2008, packing Honor my beautiful grey Thoroughbred .
In 2008 I did a 3000 mile ride from Needles, California – east to Nicodemus, Kansas – north to Montana, a 7/8 month ride. My third ride and first ride with a pack horse. Claire Dog now had a horse of her own, Essie Pearl. It was not a hard ride, but riding with two horses did challenge me. I traveled as far east as the National Historic town of Nicodemus, Kansas where I visited historian Angela Bates. From there I headed north by northwest. My route taking us thru Oberlin, Kansas crossing the North Platte River at Ogallala and following the river west to Lewellen, Nebraska. Now 10 years later my route has come full circle.
Now and then:
When I rode through the tiny town of Lewellen in 2008 Cynthia and Dennis Miller had not yet established The Most Unlikely Place Cafe and Art Gallery. But they did greet me, a lone rider, looking, I am quite sure – homeless. They invited me into their private home for lunch. I spoke at the senior center which is now a bed and breakfast/motel. I camped in town and the next day rode north on dirt roads which led into the Nebraska Sand Hills. I’d not ridden far when a car passed, slowed to a stop and asked if I needed help. The driver, Sheila Litke was shocked to see a woman in the saddle. Her husband and family lived and worked at the Turner Ranch just up the road. “You’re welcome to stop if you’d like, there are storm warnings out you know, looking very serious.” I had in mind, “more miles, more miles.” But as I rode on it was obvious a serious storm was brewing. I turned around and headed back to the Turner Ranch driveway but an auto-gate stopped me. An auto-gate without a side gate for horses and cattle. About a half mile back I passed an abandoned homestead/church, not sure what the buildings were but it would have to do for shelter. Not long after I had my tent up, (in an open shed with a partial roof with wind whipping madly about) a truck and stock trailer showed up, of course I thought, “Oh no they’re coming to tell me, Hey this is private property, get out.”
Turned out to be local ranchers Pat and Diane Thelander. Sheila had called the Thelanders, told them she’d seen a lone woman riding down the road and now a storm approached, maybe they should go find her. And they did. I was if you can believe it, reluctant to go, “I’ll be ok,” I said. But Pat was pretty insistent, (rancher sensibility.) I spent the night inside while the horses remained dry in the Thelander barn, the storm raged on through the night. I remember it all so well, before falling asleep, worried about the horses being scared, frightened, my not being there to console them. We all survived. The morning brought sunshine, a big ranch breakfast, hay for the horses and a visit from the Litke’s. These are photos Sheila took,( a professional photographer)
How did I land back in Lewellen? Rosie Rollins that’s how. Jeannie Grace and Rosie are long time endurance riding friends. Rosie’s old endurance horse Maple is retired here. Jeannie offered to keep my horses when I rode in France and so here I am back in Lewellen – meeting, with smiles, faces I never thought I would see again and remembering, humbling remembering all that others had done for me. I look at these photos and see a young inexperienced long rider. I am critical of my packing. I laugh at how precariously Claire perched upon the saddle pad, her first year of riding. I only had 9000 miles under my saddle. This time I shared stories with the community of Lewellen from 14 years and 30,000 miles of equestrian travel. Who would have thought.
On April 21st I gave a slide show presentation at “MUP” as the establishment is referred by the locals. The Most Unlikely Place Cafe filled with people curious to hear my stories. Later that day Rosie, Jeannie and I returned to the Cafe for dinner and music. The old building once a theater, a hotel, a meeting hall, still filling with “community.” Warm, friendly music from a 6 piece band, Aspen County entertained a full house. A delicious Mexican meal served up, wine glasses clinked, “cheers.” Dancers danced arm in arm.
And I thought as I looked out at these people who had come together by the eternal magic of food and music, at the beautiful sight of lights, hearing the music filling our hearts and words written, embellishing the upper walls.. humor, believe, sing, care, thrive, integrity, dazzle, harmony, abundance, light , grace, mercy, gratitude. And I thought, “This is the truth.” The truth is here among us in the stories we share in the friends and neighbors and family whose lives we care about. It matters, this coming together for leisure. It matters because it gives a sense of belonging. It matters because brought together like this refreshes our souls, restores our hearts, reminds us to smile and rejoice in community. And I had to say thank you for the Millers who created this lovely space and for the people who filled it and to all the ranchers who have reached out with kindness to help me then… and now.
In the morning I set out on a 600 mile ride across southern Wyoming. Wind and open space await me. Happy Trails