Sunday October 15 2006
Hmmm. I don’t know if Suzanne is going to ride with us anymore.
She’d been wanting to ride with us all summer, we’d been trying to get together all summer, and in fact I hadn’t even seen her this year before today. Finally we 3 all found the time, got together, and went for a ride.
Our plan was to ride up the Masonic road, up and over a 9,000’+ saddle, and loop back around and down the Aurora road. (Masonic and Aurora are old ghost towns, as is Bodie; these roads all interconnect)
Suzanne hadn’t ridden since June, but she was prepared for the estimated 5 hour ride. She wasn’t prepared for an exploration adventure, which, when Gretchen and I explore, always, without fail, becomes a bushwhack. And, which we had not planned on doing anyway.
Heading up the trail, the horses resembled slow, brown, unenthusiastic slugs, but then, they did a long steady strenuous climb, and, with their thick winter coats, and the rapidly warming morning, they were sweating profusely a few miles from the top, so it was excusable. And they’d had a good workout the day before.
So after several miles and a couple thousand feet of climbing, we rested in a nice aspen grove towered over by rocky cliffs, then led the horses on foot a ways uphill to see just how much further we had to climb. Well, after 50 yards, we humans had had enough climbing, and figured the horses had, too. We could at least peel our jackets off, (which we did), while the horses’ wooly coats showed them no mercy. And there was no water up ahead on the trail. And, if you have never done what your horse does, I encourage you do get off his back and get off your own butt once in a while and try it yourself. Wonder why your horse is trotting so slowly uphill or in the sand? Get off and try to trot your own self along the same terrain. Unless you’re one of those iron men or women who are in super shape, and do ride and tie, or who run the Western States Tevis Trail 100 miles on foot, then you’ll know and feel how hard your horse is often working.
Anyway, we turned around and headed back for home down the same road.
Until we came to a turn-off to the right, which we’d never taken. I think it was Gretchen who said, “Let’s try this one,” although I think she blamed Spice for making the turn on her own.
We rode a mile or so along this road. It was heading in the general direction of Bridgeport, but it was staying up on top of a ridge while the Masonic road headed downhill. We hoped our road would eventually turn down and into the Masonic road, but, as often happens with these myriad roads, it dead-ended.
Well, what to do? Turn around and backtrack, or bushwhack down-and-up to the Masonic road? We could see the road from where we were atop the hill; it looked pretty straightforward, down this hillside into the wash and back up the other hillside. It was rocky, but then, all of Nevada and this half of California is rocky.
We started sidehilling down, leading our horses on foot, Gretchen and Spice ahead, followed by Suzanne and Buddy, followed by me and Raffiq. Raffiq is always slow going downhill, so we got a good view of everybody. The hillside wasn’t too tricky – at first – only rocky. Really rocky. We zigzagged back and forth. Suzanne slipped and fell on her butt. The closer we got to the bottom, the rockier and steeper it got, and the brushier it got, making it a bit tricky on where to step. Gretchen and Spice, well ahead of us, let out a few whoops, then yells, “Don’t come this way!” They’d made it into the wash, but the route was not recommended. “Head further that way then come down.”
But Suzanne and Buddy had come to a spot that looked too steep; Buddy balked while Raffiq and I made a turn and sidehilled the other way. We finally made it down to the wash, but Suzanne was still stuck with Buddy up on the hill. I hung onto Spice and Raffiq while Gretchen climbed back up the brushy rocky hill to help Suzanne get Buddy down.
Meanwhile, waiting in the wash, the hornets found us. Great! I had been lucky enough not to be stung all summer (knock on wood, and I shouldn’t even be saying this yet) despite the plethora of hornets this season, and I sure didn’t want to start now. At least I do carry benadryl with me, but I’m not quite sure how I’m going to react from a bee sting – they get worse every time.
Finally Suzanne and Buddy reached the wash, and we had to get moving because of the hornets. We now had to bushwhack up the other hillside about the same distance to reach the road – but, how? That hillside was steep, rocky, and very brushy. The ‘easiest’ way appeared to be the wash. Which worked fine for about 50 yards, but then that started becoming gnarly with brush and willows. But the hillside above us looked pretty impassable. Gretchen decided to continue braving the wash. Far enough behind with Raffiq, all I saw was a human and horse being wholly swallowed up in willows. They completely disappeared. The hillside above looked formidable, but the willows ahead looked scary. I picked one iffy spot above us, and said “Come on Raffiq!” We jumped up out of the wash, and started scrambling up the hillside. Sidehilling would have been preferable, but sometimes the brush was so thick it was impossible to get through, and we had to climb upwards.
We heard yelps from Gretchen below, which confirmed that the willows (and hidden rosebushes) were impenetrable. They had to abandon the wash. Suzanne and Buddy had already opted for the steep hillside. We all scrambled up, leaped bushes, slipped on rocks; we huffed and puffed, we sweated like pigs – horses and humans alike. Spice slipped and almost stepped on Gretchen’s foot; Suzanne fell on her butt again. Twice.
We had to stop and rest a few times. (See how hard our horses work when they carry us!) Finally we got to where we could see the road, yay! But to actually get up on the road we had to scale a 10’ berm of soft sand and rock, blocked by a near-barricade of pinyon branches. Suzanne fell on her butt again. And got stung by a hornet. She said “Do we get a badge for this?”
“Yes! A Bridgeport Bushwhackin’ Bitc_ Badge!” Gretchen and Spice made it up onto the road first. I turned Raffiq loose while I tried to clear a mess of branches out of his way. Suzanne tried to lead Buddy up the berm but slipped and fell again. She let Buddy go, we cleared out of his way and smooched to him to get up on his own. He had a hard time getting up, but he made it. Suzanne and I scrambled up on our hands and knees, and I called down to Raffiq, “Come on Raffiq!” He just stood there looking at the 5 of us, so I went back down, pointed him up and let him go, and scrambled up beside him.
I gave Suzanne some benadryl, and we stayed off our horses and continued walking down the hard-packed road to the valley. Once we reached the bottom, we got back on, and the horses amazingly got more energy, especially Raffiq in front, especially when we turned toward the lake shore. He had wanted to go out by the lake on our way out, but we hadn’t. Now we were headed right for the lake, and I had my hands full keeping him down to a fast trot.
We got to the lake shore, and we all had a nice canter in the sand, a fine end to a, um, well, exercise-ful day. No need to do any aerobics this evening.
Instead, I will be crafting some Bridgeport Bushwhackin’ Bitc_es badges for our new riding club.