A 600 mile Vacation Ride
Two months ago I rode from the Trego area with summer still in full bloom, warm, dry, clear sky’s- starry, starry nights… Went on for weeks. Had guests for the first two nights out. Four women friends sent me off with a campfire cookout. Music and laughter rolled down Graves Creek Road late into the evening of August 18th- 2011. The 2nd night out I had a magnificent grizzly bear stop by the camp, nothing trouble-some about him, although it gave the horses something to think about. After regaining our composure we rode south into Polebridge for morning coffee and a freshly baked cinnamon roll. Polebridge Rd. was busy, dusty – several cars driven by with curious people stopped along beside us–”we read about you in the paper”, after answering a few questions they go off with smiles their curiosity satisfied.
The horses, Claire and I swam in the North-Fork of the Flathead River. Ate tiny tart buffalo berries and huge, juicy service berries by the hand full as I sat on Hart’s back. I feasted on chokecherries and huckleberries the size of blueberries. I found the delicate (my favorite berry) thimble berries, lots and lots of dandelion greens, nettles, lambs-quarters, watercress, delicious cooked greens. Weather could not have been more cooperative. Horses were rested from our 6 week stop over in Trego-Eureka area. They were eager to be out and were moving well. Cold creeks kept Claire in smiles. I was on vacation!!! No talks scheduled I had 3 months to ride 600 miles- that is vacation speed.
From Polebridge we rode south to Columbia Falls where we stopped at Outfitters Supply for two nights. Picked up supplies, visited with Russ Barnett (owner) and the crew that manages one of my most valued sponsors- Outfitters Supply. We talked about next years ride and what I might need. They have no idea just how important the packs and gear are to me. I see the “Trail Max” logo every single long riding day. They get things out to me pronto- when I need them, which is not often the gear from Outfitters Supply holds up very well.
Passed through Hungry Horse early afternoon. Waited for the construction crew that was working on the road that winds down the west side of the Hungry Horse Reservoir to end their work day. I then slipped around the big machinery and rode a car-less, quiet, tree lined and shady road for nearly a week. Every campground was empty. We swam in deep cold water again and again the horseswould splash, paw, snort and delight in the water. Ears pricked forward, eyes wide with surprise, there is nothing like swimming with a horse, a wet slippery back, muscles taunt, its a free for all.
Two friends from the Trego area caught up with us north of Spotted Bear Ranger Station. They camped a couple of nights and left me with panniers full of food. Enough to keep Claire and I fed the 10 days it took to cross over White River Pass into Mortimer Gulch east along the canal road past Pishkun Reservoir and into Choteau, Montana. This is the first time I have ridden across the Bob Marshall wilderness. First I must mention that all of the trails, all of the work that must be done to keep that wilderness open, the trails cleared. All of the fires fought, all of the equipment and food that is used at the various camp sites must be hauled in with manual labor. Hauled in by long strings of pack mules (came across Bill Workman from the Eureka area, I moved over to let his string of 11 mules pass. He has 32 years of legendary service in with the National Forest/ Bob Marshall Wilderness). It is quite extraordinary when one sees how labor intensive the work is. So this first experience- this first “Bob Marshal Experience” has left me wanting more, one day soon I’ll return and spend a summer traveling the spectacular country of the Sawtooth and Swan Mountain ranges.
Choteau,MT.- arrive Tuesday, September 13th. My Great-grandparents the Hoys, homesteaded north of Choteau west of Bynum in1896 in a settlement called Blackleaf. They owned the Blackleaf Ranch. I knew very little about their life there and had deliberately routed thru Choteau in search of information, ties to the past. I thought “well I wonder what I’ll find behind my great grandparents door?” My Great grandmother was the postmistress for a few years in Blackleaf. There is a “Hoy coulee” a “Hoy grove” and it is still referred to as the “Hoy Ranch”. My grandmother taught school in the Blackleaf school and my grandfather “broke horses”. I met Annie and Larry Dellwo, ranchers, who own the land now. Annie was kind enough to show me the homestead site and spend an entire afternoon answering my questions. It was Annie’s folks, the Pollock’s who bought it from my Great grandparents and I know if they were to see the land as it is now they’d be satisfied to see the fertile rich land they so loved and settled continues to be well managed and cared for. Snugged up against what is now Lewis and Clark National Forest spreading east the Hoy’s ran horses and cattle and made a good living for many years. Then suddenly they are gone… still much mystery. Choteau is a lovely town, very pretty, clean, filled with friendly people. As I stood on the west side of the historic court house looking down main street I could not help but feel the spirit of my ancestors as I am sure they also stood there years ago with new hope and many dreams to fill the broad open land. We stayed a week at the rodeo grounds. The annual Choteau Threshing Bee was on and the Northern Blacksmith Association were there pounding out the shapes of yesterday.
The land along the foothills of eastern Montana unwinds itself, flattens, spreads out in dramatic buttes, razorback ridges, long smooth sloping mountains nude in dry tall grasses, colorless this time of year. Creeks and streams are carved deeply into ravines and coulees. The land is completely ambivalent to a lone long rider.Ranches separated by long straight stretches of barbwire fencing and open space that is willing to eat your heart out. It’s roughed country, makes a person wary, careful. It is not welcoming country but it is by far some of the most stunning vistas I have yet to ride. South to Cascade, Mt. where Harlan and Iris Den Beor furnished a corral and a place to set up camp when I realized the stock yards were unavailable to stay in. Iris showed me around town where I saw the cabin that Charles Russell and his new bride spend their honeymoon in. Cascade is also home to Robert Atkinson, founder of the Braille Institute. Thank you Iris and Harlan. The late September afternoon sun was unusually strong and the heat was unbearable it did not last long, 2 or 3 hours, but it was stifling. We had enough water everyday, creeks and stock tanks. But the steady climb up and over Milligan Pass wore us out and I knew we needed a break before we reached White Sulphur Springs where I was stopping to say hello to Kate and Darrell Dunkin. The map showed a corner of the Helena National Forest that looked like a possible solitary lay over where we could rest a few days along Vermont Creek. We rode in late afternoon and made camp. The next morning I woke and found that Hart was unable to walk..
Blindsided-that is the word that best describes how I felt. He’d either suffered a stroke, a seizure or he had caught himself- up in the picket line and hurt his neck ie. a spinal cord injury….But before I go any further with this story.. Hart is fine, he’s recovering. Bill Loney owner of the neighboring ranch got us to a Vet and later hauled us into White Sulphur Springs. Eighty year old Loney also came every other day to check up on us, He filled me with calm reassuring advice. I so appreciated his visits. Kate and Darrell the friends from White Sulphur Springs were kind enough to bring up food. I was there on Vermont Creek for 17 days waiting to see how Hart would recover. Trudi Rioux of “Range of Motion” just happens to live in the area and heard of my situation from Darrell Dunkin. Trudi does Cranial Sacral/massage/acupressure on horses. She drove the 23 miles (out of her way, twice) to treat Hart. I watched my horse in a trance with in minutes of her touching him. It left a profound effect on me and my idea’s of horse healing and the ability to communicate thru transmission of energy between horse and healer. I can only think that Hart’s recovery was due to Trudi”s gifted healing hands and energy.. REMARKABLE… her website is www.rangeofmotionmontana.com
I opted to haul the 250 miles to our winter camp in Forsyth, Montana.
Delva and Spencer Gibson of Lewistown, Montana are freinds from the years they spent in the Eureka area. Oddly enough the Gibson’s have helped once before in 2006 when Honor was having back problems. Now here they were once again coming to my rescue. Delva drove all the way over to White Sulphur Springs with her truck and trailer to haul me and my crew back to their picturesque home north of Lewistown where we have spent a rest-full 2 weeks. Hart is doing very well, He’ll be fine. Delva will be hauling us back to Forsyth on the 30th of October so ending my 600 mile “vacation ride”. How will I ever repay Delva and Spencer I don’t know, I am so deeply grateful for their generosity and for letting us stay here AND for the haul back.. my goodness a lot to ask of anyone…
So ends my 7th year of long riding. You’d think by now I would have had enough but long riding is still racing thur my blood. I will prepare another horse this winter. Work on a book and take a look at next years Canadian ride. I may have a young rider travel with me – we shall see…Until then Happy Trails and a heart felt thank you to all of you that so kindly saw me and my tribe safely across Montana..
Your lady long rider,
For more information on this ride, please visit the ARCHIVES section, or visit the Flickr Account which has many of my photos to browse through!