Day 55 – Tuesday, May 6, 2014
We left Curtis and LeeAnn’s farm house and we aren’t sure where we are going yet. We are headed to Hugo but we know we won’t get all the way there since it is about 35 miles. Lynn and Lee did a scouting expedition for us yesterday and so we have a general idea of where possible stops are.
We are still in the plains and hopefully any day now we will see mountains. It is interesting though that there is a town called First View that is 30 miles east of us and was named that because it was your “first view” of the mountains. I guess that was before road pollution and haze. I called the Fairgrounds in Hugo and spoke to Julie Joffe who runs the Fairgrounds and I asked her if we could stay there on Wednesday night. Several people in the last few towns recommended contacting her and said she was so nice. She was happy to accommodate us.
Durango was moving along pretty well. I shot some video footage for Gordon Collier the news anchor in Waco because he is doing a follow up story on the journey. I was trying desperately to get various shots and wanted one of Winston and Durango walking away from the camera but we realized that he wasn’t going to leave as long as the RV was parked there. I finally did get some other good shots for him though. When we got to the only farm house on the road, it was still early in the day and we had heard it was going to be really windy on Wednesday so we wanted to go as far as we could because today the weather is absolutely perfect. I drove ahead to check out the rest area that was on the map and a few people told us about. We had heard that it was now closed but weren’t sure until Lynn and Lee confirmed that it was closed on their drive back. When I went to check it out, it seemed like the best option. There were barricades around the outside entrances but we could easily put Durango on a high line and pull up next to him. I went back to tell Winston that it was still another 6.5 miles and we had already done 18.1 that day. He said he thought we should try and get there since our other options were limited.
We were nervous we wouldn’t make it before dark. But, Durango started walking faster and we were making good time. About two miles from the rest area, I stopped and Hart got out and ran right towards something in the gravel and I realized it was a snake!! I grabbed him and put him back in the RV. I stood in the doorway and watched where he was going so that I could tell Winston when he rode up so that Durango wouldn’t step on it. The snake didn’t want any part of us, he was trying to slither away as fast as possible. If my Aunt Jackie was on this journey, today would have been her last day after seeing that snake! We weren’t even sure what kind it was. It wasn’t rattling so I figured that was a good sign and it didn’t look like a copperhead. I had two snakes in my backyard when I first moved to my house and I had people tell me that they were the “good” kind of king snakes that eat rodents etc. In my opinion there is no such thing as a good snake and I have an exterminator for rodents! When we were stopped there, Winston realized that Durango had lost a shoe in the last two miles. We aren’t sure why this one came off except that his feet have been really dry so we don’t know if that is why it came off or not. But, now we had to figure out what to do about replacing the shoe since tomorrow we still would have to get to Hugo. We have a safe shoe for him which is rubber and goes over his hoof so that he can walk without the shoe but he hasn’t worn one with us before so we aren’t sure how he will do with that. I called Julie back at the Fairgrounds and told her that I was so sorry that I just talked to her over the phone and didn’t even know her but I was calling back for another favor in less than two hours! I asked her if she could recommend a farrier that might be able to come to us tomorrow at the rest area or if not, someone that could trailer us in to town to have him re-shoed there. She told me that she would call her farrier right away. About ten minutes later, I got a call from Derrik Dean and he tells me that he is going to come out here tonight before sundown!! Amazing!
Durango was anxious to get done for the day so we made it to the rest area in plenty of time before sundown and Winston set up a high line for him. The only thing was we had to be next to him to watch him and listen for the bell so we pulled through the grass to get next to him. I called the Lincoln county sheriff’s office to let them know we would be camping there since we couldn’t make it to Hugo and this rest area was on the most current Colorado map as open. He asked if we needed assistance and I told him we were fine we just wanted to let someone know we were there. Julie came out to check on us with her partner Patsie. They were both so nice to come and check on us. I knew Julie was in charge of the Fairgrounds in Hugo and I found out that Patsie is the Mayor of Hugo!! That was quite a welcoming committee! They said they would see us tomorrow. About a half hour later Derrik came out and he was so sweet. He didn’t have the same kind of shoe Durango had since we had those specially made by Bob Mundy but he had another really solid kind for pavement so we decided to put that one on. We had used our spare set at 550 miles.
We learned that Derrik learned this trade from his uncle when he was really young and he is great at what he does and he enjoys it. Derrik told us that he was on his own at 15 years old. His mom and dad divorced and his dad took him to live with him. When he was 15, his dad just left him on his own in their house with a truck payment and a house payment and all the bills. He was still in high school. He got jobs after school and before school and worked non-stop to make ends meet and do what he had to do to survive and graduate from high school. He is now 24 and married with three kids and he is a hard worker and a survivor. I can’t imagine the determination it takes to survive on your own at 15 years old. I have so much admiration for him because he made his life great after receiving a series of bad breaks. If you are ever in need of a farrier within driving distance of Hugo, please consider giving Derrik Dean your business. He deserves it and I know how much it would help him provide for his family. Durango sort of stood still for him but not as good as last time. I asked Derrik how many times he had been kicked while doing this and he said, “too many to count!” Thankfully, Durango did not add to the count! But, Derrik got the new shoe on him and he told us this amount for the shoe that we knew could not be right and so we gave him double that for his trouble in coming out to us at 8 o’clock at night. We enjoyed visiting with him.
It had been a really long day and Winston was so sore. He went to sleep and I was just getting ready to take a shower at about 11pm when I heard loud knocking on the back of the RV. We figured the sheriff’s office had not spread the word that we were here. When Winston opened the door, the sheriff asked us why we were in the closed rest area. There is only grass here, no buildings or trash cans or anything but they do have a barricade across the entrance to the road. We had explained all of this to the sheriff’s office earlier that we had to be next to the horse tied to the tree. Anyway, the deputy checked our licenses and said he would ask his supervisor if we could stay there. They said we could and we told them we would be on our way to Hugo early in the morning. We didn’t sleep well the rest of the night because we kept hearing Durango’s bell ringing and the trucks passing by on the highway.
Day 56 – Wednesday, May 7, 2014
We got up at 6 and were on the road by 7am. We had heard that the wind was going to get bad after 12pm today so we wanted to try and get to the Fairgrounds before that. Since we did so many miles yesterday, we didn’t have as many to go today. It was probably good because the long day of riding yesterday and the cumulative riding has taken a toll on Winston lately. Julie came and found us on the road and told me that she was going to put us on the side where the contestants go so we could have access to a bathroom with showers! And she cleared a pen for Durango with grass in it and water! I love her already!!
We keep looking west to see mountains but they are evading us. I think maybe that is for the best because then when we do see them, they will be spectacular!! We moved along pretty well and got to the fairgrounds at 11:30am. Julie met us there and showed us where everything was. She also had a map and she was going to drive with Winston to show him the route she would suggest from Hugo to Last Chance and she knew a great camping spot for us. While they were gone, Hart and I went to run errands and Durango was trying to eat all the grass in the corral he was in.
When we all got back to the fairgrounds, Julie invited us to come and eat dinner at her house. She also took me to see her miniature mules and horses! They are so cute!!!! Winston and I finished our chores and then headed to Julie and Patsy’s house. They cooked us steak, baked potatoes and salad. It was delicious! We enjoyed visiting with them and learning about their lives. They love to travel like us! We also found out that Winston’s dad and Patsy’s dad were both born in the same small town in Oklahoma! Small world. Julie insisted we wash our clothes and I was glad to get that out of the way since there wasn’t a Laundromat in town and I don’t think we will have one for a while. We are headed into some areas with not a lot of big towns. Winston told me that the place Julie took him to see where we will camp tomorrow night is beautiful!!! I can’t wait to see it. We realized that it would be too far though to go through Hugo and then make it to the camp so Julie borrowed a trailer to take us outside of town so that we could avoid as much concrete as possible. We said our goodbyes and headed back to the fairgrounds to check on Durango and to go to sleep. By the time we got back the wind had kicked up and there were gusts of 50mph and it was freezing cold! It was also supposed to rain after midnight. We debated over pulling the RV next to the pen Durango was in but that wasn’t a good wind break for the RV and so we decided to put his coat on him to keep him warm and as dry as possible and we parked over next to the building. We could see him from where we were and he seemed to be doing fine with the wind. About midnight the wind died down and I told Winston, it is probably just getting ready for the rain and sure enough about a half hour later it started. It rained for about an hour or two and then that was it. We slept pretty well. Julie was coming to get us at 8am.
Day 57 – Thursday, May 8, 2014
We got up and fed Durango and got him ready to go and Julie came to get us with the trailer at 8am. She trailered us outside of town to this little dirt road and we knew it was going to be a great road to ride on. We told Julie goodbye and thanked her and then she said that she was cooking potato soup and she and Patsie were going to drive out tonight and bring us supper! We are surrounded by kindness at every turn. We headed down the dirt road and Durango was moving pretty fast. I think he got confused because we took the trailer out so he didn’t know how to get back where we came from!
We loved this road. It was a little country road and there were very few cars and Winston could easily ride in the center because you could hear cars from a long way away. Sometimes, I even rode beside him. The temperature was pretty cold today so the wind was blowing right into Winston’s face. It was really cloudy and we thought we saw mountains once off in the distance through the clouds but then we weren’t sure. Since we have changed our route a little and aren’t going west to Limon, it may be a while longer before we see them. Winston had written down directions for me so that I could find this place but I honestly wasn’t going that far ahead of him today. He was anxious to get to this camping place called Walk’s Camp. It was once a buffalo hunting camp for the Walk Brothers. They also have baseball grandstands and we met a man on the road that was born and raised here and he told us that each family around here in the 1920s had their own team and they would play the other families teams. It was their form of entertainment on the weekends. Now, they use this for various community events, reunions and parties.
We rode up to the camp and it was like stepping back in time. You could totally see why the brothers had picked this spot. It was close to the creek and it was a little valley covered with cottonwood trees and green, green grass. It was easy to picture Indians down here and then later settlers making camps here. The grandstands were great and you could almost hear the people cheering each other on at a baseball game on a warm summer day. I was so glad that we had decided to camp here and that Julie told us about it. Durango loved all the green grass!! Winston put hobbles on him to try that again and see if he had learned to just take baby steps in them and not try to run. Epic failure!! He started running across the field and up the hill towards the pasture by the road. Winston took off running after him and decided to get his high line set up so he would stay put. Winston ran around with Hart and he loved this wide open space with grass! He was going so fast sometimes I had to put the sports setting on my camera because he was just a blur in my frame!
Julie and Patsie showed up at about 4 pm with our dinner and we all had a picnic on the picnic tables there. Then Patsie called to see if we could put a fire in the pit or if there was a burn ban. They said we could do it as long as it was in a pit. Julie got out her blow torch to make the fire!! The last time we got to see and talk to Jonathan was at his in-laws house and he challenged Winston to make a fire in the fireplace with only wood, no paper or lighter fluid or anything. He accepted the challenge and got a great fire going. Even though he was a purist, we thought Jonathan would have also appreciated Julie’s giant blow torch to start this fire! Jonathan really liked fires in a camp fire or in a fireplace. Jonathan’s mom has a great fire pit at Jonathan’s memorial garden at their land. We ate our delicious potato and green chile soup and then sat around the fire and visited. We feel like we have known these two ladies for a long time. They are so easy to talk to and we laughed and shared stories until Patsie had to go to town for some meetings. She is the mayor after all!
Winston decided to go try out the grandstands and you can’t go to an imaginary baseball game without doing the wave! Hart didn’t participate in the wave, he only looked at Winston like he was crazy! Then Winston switched from a fan to a player and hit a home run and ran the bases. Hart may not have liked the wave but he really got into running the bases! They ran them all twice and Winston even slid into home and Hart took that as an invitation to play tag. He was running around like crazy! He will sleep well tonight!
Winston decided that he would sleep on his bedroll down by Durango since he was on the high line and it was a little far from where we could put the RV. It rained a little bit but not too much and the temperature dropped quite a bit but it was a perfect night for him to sleep outside. The moon was out and so were the stars. I was not braving the cold or the creatures or the wet ground. Ironically, it was colder in the RV than it was outside!
We are going to bed early so we can get up and start heading to Last Chance! Hopefully I will be able to get wifi sometime soon so I can post this!
Day 58 – Friday, May 9, 2014
Hart was really confused about where Winston was during the night and kept going to the door. In the morning, as soon as I opened the door he ran down to where Winston was sleeping. It didn’t rain on him but he did get dew all over everything so all of his stuff was wet. Winston said that they did great except for a few times there was a coyote pretty near the camp and he was howling and Durango did not like that one bit. Eventually he settled down and they got some sleep. Winston told me that he woke up a few times when Durango was fidgeting last night and once when he woke up he saw the most brilliant shooting star. He said when it crossed the sky at the end it looked almost like fireworks when it dissipated. I asked him if he made a wish. He said he and Jonathan over the years had seen many starry nights at Wind River and at Jonathan’s land and Jonathan told Winston that whenever he saw a shooting star he always wished for happiness. Winston always thought that was a good wish and said that was what he wished for too last night. We got everything packed up and Winston even got to pump water from a well that they had on the grounds. We played on the merry go round and then set out about 8:30am.
Today, we are going to set out towards Last Chance. There is really no shortcut towards Strasburg except the interstate which we can’t ride on so we have to go north to head west. But we are plodding along. This stretch will be tricky because there are really no towns that have supplies or gas so we are carefully monitoring all of that so that we don’t get in trouble. We are still on little dirt roads as we head to go north on 71 and it is easier for us with no traffic.
I was stopped in the road up about a mile from him when we were getting ready to turn onto another road to head to 71 and this little bird came and sat on my side mirror and then hovered in front of the windshield and then went on Hart’s side and hovered by Hart’s window. It was so odd that he was that close to us and especially to Hart since they usually fly away from people and animals. Winston radioed me for something and I told him about the little bird and he said, “Did it have a yellow belly!?” About ten minutes before a little bird that was gray with a yellow belly had been hovering around him and then kept going to the fence and back to him. The bird got really close to him and wasn’t scared of them at all either. Weird coincidence again! Or as our friend Cindy says, “Godincidences!” We also passed a farm and they had just put hay outside the fence for the cows! It was hilarious to see them all sticking their heads out eating and then watching Winston and Durango passing by. Right after that there was an escapee outside the fence and he was right in the road. The cows all think this is the food cart just like Durango does. The cow moved to the side and then started following me. When Winston rode by he was going to get him back to his herd but he went back on his own.
We think Last Chance is about 25 miles from where we camped so it will be a long day for us today and we aren’t sure there is anywhere to camp. I have a call in to the Methodist Church there to see if they know of anywhere we could be safe for the night. There is some really cold weather and possible snow moving in on Sunday so we are really trying to get to Strasburg or somewhere that we can find a barn for Durango for the cold weather. There is a campground in Strasburg but they don’t have horse facilities. If we can’t make it before the weather sets in, we will be looking for someone to trailer us to a barn where Durango can be warm and safe. We know there are horse facilities in Byers and Bennett but that is too far for us to get in one day.
A guy named Brandon Wright stopped on the road to see if we needed help because we were pulled over so Winston could eat a quick sandwich. Durango does not know what to do with all the green grass so he grazed while Winston ate! It is like a 24 hour buffet! Brandon loved what Winston was doing to honor Jonathan and said he commends him on making a trail ride this far. He gave us a donation and told us that he lives in Fort Morgan but he knows people all over the area so if we needed help to just call him. He confirmed what we heard about the weather on Sunday. He thinks it will be all over this area.
Tomorrow, May 10th is my Mom’s 70th birthday and I am sad that I am not with her to celebrate. We are having a family party for her at the end of the month to celebrate her birthday and her official retirement! She is retiring after 46 years of teaching speech, drama and public speaking. She retired once from Arden Cahill Academy in New Orleans when my brother died after 32 years of teaching but then only lasted a few months and missed her “kids.” Then she taught another 14 years at Ascension Episcopal School in Lafayette when my mom and dad moved there. My mom has a special gift for making children believe in themselves and she strives to make their lives better. She has taught thousands of children over the years and I know what a difference she has made in all of their lives. I get letters and notes on facebook all the time from her former students telling me that they would cry when they had to speak in front of others when they first had to give a speech in her class and now they are a trial attorney, or a doctor or a teacher or they had self-esteem issues and she gave them the confidence to believe in themselves. Teachers are one of our best assets because they educate our future generations. I think they are often underpaid and underappreciated and I know that I would not be the person I am today without the amazing teachers I had in my life including my mom who taught me speech and drama from kindergarten through 8th grade. I think another gift that my mom has is that as soon as she meets you, she makes you feel as though you have known her forever. She has a kind and generous heart and I love that about her. My mom and dad just recently celebrated 50 years of marriage and that kind of commitment is also something to be applauded. My mom was always so strict with Stacey, K.C. and me and I didn’t appreciate it then but now I know that it taught us to be polite, responsible, caring adults. My brother and sister and I were always shown unconditional love but we also were held accountable for our actions. I think that is sadly missing in a lot of today’s society. My mom always made sure that we took fun vacations, that we went to the theater and appreciated the arts, that we got to go to all of the Mardi Gras parades, that we spent time with our grandparents and our aunts, uncles and cousins, that we had faith in God, that we loved our country and that we made good grades in school. She and my dad always made sure we had the best that they could afford and we could never repay them for all that they did for us growing up. My mom loves to travel and see new places and I think I inherited that from her. I hope she will be able to afford to still travel once she retires because I know how much it is a part of her! I know that over the years she has loved all of her students as her own children and I am positive that she will miss the ones she has yet to teach. Her legacy though is that every one of us that were taught by her carry a part of her with us in the way that we act and speak and I know for sure a part of each of us will always be carried in her heart. Happy birthday to my one-in-a-million Mom! I love you so much and we will get to celebrate our birthdays together soon!!
Well, we just arrived to Last Chance, Colorado. I was excited about coming here because people always used to call my brother Last Chance since my mom and dad weren’t going to have any more kids after him. My Aunt Debby said she was always called that too because she was the last one after my dad and my Uncle Kenny. It now has a population of 7 people if you can believe that. There was a little rest area type park right at the corner of 71 and 36 and it said it was run by the Lyons Club. I had already driven around and this seemed like the best option. We would have to tie Durango to a tree and we would be close to the highway but at least it was off the road a little and it was a resting stop. I was sitting in the RV looking up the number for the Lions Club so that I could ask if we were allowed to spend the night there with a horse when I heard a riding lawn mower behind me. I got out to see if he could tell me who took care of the park. His name was Jim Kleinschmidt and he told me that he takes care of the park and that we could stay there if we wanted. He said, “but I have a better deal for you. You could come up and park behind my house and we have water and grass for your horse.” It wasn’t a pen but it was better than the rest area since we would be sharing it with eighteen wheelers all night. I was so appreciative and I knew Winston would be too. He lived in the house just before the park and he said he and his wife Mary had seen us on the road today and they saw we had made a lot of progress during the day. They were so lovely and got us set up in their backyard. Jim told us that the fire they had here in 2012 burned 45,000 acres of pastures and grazing land and burned four houses in a half a day. It was the fourth largest fire in Colorado history. But, the grass has slowly grown back and the residents mostly stayed put and rebuilt.
All of a sudden these storm clouds came up and we had this dramatic backdrop behind us and a little rain and then we got a rainbow behind the clouds. It never amounted to any kind of storm but it was beautiful. You will not believe the sky in the background of the photos when the storm was setting in. The sky and clouds kept changing and none of these photos were altered in any way. It didn't even seem real. Winston took a few of these shots. We were both mesmerized by the sky and how it looked. We were going to go into the house to visit with Jim and Mary and see her doll collection but Winston fell asleep in his clothes at 8pm. By the time, he got up to shower it was too late to go in and see them. It was a long day. Winston and Durango rode 25.7 miles today. It is the most we have ever done in one day. Winston is really tired and sore….Durango is not tired at all. He is currently pacing around the pole that he is tied to. We passed over 800 miles today. That is actual riding hours. Winston has either ridden or walked Durango for over 800 miles! It is truly unbelievable to us that we have come so far. Winston usually rides every day until his knees hurt and then he walks until his feet hurt and he repeats that cycle all day. We figure that he has walked leading Durango over 150 miles and then has ridden him the rest of the miles. Then we have been trailered over some bridges and through towns and for some weather days so all total we have traveled over 900 miles so far.
We found out from Jim that Strasburg is 40 miles from here. We definitely won’t make that before the weather sets in. We will be making calls tomorrow to see about a trailer to take us to a set of stables I found on the internet in Bennett. That is the road we will take north to avoid Denver.
I know everyone is as excited as we are that we are getting into the final home stretch! Weather is getting tricky up here. We heard Wind River was supposed to get snow last night so we are hoping we will still be on schedule and that the projected snow and ice on Sunday somehow misses us. We appreciate your prayers as we make our way into the mountains and On to Glory!!!
Love, Donna (Winston, Hart and Durango too!)