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Chapter 14 - Runaways on the Trail

Posted by greygelding , 19 March 2017 · 439 views

I continued on my solo camping trips as Pam disliked the hard trek over the mountain. She was a big fan of the horse shows and gentle, normal trail rides. I, on the other hand, prefer the trail life and all the challenges that comes with it. Another coworker wanted to go camping so once again I found myself training a coworker to ride. At the last minute I discovered that he had never been camping and in fact this would be his first real outdoor experience. This should make for an interesting trip. At least he now knew how to ride and Bo has proven to be a great baby sitter. As I saddled up both horses and packed both horses it quickly became apparent that I would be doing most of the work on this trip. The one thing Jeff was good at was talking. As I ride I like to listen to natures sound, the creaking of the saddle, and the soft hoofbeats of the horses. Instead I learned more about his life, interests, and beliefs than I ever wanted to know. About an hour into the trek, as I was answering yet another random question, he asked about animals I have seen on my adventures in the backcountry. I covered the "normal" ones like deer, rabbits, squirrels, etc. when he asked about dangerous ones. "I have not seen mountain lions but I have heard them from a distance and have seen their tracks as well as the tracks of bears."
"There are no bears back here"
"Who told you that?"
"My father."
"The trail head starts at upper Oso campground. Do you know what Oso means in Spanish? It means bear. When do you think they last saw a bear in downtown Santa Barbara?"
"Oh, probably the late 1800's."
"Try just last week. When we get back check the Santa Barbara News Press. It came down one of the canyons into town. Just where do you think they took that bear after they captured it?"
The next two hours were blissfully silent as he sat straight up in the saddle trying to look in all directions at once for bears. I tried, unsuccessfully, to convince him that the bears and other wildlife wanted nothing to do with us.
This was a two day trip and after we arrived at my usual campsite Jeff dismounted and laid down to rest his weary muscles. I took care of the horses, Unsaddling, brushing, watering, and placing them on the grass. One was hobbled with the other tied on a long line. I made camp and prepared to make dinner. Jeff spread his sleeping bag out and his work was done. I didn't really mind too much but I had gotten used to my companions carrying their own weight on the trips. I usually saddled the horses to make sure it was done right and supervised the packing but he was truly incapable of doing most anything. He tried to light the fire but after about 20 minutes I took over as I was getting hungry. The good thing was he was having a good time. I switch the horses roles so each got equal time with the hobbles on. As darkness fell I brought the horses into camp, fed them dinner, and secured them for the night.
In the morning we were packed up and ready for the short 5 mile ride to our next campsite. At the 3 1/2 mile mark there was a remote ranger cabin beside the trail which had a hay shed housing a couple of bales of alfalfa hay. I scrounged a few tidbits for the horses which they gratefully gobbled down. Then we proceeded down the mountain trail to where we would spend the night. The campsite was next to a stream filled with hungry fish so I would try my luck later. There was a nice grassy area just off the trail a short ways back up the trail where I would set the horses to graze. As usual one was hobbled and the other tied. Camp was made and I pulled two sets of fishing gear from the packs. Immediately the hungry trout were biting on the hook. Jeff was no fisherman and no matter how I tried he just couldn't get the hang of setting the hook so all he was doing was feeding the fish. I let him reel in one I hooked and we had a tasty trout lunch. I went back down the trail to change the hobbles on the horses. Now I have made a lot of mistakes in my life and while this may not be number one on the list it certainly made the top ten. I don't leave the halter on the hobbled horse so it can't get caught in something possibly causing an injury. I usually I halter one, putting it on the other before I switch hobbles. I don't remember exactly how I did it but I found myself holding the halter in one hand, the hobbles in the other, watching two horses, tails flagged, disappearing across the meadow. When they came to the trail they made a sharp right turn and raced gleefully up the mountain. I knew exactly where they were going and what would happen next. They were heading back to the location of the last alfalfa meal they had. When they realized that no one was there to open the feed shed door they would head back to the trailer, a total of 18 miles, or worse become lost. I had to get there while they were still there. Knowing time was short and I was in good running shape, I dropped the hobbles next to the trail, grabbed the halter, and started the 1 1/2 mile uphill run. Jeff had enough food and water for several days and if I didn't find them at the top of the mountain I planned to return, stash the horse gear, and walk out with Jeff in the morning.
Soon I came across a backpacker headed down trail.
"Did you see two horses?"
"Boy did I ever! They were moving so fast I didn't even try to stop them!"
Once again I was reminded that time was critical.
"You will come to a campsite about 1/2 mile down the trail and there will be somebody there named Jeff. Please tell him that I've gone after the horses, he's got plenty of food, and to wait there for me to return."
Receiving an assurance that he would do that I took off at the run, pushing myself hard. I just had to get there before the horses decided to leave. As I rounded a turn in the trail there were the horses! Fuego was grazing on whatever he could find while Bo was trying to figure how to get that darn door open. Seeing me coming they both trotted up to greet me with that "Oh boy! We can eat now!" look. Now, they were just doing what horses do and besides they came readily up to me so that needs no reprimand but a reward. I slipped the halter on Fuego and we all went to the shed. Pulling a small amount of hay out they were happily munching. When they had eaten the last of their ill gotten gains I tied the other end of the rope to the halter making reins, slipped onto Fuego's back and with Bo following loose we started down the trail. Relieved that we wouldn't have to walk out in the morning I was enjoying my afternoon bareback ride, certain I would be back in plenty of time to make dinner, when who should appear on the trail but Jeff. He was walking toward us and was a long way from the camp where he should be.
"Hi. Looking for us?"
"Great. Did you bring any thing to eat?"
"Did you bring any water?"
"Did you bring a map?"
"Did you bring a halter so you could ride back?"
"Then want did you plan to do?"
"I don't know"
Right then and there I decided that my days of camping with non horse people were over.
He walked all the way back to camp where I made dinner. Then I gave the horses a good grooming and their evening grain. On the way out the next morning the horses were excited, sure that we were heading back to alfalfa land. They were really disappointed when I insisted they stay on the trail toward the trailer the rest of the trip was uneventful and as Jeff was throughly worn out it was a nice quiet ride out. Yes, that was the last time I took friends camping.

May 2018

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