Mirian and Gringo on one of the wider trailsSo, as a trail rider I enjoy pushing the limits a bit, and we're fortunate to have tough little horses that are bred for it (Rocky Mountain and Kentucky Mountain horses, and our riding compadre Mary Beth rides a Tennessee Walking Horse). Others may think that a good trail ride is a few hours long, but I like to take our horses and family and friends into the "wilderness" when I can, and I think that for the work of getting there we might as well enjoy a full day on the trail. And that we did last week, at beautiful Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.
Strawberry took great care of meWe set out on our big day from the Laurel Fork region between Oneida and Jamestown, Tennessee with beautiful weather, plenty of food and water and good maps- both a small one from our cabin's manager and a large, official topographic map of the area. Our horses were fresh, but they had to think and work fairly early on when we met a long series of sandstone stair steps on the aptly named Yellow Cliff trail with bumps higher than our horse's bellies in places. Once we got going up, there was no turning back, and we all laughed and whooped giddily as we leaned forward and clenched our horse's manes, saying "wow, can you believe we just went up THAT?!!!" Marti nervously asked if there was another way back down, and was relieved when I assured her that we'd be coming back a different way- she said that the only way she'd go down it was if one of us was having a heart attack.
Charit Creek Lodge/Hostel
Along the trail...
We enjoyed our ride to Charit Creek Lodge, admiring the changing leaves and rock formations, and imagining ourselves in pioneer days as Marti described her recent listening of The Frontiersman. Charit Creek is an awesome old settlement accessible only by hiking and horseback, and we discussed coming back and staying for the night sometime. I was really pleased that Strawberry, my husband's horse who can be a bit more challenging, had settled in nicely and as always we marveled at the strength, endurance and agility of all of the horses.
MB and Marti at Charit Creek
Outbuilding at Charit CreekAfter a great lunch with wine on the porch of the rustic lodge, we examined the map to decide where to go next. Hmmm, we had decided that morning that it would be way too far to try to go all of the way to the Big South Fork River, but from where we were now, it looked so close. We commented on the upside-down horse shoe hanging over the door, laughing about bad luck, and hit the trail again.
Beautiful Big South Fork RiverCrossing the river was a blast, there were rock markers to indicate the way, and the water was above our horse's knees in spots. We stopped and had a snack on the other side, letting the horses rest, and mapped our return to the cabin which suddenly looked reallllllllyyyyy far. After a very long time back on the trail with the horses getting increasingly tired, the rare signs stopped making sense and we realized that something wasn't quite right. We finally pulled out the big topo map and saw that we were wayyyy off track, and it was getting late. Fortunately a car came along (the only vehicle we'd seen all day), and the driver affirmed that we were on the wrong trail and had way too far to go and that it would be dark soon.... "Wow", he said, "You got flashlights?" He seemed surprised when we said that we did (at least we'd learned that much from prior experience), and he wished us luck.
Deep creek on the way backWe backtracked as the sun dropped lower, and then.... it was dark, very dark (thus, no more photos). The moon was to be full that night, but it wasn't rising nearly soon enough and what little light it did cast just made the shadows more difficult to interpret. The horses can definitely see better than us, fortunately, and each time we turned on the flashlight it rattled them a bit. Finally, we saw a sign for Bandy Creek Campground, a horse camp that Mirian and I had stayed at before. It was just 1.2 miles there, or a matter of going many miles on unfamiliar trails back to our cabin. I suggested that we go there and find someone to give us a ride back to our cabin to get the trailers, and we all agreed this would be the safest option.
Our luck changed when we arrived at Bandy Creek after floundering in the dark for a mile. We flagged down the first vehicle we saw and after explaining our predicament, we were told that two hero's would hitch up their 4-horse trailer and haul us all back to our cabin (about 7-10 miles away). The angels that helped us were a couple of codgers from Glasgow, KY that drive mules and homemade wagons for fun, and when we offered money they kindly suggested that we "Pay it forward." We look forward to the opportunity!
All of us, horses and two-leggeds, slept extremely well that night and we woke to rainfall, feeling very grateful that we weren't sleeping on the ground out in the woods! Chalk it all up to another Gallop Girls adventure... not surprisingly, Marti and MB are both starting to study the maps a bit more carefully now! Below are a few more random photos from our big day....