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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Of Valentine's, Snow and a Whiteout

For the longest time I kept complaining that we need a second tote so I can split Gracie's and Lily's grooming stuff, as it's all overflowing in the one tote currently and I can never find ANYTHING in the current tote. I could have gotten the second tote eons ago but it's just one of those things that I kept forgetting whenever we went to the feed store.

You can imagine my expression when I woke up on Valentine's Day to discover this from Charles:

He went and got a tote! In BLACK!

We're not huge on Valentine's gifts; it's more about us celebrating being together. Charles has always gotten off easy because all I really want on Valentine's is chocolate. (Except for the year when I wanted the Alta...I ordered it on Valentine's. It just arrived in July after my bday because custom saddle made in Spain. That was worth at least 15 years of Valentine's chocolates...) But I was pretty excited about this because it was something I'd said I'd needed without expecting it to materialize and he actually went out and got it. <3

Where I come from, Valentine's Day is called El Dia de la Amistad: The Day of Friendship. We celebrate love in all of its many forms, from romantic love to family love to the love you have for close friends. It's not about being single or in a relationship, it's about celebrating those you love. When I was single, I'd still go out with my brother, who was also single at the time and whom I consider one of my best friends, and get ourselves the best chocolate we could find and go watch a horror movie together. It was awesome. Because of this, I don't understand why some people hold such hatred towards this particular holiday. Love is love, whether it's for your pets, your horse, your best friend, your SO, your spouse, your parents, your siblings, your family, whether that family is related to you by blood or not. Even love for yourself counts! Love isn't just about romantic love. And I don't really give a shit about the commercialization of some holidays. In my country, we celebrate US, Spanish and Puerto Rican holidays. We forget what the hell holiday it is that we're supposed to be celebrating because we have so freaking many. All we know is that IT'S A REASON FOR A CELEBRATION SO LET'S CELEBRATE. Let's just stop for a minute and give a friend a hug, or send your mom an e-card or stop to enjoy watching the sun set on the beach with your SO.

The weather forecast for Valentine's Day was not a fun one:

And it kept changing as the day went on. 

Charles and I drove up to Frederick for brunch at That Cuban Place, the same place we went to for Three King's Day. We pulled into their parking lot to find out that they were closed and there was a sign saying they were going to have prayers for Alfredo, the restaurant owner, on February 15. What really got our attention was the blackboard they had outside: someone had written "You will be missed!" I checked their Facebook page to discover that Alfredo passed away. I was fighting back tears. I still am. We only met him once but he made us feel so at home, both with the way he treated Charles and me and with his amazing food and coffee. He made a difference that day, and I'm so glad I wrote about it in detail. I can only imagine the hole he leaves behind in the lives of the people that knew him closely. 

We ended up going to Sabor de Cuba, another Cuban restaurant in Frederick that we had discovered with the in-laws when they visited. It's very, very good food but That Cuban Place was truly exceptional. I have no idea what's going to happen to the restaurant now. :( 

Cubano sandwiches, fried yucca and Cuban coffee at Sabor de Cuba. We realized after ordering that we probably could have just shared one sandwich. They were huge.
The funny thing: the in-laws called while we were eating at Sabor de Cuba to wish us a happy Valentine's. (See? Celebrating family love.) We had to laugh at the coincidence!

I checked the weather forecast again while we were in the restaurant: they were talking about whiteout conditions in the evening. I figured our plans for a Valentine's Day ride were done for, but we decided to play it by ear. 

We then went to the feed store...to discover it was closed. Because it closes at noon on Saturdays! Dammit. So we swung by Southern States in Mount Airy on the way back to the barn. We were going to stop by the house for me to change into riding clothes, but I had decided against riding what with the new weather forecast and all. We were in my Corolla and decided to stay in it instead of swapping for the Beast because it's so economical on gas and we weren't going to be at the barn for long. 

Kathy was out in the back field picking whatever poop wasn't frozen, using the front loader of the tractor as her muck bucket. She had had new round bales delivered but there was still quite a bit of square bale hay in her hay ring: we'd been dropping a few square bales in there in the meantime so the horses could have something to eat and stay warm with at night. We originally were going to help her shave off some of the hay from the round bale so we could fit the hay ring around it (the hay ring is for a 4x4 round bale; the round bale supplier's smallest bales are 5x5) and put the shaved hay in muck buckets for Lily and Gracie to eat in the shelter of the run-in. We ended up placing the remaining square bale hay from the hay ring in the muck buckets instead and deciding to wait until the next afternoon to do the round bale shaving so we could use the muck buckets for the shaved round bale hay then. (This was all so as to not waste any hay by having it blown away in the high winds we were expecting that night.)

King of the Round Bale
After taking care of the muck buckets, I helped Kathy pick poop. One of the rakes is out of commision at the moment so Charles followed us around telling ER stories and making it hard to work because we were laughing so hard. He asked Kathy if he could play with the tractor. 

Both her and I gave a resounding, "NO" and burst out laughing. Kathy said, "I don't want you doing wheelies with it across the field." I looked at Kathy. "How did you know? That's EXACTLY what he would have tried to do!" Still laughing. So Charles resorted to pretending he was driving the tractor. 

One bad-ass mofo on a tractor.
He wants to do a remix of "I'm On a Boat"
I kept seeing Charles inspecting things on the tractor but was generally ignoring him while watching him out of the corner of my eye, because he is still only 10 years old at heart and if you're all like, "Do NOT do that!" he is all that more likely to try to do whatever it is that he's thinking of doing that you don't want to do. 

Life with a man-child, I tell you.

So he comes up to Kathy and shows her this photo he took on his cell of one of the many stickers on the tractor: 

"Can I do this? Please?" he asks, knowing full well that he's going to get a resounding "NO" from both Kathy and me. We all burst out laughing.

The farm has been spitting out evidence of the life of its former owners throughout this winter. There are 2 tennis balls peeking out under the big tree in Kathy's backyard. We have also found a few large bones lying around. (The previous owners had dogs; at least one of them was large, as evidenced by Kathy's back door doggie doors. The bones are like big marrow bones that some people would give their dogs.) I found this on Saturday: 

What looked like an old wool scarf or long sock.
Kathy said, "Oh no...is there a body attached to that?" We all have the same gallows humor. 

Kathy then mentioned that she had found this:

For Miss Gidget, who died in 1978.
We're assuming Miss Gidget was a dog.

All four mares came up to the barn around that time. It was exactly 4:00 pm. We figured we'd go ahead and give them their dinner but the mares decided they would run around some first. 

We fed Lily and Gracie in the run-in as usual...and then it started snowing. Softly, with tiny fuzzy flakes. And of course I changed my mind. "Let's ride!" I told Charles. There are few things more beautiful than riding while the snow is coming down. 

Charles decided he wanted to ride bareback. The snow got heavier and then lightened almost to nothing while I was tacking up Lily. 

We had originally thought of just riding around Kathy's property but decided to go out onto the trails. The trails are gorgeous when it's snowing and I figured with the impending storm we would have the park completely to ourselves. 

This is the tree we use as a mounting block at the trail head. Charles was pushing Gracie's butt over  because everytime he would be ready to hop on, she'd move away from the tree. And yes: I keep telling him that one day he's going to lose the horse for not holding the reins while doing this type of stuff...
Ready to go!
Love this pic of them. The yellow collar that both mares have in these pics are reflective collars with a Velcro safety attachment and a label for my information. We keep them on all 4 horses when they're out in the pastures, but Charles and I just left them on for this ride. 
This is when my phone crapped out from the cold, so Charles became the ride photographer after this.

Everything is out of focus except for the tiny snow flakes!
You can see that I really was not in riding clothes. I was wearing my snow boots but I just had on a regular pair of jeans. At least I was wearing long johns under them!

The fork to which we were riding in the video.
I decided to keep the ride short. There still wasn't even a breeze blowing but I didn't want to be out in the woods if the high winds started up. The forecast had said up to 55 mph gusts. 

We walked and trotted. Charles lost his center of balance twice while doing a real trot and Gracie IMMEDIATELY halted. WHAT a good girl!!! We both praised her each time. Charles said that her canter is so much easier to sit bareback, which I can see: Gracie has the smoothest canter. 

We took the Hidden Pond trail away from the meadow and I offered to lead for a bit. Lily was being a fire-breathing dragon just like she had been on the ride with Gail and I wanted a break from the prancing and jigging. 

As we were reaching the fork in the trail that either led down to the river or up a hikers-only path, I heard a voice. The section that we were riding on is on the side of a hill; the river trail loops down below it. You can't see it, but sound carries. I couldn't make out what the voice said, but I just had this picture in my head: a man calling his dogs. Two of them, off leash. One white, one tan.

I don't know how I know these things, and when they happen I tend to second-guess them because I can be quite fearful on the trails if I let my imagination spin out of control. I wouldn't have started in endurance at all if I'd shied away from every single potential danger on the trails, real or imagined. 

I brought Lily to a halt at the fork in the trail. I could see a good distance down the trail that led towards the river and I couldn't see any movement in that direction, from where the voice had come. "What's wrong?" Charles asked. "I'm trying to make up my mind on where to go," I said. I had wanted to go down to the river trail because it's gorgeous when it's snowing and it's a pretty short loop from there back to the barn. But my gut was telling me HELL NO DON'T GO THAT WAY. My first instinct was to backtrack, but I didn't want to cower away from a potentially imagined situation. I decided to take the hiker's trail, as it led away from the river trail and from there we could take the meadow back to the barn. 

"Do you want to canter?" I asked Charles. I figured this way we could put as much distance between my imagined danger if it was indeed real. Plus we were going uphill, which is so much easier for riding the canter bareback. I can tell you all about that from riding Lucero on our hill bareback as a teenager. :)

"Yes!" he said. 

We picked up a canter and 5 strides later I realized there was silence behind me. I stopped Lily and swung her around to see Gracie prancing up the trail behind us, tail flagged and doing her nervous dragon snort. She was looking back over her shoulder. Riderless. 

"Gracie..." I called to her softly. She came to a halt 2 strides from Lily and turned around to look back at the trail, ears pricked. Total expression of, "What the...?!!" Charles had come off but he was walking up towards us. 

"Are you okay??!!" I called to him. "What happened??"

And then I saw them. The two dogs. Scurrying away in the trees. One white, one tan, returning to their master who was calling them. Just like I'd seen them in my mind. Creepy crazy.

I was livid over the dogs being off-leash but relieved that Charles was okay. I made him do range of motion of his limbs but he really was fine. He said the dogs had come up behind us just as we started cantering. Gracie dodged to one side to avoid one dog and Charles started to lose his balance. She then dodged to the other side to avoid the other dog and he came off. He said there was a tree in the way so he reached out and hugged it to keep from hitting it. I couldn't avoid laughing at that mental picture, of him looking like he was leaping off Gracie deliberately to grab onto a tree. Total Native American maneuver, in my mind. 

Charles stroked Gracie's forehead and neck and she was immediately calm, like nothing had happened. I think she was more startled over the fact that he'd come off than over the dogs themselves. She's the kind of horse that will actually go after a dog that's coming at her. 

We walked a little further up the trail, Charles leading Gracie, until we found a log suitable for him to use as a mounting block. Just as he was lining her up, the guy with the dogs showed up on the trail, the dogs now on leash. I told Charles to wait a minute before getting back on, to let the dogs go by in case Gracie got worried about them, but he didn't hear me. He hopped on anyway.

We moved the horses well out of the way and waited for the guy to walk past, me biting my tongue to keep from yelling at him, especially since the trail we had taken in my attempt to avoid him was a trail we weren't supposed to be on with the horses. Gracie barely looked at the dogs as they went past; Lily was more concerned about them. 

Instead of following them towards the meadow trail, we did end up backtracking towards the Hidden Pond trail. I had Charles lead so I could watch him ride and make sure he wasn't lying about not hurting (he wasn't) but Lily was all, "I SHALL CANTER ALL THE WAY HOME!" We did some backing up in the direction of home to curb that behavior. I have officially run out of excuses for her: Herd Leader Lily just wants to be with her herd and when with other horses, she now wants to be In Front, and when facing home she just wants to Go Fast Towards Home. I am Not a Fan. We need to put in a lot more trail miles again, a lot more solo riding again, and find a way to trailer to new trails. 

We walked most of the way home, except for a few short canters. There was a lot of backing up and half halting-releasing. 

The snow started coming down in earnest in the meantime. Charles kept saying how beautiful it was. 

"I told you!" I said to him. :)

Giraffe Lily
Charles let me borrow his cell so I could get a pic of him.
The blurriness is Dancing Lily's fault. -_-
Big difference from when we first headed out! It was starting to accumulate fast.

Once back at the barn, we blanketed the girls with midweights and neck covers, set them up with plenty of hay in the run-in, filled troughs and buckets, then hightailed it out of there just as it was starting to get dark. The snow was evenly coating everything but it wasn't what I'd call a significant accumulation yet.

Kathy's driveway is 1/4 of a mile long. As we turned onto the main street at the end of her driveway, the wind started in earnest. This wasn't a little breeze, mind you. It literally went from 0 mph to 30 mph, with the snow coming down hard and fast.

I convinced Charles to take the main road back towards home, as it is a snow emergency route and in theory should have been pre-treated for this. 

I have no idea if it was because we couldn't see JACK SHIT.

It was nice when a car was coming toward us because then we knew what lane we were on.
2' visibility. I had my face smushed to the window, trying to make out land marks on the side of the road, and I couldn't see anything other than the guard rail when there was one. We had no idea how far on the road we were, so I turned on the GPS, which would show us the turns in the road and tell us how much farther until the next intersection. 

When I wasn't white knuckling the dashboard, I was trying to make light of the entire situation by taking photos like the one above. There was the surreal sensation of never having been placed in a situation like this, nor of having ever imagined myself in a situation like this. Charles had driven through whiteout conditions in MA one winter so he was actually completely chill about the whole thing. A good thing, since he was the one driving. I just kept thinking about this being the part in the story where we both died on Valentine's day.

And you know, we have to go over 3 bridges to get home, and we couldn't tell what lane we were on because whiteout. Thank God for bridge guard rails, as I could see them and tell Charles if we were getting too close. We had an interesting slide across two lanes when we couldn't make a right-turn because the entire lane was covered by a giant snow drift. Thankfully we were the only lunatics out in that section of road, so we didn't hit anyone or anything and it was kind of in slow motion. 

Like this. Except not as cool and not deliberate.
Somehow Charles didn't permanently lose circulation to his right hand. I was gripping his arm that tight during the whole thing. (I told Liz about the whole thing and received a bunch of very, very helpful tips on snow driving in an automatic car that I would get to put into use just 2 days later...)

The GPS was a brilliant idea and we breathed a sigh of relief as we started to drive through more wooded areas where the trees cut the wind and/or snow. As we drove into the suburbs, the snow had practically stopped. 

This is what home looked like:

So apparently the damn whiteout was only supposed to last 30 minutes and we managed to time our drive home exactly so we would drive through the whole thing. 

Moral of the story: anytime there is any kind of snow on the forecast, WE ARE TAKING THE BEAST. 

We had originally planned on going back home, changing into street clothes and heading out for dinner. Once I was done hyperventilating, Charles proposed we go back out anyway.

"But-but WHITEOUT..." I said. 
"It stopped snowing," he said.
"But the wind is howling!" 
"It's not snowing. The wind alone won't affect visibility."
"But what if it starts snowing again??"
"Check the forecast and see," he suggested.

I checked the forecast. No more snow for days

Seriously??? We REALLY managed to drive through the entire single whiteout...

We got into the Beast this time and drove to a nearby (10 minutes away) California Pizza Kitchen for their Valentine's Day dinner special. The wind was atrocious.

But you know what? There were empty tables at the restaurant! That NEVER happens on V-Day, so we totally lucked out thanks to the horrible weather. 

We made it home safe and sound afterwards. 

It was an adventure that I hope to NEVER repeat again!


  1. Whoo. Didn't realize how bad that drive was for you when you sent me the picture.

    Our rule of thumb is always, always take the four wheel drive vehicle, not only is visibility better, but the vehicle is heavier, which plays a part in how it handles the conditions, plus 4-wheel drive.

    Second, Carlos and I share that tendency: to do whatever we've been told not to . . . he and I would have so much fun!!!

    Finally, what a great ride in the woods in the snow! (I too have a horse that will charge and kick at dogs).

    1. I downplayed it significantly while it was happening so you wouldn't worry too too much. We were quite literally driving blind. That slide was...epic. Carlos kept his cool and went, "Wheeeeeeee!" and managed to turn the car so we came to a stop without getting stuck in the snow on the opposite side of the street. The main issue was that the roads had about 1" of fluffy stuff on them; the plows were just starting when we were arriving back into the city. So we just didn't have grip on the road. Lesson learned: 4WD vehicle with any kind of snow or ice on the forecast!!

      I TOTALLY agree that you and Carlos would have a ton of fun hanging out! It really never is boring around him.

      The snow ride was a lot of fun except for the dog incident. But all's well that ends well! :)

  2. whoa crazy snow on the way home!!! glad y'all made it alright! also, those pics of the tractor are hilarious haha

    1. It was good to get home! And Charles is a special boy. Lol

  3. Love the gangsta-tractor-driver picture, lol. Glad he didn't get hurt during the dog incident and that you made it through the white-out unscathed. I would have been a little *ahem* tense too!

    1. Me too x2! It was hair-raising there for a minute.