"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Friday, July 4, 2014

West Virginia Adventure I

Last year we visited Liz in WV for the first time. It was our first time meeting her in person and our first time in her gorgeous state, and she gave us a memorably epic tour. We had such an amazing time. So we repeated the visit this year.

The plan was to visit from Friday June 26 to Sunday June 28.

Charles and I both worked the Thursday night prior (Charles gets out of work at 3:00 am and I get out at 2:00 am) so we decided to head out at 10:00 am on Friday after rush hour so we could just drive south from the DC area to Liz's part of WV, instead of having to drive north to avoid traffic and then cut through the mountains driving south like we did last year (so many unnecessary miles).

It took us exactly 4 hours to get to Elkins, WV.

There are parts of Puerto Rico that look exactly like this.
Windmills of death.
Really impressive in person. Those things are GINORMOUS!
The road to Liz's house was unmarked but thankfully our Garmin was working and we had a phone signal (WV's main cell phone provider is AT&T. Verizon gets a signal but it can be spotty. We have Verizon) so we were able to call Liz to get better directions, since the Garmin insisted that Liz's street was a flood control building (huh?) It was pretty funny: yet again I was reminded of the island's back roads, which are often unmarked and don't necessarily connect to one another the way you would expect them to.

Liz was almost done setting up for the barn beach party she was hosting. Not at the barn where she keeps her horses, but at the barn where she lives! She has the most awesome barn apartment on equine property. She doesn't keep Q and Griffin here because there really isn't an area to ride/train in, and there is no access to trails. But she still gets to look at horses out the window. :) The landlord has 6 horses: 5 Tennessee Walkers and one Quarter Horse.

The barn beach party had been in the plans since last summer and it was finally coming to fruition. We were also going to get to meet most of Liz's friends on this occasion.

View from Liz's porch
People started trickling in around 3:30 pm. The first guests we met were T and B. T is a good friend of Liz's and a fellow ski patroller. I had heard several stories about her adventurous spirit and had been looking forward to meeting her in person. She was as fun to hang out with as I'd imagined she'd be.

We started out playing corn hole while waiting for other guests to arrive. Somehow I managed to get a couple of the bean bags in the hole. This put Liz and I in the lead up until we all kind of wandered off as more guests started to arrive. Eventually we all sat down to socialize. Mike made steaks and hot dogs on the grill. All the food was amazing.

Charles enjoying the conversation about ethnicities and prejudices. It was a really awesome and hilarious conversation because everyone here was well aware that we were all mutts.
T is the only one who noticed I was taking a photo!
One very distinguished Mike
Liz and I played beer pong against T and B.
Liz and I got our asses whipped at beer pong.

Mike was going to show us how it's done...
...and Hannah did her best to prevent it. Lol
The party ended with all of us sitting around a bonfire.

Mike gets the bonfire started.
Love bonfires
Charles by torchlight
Hodor gets some lovin' from Hannah.
Liz and Mike :)
Catching up
The party ended around midnight. Liz, Mike, Charles and I fell asleep immediately. Mike had to wake up early to go to work the next morning and Liz, Charles and I were planning on going to the barn to ride!

I woke up to the sound of the landlord's horses whinnying in their stalls on the other side of the bedroom wall. I hadn't realized how much I missed that. Back on the island we kept Lucero at home for the first 12 years of his life and in the mornings I'd wake up to his whinnying for breakfast.

Liz saw Mike off while Charles and I woke up and got ready. Liz made a spectacular breakfast of eggs with cheese, spinach and garlic that I've continued to make at home after we returned to MD - it was that good!

We drove straight to the barn from Liz's house. 

West Virginia in the summer reminds me SO MUCH of my favorite parts of Puerto Rico. SO MUCH. The mountainous areas of the central mountain range of the island: Cayey, Luquillo, Utuado and Caguas look so much like WV. It's like I've suddenly come home. There was a tremendous comfort in seeing Elkins again and realizing that it had not changed that much since we saw it last year. I could recognize places. It felt like we had never left. Whereas I know that the day we visit PR again, I won't recognize a thing because the entire island is in a constant state of development. It's so sad, but it's also the reason why Liz's world sings to a part of my soul. 

La Cordillera Central in Puerto Rico

The Appalachians, the mountains of West Virginia

Mountains of Puerto Rico, as seen from the Guayama/Arroyo area that I loved so much

Mountains of West Virginia, as seen from Liz's street
Photo by Liz
La Cordillera, PR

View from Spruce Knob, WV
photo by Dom
La Cordillera, PR
Appalachians, another view from Spruce Knob, WV

Now you guys can understand. :) Now you can see what I see. Actually, I should have turned that into a guessing game for you guys: see if you could tell which mountains belonged in the Caribbean and which ones in the Northeast.

The barn looked exactly as I remembered it: red buildings with the surrounding green fields of grass. Liz parked in front of the barn, gave us rope halters for the horses, and the three of us went down to the bottom field to get Little Bit, Griffin and Q. 

We put the halters on the horses and hopped on bareback. This was an entirely new concept for Charles and he struggled to jump on Little Bit, the BO's awesome Tennessee Walker, who would be his mount this time around. Liz ended up giving him a leg-up. 

Little Bit is like, "WTF?"
He's a good horse.
Charles would later ask if this was an acceptable way of fetching Gracie in the field. I told him of course, but he may want to practice a little more first. Lol
Liz on Q
The G-Man arching his neck in response to a light contact on his rope halter bridle.
He is the awesomest baby horse I have ever ridden.
Liz led the way on Q with Charles and Little Bit behind them, and Griffin and I bringing up the rear. The rest of the herd followed us up to the barn.

We tied the horses up and got them ready.

Charles has officially gotten the hang of the grooming thing. :) 
Q and Griffin sporting new fly bonnets!
Charles rode in Mike's stock saddle, I chose to ride in Liz's Wintec All Purpose, and Liz rode in her Ansur. Both Griffin and Q wore breastplates and cruppers, and Liz was able to dig up a breastplate for Little Bit. 

We mounted up and set off. 

We would follow a similar trail to what Liz and I did last year, which of course Charles had heard about and had seen the photos. He was super excited to see it for himself, and I was super excited to show him. The trail was much more tame than when I did it with Liz last year, where we trotted and galloped through the woods ducking low over the horses' necks to avoid overgrown brush and low tree branches. All of the overgrowth had been trimmed since then. 

Griffin leads the way.
I love the ferns carpeting the ground in this part of the Northeast.
We moved along alternately walking, trotting and cantering, even galloping up some really steep hills. Last time we had had to stop and negotiate low hung branches and I had honestly either forgotten or not noticed how steep some of the climbs were. Though we did branch out onto a different route from what Liz and I did during our visit last summer.

Griffin is most comfortable in the lead, but he was a little stiff/sluggish heading out. It was hot and he'd been ridden the two days prior on shorter rides so I figured he just needed to warm up a bit. Liz and Q took the lead for about a mile or so, until Griffin really perked up and decided he was ready to be in the lead again. We led for most of the ride after that.

There was this one incredibly steep slope...a person would have to tackle it on all fours. It was that steep. As we came up to it, Liz told us that's where we were headed. I gasped. Griffin, however, has tackled this hill prior to this and so I leaned forward, giving him all the rein I had and threading my fingers in his mohawk. "Griffin, GO!" I said, and he lunged up that hill, attacking it with huge biting strides, powering us up with such force that he almost bounced me out of the saddle! It was awesome. Liz was right on our heels on Q, and Charles brought up the rear on Little Bit.

Galloping up that vertical incline on Griffin, I suddenly saw the OD from Liz's perspective: when you have this kind of terrain for training on, especially with these kinds of inclines, the OD is a piece of cake. This particular group of trails are not as rocky as the OD but long, steep climbs like this are perfect for conditioning endurance horses for this series of rides.

We stopped at the top of the hill to let the horses take a break. 

I think Charles's face says it all: he was having SO much fun!

Liz and Q chillin'
Q was a really good girl on this ride. Liz made a huge effort to constantly praise her and talk to her.
There is a river that Liz wanted to try to take us to, which involved going through uncharted territory. Both Charles and I were game, so we all set off in search of it, using Liz's GPS as a reference. The main issue ended up being that the shortest route was cut off by private land, so eventually we had to stop and turn around. 

We stopped to enjoy the view before turning around, though!
Charles having a ball. :)
Little Bit took really good care of him. Charles would return the favor.

Charles checks out the field in the next picture
So pretty!
Since we had to turn around, this meant we had to tackle the Steepest of All Hills in the opposite direction too. As we started going down, Griffin started out by wanting to stop to rub his nose on his knees, which was really disconcerting when I felt like I had to lay flat on his back to negotiate that hill going down...you really DON'T want your horse's head to disappear between his knees when you feel like you're just going to slide down his neck as it is...so I brought his head up and proceeded to micromanage him going down the hill. Griffin was not thrilled with this.

Griffin: "What are you doing? I totally know how to go down hills."
Me: "I know you do. I know you can do them better than I can. I just don't want you to put your head down. We'll die!"
Griffin: "You're being ridiculous."

He'd pause to let me know that he was not pleased. We eventually made it down a few steps at a time, Charles and Little Bit behind us. Liz, who had led the way down on Q, turned around at the bottom to snag these pics, which, like she said in her blog post, do not do this hill justice!

He is an awesome little horse, let me tell you. I've ridden 6 year olds less mature (both in body and mind) and less balanced than him. He turns 4 years old now in July. He knows exactly where each foot is going; he has not retained the gangliness that a lot of young horses seem to have until they are placed in heavier training. Liz only rides him a couple of times a week (quality vs quantity) and he is outside 24/7 on 40 acres, so he can play and move as much as he needs/wants to. He may trip occasionally at the walk (and only at the walk), but you never feel like either of you are going to fall. He really takes care of his rider and of himself. I'm going to keep going on and on here about what an wonderful job Liz has done with bringing her Gray Horse along. :) I was impressed when I rode him last summer but I was floored when I rode him on this day!

On the way back to the barn, I'd have the opportunity to walk him down other hills and let him do his thing. If we trotted down a slope here he would say, "Yes. Thank you for helping me balance," as he arched his neck, picked up the contact, and rocked himself back onto his haunches effortlessly without missing a beat. Beautiful. Knowing that he used to resent bit contact and that Griffin can have Opinions on Things, I rode him with a feather touch on the reins for most of this ride but if I felt like he needed to use his body differently and asked for it, he'd immediately respond, lifting his withers while gathering himself into a lovely frame. Swoon. Baby Horse is pretty darn amazing! Liz, I want you to train any baby horses I have in the future! :D

Since we didn't make it to the river, we stopped at a large puddle to let the horses drink. Griffin let me know that he really wanted to roll in the puddle, pawing with a front foot and making the water splash all about us, "I WANNA ROLL!" but I told him, "No thank you."

Griffin pouts
We were hoping to make it to El Gran Sabor, the awesome Venezuelan restaurant in Elkins, before their lunch hour ended at 2:30 pm. We were running against time by then so we did a lot more trotting and cantering as we made our way back to the barn.

Little Bit, while much fitter than he was last year, was not quite as fit as Q and Griffin and was breathing hard as we were getting closer to the barn. We had a long straightaway that we would be walking so Charles chose to dismount and hand walk him for a ways before we came to the next set of hills on the trail. I was really proud of Charles for choosing to take care of his mount like that. Little Bit's breathing improved significantly with the break and Charles mounted up again when it was time to start climbing once more.

On this last section of trail I heard Liz giggling behind me: Q was snaking her head at Griffin, acting like she was going to bite him. Griffing was completely oblivious to this and simply trotted on, ears pricked. I heard Liz reprimand Q a couple of times but she was still giggling at the little mare's efforts at being boss mare. This kind of behavior was unheard of for Q, but we were both laughing at her by this point: bitey mare = confident mare! Eventually we arrived at another steep hill and I had Griffin step to the side to let Q pass as I said to Liz, "I think Q just wants to lead!" Indeed she did! Q pricked her ears forward and took off up that hill like a rocket, Griffin hot on her heels. Liz and Q led the rest of the way back to the barn.

Liz had warned me that Griffin will sometimes try to buck when other horses pass him. As we came upon the last field before the barn, Liz and Q took off at a canter and Charles and Little Bit racked on past Griffin and me. I panicked for a second, thinking the little man would misbehave, but he absolutely did not. He picked up a lovely uphill rolling canter, coming back to a trot when I requested it, then picking up the canter again when I let him continue. He did not care at all that we were the last horse and rider of our group.

There was one last creek crossing before arriving at the barn and Griffin plunged into the deeper pool of water that went up almost to his chest, taking huge gulps of water as he drank. He started pawing again, "I WANNA ROLL NOW!", and again I told him, "No Griffin!"

After the 3 horses had drunk their fill, we continued on at a walk, stopping within sight of the barn to talk to Liz's BO D, who wanted to know how our ride had gone and how Little Bit had behaved. While standing around talking to her, Griffin put his head down to eat grass, which I allowed...then mid-bite he suddenly slid down onto his knees without warning and simply lay like a lamb, continuing to eat grass without a care in the world. Baby horse finally got me! I got off for a moment to make sure that he was okay (he was), while Liz and D laughed: D's younger gelding would do the same thing all the time. Lucero would pull stunts like that when he was young too. I was told to get back on him and make him stand up. I did, and with a nudge of my heel he stood up again.

Griffin says, "Oh okay" *grumble*
He stood up with minimal request from me. I burst out laughing. He just had to win the "I WANNA ROLL NOW!" argument!  Touché Griffin. :)

He walked happily back to the barn where I properly dismounted and he had a bath. All 3 horses were hosed off and turned back out into their pasture.

We put away tack and piled into Liz's truck in a hurry. We had 15 minutes to make to El Gran Sabor!

To be continued... :)


  1. Griffin is a pretty special horse. A good first horse for me to have raised from a yearling. I'm so happy he was good for you :-)

    1. He was just so spectacularly awesome! Best baby horse ever. He has a great personality but you still get all the credit for turning him into what he is today! :)

  2. Sounds like an incredible weekend. I love the idea of a barn beach party and it looks like a fun group of people.

    WV is gorgeous. Such pretty rolling hills. Everytime I read this blog I end up singing the song Country Roads in my head (because otherwise people throw things at me and the dogs howl.) I think Puerto Rico would be fabulous.

    1. You would love it!

      And getting the dogs to howl while you sing is the first step in getting them to sing "Happy Birthday"! ;)

  3. Yay!! I'm caught up finally!! It's so funny reading the same story from two different points of view. So fun!! Looking forward to part two.

  4. What a great ride! It sounds like both Griffin and Charles have come a long way in a short time:)