'll be lucky enough to accompany you on such a wonderful trip as you make almost daily. Big John the envious.

Anonymous said...

Great story, James. Just when you think there's no hope for mankind, folks like this come by and you know we're not alone. Keep the stories coming. I enjoy them greatly.

Ed Rasimus said...

Beautiful. Got aimed your way by a fighter pilot friend looking to get someone's book signed. Linked you into ThunderTales now. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said... from the previous post (sorry posted to the wrong page)
I learned some things
1. don't get rid of my sawbuck pack saddle. If I don't have a mule I can put it on a horse
2. even experienced horsemen can have O. S.... moments.
3. Nosey tourists can turn out to be helpful friends.

Susan Wolfson said...

I never tire of reading and rereading your posts. I learn something with each read. This time, dont neglect the breakaway twine, ever.

Safe passages