By Sherry Jarvis
Two Paths Cross on the Trail of Life
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.