Evening of April 14 - Day 33
We went to say goodbye to the Schlabs’ and we are so sorry to be leaving them. They have been so sweet to us and we are truly going to miss them. Luke has had croup and it breaks your heart to see a little child feeling bad. But, even feeling as bad as he did, he still told me that I could have a picture with him and managed his cute smile! And Anna hugged and kissed me several times before I left. She is so precious! We cannot thank this family enough for all that they did for us while we were in Hereford and we hope to be back again one day!
When we got back to Marvin’s he was cooking a pizza and invited us in to have a slice. We fed DB and headed in to visit with Marvin. He also said that I could wash some clothes and take a shower! We enjoyed visiting with him and hearing all of his stories. He used to be a roper and when he was a little boy he said he got to run match races on his dad’s race horses. He had fascinating stories and showed us his gun collection. He is quite a hunter now! He said when he gave up horses he took up another expensive hobby…trap shooting! But, he is a full time CPA in Hereford, hunting is just for fun. He offered to let us sleep in the house but since Hart would miss us, we decided to stay in the RV. We thanked him for his hospitality and headed to our “nest”!
Day 34 – April 15, 2014
Today was supposed to be really cold again but no snow so we were heading out towards Vega on 385 North. As we were preparing to leave Ray, Julie’s dad, stopped by to tell us about the place he secured for us to stay tonight and to give us a generous donation. I told him they had already done so much but he insisted we take it for unexpected expenses which we have had quite a few, so we accepted it and we were very grateful. While we were talking to him he shared that his wife Charla was also a two time cancer survivor. Hard to believe that cancer struck three times in the same family. He told us that Charla survived cervical cancer about 20 years ago and then 9 years ago survived thyroid cancer. Then as I said in an earlier blog, their daughter Julie is a leukemia survivor. I know they feel extremely blessed and they appreciate every day that God gives them with the ones they love.
We told Ray goodbye and told him that if he missed us he could catch up with us down the road! He said that he was working on a place for tomorrow night. How much do we love this man?!??
Durango is walking fast and we are making great time!! Day 34 and he finally understands our mission…..ever forward, never backward!! The sun is out and it is a beautiful day. I can’t believe there was an inch or two of snow yesterday. Ray had secured a place for us with a pen between Hereford and Vega. We arrived at the Strafus place at about 2:30pm. Durango really could have gone a lot further, we did 15.4 miles in 4hrs and 45 minutes! But, the wind was kicking up to 30 mph and the dust was blowing like crazy so we decided to stay. Carl Strafus who is Rodney’s dad set us up in the pen and told us, “I am about sick and tired of this darn wind!” Winston asked him how long he had been putting up with it and he said, “about 80 years!” Too funny! Winston even had time to see if DB trusted him enough to ride him bareback. He did! Rodney stopped by to make sure we had everything we needed and then I fixed dinner and we went to sleep at 9pm!! We so appreciated Rodney and Carl letting us stay here and Ray setting it up for us.
Day 35 – April 16, 2014
We got going about 8:30am and left the Strafus ranch headed towards Vega. We passed a big dairy and there were thousands of Holstein cows!! It was black and white cows as far as I could see! When DB got up to the RV, all the cows came to the fence to check him out. It is amazing how he could care less about them when they are across the street or behind a fence but isn’t crazy about them up close. But, those cows were sure curious about him. Yesterday was not a fluke, Durango really does now understand our journey and that we are moving forward, never backward every day. Woohoo!! He has honestly done the best consistently yesterday and today that he has done so far on this journey. Mandy, his trainer, guessed it would take about 500 miles for him to finally realize it was too far to go back to his original barn. And we will reach that soon! I can’t imagine what has been going on in DB’s mind. He sets out on a 1000 mile journey with a person he has only known briefly; with some other lady and a dog and this big white vehicle that is definitely not his trailer; and he just walks and walks and then has a different barn every night that he never goes back to; he sees all kinds of wildlife, big trucks, trains, people and towns; he has people taking his picture every day; he sees every type of weather in a span of days and doesn’t even know the purpose of this journey or what his final destination will be. He is putting a lot of trust in us on a daily basis and we do our best each day not to let him down.
Ray caught up with us and had been to Vega and was scouting for places for us to stay past Vega. We are headed to Cal Farley’s Boy’s Ranch and we really needed to go further than Vega so we could make it to Boy’s Ranch on Thursday. Ray found a place that was one mile out and they were willing to let us tie Durango up near their barn but they didn’t have a pen. These people owned a restaurant called the Hickory Inn in Vega and their names were Jeff and Amy Pittman. I told Ray that we thought we needed to go further but we appreciated their offer. He had gone by the Chamber of Commerce and spoke to Deborah Sue McDonald and they called several places further up but all of them had horses loose in the pastures and the owners were afraid of putting Durango in there too. And we were afraid he might have left with those horses and never come back to us!! These pastures are thousands and thousands of acres! He has learned how to run when he is hobbled so that wasn’t really an option. Anyway, Deborah Sue wanted to take a photo of Winston when he came through Vega so Ray gave us her card and I promised to call her when we got to town.
Ray has gone above and beyond being nice and helpful to us and we could never repay him or thank him enough. We will not forget it. Ray said he would check on us later and we kept heading to Vega. I drove up ahead to the Hickory Inn to meet Jeff and to get us some lunch. I told Jeff how much we appreciated his offer but I thought we would have to go further since we would get to his place about 1pm and since the weather was nice we should keep moving. I did get some homemade chicken friend steaks for us that looked amazing! Winston was going to be so happy! I drove back to the edge of town and waited for Winston and we had our lunch in a parking lot with a makeshift hitching post that we fixed with bungee cords! The food was amazing and if you are ever in Vega I highly recommend the Hickory Inn for lunch! I called Deborah Sue and she came out and took photos of Winston by the Old Route 66 sign which used to pass right through Vega. While we were out there, the county judge’s wife came out and took photos and said she wished us God Speed on our journey and what a wonderful tribute it was to Jonathan. We did get to Jeff’s house around 1pm and we knew we just had to push on even though we didn’t have a place. It would make such a long day tomorrow if we didn’t keep going and we knew that Amarillo News Ch. 4 was also coming out so we didn’t want it to be dark when we got to Boy’s Ranch.
We decided we would ride until about 5pm and then start looking for a spot to camp. About 3pm when I pulled over, I told Winston the next time you catch up to me I will be parked at the 500 mile mark!!! Halfway!! I decided I would video it and I made a sign to mark the event! It was awesome! DB usually starts trotting anyway when he sees the RV and he came trotting right past the 500 mile mark! We were so excited because when we started this journey that seemed almost too far ahead to contemplate! Now we are on the downhill side of 1000 miles and that is quite an accomplishment. Winston collects things sometimes that he finds on the side of the road. He found an American flag today.
Here is a link to the you tube video of him crossing 500 miles! You may have to copy and paste it to see it. It wouldn't load on here. http://youtu.be/sYCUNj4QmTc
Here is a link to the you tube video of him crossing 500 miles! You may have to copy and paste it to see it. It wouldn't load on here. http://youtu.be/sYCUNj4QmTc
At 5pm, I drove up ahead to find a spot for us. We knew we were not going to find a pen but we wanted to find some flat ground possibly off the road a ways with a pole for DB to be tied to. I found a driveway that went up a small hill to a fence that was owned by a drilling lease company. I looked on google for a number for them and called the only one listed which was in Amarillo and it had been disconnected. There were also articles about lawsuits so I wasn’t sure if they were still in business. It was the best spot because we would be off the road but not in someone’s private fenced area. The flat spot was just in the drive leading up to it and there was an area that was flat and had a fence post for DB. I doubled back to tell Winston how much further he had to go and then Jody Schade, a friend of Winston’s family, stopped by to bring Winston a Dr. Pepper and to meet me since I had never met her. She was so sweet and fun! She told me that she had lost several family members to cancer including her mother and 2 brothers and I couldn’t imagine that kind of loss to cancer. She loved what Winston was doing and she said she just wanted to come offer her encouragement and we appreciated it so much. We got to the spot and I decided to call the Sheriff’s Department to tell them we were there until sunup so no one would worry or think anything was suspicious. DB did fine tied up to the fence post and we slept okay. We got up early to head towards Boy’s Ranch. Donna Williams from the ranch had arranged everything for us and was so sweet and helpful on the phone. We were anxious to get there! The news anchor from Amarillo News Ch. 4, Andy Justus, graduated from Boy’s Ranch so he has a reporter coming out tomorrow to interview Winston and film him going into the ranch. Andy says that Cal Farley’s Boy’s Ranch changed his life so I can’t wait to see it and hear about it.
Day 36 – April 17, 2014
The scenery has changed dramatically from flat plains and farmland to mesas, hills and canyons. The scenery may have changed but our good friend, the wind, decided to stick around with us a little further on the journey! When we started today the wind was so cold that Winston said if felt like the coldest day of riding yet. The temperature said 40s but the wind was biting cold and overcast. We thought it was going to warm up so Winston didn’t wear thermals and he had to keep adding layer after layer on top because it was too much work to go back and get out of everything to put the thermals on. He finally had to break out his sarape and he finally felt warm. I had warmers in his boots and his pockets and then he put one in the top of his hat to keep his head warm. I told him today was definitely a day I wouldn’t trade places with him and be on the horse! We did 24.4 miles yesterday so we knew we were going to get to Cal Farley’s early. We were so glad once we saw the weather today that we pushed on yesterday. The reporter, Kayla, was supposed to meet up with us around 1:30pm and I thought we would just be getting to the ranch.
We had a little delay at the Canadian River. It was a long bridge so Winston decided he would try and cross through the river with DB. It was shallow in a few spots and it seemed the best route. We saw with our own eyes a video of Mandy crossing the Brazos River riding D.B. and he was up to at least right below the stirrups and he did great! But, it was a rockier bottom and so we weren’t sure what he would think of this soft sand since he would be sinking into it some. He wasn’t having any part of that water once he reached the soft sand in front of it. There was really only one place to cross where he could ease his way in and then cross where it was pretty shallow. Winston worked with him back and forth, back and forth trying to get him to go closer to the water. He didn’t want to force him to do it because he was afraid it would make him more scared of it the next time. It didn’t help that the spot we needed him to cross was directly underneath an overpass that 18 wheelers were zooming across and it was so loud and echoed a lot under the bridge. It scared me the first time I heard it and I knew what it was that was making the noise. I can imagine it was much worse for DB. So, Winston kept getting him closer and closer and finally DB took a drink out of the water but he wouldn’t step into it. I was on the other side of the river because I had driven down to a picnic area on the other side and then walked down to take photos. Durango would look at me on the other side of the river like, “why are you over there?” Finally, I told Winston maybe if I wade into the water, he will know it is okay and follow me across. The water was freezing cold but I did have my boots on. I brought boot dryers with us on the trip so I figured if I could get out of the cold, wet boots fast enough afterwards my feet would be fine. Once I got in to the water I tried with the lead rope to guide him in but he wouldn’t come. I moved back a little bit and gave Winston back the lead rope and then Winston got him to put a foot in the water and then coaxed him forward and I was in front of him talking to him and eventually he started following me across the river. I just kept encouraging him and saying, “Come on boy, you can do it.” I don’t think he really cared that I was cheering him on but I think it did help to have a familiar voice in front of him and Winston on his back so that he knew we were all in this together. The river wasn’t deep and it wasn’t that far across but it was a huge team effort and we were so excited when we got across it! Unfortunately, I have no photos of him crossing because when I went into the water I was afraid he would possibly make me fall into it so I left my camera on the river bank. Winston told me a story once about he and Jonathan and Nick Herold being on a trail ride up at Wind River Ranch in the mountains and Nick’s horse came to this little puddle and wouldn’t cross it. Nick worked with that horse for a whole hour until he went across it. Winston said he and Jonathan were sitting watching this and couldn’t believe that Nick was spending so much time on this horse going across this little bit of water. But, I think now Winston understands why it was important and I am here to tell you that he was channeling Nick’s patience trying to get DB across for almost an hour and it was well worth it! And well worth some cold, wet feet!
When we got to the picnic area, the reporter had texted me and they were nearby so we waited there so they could do the interview. We met Kayla, the reporter and Preston the camera man and Kayla asked Winston a bunch of questions and one was , What the meaning behind this journey was? I was inside the RV but I could hear what Winston was saying. He told her that his friendship with Jonathan was so profound and always had such an adventurous spirit about it that this seemed a perfect way to honor that friendship and make it a tribute that would last forever. He wanted to do it not only because he promised Jonathan that he would but because his friendship with Jonathan deserved that kind of grand gesture. I know that Jonathan would not have expected Winston to make this journey or maybe he wouldn’t have even thought that Winston could do it even though Jonathan himself said it would be “perfect” in the text he sent to Winston before he died. But, that is what makes this journey extraordinary. It is when you do something to honor someone that they don’t expect you to do but you do it anyway because they mean that much to you. And even though Jonathan is gone from earth, this journey means something to every person who knew and loved him because it is a testament to the type of friend Jonathan was to all those that he came in contact with. I know how much Jonathan meant to Winston and every day he thinks of him and he misses being able to share stories and laughs and dreams with him. I don’t think that will ever go away, but I do think that there are times when he will know that Jonathan is watching over him and laughing with him or grieving with him or sharing a victory with him and I know in my heart that WHEN Winston rides through those gates at Wind River, Jonathan will be with him and I know he will be so proud of him. Knowing Jonathan, I am sure he will also be taking credit for teaching Winston everything he knows about horses!! J I also heard him say in the interview that he hopes that what people take out of this journey is that you should appreciate your friends; let them know that they are valued and treasured every day that you have with them because sometimes life is short so make every day count. I wrote a song a long time ago called “Together We Will Win” about fighting cancer for the Miles Perret Cancer Fundraiser called Games of Acadiana in Lafayette, LA that I used to be in charge of. There is one verse that I always think about….. “If this battle chooses you and by chance skips over me, I’ll keep fighting in your name, won’t you stand and fight with me. I will stand beside you when you are weak and you can use my strength; my voice will be yours if you can no longer speak” It is a reminder that cancer is that random, it can choose you or me but knowing that you have so many people behind you makes you feel like you can win every battle and that you are loved and you are not alone.
Kayla asked if she could interview me too and I was happy to tell her why I became a part of this journey. I would have moved mountains to help Winston achieve this final promise and tribute to Jonathan and I would have done it just because I love him. But, what I have gained from this journey is so much more rewarding and fulfilling than anything I could have imagined. The kindness and generosity of strangers has restored my faith in human nature. There are truly good people out there still and they continue to lend a hand to us on a daily basis. I thought of the old Coca Cola commercial the other day that they used to run to the song “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” and how in the commercial they would show the chain of people holding hands across the world. I like to think of all the people that have helped us along the way and imagine this giant chain of people holding hands all the way across Texas and then into Colorado to deliver us safely to our destination. This journey will be a team effort of everyone who has had a hand in praying for us, helping us, encouraging us, donating to us, providing food or shelter for us and most of all believing in us. I know in my heart that every person who has contributed in any of these ways will be rewarded by God ten-fold because it shows the goodness in their hearts. And I know Winston and I and Jonathan’s family will never forget the people who have contributed to the success of this journey that will honor Jonathan for eternity. For that, we are forever grateful.
Someone asked me the other day about the blog and if we know how many people are reading about it. We have had over 30,000 page views so far and every time I post a blog we have about 4,000 people viewing it not counting the people who see it on facebook. The thought of that many people seeing Jonathan’s name each time we post and saying a prayer for his family makes this journey worth it.
So, after the interview was over we headed to Cal Farley’s Boy’s Ranch. Cary Varnado who is the Communications Director met us at the front gate to greet us and we were so happy to meet him. Donna Williams had made our arrangements and had secured an RV spot for us, a round pen for Durango with water, an apartment for us to shower in, and a tour of the facilities. I don’t know what I was expecting but I was for sure not expecting this amazing facility! I am not able to truly describe in words how wonderful this place is or the number of children they have helped. This ranch was developed by Cal Farley for children in crisis. They host over 270 children at this campus from age 3-18. The children live with host parents in a community and they participate in extracurricular activities such as all kinds of horse training, they go to church together, they eat as a family, they learn vocational skills, they have their own school district on the ranch and they have full sports activities and various other amazing facilities for them to use free of charge. They are offered guidance and sometimes a reunification with their family. The success stories made me cry. They give these children a chance to succeed in the world and I don’t know if you could ever put a price on that. They are a non- profit organization and are almost entirely funded by private donations. Their donor list is over 80,000 people. My guess is that a lot of alumni of Boy’s Ranch are on that list. The number of children helped here is over 7800. Donna was so kind to us and took us around to show us where everything we needed was and then we met Mike Pocino who runs all the operations around the ranch. He was so nice and it was clear that he is a lifelong believer in the programs offered at the Ranch. I cannot say enough good things about this organization. Then we had the pleasure of a tour of the grounds from one of the house parents, John Wencl. He was so thorough and answered our million questions because Winston and I truly were in awe of this place. He spent over an hour taking us around and we so enjoyed seeing all that this ranch had to offer children. He has 9 boys living in his home and he said he was going to share our journey with them because he thought there were valuable lessons to be learned from it. We were honored to hear that. These grounds used to be the old west town of Tascosa. There are two existing buildings that were around in those days. The courthouse served as the original house for the first boys of Cal Farley and now it is a fascinating history museum. They even had a huge collection of Barbed Wire that was donated by a citizen. We will have to tell Durango Bobwire about his namesake! We learned that Cal Farley died in the church on the grounds at the age of 72 and his wife died one month after him but their legacy lives on in all the children who are helped by this ranch. He and his wife and their dog, Cricket, are buried in front of the museum and their tombstone says…. “If you want to know what Cal and Mimi Farley did, just look around you”. Amen to that.
We hope to come back again to visit one day. If you are ever passing the ranch on 385 north past Vega, there is a headquarters right down the driveway with a little gift shop and you can arrange a tour there. It is well worth it. They also have an RV Park that is free to the public if you check in with them. Check out their website or facebook page to see all that this organization is doing to help children and make a donation if you feel compelled. I can assure you that the money is all going to help these children. The children do not want for food, shelter, clothing or love here. I am extremely impressed with every detail of this organization and it truly touched our hearts to see what they are accomplishing with the children here.
We took a ride up to the Boothill Cemetery above their grounds. We were up there at sunset and it was so beautiful. Some of these men were killed in gun battles down at the saloon below when it was Old Tascosa. Others just died and were buried up here. For those of you that know the story about the day of Jonathan’s funeral in Gatesville when Winston received a sign from Jonathan in the form of a Robert Earl Keen song called The Train Song. One line in the song says Make them leave my boots on, on the day they lay me down. Even though Jonathan didn’t wear boots that much anymore, anyone who knows him knows that cowboy spirit he always had and so we were touched by that song when it played after Winston had asked him to send us a Robert Earl Keen song! We couldn’t believe when we read the marker in the cemetery that said these were “men that died with their boots on.” We walked around the cemetery and it was so peaceful and then we discovered that there was a Doggie Boothill Cemetery. We couldn’t believe all the little markers for beloved pets that had passed away. We were glad that we took the time to visit these cemeteries.
We fed Durango and Hart and took hot showers and then hit the bed! We are headed towards Channing tomorrow!
Day 37 – April 18, 2014
We headed out today around 9am. I went to tell Donna and Mike goodbye and thank them again for their amazing hospitality. They wished us good luck and thought our journey was amazing. We will not forget the kindness shown to us here and we will pay it forward.
So, we knew we had about 10 miles or so to Channing and then we were going to try and get a little further so we could make it to Dalhart on Saturday. Well, yesterday, our amazing friend Tawny Allen in Dalhart, who we had yet to meet in person texted me to say she had been scouting places for us on that road and found some choices for us! I can’t even begin to tell you all that Tawny has done for us. I say on a daily basis, God bless Tawny. Here is a reminder of how she even knows about us. We met a man named Donnie on the highway near Lockney, he put a post on facebook about the journey; Kim Cannon who is friends with him saw it and told her daughter Tawny who lives in Dalhart that she would love the story! So, Tawny texted me and told me she wanted to help us. Kim helped us with a connection in Dimmitt and then Tawny set us up with other connections there too. Tawny has been helping us ever since. She suggested a place for me to get us lunch in Channing and we hoped to be there by 1pm. But, as goes the Ballad of Durango Bob, you never know what is going to happen. I stole that name from Winston because he says he is working on a song by that name! I can’t wait to hear it because I love the title! Anyway, we had a hard day today of just moving slowly. He didn’t want to go back, he just was taking his time moving forward. Winston walked him for probably 4 or 5 miles thinking maybe he was sore or tired. But, then he put on a little song and dance for a train passing by and Winston said it was the closest he has come to being dumped by this horse. He has seen trains already on this trip but today this one looked different I guess or sounded different. Anyway, Winston worked him through it and on they went. So, since we were moving slowly I went up ahead to get us lunch. I literally went three miles up the road and in the 15 minutes I was gone John and Bev York who live at Wind River saw Winston and stopped! John was the person who originally hired Winston to work at Wind River and Winston thinks very highly of him. I have never met him but have heard of him for 7 years! They had no idea we were on this road today and John had been sleeping and then woke up and said he saw a cowboy up ahead and said, “that has to be Winston!” They honked and waved at him and pulled over briefly. They were headed to Dallas. I couldn’t believe that I missed them by three miles, but apparently they had to keep going so couldn’t wait for me to get back from picking up lunch. Winston was happy to see them though and got Bev to take a photo of him with John.
We had lunch from the Cowgirl Café in Channing and it was great! We finally made it to Channing around 3pm. We still had at least 8 miles to go so we were a little frustrated at the slow pace today. Then randomly Durango decided to trot for a good ways. Winston let him because he was ready to be at our place for the night but I think he will pay for that tomorrow in soreness.
Another man stopped named Kent Lewis and gave Winston a donation outside of Channing and he wished Winston luck. Tawny texted me to check on us and I told her we were still a ways from the pens. She was bringing us gourmet pizza for dinner. She asked if she should find us a place closer. I told her that I was sure we could make it! I went up ahead and found the pens and cleaned it out and put out Durango’s hay and water and got the RV set up. Winston got there around 7pm. Tawny and I met for the first time and I ran and hugged her because I felt like I have known her forever! She is sooooo sweet and we immediately felt connected. She has a husband named Trevor and three beautiful kids and I can’t wait to meet them all tomorrow night. I found out that her mom and dad are also coming in for Easter so we will get to meet them too! She told us that she has us all set up for tomorrow night at the XIT Rangers pens in Dalhart and Tawny and Trevor are smoking brisket to share with us!! Can’t wait! Winston was really tired and so we ate and then he started getting ready for bed and was in bed for 9pm. I decided to try and finish the blog update so I could post it. We will set out tomorrow for Dalhart which is about 20 miles or so.
Well, more than halfway there and we still can’t believe it!! After today we have gone 543.4 miles. Someone asked me if the miles are accurate. I can only tell you that I am only keeping track of the miles that Winston and Durango travel so we will know at the end the actual miles traveled on horseback. I do not count the miles when we have had to be trailered across a city or bridge. So, it is possible that we are a little closer than we think but we can only check miles on Google maps or GPS and that gives us the route on the interstates or doesn’t give us our exact route so it is really an estimate. But, we think it is pretty close. We are considering changing our route based on new information we have from Marvin that we stayed with a few nights ago because he has ridden all over New Mexico and Colorado on horseback. We may now go up through Oklahoma and into eastern Colorado instead of cutting through New Mexico. We are concerned about some of the routes and he has told us about some of the shoulders in areas that we would be in that have volcanic rock that would be hard for DB. We will keep you posted if we definitely change the route. We are hoping to do a little scout this weekend to check it out. We will have a rest day on Easter Sunday and we have so much to thank God for.
Keep praying and keep believing! On to glory!!
Donna, (Winston, Hart and Durango)