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

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Another One for the Record Books!

Or: The story of how we borrowed Liz's Timeturner.

Hopefully many of you are Harry Potter nerds like Liz and I and you understand the reference. ;)
Of all the wonderful, incredible people I have met since moving to the US, Diana is among the ones that has been a close personal friend the longest. (She isn't the only one, but she is one of them. :) ) We met at the barn where I boarded my QH Cloud back when we first moved to South FL from Tampa. Diana was around 7 months pregnant and owned a black QH/Percheron cross mare that everyone thought was a Friesian.

The first time I ever saw Diana, it was like I had known her my whole life: it wasn't a first-time meeting, it was a recognition. My instant knee-jerk reaction was, "I want to be her friend!" I didn't know why, I just did. The people whom I feel this way about are few and far between. I usually keep to myself at barns unless people reach out to me, but I reached out to Diana. And before her daughter was born, we were already best friends. We shared a tack and feed room, we helped one another with barn chores, we took care of one another's horses when the other couldn't make it out to the barn (it was a self-care facility) and together we survived some of the worst barn drama, the kind that is so horrific you can't even begin to make it up.

It just brought us closer together.

Being a single mom to a toddler while also having a full time job means it is hard to just go out and have fun. So many times we'd just swing by the grocery store together after the barn to get our shopping done as an excuse to spend a little more time together. We've been in Maryland for almost four years now, and still every time I go to the grocery store after the barn, I think of Diana. And miss her.

She had been trying to make it out to visit us pretty much since our very first winter here in the north, and something always seemed to happen to prevent it from happening. We used to joke around that her and I had a jinx together: any time we made plans to get together, something happened. A lot of times we would just spontaneously decide to do stuff together just to stay ahead of the jinx but it's hard to plan a trip that way. The ultimate jinx came when two years ago, she planned a trip for Mother's Day weekend and literally the day before she was supposed to arrive, she was told at work that she needed to cover a shift. It was mandatory. She could lose her job otherwise. It was absolutely ridiculous, especially since she has requested the time off two months in advance. She stayed in Florida and we were both so upset over the jinx that we didn't even try to plan a meet-up again for a long time.

We had no issue hanging out together multiple times during Carlos's and my trip to Florida this past January, so I thought (but didn't say) that maybe the jinx was finally broken...

January 2016, from our visit to South FL
One evening in April, her and I were talking on the phone and she decided right then and there to buy plane tickets to come visit us in May.

Well aware of the jinx, Carlos said he would believe she was coming when he saw her at the airport. I texted him this picture when I picked her up:

I had planned a WHIRLWIND of a weekend for her, the likes of which I never would have dared plan if I hadn't met Liz. Liz actually helped facilitate it, and I started telling Carlos that I had sneaked away her Timeturner just to make this all work... ;) (Liz has a supernatural ability for squeezing as many activities as possible into as little time as possible without things ever feeling rushed.)

Diana arrived on a Saturday. Carlos and I woke up early, packed up the truck, and I headed to DC in my car to pick up Diana at the airport while Carlos drove to the barn to hitch up the trailer and feed the horses. We all met at the barn, loaded up Lily and Gracie, and headed out on the three hour drive...

...to Davis, WV.

Highway. Trailer behind us. Sun out! It was 74 degrees in Maryland. I was wearing shorts and a tank top. Carlos was in flip flops.
Carlos focused on driving while Diana messaged her daughter.
We joked that in less than 10 hours, she had set foot in 5 different states!
The forecast for the weekend was nothing short of hideous. I had not given her the specifics but I told Diana to bring all the warm clothes she owned and had conspired with Liz so that between the two of us we would have a full set of winter clothes for Diana, both hanging out and riding. 

We were in for a FORTY DEGREE temperature drop. In May.

Not ominous at all...Around here Liz texted, "It's starting to rain over here!"
"Yup!" I texted back, "We can see it!"

We drove uneventfully through the Virginia mountains and onto Corridor H, watching the truck's outside temperature reading slowly drop. We stopped at a McDonald's in Moorefield, WV to grab a late lunch to go, and both Diana and I shivered as we ran into the building while Carlos drove the rig around: the trailer was too tall for the drive-through. 

Once back inside the truck, I changed into proper winter clothes: my lined pRana pants, Smartwool top, wool socks, fleece sweater...aka clothes I thought I wouldn't be using again until at least November.

We would be keeping the girls at Dan's barn in Davis. Dan is both Liz's and my farrier, and while we were there, we were having Lily's shoes re-set. We remembered where the barn was at from our first visit to Davis, but we had the hardest time finding the route to actually get there. This was especially interesting with the horse trailer. 

We drove up and down this road 4 times. :)
Texting was sketchy because of spotty phone signal but for whatever reason, Messenger was working and Dan was able to give us directions. We finally found the barn! We parked and unloaded the horses in tropical storm-force winds. It was 40 degrees but with the wind chill it was at least 10 degrees colder. Both of them  instantly started shivering. As did Diana.

Once inside the safety of the barn, we were sheltered from the wind and the temperature was bearable. I left Lily out in cross ties so Dan could start working on her and Carlos placed Gracie in a stall across from Lily.

I then ran to the truck so I could fetch some of the winter clothes I had packed for Diana.

She was having a hard time with the zipper once she had gloves on. Those were my lined SSGs that I use for winter riding!
40 degrees wasn't bad for us but it was REALLY cold for the South Floridian, even out of the wind!

All set for our insane bipolar spring weather!
Meanwhile, Lily had new shoes placed all the way around by Dan.

I think she thought she was at yet another endurance ride and had been quite fidgety until I put hay in front of her, which Carlos and I took turns hand-feeding so she would keep her head up for Dan. (If a horse has her head down, it makes it harder for her to balance on 3 legs for the farrier.) Yes: she had been demanding food upon arrival at her destination!
This is the same shoe: old one up top, new one on bottom.
The old shoe has approximately 150 miles of wear on it. She even wore down the borium studs! You can't see them!
See how much flatter the old shoe (on the right) is?
And yes, these are steel!
Dan took his time with Lily and then removed Gracie's shoes: we aren't planning on competing her again for a couple of months so she gets to stay barefoot in the meantime.

In the middle of all of this, I had managed to convince Liz to come down to the barn to hang out while Dan finished: she had been at Dave's hiding from the cold. It really wasn't too horrible when you got out of the wind; it was almost toasty in comparison once you were inside the building.

So she came out and my two best friends got to meet for the first time. And there is no photo. Lol

After the farrier work was done, I blanketed both girls with midweights (the temperature was continuing to drop and they were both already fully shed out) and we all piled into our trucks to go back to The House That Dave Built to change into yet warmer clothes and head into downtown for dinner.

Kenai was just thrilled to be in the front seat of Liz's truck!
Have some house porn:
Architecture was a favorite subject back when I took B&W photography lessons. I loved the feeling of taking a work of art (architecture) and turning it into a different work of art (photography). Dave's house allows me to play with this dual concept; I always end up taking way too many photos when we stay there, just trying to capture the soul of the house. 

Dave did light the wood-bur stove later in the evening!

View from the second floor of the house.
 We went to Hellbender's for their amazing burritos and then headed to Stumptown Ales across the street for beer.

Stumptown is a local bar where everyone knows everybody and by now we have been to the town often enough that a lot of the faces were familiar. We enjoyed some of their amazing beers, ate a lot of pretzels and had an awesome time.

I think maybe we ate the equivalent of 3 full-sized bags of them between the five of us...

Carlos looks adorable here. I think Diana didn't want me to take the picture...whoops. ;)
We were laughing SO HARD by this point. Carlos was on a roll.
This one is titled "Too Many Pretzels".
No words. Hahahahaha

What will gross out both Carlos and Dave to this level?
Talking about a botched adult circumcision. Diana was making a hacking motion with her hand...
Grins! And more pretzels...
Carlos and Dave talking about serious manly subjects.
It started snowing while we were still at Stumptown. Again, I will repeat that this was in MAY! We eventually all went back to Dave's and passed out until next morning.

We always sleep in the downstairs spare bedroom, which has a window right behind our heads. The first thing I always do upon waking up when we stay at Dave's is look out the window. There's always something gorgeous out there: a thick carpet of snow, a glorious blazing dawn, a full moon, the Milky Way strewn across the heavens, autumn trees set afire by sunlight, a wall of white fog. I have seen all of these so far.

On this particular morning, I woke up to this:

Snow. On the ground.
Snow on the deck!
All the snow.
The snow was not going to be impeding our plans though: the Big Event of the weekend was riding in the Dolly Sods Wilderness. 

We got up, dressed in All The Warm Things, packed up our things (Carlos, Diana and I would be heading back to Maryland right after our ride) and headed out to Dan's barn.

Once at the barn, we tacked up all the horses (Liz had Q and Griffin), met Liz's friend Kate, and figured out the logistics of this trip: There is a long stretch of road that you have to ride on to get to the Timberline Ski Resort, from where we would access the Dolly Sods Wilderness, which we were trying to skip entirely both to save time and to save us the grief of riding through nonstop 30 mph freezing wind for several miles. We had 6 horses and two 2-horse trailers, which meant one trailer had to make two trips. We figured it out: Dan took his two horses (Dakota and Nell) to the resort in Liz's rig and Diana stayed with them, then returned to get Liz, Kate and Liz's horses. Carlos and I followed behind with our girls. All horses had been loaded into trailers fully tacked to save time later.

Driving to Timberline. If you look closely, you'll see the white specks against the green: it was still actively snowing. It wasn't sticking because the winds were so brutal, but it was most certainly still coming down.
And, you know, we were planning on riding in this.
This is the part where I looked at Carlos in wonder and said, "You are the only person in the world crazy enough to participate in an adventure this freaking insane with me. I am the luckiest girl alive."
He grinned from ear to ear, "And you used to think you were boring, remember?" I did. "This is why I never thought you were boring! And there is no other place I'd rather be!" he said.
We unloaded the horses at Timberline and had Diana get into the truck to warm up while we finished getting ready. She had been standing with Nell and Dakota behind one of the buildings for shelter from the wind, but standing around in the cold would still get you chilled even if acclimated.

I immediately threw coolers on the horses to keep them warm; Gracie had her tail tucked up from the cold. Gracie's expression was one of, "WHY do my stupid humans keep hauling us places to ride in the most hideous weather imaginable? WHY can't we just stay home and ride in NICE weather??"

Lily, however, was looking around happily with ears and head up, completely unfazed by the wind, the snow, the other horses, anything. I think in her brain she still thought we were at an endurance ride. She was all, "YES LET'S DO THIS!"

Diana was riding Dan's Nell, the same mare I rode during our first trip to Davis last year. Carlos was on Gracie, I was on Lily, Liz was riding Q, her friend Kate was on Griffin and Dan was on his Storgan Dakota.

Lily was VERY impatient about me getting on and we had an argument.

Lily: "Just get on already!"
Me: "I need a mounting block! You're too fidgety! Here, stand by this rock."
Lily: "I'm fidgeting because you need to get your ass in that saddle already!"
Me: "Can you just hold still a minute so I can do so? I can't get on if you're moving around so much."
Lily: "But we need to GO! The ride is STARTING!"
Me: "This isn't an endurance ride, Lily! There's no rush!"
Lily: "That's what you think! Look: the other horses are leaving."
Me: "They're right there waiting for us! Oh hold on: These stirrups are too long. I need to get off to adjust them."
Lily: "AAARRRRRGHHH! I want a new stupid human!" (<- Go to that link. I think this would be a common complaint among Lily, Gracie, Q and Griffin during this ride...hahaha...)

I swear. That's the argument we were having.

This ride would go down in the record books for all of us. It was unbelievable. Magical. Extreme. Incredible. All The Adjectives.

It seemed very appropriate to be riding at a ski resort while it was snowing.

The clouds were moving so fast that we would have moments of sunlight throughout this ride.
Loooooong hill: this is one of the ski slopes.
Liz took us up this slope at the beginning of the year on one of the snow mobiles!

"WHY is everyone going so SLOW?" - Lily
She was so annoyed about the pace!

Looking back at Liz and Kate bringing up the rear way, way behind us!

Pausing to wait while Liz corrected a stirrup issue. That's Diana in black patting Nell on the neck.
Nell has one blue eye; you can see it in this pic. :)
Riding up the Wall of Tears.
Lily still didn't understand why we weren't moving out.

Liz took this one, and it's such a great shot, showing the rockiness of the trail, the snow on the ground, and how well all the horses worked together while travelling in single file.

This spot was absolutely spectacular.

Gracie playing in the water.

Embiggen: the sun was out, but it was still flurrying! It was so very magical!
This part through the woods, with simultaneous green and snow, was also unreal.
Neither of these two photos is edited.

There were hikers in the Sods. HIKERS. Hikers in this weather! I think that's even crazier than what we were doing....hahaha
Two of Griffin's boots popped off. The Sods permanently stole one of them: Liz was never able to find it.
This is the first boot she has ever truly lost. I told her, "Welcome to my world!" We agreed that this is exactly why we've switched to shoes for moments when hoof protection is needed. :/
Q waits for Liz patiently. Such a good poneh.
Diana was grinning from ear to ear throughout most of this ride. This was all unlike anything any of us had ever experienced, but especially her!
The sun shone for a while.

And then the snow came down harder.

The flakes were huge and fluffy, exactly the type of snow I love.
Note Liz and Kate behind me trying to catch snow flakes on their tongues!

The Sods is an alien landscape all by itself. If it looks like a scene from Alaska in some of these photos, it's because it is the same type of ecosystem: parts of the Dolly Sods Wilderness are indeed classified as sub-arctic tundra!

However, while riding through this section, the wind picked up even more and the fluffy snow turned to sleet. When combined with 30+ mph winds, sleet feels like an onslaught of tiny pebbles against your skin. It HURTS.
Carlos had a fleece muff that he used as protection from the sleet. I had a thinner wool one: it wasn't enough. That evening, my face looked as if I had a rash from the many, many tiny welts caused by the flying sleet.  We ultimately cantered and even galloped through this section to get back into the trees for shelter.

 To our surprise, the sleet eventually stopped and the sun came out. The wind was still blowing just as hard and I felt like the temperature dropped even more. But we were able to go to the scenic view and get pics with the valley down below us.

Diana, with Dan leading.
This place is just so very special to me. I can't put it into words nor really explain why, but it just is. It has tugged at my soul from the very first time I laid eyes on it.
Finally. Carlos and I, in the Dolly Sods, on our own horses.
It only took two years to reach this moment!
Diana and me. Nell and Lily were NOT cooperating! Lol
We were originally going to make it a 20 mile ride but it ended up being closer to 15, and not really done at race pace, but that was okay: I had been concerned about Gracie doing a too-fast ride over rocks only 3 weeks out from No Frills and halfway through the ride I learned that Diana has problems with knee pain during long rides! I had not been aware of this issue prior. :/

We walked the last section of trail back to the horse trailers, where Carlos and I untacked the girls with the truck heater running so Diana could warm up. She still had an absolute BLAST though, so she is officially an honorary member of the Crazy Club after this one. ;) Enough that before we were out of Davis, she was already asking if her and I could ride the next morning!

I threw coolers on Lily and Gracie before loading them up in the trailer.They had been such wonderful, absolute rock stars during this whole adventure!

Dan had taken Liz's truck and trailer so he could drop Nell and Dakota back at his barn. Liz and Kate had stayed behind with Liz's horses. We all said good-bye. Liz said, "I totally understand if you don't want to be my friend anymore after this!"

I laughed, "What are you talking about? This whole thing was my idea as much as yours! I could say the same thing to you! It just so happened that neither of us decided to back down despite the weather." ;) I reassured Liz that we had had an absolute BLAST. She received a huge hug and many thanks for facilitating this incredible trip for us and for Diana.

Almost a month later and Carlos is still talking about it. He says that this Dolly Sods ride was his #1 favorite of all time so far!

Dan arrived just in time for us to be able to say good-bye and thank him too: for the shoes, for his time, for the stabling, for his horses, for guiding us through the Sods. And then we were off, back towards Maryland.

We stopped at the gas station in downtown Davis to re-fuel and grab lunch for all of us. The rest of the drive back was uneventful. Once we were on the other side of the mountains, the sun came out and stayed out, and I watched the temperature on the truck thermometer rise.

We stopped at another gas station in Virginia so I could check on the horses: it was reading upper 50s by then and I wanted to make sure they weren't overheating under their coolers. They were absolutely fine.

We arrived back at our barn with daylight to spare. The girls went back out in their field, we unloaded the truck and trailer, then headed home so we could shower and change clothes. And then we took Diana to downtown Frederick to our favorite bar for a late dinner.

I still can't believe everything that we managed to pack into a 24-hour period!

The next morning, Diana and I woke up early to go to the barn. We tacked up Lily and Gracie and I took her on a short tour of my favorite parts of the barn trails.

Temps were in the upper 60's, a stark contrast to the day before!

Taking the airstrip route back towards the barn!
And we were STILL able to squeeze in a lunch at our favorite Mexican place before having to take Diana to the airport! I'd say the Timeturner usage was a huge success. ;)

It was a truly wonderful, unforgettable visit, as much for us as I think it was for Diana. 

We agreed she needs to come back SOON so we can get up to even more adventures together!