~ I had hoped, we had all hoped, that we would be home tonight. Honestly, to was more of a far-off dream kind of hope. We stopped here, at Big Willows to make our last camp on the 2013 IHA (International Horseback Adventure) about an hour before dark.
Our Team of eight are pretty amazing. In short order, packs are pulled and the horses are relieved of their saddles and gear. All 17 horses are checked over and sent out to graze for the evening in record time. Just in time, in fact, for the drizzle of icy rain to start.
After a campfire dinner of polish dogs and soup we spent the next couple of hours sitting in the steady drizzle, unwinding, chatting and laughing. The complete exhaustion and the knowledge that home was just over the next pass was a balm to the wounds of the last 7-weeks.
I hadn’t bothered to pull my sleeping bag out if its dry-bag tonight because it was soaked with the last night’s night-sweats. I knew it was going to be a long but endurable night, I had spent many a night in the past in chaps and saddle-blankets on mountainsides.
WHAM! (That was my leg kicking. HARD.) It seemed like my RLS was going to make the night as unpleasant as possible. Deciding it simply wasn’t worth the effort and knowing the only true relief would come from walking, I snuck back out, trying not to wake anyone.
Back to the soothing campfire, I refilled the coffee pot and set it back on the fire. (If I was going to be awake, coffee was a necessity.) I walked off the spasms in my legs by gathering more firewood and spotting the line of saddles, covered by a tarp, I walked over to them next.
Grabbing a couple wool blankets, I settled down next to the fire and just let it do what it does best. (Campfire Cures.) My mind was full of the last weeks of intense movement and purpose, the clients waiting for us to arrive in Chisana, my children and all of the responsibilities waiting for our return.
Glancing up around my hat and hood at the endless sky, I realized that I hadn’t noticed the clouds had moved on and with them the drizzle. Pushing back my hood and pulling my hat off, breathing deep of the fresh cold air I gazed up at the all the stars shining so brightly.
Big Willows is one of Pioneer Outfitters oldest camps. Bud and Lou hunted out of this camp in the 1920’s and called it Big Willows. The willows here look to be ancient, all gnarly and twisted with multi-trunks bigger in diameter than a telephone pole.
The age has cleared the land here of brush and the grounds surrounding this camp look almost to be groomed, open feeling and sitting in the bottom of the massive valley we have been traveling through for three days now.
Three days of riding, avoiding the bogs for the most part by way of the high-trail part way up the mountain side. Looking out through and around the valley each day, we have spotted sheep on the rocky crags of the mountains, Mountain Caribou and Alaska-Yukon Moose scattered about roaming, and grazing and doing what critters do. The tundra has turned to reds and gold as the temperatures drop lower each night and each night it feels as if we may wake to snow.
Knowing that this night was the last on this 7-week journey, I used the quiet to reflect on the blessing that has been hidden, inside of these last very stressful and yet, very illuminating, 7-weeks. These last weeks have been very special, very enlightening, incredibly educational and bittersweet.
Renewing and solidifying friendships, meeting new friends and seeing so much good in people along the way, strangers even, filled my heart with hope to a bursting point.
Being in the company of gifted artists, working side by side with amazing humans with a spiritual magic with horses are a couple of the experiences I will never forget.
Witnessing heroic, selfless acts of bravery from both of our young Alaska Guide Trainees as well as the others of our tight-knit group left me grateful. Not simply grateful for the acts themselves, but for the life that I live that I am surrounded by a particular type of human.
Oh, there was plenty of arguments, pissing matches, pettiness, pouting, cussing and yelling in addition to the expected Adventure of it all, but it all added to the spice. That is what seems to come from that many type-A, aggressive and strong personalities in tough and stressful situations for extended periods of time.
It was the kind of Adventure that happens when you plan for and on another kind, and never forget. It was hard, had a few moments of terror and was completely rewarding.
This has been my fourth international cross-country trip to bring in new horses and as I felt the first time and each other time since, this was a life-changing event. Each time I have had a part in this Adventure I have felt that it alters and reveals so much about who we really are. As individuals and as a Team.
As our search for the next patriarch for the range horse herd in Chisana, we will continue to offer this trip to those who wish to experience it with us. Those who wish to test themselves and immerse themselves in absolute glory and beauty of the great-untouched wilderness of the North Country.
Are you ready to test yourself? Are you ready to witness the most beautiful country and land that the Yukon and Alaska has to offer you? Let us know. We are already planning the Spring of 2014 International Horseback Adventure.
If you want to read more about the 2013 International Horseback Adventure, below in chronological order are the links to the previous posts. From the Yukon to Alaska, you were there right along beside me. Enjoy!
- The International Horseback Adventure
- The International Horseback Adventure, Part 1
- The 2013 International Horseback Adventure, Home At Last
- The International Horseback Adventure, New Horses
- The 2013 International Horseback Adventure, The Yukon
- The 2013 IHA, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
- Chisana News Wire, August – September 2013, Bittersweet Success
- The 2013 International Horseback Adventure, Tough Choices
- 3 in 1, Happy Disaster Bittersweet Momentum
- The 2013 IHA, 7 Weeks MIA in the Far North
- 2013 IHA, Campfire Cures
- 2013 IHA, Big Willows