Living on the Edge Part 3 (A Journal of a mule ride down the Grand Canyon)

The Bright Angel Trail

By sherry Jarvis

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Joan before the ride down Bright Angel Trail on Sat. Sept. 7,, 2013

We woke long before the alarm went off at 5:00. After dressing  and eating a peanut butter and choke cherry jelly sandwich for breakfast, we took all of our luggage out to the car except for the little bags we had packed to take with us on our overnight trip to Phantom ranch at the bottom of the Canyon. Then we took my laptop computer, cell phone, car keys, and our purses to the bellman’s closet to be locked up. We put a few dollars in our pockets for spending money and tips.

As we gathered at the travel center we met our fellow mule riders. Nobody had ever been on the ride. So we were all greenies to riding the canyon. Except Joan and I; we were the only ones who rode horses on a regular basis. A few of them had never ridden before. I thought boy, are they ever going to be sore, after a 5 ½ hour ride, and they were. They hurt even more the next day climbing on their mule for another 5 ½ hour ride back up the canyon. I did feel sorry for them. So on the second day I shared the Tylenol I had in my pocket which I had not needed. They were very grateful.

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I loved taking pics of Maude’s ears. I bought a T-shirt and Cap that said this.

As we walked to the corral where the mules were waiting it was a very cool morning. The clouds were low and it was just getting light. Most everyone had on jackets. The clouds were dark and heavy. It looked like rain. Everyone kept asking if it was going to rain. Of course the guides were politically correct saying, “It could, you just never know?” I loved the cool crisp air and that fact that the clouds would keep the temperatures down. I wasn’t worried about rain. Besides we were prepared, we had our cool yellow rain slickers that said, “Mule Rider” on the back.

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Steve the manager was real fun.

 

As our guides Doug and Bill did last-minute checks of the tack for each mule, Steve, the manager, entertained us as he told us all about the trip, including all the rules. He was so funny, Joan said we should have video-taped his orientation presentation. These were the main rules:

  1. Stay on your mule. Never dismount until the guide gives you permission.
  2. Keep the knot in the reins on the neck of the mule. (They had tied the reins in a knot, we were to hold on to the loop and leave the reins loose at all times.)
  3. Don’t ever let your mule stop and eat!
  4. Use the spanker to keep your mule up with the group at all times.
  5. When we stop to let the mules rest or let someone catch up, always turn your mule so his nose points out over the cliff and his rump to the wall. (This was called “Parking”)
  6. Communicate with each other and the guides. (Like: yell pit-stop if your mules has to urinate, and don’t let your mule pee in the same spot as the mule in front of you.)
  7. Smile and have fun. Enjoy the journey, this is your vacation.

Steve also gave the option of backing out of the ride with a 100% money back guarantee if one did it before they left the corral. But once you leave the corral you are committed and there were no refunds. However, if you were too scared to finish the ride you could walk back at any time, forfeiting all fees. He reassured us that we were in good hands. Doug and Bill had each taken over 3000 trips with the mules down the Canyon.

He also explained there has never been a death on the mule ride, but every year there are lots of hiker deaths and serious injuries. He thought it was a lot safer to ride a mule than hike the canyon. Of course the mule skinners thought hiking the trail was crazy. They definitely preferred riding to walking. Only a few people have been injured riding the mules and that was because they panicked. Everyone decided they were going on the ride.

All 10 brave souls lined up in the middle of the mule pen as Steve assigned us our mules. We were told that our name would be our mules name the rest of the trip. We all laughed, but they were serious. Jewel rode in front of me on the way down. She had never ridden a horse before and she sometimes had a hard time keeping her mule Ike going. So the guide would yell, “Ike catch up!”  She was so afraid. I could see her shaking all over. I kept telling her to just “breathe”. It didn’t work. She couldn’t even talk. But she was a real trooper and kept going and finished the whole ride. I bet she was so proud of her accomplishment.

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Maude and Blanche waiting for us, but we don’t know they are our mules yet.

It was so dang funny when they called “Maude” for me and “Blanche” for Joan. We had gone from hot chicks “Thelma and Louise” in Albuquerque to “The Golden Girls” on the mule ride.  Joan asked the guide if a Jenny mule had the temperament of a mare. He just kind of looked at her like: “Ride your mule lady?” But as the trip unfolded we got to know the guides and they discovered a lot about us. Joan and I were so happy that we got to ride in the back of the pack on the trail down. We are used to guiding people on trails and we take turn riding up front or in the back. Neither one of us likes riding in the middle. Maybe because neither of us really like crowds.  We exchanged tons of stories with Doug our guide who brought up the rear.

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Jewel in the red shirt in front of me on Ike and the first tunnel

Not long after we got started on the trail we passed through a couple of small tunnels and then the guides stopped us to check our cinches. They gave everyone the option of turning back at that point. Nobody took them up on the offer, even Jewel who was shaking uncontrollably. Doug was so compassionate as he tried to reassure her she was going to be ok. At that point I don’t know if she believed him. Since she was right in front of me, I kept giving her encouragement. Eventually I think she started to relax and enjoy the journey. I gave her some riding tips that she said helped her feel more comfortable.

My cousin, a big tough brave cowboy, told me the first mile of this ride scared the heck out of him and he never let go of the saddle horn. I thought what is the big deal?  This is easy. But Joan said, “I’m not making any judgments yet, I bet it will get harder.” And she was right. We didn’t know what we were in for.

The first trek to Garden Springs where we had lunch was a piece of cake. Yes, it was magnificent looking up or down at the vertical cliffs, but the trails were fairly wide and not too steep. We asked Doug, how many switch backs there were on the ride. He didn’t know. There had to be hundreds.

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One of the hundreds of switch backs.

The only thing I didn’t like about that first part of the ride was there were lots of hikers toward the top. I was being totally selfish. I wanted the whole canyon to ourselves. I wished that just our group of 10 mule riders and the 2 guides could be allowed to enjoy this trail all alone. It would have been even better, if it had just been Joan, I and one guide to keep us safe.

 

 

I prefer riding away from civilization in remote places. The Canyon is so marvelous, no words can describe it and I didn’t want to share our space with so many hikers. However, as we got further and further down toward the bottom the hikers were fewer. We were told that less than 1% of the people who visit the Canyon actually go clear to the bottom. The good thing is the mules always had the right of way. Hikers had to stop and put their backs to the wall as we passed by.

As we approached Garden Spring where we had our first bathroom break and lunch the trail leveled off quite a bit. There was a ranger station,  spickets to fill your canteens,  an outhouse, and benches to sit on to eat your lunch. We were instructed to eat and drink as much as we could, and we were expected to do it super fast. The guides didn’t want to dally there. They kept saying we want to get to Phantom ranch before it gets too hot. They said it can get over 110 degrees at the bottom. But thankfully the approaching rain clouds kept it fairly cool. I think our high was only about 93.

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Leaving Garden Springs

I fed my carrots to Blanche and Maude then saved my Apple for later. Before we mounted our mules the guides sprayed water on our backs and bandanas to help keep us cool. They said we would thank them later. It did get pretty warm when we dropped down around “Oh Jesus Corner”, which was our first look at a real steep and narrow corner. Doug said they call it that because when people ride around it they say, “Oh Jesus, help me!” Before we reached “Oh Jesus Corner”, we rode through an oasis of trees and green plants along a crystal clear stream. Joan said that was the most beautiful spot of the ride. It was like a little glimpse of heaven. However, after leaving this lush area we would only ride through steep rugged rocks until we reach Phantom Ranch, another beautiful oasis on Bright Angel Creek, which flows into the Colorado River.

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Approaching “Oh Jesus Corner”

After “Oh Jesus Corner”, we were on a fast decent, crossing a couple of streams. Ike jumped one of the creeks, and somehow Jewel stayed on. Then we rounded a corner to see the mighty Colorado River. It was a dirty brown from the rains. However, the sight of it still took my breath away, as I praised God for this truly amazing experience. At first we were on a flat area and again I thought, “Is this all there is?” Then we started to climb again to ride along the rugged cliffs hundreds of feet above the river. It was so thrilling, I just kept thinking, “It can’t get any better than this!”

I put my reins over the saddle horn, trusted Maude and took as many pictures as I could while still taking time to look at the wonderful scenery. I knew I would have pictures, but I wanted to burn every bit of this experience into my memory. How I felt, what I smelled, what I heard, it all was almost too much to take in at once. It was all over way too fast.

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Riding the trail above the CO river. It was so exciting and beautiful.

As we rode along the cliffs above the Colorado River I still could hardly believe that Joan and I were actually doing this, or that my parents had also rode this very trail. My Mom said she thought for sure she was going to die that day. I had not felt this alive since I first went free rappelling in the Sierra mountains near Lake Tahoe, NV in the early 90’s, or rode my first colt snubbed up to my Dad’s roping horse when I was only 13 years old. This was an experience I would never forget and I had my doubts at that moment that I would ever be able to top this ride. Mom and Dad were right it is a ride of a lifetime.

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The tunnel and suspension bridge over the CO river.

As I saw the suspension bridge we were going to cross, I got my first hint of what I call pucker factor. When I told that to Doug he laughed and asked how that bridge could cause me to be anxious. I said, because at least up here on this trail there is earth underneath my mules feet. As I began to think about it, I realized even the bridge was nothing to fear, because Maude knew what she was doing and if it didn’t phase her than it shouldn’t be any big deal for me. Besides she had not given me one reason to not trust her completely. I realized that I need to trust God with everything in my life as much as I trusted Maude with my life every step of the way on this journey.

Right before the bridge is a tunnel which is pitch dark in the middle and then as you come out into the sunshine you are on the suspension  bridge. Maude never hesitated, and I was filled with joy unspeakable, as I took pictures of the rafters below on the river and turned to take pictures of Joan riding behind me. She was smiling from ear to ear. Just seeing her brought tears to my eyes.

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Leaving the Bridge and CO river on our last little bit to Phantom Ranch

It wasn’t far to Phantom Ranch after we crossed the bridge. We passed the area where the hikers pitch their tents and the corrals where the mules would stay for the night. After we dismounted the cook from the Canteena brought us clear glasses of ice-cold water. It tasted so good after drinking out of those canteens which tasted like plastic. She gave us directions to our cabins, the shower house and the Canteena where we would eat a delicious supper and breakfast. She gave us instructions about supper and the program schedule for the evening. The guides unpacked out plastic bags with our belongings and we went to find our cabin. It was starting to rain.

There are just no words to describe how satisfied we felt at that moment, or how much we appreciated life, the miracles of God’s creation and the opportunity to take this very special trip together. Cowgirls and friends forever we were pushing back the thoughts of reality of the tough decisions Joan would have to face when we got back home. But for now we could live in the moment in this amazing place as if it would never end.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story…

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Living on the Edge (Part 2 A journal of a mule ride down the Grand Canyon

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Joan and I the night before the mule ride still in our tourist clothes.

The Santa Fe Trail to the Grand Canyon

By Sherry Jarvis

Psalm 37:4

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

When we started driving Joan asked, “I wonder if we will still be friends after being together 24/7 for the next week. I reassured her that nothing was going to ruin this trip or our friendship. As we drove 700 miles the first day, I think we told each other our whole life histories. If we didn’t know each other’s deep secrets before, we do now.

We stopped in Limon, CO to fuel up and make some peanut butter sandwiches. We were swarmed with flies.  My car was immediately filled with hundreds of flies. Peanut butter with choke cherry jelly must be a delicacy in CO. So as we left Limon we drove clear to Rocky Ford with the windows down trying to chase flies out of the car.  We finally gave up and bought some insect spray at La Juanta.  We had a good laugh about the flies. We never  had that problem again while fixing sandwiches out of the back of the car.

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Montezuma Castle near Las Vegas,NM, now a college

We stayed in Las Vegas, NM the first night. Then we played tourist the second day, visiting the Montezuma Castle near Las Vegas,NM; Old Town Santa Fe where we shopped until we nearly dropped; the Loretto Chapel with the spiral staircase; and we rode the Sandia Peak Sky Tram near Albuquerque.

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Joan ordering our lunch at Burro Cafe in Santa Fe.

We ended up driving through Albuquerque in 5:00 rush hour traffic. Being a country girl all of my life, I am not the greatest city driver, oh heck lets tell the truth, it scares the pants off me. In fact I was petrified. This was definitely the scariest part of the whole trip. The mules, cliffs, and suspension bridge were a piece of cake, because I trusted my mule Maude 100%. However, I did not trust the crazy drivers all around me, causing me to freak out. My knuckles were white from squeezing the steering wheel. Joan kept telling me to calm down. It didn’t work. I was like a wild-eyed horse in survival mode.

We got a little turned around, not lost mind you. I knew we had to head west. That is what I hate about city driving, you know you have to go west, but you can’t get there from here. So we stopped at a gas station to ask for directions. I was a little right-brained at this point. When I told the cashier who was trying to explain to us how to get back on the interstate about my west theory; “just follow the sun.” She said, “Aren’t you Mrs. Crocodile Dundee . Then she asked us if we were on a road trip. When we told her where we were going, she asked us if we were Thelma and Louise. We had a good laugh which calmed me down and it wasn’t too difficult to find our way out of Albuquerque because she gave us good directions.

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Loretto Chapel with miraculous spiral staircase in Old Town Santa Fe, NM

It was late by the time we found a motel in Gallup, NM. I won’t bore you with all the details of our tourist stories because I am sure you are anxious to hear about the actual mule ride. When we called my husband at 10:00 pm and told him we were in Gallup he said, “Is that all the further you got today?”. I thought we did pretty good going 275 miles considering how many times we stopped. We had about the same distance to travel the next day to get to Grand Canyon Village, AZ. So we spent plenty of time stopping at all the native America road side shops along the way. However when we left Gallup that morning my check engine light came on in my car not far down the road. My cruise control also quit working. So we made an illegal turn on the interstate and headed back to Gallup, where we found a service station with a really nice man who fixed the car for only $25. We gave him a nice tip and got back on the road again, praising God all the way. My car ran fine the rest of the trip.

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Sky Tram we rode at Sandia Peak, near Albuquerque, NM

As we arrived in Flagstaff it was raining and the sky was looking pretty dark and dreary toward the Grand Canyon with lightning flashes in the sky. Joan was so worried that the ride would get canceled because of washed out trails after we drove all that way. But I kept reminding her we have a divine appointment. In fact when we rode back up Kaibob trail on Sunday morning, the mule ride down Bright Angel trail was canceled because or washed out trails. God timed our trip with ultimate perfection. It wasn’t too hot with the cloud cover and it rained just enough to settle the dust on the trails.

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One of the many Native American shops we stopped at. I bought Christmas presents for my family here.

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Another cool Native America road side shop

As we entered the park on Friday afternoon our anxiety heightened when we asked the ticket agent at the gate if the mule rides were still on for tomorrow she said something like “I hope not!”  I about flipped when she said that. But I remained calm and positive telling her that was the only reason we came to the park. She said there are a lot of better things to do. She obviously did not know who she was talking to. She was talking to two die-hard cowgirls who were determined to ride a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, rain or shine. I guess she isn’t a mule lover or rider like we are. She said she would never ride a mule. Poor woman, she doesn’t know what she is missing. I think there are two kinds of people those who love to ride and those who don’t.

As we were driving through the park trying to find Bright Angel Lodge we had to stop to ask for directions because the lady at the gate who didn’t like mules gave us terrible directions and for some reason my great navigator Joan couldn’t figure out the map the woman gave us. It was terrible. But the cool thing is we saw a great big bull elk while trying to find our way. Joan had really wanted to see one. But because of traffic behind us, we didn’t get a picture of him.

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Joan talking with Henry at our Bright Angel Cabin

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Bright Angel Lodge, Grand Canyon Village, AZ

When we finally got to Bright Angle Lodge we found a good parking place that we later discovered was right close to our cabin. It could not have been more convenient. I had been to the Grand Canyon back in 1981, I can tell you it was a lot quieter then.  Today there are big tour buses everywhere and boy did the exhaust systems stink up the place. I am sure there were more people around that did not speak English fluently than those who did. It was very crowded. I am not into crowds, which is why this is my first vacation in 18 years. And in fact only the third real vacation in my life. My last one was moose hunting and salmon fishing in Alaska on the Kenai peninsula. I was there the whole month of October, not exactly tourist season so there were no crowds. It was perfect.

We went straight to the desk to check in and then to the travel center where we got our orientation for the mule ride. We had the two men behind the desk in stitches. We were so excited we couldn’t quit making wise cracks. They gave us our canteens and yellow rain slickers that said “Mule rider”.  They gave us a clear plastic bag about 12×18 inches that did not stretch at all. We were instructed to put everything we wanted to take with us on the trip in that bag. We had to do a little paring down that night as we packed for the overnight trip. After they weighed us to make sure we were under 200 lbs we signed our liability waivers. Now we were official. It was getting close and the suspense was building. I wanted to go find the mules, but Joan thought it would be good to get our bags to our room. So we did.

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Buckey O’Neil’s Cabin where we stayed on the South Rim

We stayed in Buckey O’Neil’s Cabin, Grand Canyons oldest surviving historic structure built-in the early 1890’s. It was the cutest room we had the whole trip. We loved it. After putting our luggage in our room we packed our clear plastic bags for the trip. There was a lot of discussion that went something like this: Do you think we will need a jacket? What about our swim suits or a pair of sandals so we don’t have to wear our boots with a swim suit? I decided on a light denim jacket and to wear my boots with my swim suit. Another peanut butter and choke cherry jelly sandwich and we left our room to walk around looking at the canyon and soveinere shops. Joan bought a really cool book called “The Grandest Ride”. We both bought mule T-shirts. I also got mule socks and a mule ball cap. That was the extent of our purchases we were just there for the mule ride.

As we were looking over the edge of the canyon we were trying to figure out which trail we would be riding. We found where the mule ride begins, but no mules. I hiked down the trail we would be riding in the morning. When I got back I told Joan, “Piece of cake, it isn’t that steep, it is like a highway.” She said I’ll reserve my opinion on that until I am actually riding on it.

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We guess that was the trail we would be riding down, we were right.

After taking some pictures and calling our husbands and my parents we went back to the room as it was getting dark. We each enjoyed a nice hot bath in our neat old cast iron claw foot deep bathtub. I soaked until I was a prune. How were we going to sleep? We were so excited. We knew we needed to get some shut-eye because had to get up early. We were to meet for the  ride at 6:30 am. The Grandest ride of all. Joan was worried that it wouldn’t live up to her expectations, but it was way more than we could have ever imagined. 

The ability to face the future with confidence. For believers this is possible because of their knowledge of God.

To be continued…….

Living on the Edge (Part 1: A Journal of a mule ride down the Grand Canyon)

By Sherry Jarvis

Two Paths Cross on the Trail of Life

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First part of a journal of our trip to ride  mules down the Grand Canyon 9/7-8/2013

Our journey started long before we put our foot in the stirrup of the mules we would ride on Bright Angle Trail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Both of us have been riding since we were very young girls. Neither one of us can remember a time when we didn’t love horses. We were born cowgirls. Our paths have been quite different, but then again similar in many ways. One thing is for sure, we both live to ride and we love sharing our passion with others. We will keep on doing this until the day we die in whatever way the good Lord guides us.

I grew up in Burwell, NE.  About the time I went off to college in Chadron, NE Joan moved from Omaha to Burwell just down the road from my parents with her husband Henry and two children Wes and Wendy. My younger brother was in the same grade as Wes. So Joan and I never really knew each other personally for quite a few years. But I knew all about Joan through my Dad. He coached Wendy in track, and he bred his good roping mare, Sooner, to Joan’s paint stallion. He told me what a good horsewoman Joan was and how nice her stallion was. In fact he gave me two of the horses he raised out of her stallion; Sunshine and Dolly. I still have them and love them both. Mom and Dad also told me how Joan would ride her horse to Burwell to get groceries. I thought she must be a real character. I remember seeing Joan ride in the local rodeo parade in all her glitz and glamor thinking how beautiful she was. So we had a connection years and years before we ever became best friends. Joan is the kind of person when you see her you think, ”Now that is an interesting person; I would like to get to know her.”

After graduating from college I moved to MT, then to TX, NV, and WY. I grew up in the sandhills where rocks were few and far in between. I loved collecting them and always wanted to live in the mountains where I could look at them every day. After 20+ years of doing a lot of exploring in the back country of the mountains, I felt it was time to head back to my roots in the beloved Sandhills of NE, rocks or no rocks. Once the Sandhills are in your blood it is hard to get them out.

As fate would have it I bought a place only a couple of miles from Joan. We didn’t get together right away. After quitting my teaching job I was too busy starting my horsemanship business “Heart in Your Hand Horsemanship”. I was on the road a lot those first few years, so sadly I didn’t have time for people in my own community. But thankfully now I have clients coming to me so I stay home more than I travel and I have a lot more friends close to home, which is nice.

Once in a while Joan rode her horse or her bike on the road by my arena, and we would visit. One day we just started trail riding together. She didn’t have anybody to ride with on a regular basis and other than clients when they came to visit, neither did I. So we just hit it off and I can’t tell you how much fun I have had riding with Joan. My Mom told me that Joan said, “I’ve waited over 15 years for a fun riding partner.” So we are very blessed to have each other.

I really love the way Joan tells it like it is. She may not be the most patient person in the world but she knows how to get a job done, which is why she is such a good hand at the cattle sale barn where she works. She is very flamboyant with her loud voice, pretty curled blonde hair, fancy clothes and blingy yet tasteful accessories. She is quite the stylish cowgirl, the kind who always has a pressed shirt on and  just enough make up so she looks her best. I on the other hand don’t worry too much about accessories, ironing my shirts or makeup since it usually melts off my face anyway because I sweat so much. I really don’t like heat. So I don’t mind riding in the cold, which is where our mule ride story actually begins.

One winter day Joan and I were riding through our favorite hills to the Calamus Reservoir. Joan doesn’t particularly like riding in the cold like I do, but she doesn’t like sitting around the house in the winter getting depressed so she agreed to a snowy winter ride. She was telling me how her back and legs had been bothering her since the spill she had taken over a jump at the October fox hunt. Joan has hosted a fox hunt in Burwell for the past 20 years. She is a very popular person.

I remember the hill we were on near the gate that goes into Weber’s pasture when we started talking about where we would ride if we could ride anywhere in the world. It was my favorite time of the year, just before Christmas. The snow was twinkling like glitter in the sunshine. The green cedar trees were lightly dusted with a soft blanket of white crystals. You could see the horse’s breathe and hear their hooves swishing in the fluffy snow that was almost like cotton balls and I was so darn content I said, “Right here, I just love the Sandhills, and as long as I am on a horse I don’t really care where I ride. I’ve ridden about everywhere I want to. No sense spending any money to go someplace else.” Being the conservative person I am who thought she had sown all her oats in her younger days and had done all the exploring necessary this made sense. Or so I thought, until Joan my bigger than life friend planted something else in my head when she said, “Before I die I want to ride a mule down the Grand Canyon.” I thought, “Well heck, that sounds pretty cool.” So in my usual way, without thinking, my mouth said, “I think I would like to do that too, if you ever go let me know, maybe I’ll go with you.” All the time thinking, “Ha, Ha, that’s not likely to ever happen.” And that is how our adventure began.

Joan and I don’t only share a love of riding horses we also love God. She comes to a bible study which I facilitate. So we have a common faith which gives us plenty to talk about on our rides. One day Joan and I were riding through the same hills, I think it was about a year after we talked about the mule ride. That is when Joan first told me she had been real tired and was often short of breath. That spring during the 6 weeks of Lent Joan and I did a prayer walk through our town every Wednesday morning at 7:30 a.m. Some mornings it was very cold and I could hear her breathing hard, but she kept going. When our legs and noses were frozen we would head to the Hub (a neat old fashion soda/coffee shop) for hot chocolate.

After we had finished our 6 week prayer walk, praying for everyone in our town except ourselves, Joan went to the doctor and had 2 quarts of fluid drained off her lungs. And mind you she is also still working at the sale barn. Now that is one tough cowgirl. The test came back with the news there were some cancer cells in the fluid. We cried and prayed. It wasn’t long and she had to have her lungs drained again. More tests, more waiting, and a few weeks later the doctors still gave her no diagnosis about what kind of cancer. So near the end of May Joan flew to Salt Lake City UT, where her son Wes lives to see a special cancer doctor. A couple of weeks later she was diagnosed with mesothelioma and the prognosis not good.

When I talked with Joan on the phone I said, “Joan we are going to the Grand Canyon on the mule trip you said you wanted to go on before you die.” She said, “Oh we won’t be able to go, I hear there is a year or two waiting lists.” Being the optimist I am, I said, “I’m going to call anyway, I am sure we will get a reservation”.

It was a divine appointment. This was the first part of July. They had a spot for two people for Labor Day weekend. I called Joan right back. She said, “I don’t know if I can go because the doctor said if the chemo goes well  I may have to have surgery the first part of September”. I suggested that we go on the mule ride Labor Day and I would drive her to Salt Lake for the surgery right after the ride. She said she would have to think about it for a couple of days. Can’t hardly blame her, it is her life that is at stake. When she called back and said, “Let’s go, what’s a few days to delay a surgery when you might only have another year to live.” I called Xanterra right back and the Labor Day spots were sold out, but thankfully they had two spots open for Sept. 7-8. I didn’t call Joan back to see if those dates were ok with her. I got my credit card out and paid for it on the spot. There was no going back now. We were on our way for the adventure of a lifetime and a dream come true for two country hick sandhills cowgirls. I thought I was going for Joan, but it turned out I got my socks blessed right off my feet!

When I told my parents we were going they were so excited. Eighteen years earlier they had ridden the mules down the Grand Canyon with my two aunts and three cousins. I remember how they all went on and on about how special it was. They were so proud of their silly certificates, getting them framed and all. I remember thinking, “Oh sure, what’s the big deal, just another trail ride, I’ve done plenty of them in the mountains, you guys are just a bunch of flatlanders.” Which was true, the Sandhills where my parents were born and have always lived are pretty darn flat compared to the Grand Canyon. My parents were adamant. They told me, “Now if something happens to Joan and she can’t go, you better go anyway. You will love it. It is the trip of a lifetime.” I thought, Nah, if Joan can’t go, the ticket agent said I could get my money back as long as I cancelled two days prior to our reservations. I probably won’t go if Joan can’t.”  But now I get it. I understand what the big deal was, why they kept talking on and on about it. I know why they were raving about this experience. I can’t shut up about it either. There is just something very awesome about all of it. The grandeur of it all, there are just no words to describe it. Now I am just as proud of my framed silly mule skinner certificate as they are. And until you do it yourself, you just won’t understand either.

I’ll never forget at bible study on August 28th, when I told the group I would not be leading for the next couple of weeks because Joan and I are going on our mule trip to the Grand Canyon. Joan nearly fell off her chair as she screamed, “It’s here already, next week, really, are you sure?” I laughed so hard, just thinking about how excited she was, and I was getting that way too! So the next week we kept calling each other planning what we were taking, what we were going to wear, and the route we were going to take to get there. We were worse than school girls getting ready for the big prom.

I got new tires on my Subaru Outback. Keith my hubby changed the oil, fluids etc. and checked everything over real well. He is such a protector, always making sure I am safe. He knows I can be a bit of a risk taker, or perhaps in his logical mind, just plain silly or bubble headed. Anyway when he was done with the mechanical part I took over with the aesthetics. I gave it a good wash and vacuum. I had to have a clean car for this very important trip. We bought a few special things for the trip, like straps for our glasses and cameras, little packages of toiletries to put in our mule packs, since we were told we could only take 15 lbs. of stuff on the overnight trip.

Joan came over to my house so we could Google our route because she doesn’t have a computer, or even a cell phone. She is not a high-tech kind of gal. She is a free spirit. I call her wild at heart! I am more of the planning type, so I was looking for motels to stay in so we could make our reservations. But Joan would have none of it. She said, “Let’s just let the wind take us!” So we did. She was the navigator and I was the driver as we followed our hearts to places we could not even imagine.

The day before we left we tried to go shopping for food. We planned to take a cooler to save money instead of eating at restaurants. As we walked the isles or the grocery store, I think we were so excited we couldn’t figure out what to buy, so we left the store with some string cheese and a loaf of bread. Yep, that’s all. We decided we both liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Joan said she had a new jar of peanut butter, and I reminded her of the choke cherry jelly my Mom had made last week from the gallons of choke cherries she and Henry had picked and given to Mom. Joan said it was the best choke cherry jelly in the world. I had a bunch of cucumbers and tomatoes from my garden and some dried fruits and veggies. We packed it in the cooler, thankful we had some of our favorite things to eat along the way. We never got tired of those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches which we ate every single day for a week. Now don’t think we went hungry because we ate at three different Mexican restaurants. One in Santa Fe, NM another in Holbrook AZ, and the last one on the way home in Edwards, CO.  We also had a couple of free breakfasts at the motels where we stayed.  During our travels we stayed at Las Vegas, NM, Gallup, NM, the Grand Canyon in Bucky’s Cabin (the oldest one there), Phatom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon, Mexican Hat UT, and finally at Fort Morgan CO.

The morning we left it was pouring rain at 7:00 am.  While we loaded our things into the car we took a second unnecessary and unwanted shower. But we were so excited it didn’t seem to matter that we were sitting in soaked clothes as we drove out of my drive way for a 3000 mile trip. Our husbands were left at home to fend for themselves and take care of the place while we were off feeling free as eagles, flying to unchartered territory, never to return the same again.   

Stay TUNED! More to come……

Phillipians 4: 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

20 Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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