"An unfamiliar descent dropped toward more hospitable meadows below. Should we follow this path, or turn around?
5 of us set out on January first, expecting a pleasant and relatively uneventful horseback ride of several hours. Intermittent winter sunlight was not strong enough either to chase away the clouds or to take the bite off of the cold wind that was blowing up over the mountains. Candy bars were passed around and slipped into coat pockets, to be enjoyed during the ride, as well as to help stave off hunger on the trail. For a mile or so we followed our trail plan, enjoying each other's good-natured banter, unaware that our path, and our day, was about to change.
At the top of a wind-blown ridge, with a sheltered green valley stretching out below, we encountered an obstacle: a sign was posted prominently to one side of the trail, bearing the unwelcome message No Trespassing… violators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law… . A prickly barbed- wire fence extended out to either side of the small, prominently labeled path.Rather than turning around, we made a detour onto a nearby deer path - and an unexpected adventure. From this point on, our journey played out like a great natural amusement park ride (Mr. Toad's Wild Ride comes right to mind). Each trail decision turned us onto a path that was more difficult than the last.
We first set out for the lower elevation meadows of the Dyar Ranch to the south. From our vantage point near the boulder-strewn ridgeline, it appeared that, with just a little challenging riding down a rather steep hillside, we could reach level ground, and a well-trodden trail. Unfortunately, just as the descent started to level out, and we began thinking that the trail would get easier, we rode up against another barbed wire fence. The deer path continued right on through the fence, but we could not. Pausing, we again considered our situation. We now stood in a ravine, at the base of two steeply rolling chaparral-covered hills, with the fence blocking our easy exit. Still imbued with optimistic spirits, we directed our horses up the hill we considered most likely to get us to an easier trail, and set off once again.
"Cold, tired, and deafened by the wind, we each struggled against a compelling internal voice of discomfort, as we climbed the hill."
The hill looked fairly tame from the bottom, but before long, our horses were scrambling and hopping from point to point, climbing up loose shale in between the hardy low-lying plants that struggled to survive in the harsh elements of the hillside. The wind grew sharper, blowing right into our faces as we rose, and the hill narrowed, culminating in a steep rocky bluff. Concerned that either the wind or the loose shale would cause a horse to lose its footing, we got off and, with hunched backs and eyes on the ground, hand-led our horses up the final rise.
As we neared the top, the left face of the bluff became a boulder precipice that dropped off several dozen feet, into a steep hillside below, while to the right, the ground was not much better. The wind blew with such force that it ate our words, isolating each of us in its cold rush, as we struggled toward and over the summit. For several long minutes, each of us felt alone in our struggle against the elements of wind and cold and the steep rocky path before us. As I clambered over the summit, I remembered the candy bar tucked into my jacket pocket, and thought how ready I was for a sweet little "pick-me-up". To my chagrin, I found that things lose their flavor in very strong wind: I felt the chocolate in my mouth, but couldn't taste a thing. We were all relieved to find that the land beyond the summit opened onto a gentler downhill slope. Relaxing once more, we headed back toward the trailer. Our fears of catastrophe eased off, leaving us with the discomfort of the wind and the cold, and a little something less tangible - pride maybe.
"The closing view from our trailer was much rosier. We felt cold, but exhuberant."
Amazingly enough, nearly everyone wishes to repeat the experience of our New Year's Day ride. The hardest, most grueling portion of the adventure - the final rock-strewn ascent on foot into gale-force wind, also created the most exhilaration, and the requests for a repeat experience. Go figure. We were all pushed a little outside our comfort zones, and by rising to meet that challenge, arrived at trail's end with a we-can-do sense of accomplishment. The magic of this trail was not along the planned path, but rather, in the memorable experiences that each of us gained, as we met the challenges of an unexpected detour.