Tag archive: Upstate NY

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Road Tripping Scrambler Ducati Style – Part 5 – South In My Sights

Thursday July 16th and Friday July 17th – Leaving one home to find another

Happy sunshine streamed in my window at an early morning hour and signaled me to get up and get moving; my month-long sojourn in the land of my birth had come to an end (read Part 4 here) and I awoke rested, refreshed, and ready to get back home to my husband and animal menagerie. Most of my belongings had been shipped out via UPS the day before and I had taken the time to pack almost everything to be carried on the bike before going to bed. Even though the tantalizing prospect of returning to my hunny and critters was pulling me southward, it’s always tough to leave the farm; no matter how many times I’ve done it over the years the pain is always just as fresh as it was the first time. Waving goodbye to my folks while they stand on the back lawn always makes me cry. They put up a brave front pretending not to be sad but I know they’re just waiting for me to get out of sight before they let their own waterworks flow. BUT, there’s no crying on a motorcycle (it fogs up your shield) so I stuffed back the emotion and focused on the job ahead. After all, the zombies don’t care if you’re emotionally fragile, they’ll eat you just the same. I’ve never heard one say (on film anyway), “Pardon me, is this a convenient time for an encounter?” Nope – buckle up buttercup and get your gameface on; it’s time to kick some ass.

I’m sure I’ve complained enough over the years and many of you already know that I simply abhor driving through Pennsylvania. It’s the bane of my existence. If I could skip the whole state I wouldn’t mind the drive between NC and NY at all. Any of you reading this who’ve had to make the same journey more than once knows what I’m talking about – Route 81 guarantees to have the ever popular and never-ending construction delays and the Poconos will most assuredly have some sort of crappy weather regardless of the time of year or forecast (fog, rain, snow, fire and brimstone, plaque of locusts, etc…). ~ Insert heavy sigh ~ Since I was forced to take that route on the way north, I was determined to get in a bit of sightseeing on the way south. PA must have something enjoyable to offer and I was going to find it. Unlike the outset of my journey, I hadn’t spent a month pouring over the atlas and Google Maps plotting my return trip. I figured I would plan that out when I got to NY but instead, I put it off until the last minute meaning I would pretty much have to wing it. My brother had been driving a tanker truck all over the roads of NE PA all summer so he had a good handle on which routes were looking decent and which ones might pose a problem. With his counsel, the night before I packed up I made a quick assessment of things, booked a B&B in Virginia and wrote a few quick directional notes to stuff in the clear window of my tank bag for easy reference.

Honest to God, I not only had a very enjoyable ride though PA, but it was the first time I can ever remember smiling and wishing it would never end! FOR REAL! When you get off the highway and ride the rural roads, you can see what a beautiful state it is. Every little town was quaint and welcoming. I wasn’t in a hurry, per say, but I was focused on getting to my destination, so I didn’t dawdle on this trip and I didn’t take nearly enough (or hardly any) pictures. Someday I’d like to take the same ride and take quality pictures of every church I pass to make a coffee table book. Every single one in every single town was a work of art. And then quite suddenly and completely unexpectedly I was thrust into the Lackawanna State Forest near West Nanticoke in Luzerne County which turned out to be one of the highlights on my impromptu route. That was a fine motorcycle ride indeed which had me rambling down twisty roads following a gurgling stream surrounded by wilderness galore. I DID get a picture here!

Lackawanna State Forest Lackawanna State Forest

Picturesque towns and amazing landscapes were things I would have expected to see in good ol’ PA but I did, however, pass a a few things which caused me to double take, snort out loud with laughter, and made me wish I had turned around to get a snapshot. I saw (as big or bigger than life) Bigfoot, King Kong, bandits posed on top of a roadside saloon, a green tyrannosaurus rex and a purple triceratops. NOT. EVEN. JOKING. Apparently the folks in PA have a love affair with ginormous concrete statues. I’m kicking myself for not getting pics of any of those.

Onward I rode until I reached the point of having to check my GPS to be sure I was taking the right roads to my aforementioned B&B reservation at Zion Springs Bed and Breakfast. I wasn’t lost and I felt confident in my ability to read signs, but I wasn’t really sure I was on the right path either. You see, a couple of roads before I was to arrive at my destination, I found myself on a one-lane, tricky gravel motorcycle trap, er… road. Was this correct? The B&B reviews all said what a fine establishment it was and it ranked at the top of the list of places I googled for that location. Yep, GPS said I was right on track. Ooooookay….. so let’s just keep riding. Thank God for dual sport tires! A couple of nerve-wracking miles later and the highly rated place of lodging appeared like a beacon on a hill. WOW!

Zion Springs B&B Zion Springs B&B

It was a stunning locale and I got to ride right past horses in their pastures. And not just any old horses. I was right smack dab in the middle of Virginia horse farms with obviously very expensive equine operations. Oh be still my heart. Someday I’d like to live in VA and have my own horse farm in the gentle rolling hills and temperate climate. The innkeepers were so conscientious they left me an email with instructions to check myself in since they were away from the home when I got there. I called to let them know I’d arrived and was welcomed with all kinds of information on where to eat, things to do, and amenities they had to offer. Honestly though, I had packed enough of my own food to last me for several days and I wasn’t in the gallivanting mood, so I simply settled in for the evening quite early and retired with a glass of Milagro Anejo tequila and a well-read, but never-the-less enjoyable book.

Zion Springs B&B A peaceful night at Zion Springs B&B

The next morning, I made an appearance on the beautiful deck overlooking the back valley where my gracious hosts and other guests were conversing, simultaneously introducing myself for the first time and saying my goodbyes. They offered to pack my bags with some home-baked goodies for the road since I was missing out on the breakfast, but I couldn’t eat them anyway with my allergies, so I politely declined. God bless them. It was such a pleasure to just roll in, crash, and roll out with no fuss.

I couldn’t resist stopping at one of the horse farm fence lines on the way out to get a picture of my steed in front of the real ones. Real. That word always reminds me of The Velveteen Rabbit. Before the house fire (our house burned to the ground when I was a kid), I received that book for a birthday or some other gift-giving occasion and it was an instant favorite. I replaced it as soon as I could (along with another favorite, A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson). I wonder if my Falcon looks at the horses with their swishing tails, gleaming hides, and snorting breath and wonders when it too will become real. It’s real enough to me. Love makes it so.

Mom, when will I become real? Mom, when will I become real?

From here until I arrived at my front door in North Carolina, the trip was predictable, uneventful, and very pleasant. No zombies to behead or Bigfoots to get blurry photos of. I made lots of discoveries about the places I thought I knew and about my own intestinal fortitude. I came home a changed woman. However, the bite of the road warrior had infested my blood with a yearning for more. It wasn’t long before I succumbed to its viral fever again. There was a certain infamous Dragon (or at least it’s tail) calling my name. Being a superhero is a full-time job, and the Falcon and I were called into action before we were fully prepared for another battle. Time to don the cape and wig, here we go again….

But before I expound upon the next adventure, I’ll take time to recap some of my lessons learned on this one. Read the next installment soon to pick up some advice on what to do or what not to do on your own solo road trip adventure while I compose my thoughts on how to relay my little Dragon Tale.

Next up, Part 6, The Final Chapter…

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 2

Click here to read Part 3

Click here to read Part 4

Click here to read Part 5

Click here to read Part 6

 

Colleen Ann Guest - HOME! HOME!

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Road Tripping Scrambler Ducati Style – Part 4 – Falcon Conquers NY

Mid June through Mid July – The fun never ends…

YEEE HAAAA! With a momentous sense of accomplishment after planning and executing my first ever solo road trip on a motorcycle (read Part 3 here), I was looking forward to exploring familiar haunts on my summer vacation.

Buuuuuuut Mother Nature has a sick sense of humor and she wasn’t done with me yet. The rain I endured on the ride up? Oh, it was just the beginning. It pretty much rained for a month. Not a deluge that caused devastating floods like I’ve witnessed in past Junes in the Southern Tier, but irritatingly steady enough to put the kibosh on any possibility of seriously enjoying some road time on the bike. Those depressing weather stats I quoted in Part 3 are grounded in hard, cold facts. And speaking of cold, the misery of the rain was compounded by temperatures that consistently hovered at or below average (and the averages for this time of year in the good ol’ STNY aren’t pretty).  Pity party in 3, 2, —

WAIT! I’m not a Debbie Downer, no sirree. No amount of chilly precipitation was going sideline me – am I a New York farm girl or what??! My odyssey had only just begun and I still had the return trip ahead of me to combat zombies and outrun nuclear explosions. Even if I parked the bike for a month and didn’t fire it up until time to put on the battle gear again I was already ahead of the game. Now that I’d arrived I had beloved family and friends to visit and a variety of entertainment options awaiting me which more than made up for any pseudo self-discovery pilgrimage I might have imagined myself on.

Colleen Ann Guest res tour Yes, that’s a cashmere turtle neck sweater in June

First things first. The timing of my journey was no accident. Although I left myself an open window for the exact departure date based on the weather forecast, I had a firm arrival date on the calendar. One of my uncles had passed away recently and our family, many of whom were traveling from all over the country, planned special memorial services in his honor to be held on the weekend I was to arrive. I won’t write a novel about this portion of my stay; instead I’ll just leave the intimate details to your imagination and I’ll cherish the events and memories in my heart. Suffice it to say, a lot of tears were shed and a great deal of laughter shared.

Bruce Memorial 1 Ed Holmberg played taps for the ceremony

Setting Bruce Free Setting him free

On one of the first breaks in the weather that coincided with my day off (I was still working my day job which I can do remotely BTW), I hunkered down over a road atlas old school style at the dining room table with my mom and together we plotted a wonderfully scenic ride that I hadn’t taken in almost 30 years: a tour of the Cannonsville and Pepacton reservoirs in the foothills of the Catskill mountains. Both reservoirs were created in order to provide water for New York City and several small towns were sacrificed in the name of progress. The town of Cannonsville, NY was flooded in 1967 to form the Cannonsville Reservoir and several small towns (Arena, Pepacton, Shavertown and Union Grove) were sent to a watery grave to form the Pepacton Reservoir in 1955.  My folks tell me that when the water level gets low enough you can still see skeletons of building structures eerily lurking below the surface. Obviously, you’ve read enough of my whining to know that we’ve had plenty of rain so the water levels were more than sufficient to hide any evidence of lost civilizations.

Winding around the twisty roads with serene rivers and lakes on one side of me and cool rocky cliffs on the other certainly rivaled my Skyline Drive experience in breathtaking oooh and aaaahh moments. If you’re in the area and want a nice ride I highly suggest the either one, but be warned; the roads surrounding the Cannonsville Res were so atrocious any delight you might derive from the ride will probably be sucked right down the drain by having to expend your energy concentrating on dodging bumps, holes, gravel, and steaming piles of – was that dinosaur dung? – around every blind curve.

reservoir tour break2 Taking a break on the reservoir tour

Next up, after I cajoled my dad into staining and painting the deck on the house, I set off for the Brookfield trail system where I spent a great deal of time tramping around the trails and camping with my (real) horse in my slightly younger days. I couldn’t help but shed a few tears while revisiting some of the familiar trails and destinations on my new horse knowing I probably won’t ever get to revisit them on a living beast again.

Brookfield Trail System Brookfield Trail System

That same day, I stopped at the Old Mill in Mt Upton, NY where my folks used to take us for elegant meals. This former grist mill located in the Unadilla Valley, which had once been regarded as the western boundary of the United States and the division between the white and Indian territory, has since been turned into a restaurant with a dining room that overlooks the Unadilla River.

The Old Mill, Mt. Upton, NY The Old Mill, Mt. Upton, NY

And you can’t visit that neck of the woods without making a stop at the historic White Store Church and Evergreen Cemetery, a Union Church built by the Methodists, the Baptists and the Universalists, and the neighboring cemetery which has twelve Revolutionary soldiers buried in it. The church’s name is derived from the fact that the store (which was built in pioneer times) was painted white, which was not in accordance to custom, for if a building was painted at all, red was the prevailing color–hence the name White Store.

WSChurch1 The entrance to the White Store Church

White Store Church2 Notes from the pulpit and plaque on the outside

Evergreen Cemetery Evergreen Cemetery

And this wasn’t the only cemetery I visited. In addition to dragging my folks all over several counties visiting the final resting places of our dearly departed, I found time to visit the monuments of some local celebrities. Exterminator, one of the most famous Kentucky Derby winners of all time, was owned by Willis Sharpe Kilmer of Swamp Root fame, and lived out his retirement on the Kilmer estate on the west side of Binghamton on Riverside Drive. Old Bones, as he was famously nicknamed, is buried on the hill behind Ross Park Zoo. I visited his monument and by sheer dumb luck on another day I also happened to ride past the Kilmer Vault in the Floral Park Cemetery.

Old Bones' grave marker Old Bones’ grave marker

Kilmer Vault Kilmer Vault in Floral Park Cemetery

Here’s a collection of video footage featuring some of the local wildlife on the farm, shooting pool with my dad, me running the excavator for the first time, and me sneakily recording my dad playing the harmonica from the other room  Oh and rain, did I mentioned it rained during this stay?

And as I said earlier, I there were lots of entertainment opportunities at my beck and call. The Triple Cities offers a plethora of live music, theater, and cultural events happening all the time. In fact, it’s difficult to choose which soirees to attend as there’s so much overlap, but I made room on my dance card for as many as I could. I also visited several churches whose sacred spaces and congregants hold dear places in my heart. I don’t possess a wide enough vocabulary to eloquently enough convey my experiences so I’ll just let the pictures in the video montage below tell their own stories. It features the song Strangers We Meet, by The Black Feathers, so you’ll want to click on this just to hear the song if nothing else.

After all the touring, visits with loved ones, wildlife sightings, laughter shared and tears shed, my final night to enjoy one last serene sunset on the farm from the peacefulness of the deck overlooking the valley had come. Mid July had settled into a warm, breezy summer with no rain in sight so my return journey was most likely going to be a lot drier, if not a downright pleasant, ride.

Would that brilliant sunset portend a rosy road ahead or was it just lulling me into a false sense of security? Stay tuned to find out.

Next up, Part 5, Homeward Bound …

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 2

Click here to read Part 3

Click here to read Part 4

Click here to read Part 5

Click here to read Part 6

 

sunset on the farm Final sunset on the farm

 

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Road Tripping Scrambler Ducati Style – Part 3 – Battling Zombies

Monday June 13 –  333 miles/8 hours.

After an epic first day and a good night’s rest (read Part 2 here) the zombies emerge…

Yawning and stretching I lazily rolled out of bed having slept like a baby at the Lackawanna Bed & Breakfast after a stellar adventure on the road the day before. Peering through the window panes between the silky sheer curtains I spied a dreary hue of gray that I hoped was just an indication of the time of day rather than unsettled weather. I glanced around the room. Somehow my bags had managed to regurgitate their contents overnight splattering the room with clothes, food wrappers, and toiletries. Viewing the carnage, I groaned apathetically; the thought of packing my gear seemed a little less romantic today than it did yesterday. UGH!

I gave the mess a dismissive waive and stumbled into the bathroom to begin the ol’ morning routine, when – SURPRISE!!! Mother Nature thought it would be funny to to bless me with a reminder of my femininity. This was sooo not good. Like a Boy Scout, I planned for everything and I was prepared with the necessary supplies; but I was not, however, prepared to ride for another day or two in unendurable misery, clutching at my contorting, convulsing, contracting, delicate internal lady parts while searching for decent restroom accommodations. This was not how I intended my personal Blue Highways exploit to unfold. I had envisioned discovering picturesque sights in unexplored, fringe outposts of civilization, having stimulating conversations with exotic characters who told compelling, unbelievable stories, and narrowly escaping pitfalls, landslides, earthquakes, and nuclear explosions while outrunning zombies on my trusty Falcon. DOUBLE UGH!!

Begrudgingly, but meticulously, I repacked all my scattered belongings being sure to place everything in an orderly, accessible fashion and made up my mind to hit the road as quickly as possible to minimize the, shall we politely call it, “discomfort” of the day.  Leaving prematurely, I was going to miss out on the fellowship of my new friends and not be able to delight in the scrumptious breakfast at the B&B, but the road would, without a shadow of a doubt, become more arduous the longer I waited, so I trudged down the stairs and began loading up. I was all packed and about to throw my leg over the Falcon, when it began. Remember the gloomy skies I saw an hour ago? That wasn’t daybreak greeting me. It was light and misty, but yep, it was definitely raining. TRIPLE UGH!!!

I almost considered just riding out as is, thinking it wouldn’t last, but I’d be an idiot to set off while my battle-tested rain gear was tucked neatly away in my tail bag instead of on my body where it belonged. Alright, I spat through gritted teeth, then began the tedious task of unbuckling, unzipping, and unpacking the precious impervious attire, painstakingly stuffing myself into it, then re-zipping, re-buckling, and re-securing my bag once again. A good 10 minutes later and feeling like the Michelin man, I was finally ready to climb aboard my Scrambler Ducati and, given the inauspicious start of the day, prepare to battle the inevitable zombie hoard attack.

Leaving Lackawanna B&B Leaving Lackawanna B&B, but wait – better put on that carefully packed rain gear

At 7:30 AM the kickstand went up and off I rode into the misty, drizzle under an umbrella of low hanging clouds. I didn’t exactly have a definitive path mapped out from this point to my final destination because the majority of my day would be spent traveling through Pennsylvania and I’m more than acquainted with the eastern PA roadways. Given the current circumstances, I chose a rather scenic byway with a slower pace in the early part of my day thereby allowing me to feel out my riding muscles and perhaps still reaping some rewards of the journey before I was forced to grit my teeth and power through on strength of will alone.

Honestly though, once I hit the road, a silly grin sneaked across my face beneath all that gear. I could feel my responsive mount tugging on the reins begging me to give her her head. Ah yes, this is where I belonged – sitting astride a beast full of untapped power. Drizzle and impending girly problems wouldn’t dampen my spirits – I DO LOVE RIDING!

A short time later, I was puttering though Harper’s Ferry, crossing and re-crossing the Potomac, standing up on my pegs to better view its waters happily bubbling over its boulder-filled river bed. I was mesmerized watching the eddies and swirls as I rode over the bridges and traveled along its banks in the shadows of the tree-lined cliffs and rocky outcroppings. There was no safe place to stop to take pictures and where I could pull off, the view wasn’t as spectacular, so I have no visual evidence to show for it. You’ll just have to trust me on this, put Harper’s Ferry on your moto destination list! And whaddaya know – no zombies here.

Next, I made an obligatory stop in Gettysburg, PA. because, well, it’s Gettysburg. I could have just ridden past as it’s a hair out of the way, but come on, if you’ve been there you know you don’t bypass it. First order of business: rain gear OFF! Whew, that’s better. Next, I hung out in town, gabbing with the locals and eating some lunch. BTW, everywhere I went, G-Burg included, people were enamored with my Falcon. She’s not like any other bike out there and draws quite the crowd because not many Scramblers have hit the roads in America yet. After wrapping up my Scrambler TED talk, I plopped my butt back on the seat and went on a little tour. I love this historic town and riding through the rolling battlefields with its trees growing out of formerly blood-soaked soil always makes the hair stand up on my arms. Its history is humbling. However, I’ve spent much time here in the past visiting the must-see sights like the wax museum and Hall of Presidents, touring the battlefields, and nosing around the shops so I didn’t dawdle too long today.

Downtown Gettysburg Picturesque downtown Gettysburg

Thus ends the enjoyable portion of Day 2. Once I got to Harrisburg it was all highway, all the way baby. I now needed to put as many miles behind me as quickly as possible. The rain gear went on and off several more times and I can tell you, riding at 80 plus mph for hours on I-81 without a faring, battling intermittent rain, and enduring cramping pain is not for amateurs. Boys and girls, don’t try this at home.

Let me take this moment to complain about something else (as if this whole blog post isn’t one long PMS-y bitch session). I love my Joe Rocket Alter Ego riding pants, really I do. But I do not love the original knee armor that came with them. They have always drilled into my knees leaving angry red grooves and purple bruises. I attempted to remedy the problem by cutting ovals out of a yoga mat and inserting them into the armor pockets to cushion my tender (knobby) knees. That solution seemed tolerable on my preliminary test rides, but not even an hour into Day One I was miserable and had to remove the fabricated cushions – they just made my pants stick to my legs in a weird way and didn’t really buffer the pain. When I got dressed this morning I briefly contemplated removing the armor altogether to alleviate the problem, but quickly shot that down. The whole point of wearing ATGATT (all the gear all the time) is protection. (Don’t believe me? Click here to read MotoLady’s blog about her recent crash.  Or click here to read about GearChic’s recent crash.) BIG sigh… If I was already going to have to use my superpowers to override pain sensors today I could override a few more. I am Hitgirl after all (If you click the video be warned – it’s graphic – but so much fun):

An unfortunate side effect of ignoring the pain and riding for hours at a time without shifting was that my knees sort of locked up. When I got off the highway for a gas stop in Wilkes-Barre, I could hardly straighten my legs to set my feet on the pavement at a stop light and then I couldn’t upshift properly once I had to move ahead. Awkward … and a little scary… time to take a break, refresh my reserves, and get my act together. I was only an hour or so from the end of my journey so there was no quitting now!

Rain in Wilkes-Barre Gloomy Skies in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Welcome to the Northeast

Gathering my strength, I took a few deep renewing breaths, focused my superhero brain on the task at hand, and braced myself for the crappy conditions ahead. How do you know what lies ahead, you ask? Oh c’mon, it’s NE PA and SE NY – crappy conditions are a way of life there – no need to check the forecast – According to Wikipedia:

Binghamton is the 10th rainiest city in the United States, with 162 rainy days a year. With 212 cloudy days annually, it is also the seventh cloudiest city in the country, and the cloudiest east of the Rocky Mountains. Binghamton’s proximity to the Great Lakes results in significant cloudiness and precipitation, as weather systems traveling over the lake pick up significant moisture, and cooler air masses from the west and the north culminate in a continuously unsettled weather pattern.

Without prolonging your suspense any longer, I’ll just cut to the chase. I made it to my folks’ home without having to actually whack the heads off any real zombies. With the full power of my steely mental reserve, I successfully battled my metaphorical undead villains which came at me in the form of physical pain, shitty weather, and highway traffic. Remember in yesterday’s blog how I raised my arms in victory like Rocky at the end of the day? Well, when I crossed the NY border today, I was most certainly more subdued and slightly battle worn, but no less appreciative of the victorious ending to my day’s ride.

I did it. I’m home, I’m home,” I said out loud and proceeded to cry big fat tears of joy and relief mingled with pride. Most definitely pride!

Less than 15 minutes later I approached my final hurdle with a bit of apprehension. As I turned the corner to head up my parents’ long and rocky driveway (no seriously – we’re talking river rocks, washed out ruts, and not much gravel!) I held my breath in preparation for sliding around and losing control, having visions of dumping my bike spectacularly while my dad stood shaking his head watching out the window. About six feet into what could have been my downfall (quite literally), I realized this was some of the most fun riding of my entire trip! There goes that silly grin across my face again. My Falcon’s stock knobby-ish tires LOVED the gravel obstacle course and let me know it really is dual sport bike!

Parents' driveway My folks’ driveway is 550 feet of pure off-road fun

I wheeled up to the back door of my childhood home to find my mom waiting for me just inside with a big smile on her face. Given an opportunity, no doubt she would have taken the same adventure – we’re cut from the same cloth. Suddenly feeling revived, I couldn’t WAIT to get out there and see where else the Falcon would take me.

Next up, Part 4, the Falcon conquers New York …

Click here to read Part 1

Click here to read Part 2

Click here to read Part 3

Click here to read Part 4

Click here to read Part 5

Click here to read Part 6

 

Home again, home again, jiggity jog Home again, home again, jiggity jog

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5

Road Tripping Scrambler Ducati Style – Part 1 – In the Beginning

From baby steps to a big adventure

A little over a year ago I took my first ever tentative ride on a 250 cc motorcycle. Wobbly and scared, I slowly let out the clutch and rolled on the throttle while my encouraging husband nearly exploded with pride like a daddy watching his child ride a bicycle for the first time.

Colleen Ann Guest, First Ride on the TU250 First ride on the TU250

Giddy with excitement myself, but tempered with a healthy dose of respect, I embraced what became a motorcycle obsession with fervor and within a month I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic Rider’s Course (MSF BRC), obtained my full endorsement, and conquered some long-standing childhood fears. After attaining a little more intuitive dexterity in manipulating the levers and controls, a forgotten voice in my head whispered, you were born to ride. Growing up on horseback (almost quite literally) I already knew that riding was akin to flying and as natural as breathing for me, but it was an intoxicating surprise to find that my passion and natural inclination transferred seamlessly to a machine-driven beast.

Colleen Ann Guest Bike session, photo by Mike Ricciardi Flying or riding, bikes or horses, it’s the same thing. Photo by Mike Ricciardi

In short order, I began the hunt for my next bike, a bigger one. After months of searching and researching and agonizing and dissecting what MY riding style is (or will be) and what sort of bike lit my fire, I was left with a ho-hum attitude and a feeling that nothing in particular filled that bike-shaped hole in my heart. And then one day while randomly scrolling through Facebook posts, I saw a silhouetted head-on image of the new Scrambler Ducati about to be unveiled at the impending 2014 Intermot show in Germany.  Ah-ha!! I had at last found my personal Holy Grail without even a shred of info about its specs or a real picture of it. Two days after the actual reveal I put a deposit on one at Garcia Moto then endured seven long months of (sort of) patient waiting and pouring over every scrap I could find on the internet before the Falcon, as she would come to be called, would be mine. Why the Falcon you ask? Because upon downshifting she sounds EXACTLY like the Millennium Falcon when it can’t make the jump to hyperspace:

 

Colleen Ann Guest At Garcia Moto Taking the Falcon home from Garcia Moto

Without the teensiest bit of buyers remorse, I was pleased to find that the Scrambler was everything I’d dreamed she would be and oh, so much more! So what’s a girl to do with just a year’s worth of riding experience (10 thousand miles!) under her belt and a brand new 803 cc bike in her possession? Why, take a solo road trip adventure of course! Every summer for 18 years I’ve traveled from North Carolina to upstate New York to visit my family and friends back home. This year I vowed to RIDE the nearly 1200 mile round trip journey plus rack up some scenic miles in the beautiful mountainous regions of upstate NY and northern Pennsylvania.

Colleen's Scrambler, photo by Vincent A. Provenzano Brand new and unmodified. Photo by Vincent A. Provenzano

The Falcon needed only a couple of modifications for my purpose. I simply had to have lower handlebars for my personal comfort (and aesthetics) so I purchased a set of superbike bars from Dime City Cycles and enlisted my buddy William Vaughn at DMC Motorsports to put them on. Then I quickly figured out that I needed something to secure my tail bag straps to and found a handy DIY solution from a fellow Scrambler owner on one of the forums. And that’s about it. The bike itself is a handling dream and with an on-board USB port I never have to worry about losing charge on my cell phone (which BTW, I used quite often to check my GPS to ensure I was either on track or to make diversions). THAT alone is worth its  weight in gold let me assure you!

Colleen Ann Guest, The Falcon post mods The Falcon, post mods

With the major-ish mods out of the way, I focused my efforts on planning routes, plotting sites, purchasing gear, and picking apart every little detail I could think of as I counted down the days to my journey. Among my trip specific purchases were a Schuberth C3 Pro Women’s helmet and an Olympia Horizon rain jacket and pants, BOTH of which proved to be more than worth their expense and lived up to every review I’d read about them! I logged tons of miles on day trips and took a small overnight ride with my husband in an effort to appraise the best configuration of my set-up and gauge my stamina. I picked the brains of fellow road trip warriors and scoured the internet for advice. I planned and packed for every possible scenario (and my pack job, by the way, turned out to be brilliant as a result of all the time I spent visualizing and thinking through the placement/purpose of every little item). A week before I set out, I took and passed the MSF Experienced Rider Course so I was refreshed on my riding skills and knowledge. And in the event of a breakdown (assuming of course I had cell service) I had my trusty AAA card ready because, as my dear friend Johann Keyser of Moto Motivo told me in his suave South African accent, “There is nothing on this bike you will be able to repair.” Then he smiled and told me I would be fine with the basic tools and gave me a cheery send off. Even the world famous adventure rider Neale Bayly was kind enough to impart some good advice to me, “Don’t forget to stay loose, don’t grip the bars too tight, and have fun,” to which he sprinkled humorous (albeit, potentially valid) suggestions of items to pack.

Finally, after all the analyzation, preparation, and anticipation, the day of action arrived as determined by the best – or rather, least horrible – weather forecast. Ready or not, it was time to throw caution to the wind, load up the Falcon and hit the road.

Next up – Part 2 – Hitgirl Hits the Road…

Click here to read Part 2

Click here to read Part 3

Click here to read Part 4

Click here to read Part 5

Click here to read Part 6

Colleen Ann Guest pre trip Loading up and heading out

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“Owwww, I’ve got de chilblains!!”

inspector-and-deux-deux

Who remembers the episode from the Pink Panther cartoon’s Inspector series in which Sargeant Deux-Deux spent the whole time complaining about this painful infliction? Anyone? Well I do and I always used to laugh at the pathetic little character and shrugged off what surely was as much of a real disorder as cooties were.

WOAH Nellie…back it up. Turns out “de chilblains” (you must say it in a Spanish accent – think whiny Antonio Banderas) are REAL!

And, oh man, are they real!!

Hoth1

I cannot believe after spending over 30 years of my life living in the frozen Upstate NY tundra (or Hoth as I affectionately call it – Star Wars Geek Alert) and having suffered mildly frostbitten feet from spending HOURS in subfreezing temperatures that I never developed this painful, itchy, and completely annoying condition. And now, after almost 18 years of living in the warm south, I get visited by the chilblain monster. What kind of twisted game is mother nature playing with me?! I haven’t even been exposed to sub-freezing temps! Or have I ….?

First, let me give you a quick explanation of the condition. I’m too lazy to write my own so here’s someone else’s description from Straitdope.com:

Chilblains, also called perniosis or pernio, are a skin inflammation, most commonly seen on the fingers and toes, caused by prolonged exposure to low but not freezing temps and damp … Chilblains form because blood vessels constrict from the cold, and when said constriction lasts for an extended time the vessels don’t respond quickly enough to rewarming, causing blood to leak into the surrounding tissues and damage the skin. Your skin doesn’t have to freeze, as with frostbite–it just has to stay cold and damp for a while. Chilblains often show up in the form of swelling and discoloration and sometimes blisters, sores, and painful nodules under the skin. They can itch something fierce and scratching can lead to a secondary infection. If they’re bad enough they can cause numbness and long-lasting temperature sensitivity due to autonomic nerve damage.

FUN!
Oh and and pretty too. <INSERT SARCASM>

IMAG3202

So, now that I have solved the mystery of what the heck is going on with my toes, I am still left with the question of “how did I get chilblains in the first place?” Then I thought back over the last few weeks and considered my motorcycle riding. While I was bundled up well and didn’t suffer too much from riding in the cold temperatures (40ish degrees) and monsoon rains, I realize I may have neglected to properly care for my feet. They didn’t FEEL cold (too cold that is). I’m getting older (if you haven’t done the math then scroll back up and puzzle it out for yourselves) and it could be that my sensitivity to cold just isn’t what it used to be – maybe my extremities don’t relay that information as efficiently to my brain as they once did. Or, perhaps I’m so hard-headed that I just don’t care when I’m cold because riding is just too damn fun. Probably a combination of the two, um … heavily weighted on the latter – my parents could attest to many (oh brother, way too many) instances of the latter.

So, according to the description quoted above, it doesn’t take below freezing temps to get chilblains – just cold temps and dampness. I’ve freely bragged about riding in those specific conditions lately. And… uh, I’ll bet the wind chill factor on my feet (especially after they were soaking wet) was pretty effin low too.

Gasolina Boots

As much as I love my Gasolina Boots – which are SUPER AMAZING BTW – they apparently aren’t imbued with super powers, like say, an invisible shield which keeps your feet toasty warm and dry in storm-of-the-century conditions. I guess I need to add more than a skimpy wimpy sock to the lower limb set-up. I almost purchased a pair of SmartWool socks before the winter season began but balked at the price and didn’t bother. I’ll be ordering a pair (or two) RIGHT NOW!

So there’s that. Mystery solved. As I sit here following my afternoon ride today, G R A D U A L L Y letting my feet warm up to room temperature while still wearing my boots, I know with a little care, I will continue to ride another day. Happy moto riding in winter to me!

(Oh, you better believe I’m still riding! Stubborn, remember?)

Colleen Ann Guest

 If you have any cold weather motorcycle riding tips, I would love to hear them. Leave me a comment below!

 

 

 

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A True Story of a Horse

 

Have you ever loved a horse so much that your entire life was altered by his very existence?

 

And have you gone to bed dreaming of him before you ever met him and then spent the rest of your life reminiscing about him after he was gone?

 

I have . . . and so did my father.

 

Stephen Loren Illsley

The following is an essay my father wrote in 1946 when he was thirteen years old and home sick with the measles.  It tells the story of a boy who desperately wanted a horse of his own to love, ride, and teach tricks to, and the little black stallion that fulfilled his childhood dreams.
About 2 years after he wrote the essay, his 9th grade English teacher, Mrs. Brooks, read it and asked him to re-write it for an essay contest, which he never did do. It’s worthy to note that Mrs. Brooks was quite fond of my father because he and his trusty stallion chased down her runaway horse and saved her one day, quite like another story he relays in the essay.
My dad and mom are full of tales about life with their horses but it’s a special blessing for me to have a copy of my dad’s original handwritten account regaling his love for and adventures with his all-time favorite steed. I didn’t edit the content of the essay; I only added some punctuation marks and a few stray words here and there that he inadvertently left off in his original writing. I’ve even left the paragraph structure intact exactly as he had written. He’s fully aware of my additions and has approved the minor edits. I wanted to leave the story as original as possible so that we are reading exactly what he, as a thirteen year old boy, had written in 1946.
There are footnotes below which give insight to the timeline of events and offer details rounding out some of the circumstances of which he writes. Of special note is number 9 – he’d like the reader to be sure to understand that he knows you don’t beat a horse to train it. Those words came from an inexperienced child and he went on to learn the finer art of communication with his horses. If reading footnotes aren’t your “thing;” I urge you to at least read that one.
And now, I present to you….

 

 

› A True Story of a Horse 

Written by Stephen Loren Illsey, 1946
Edited by Colleen Ann Guest, 2013
 

This is a story of my colt and I. But I must start at the beginning.

I was a boy at the age of thirteen [1] and I had always wanted a horse of my own. My mother had had several horses since she was a little girl and she thought that it would be nice for me to have one of my own, but little did either of us dream that it would come true.

My mother went one day to visit her sister who also lived on a farm. They got to talking and she told my mother about a little colt they had on the farm. He had been tied there most of the winter and they carried feed and water to him because they were afraid as he was a stallion, and he had tried to strike them when they tried to lead him. [2] Then mother went to the barn to see this little fellow who was only six months old at the time. On first sight she fell in love with this pretty little black colt for he was black as coal. Mom wanted to take him outdoors but her sister said that he would strike her; but Mother took her chances and fixed a twitch and put it on his nose and in no time she led him from the barn.

Oh yes, he did try to act up, but Mother was too smart for him, and the first thing he knew was that he was sitting on the ground. Then she called my cousin who was about thirteen, very light for his age, and sat him on the colt’s back. Once more she started leading him but what happened is he laid down.  My cousin jumped and rolled away from him; he was scared. Mother said to him, “Where are you going? I’ve still got a hold of him.” But he only answered back, “I’ve heard stories about stallions before and what they’d do if they got you under them.” Mother laughed and said to herself, “They are really afraid of this little fellow.”  Then she thought to herself, “Why don’t we buy him for ourselves?”

Someone had named the colt “Highboy” so we kept calling him that although the name didn’t quite occur to me. [3]

Mom came home and talked to Dad about getting the colt, but Dad didn’t seem very enthusiastic about it. Then Mom, seeing that she wasn’t making any progress with Dad, said, “He is a nice little colt and has the most intelligent looking head and every bit of him is pure black.

It was about a week after that and Mom and I hadn’t been making progress with Dad about the colt, or at least we didn’t think so, when one evening Dad and Mom were reading the paper and my brothers were playing or something, and I was thinking about how good it would seem to have a colt of my own to teach tricks to.  I never realized how hard the task would be.

Then before anyone realized it, a truck stopped in front of the house. A man knocked on the door and my father went to see who it was. I could hear them talking in low tones but I did catch a few words. “Surprise” was one, and then I heard “he” and “fine” and a few others that didn’t make sense.

Then Dad called Mother and me out to the truck. And there it was – a small horse about the size of a pony. “There,” said my Dad “is your colt. Now let me see you unload him.”

At first I started to walk right up in beside him, but then I stopped all of a sudden, thinking, “What if he should kick?” Then I looked at him again and said to myself, “Well, if I’m going to handle you, I better start now.” Again, I started to walk up in beside him, but this time I didn’t hesitate. I untied the rope that held him and thought that I could push him out of the truck backwards, but that was useless. So I turned him around and tried pulling him out, but still, he wouldn’t budge. Then Mother said, “Here, let me help you,” and the next thing I knew was that he was standing right on the ground beside me. “How did you do it?” I asked looking very much puzzled. My mother explained, “Oh it’s quite easy when you know how.” [4] Come to find out, Dad had hired the man to go and get the colt. [5]

About a month after that, Dad told me that I had better start teaching my colt tricks because pretty soon he would get too big for me to handle, By the end of five months I had taught him quite a few tricks. Each one taking more patience and time, until I thought that he was the dumbest animal that ever lived; but one by one he caught on, and finally I had him so that he responded to each one of my commands. [6]

Soon after that I thought that it was about time I started in riding him, so one day I went to the barn and fixed my mother’s saddle and bridle to fit him. He didn’t mind my putting either one of these funny looking things on, but when I got them on him, boy, did he ever look awkward! Then I took him outside and before he realized what was going on I jumped aboard and hanged on for my life, expecting any second to go flying and hit the ground, but to my great surprise, nothing happened. Then I patted him and tried to urge him on but that didn’t go so good. So I kicked him in the ribs and yelled but he still wouldn’t move. So I got off and took him to the house to show my mother how he acted but this time, things were different. Instead of me jumping on I just took my time and the moment I was in the saddle I was out again. I picked myself up out of the dust and blinking my eyes, I looked around and there stood Highboy. I think that if he could have laughed like a person he would. “Why you tricky little mule,” I hollered as I went up to him. “You wait until I get a strap, I’ll teach you to buck when I’m not expecting it.”

So I got myself a strap and once more got on. But instead of just standing still or bucking he took me for one of the scariest rides I’ve ever had. All of the way down hill he ran just as fast as he could go, jumping everything in his way until he finally reached the main road, but not stopping for cars or anything. Neither talking nor pulling on the reigns did any good. But finally he did stop and when he did, he did it so quick that I found myself on the ground sputtering and yelling at my colt. I was so confused and puzzled about my new experience that I hadn’t stopped to think about what would have happened if we had collided with a car or if he had fallen. I was still so shaken up and every bone ached that I decided not to beat him and the expression on his face showed that he was sorry. [7]

A little while after that I got a new bridle and pretty soon I had him responding to each turn of the reigns.

After that my mother and I rode often together because she also had a horse.

One day two of my mother’s friends came up and wanted to ride although neither one of them could ride very good. We had four horses, so we let the girls ride, but we only had two saddles so we let the girls ride in them, so my mother and I rode bareback. Mom warned me that I shouldn’t ride Highboy bareback, but I finally succeeded in telling her that nothing would happen; but I was wrong.

We were riding through the fields, when one of the girls started running her horse. Then we all started.

We were going pretty fast and Highboy was in the lead. I wanted to see if anyone could catch me. I had forgotten that the girls couldn’t ride too good but I guess that luck was with them. All of a sudden highboy turned around without me expecting it. I didn’t have time to catch my balance before he turned again and then I fell.

All that I remembered is that somebody was talking to me. I woke up again to find myself home. The doctor was there. I asked what had happened but before anyone had time to answer I found out. Pains shot through my right arm and into my head. The doctor told me to lie still; that my wrist was broken.

Three or four weeks after that, my arm healed quickly. Highboy was turned loose in the pasture. My brother was walking in the pasture when all of a sudden Highboy started to chase him. My brother turned and ran toward our dump rake in the pasture. First Highboy would run one way and then the other way around the rake. My brother yelled and hollered hoping that someone would hear him. [8]  Just by luck, I happened to be outdoors and I ran to see what the trouble was. I crossed the fence and ran down to the rake. Highboy stopped all of a sudden and looked at me. I knew at once that he meant to chase me also, so I ran right up to him before he had a chance to move and hit him. At once, he cowered and moved back .I hit him and then I had him in my power because sometimes if you show a stallion that you’re not afraid (of) him, he’ll calm down. [9]  After I assured Highboy that I wasn’t still mad at him, everything was alright.

One day when I was riding, my saddle appeared too tight for Highboy, so I got off and loosened it. My mother said that we had better water the horses so we rode over to the creek. Highboy naturally just put down his head to drink. All of a sudden I felt myself slipping. Before I could do anything about it, I landed into the creek. I never heard anyone laugh before like my mother did. I guess that she laughed all of the way home.

Another time my mother was riding a horse that we boarded on our farm. The horse got to running with her towards home and she couldn’t stop him. We had ridden up to the neighbor’s house to buy a dozen of eggs and I was carrying the eggs when the horse that my mother was riding got to running. I didn’t know what to do, so I started after her on Highboy. Luck certainly must have been with us both that day. The road was slippery but yet I urged Highboy on. I knew that if the other horse ever tried to turn into our driveway at the speed he was going, he would fall down. Faster and faster Highboy ran. The wind blew hard against my face and made tears come into my eyes. But before I knew it, I was reaching out and pulling on the other horse’s bridle. I guess Highboy saved the day. Oh yes, I mustn’t forget tell you that not a single egg was broken.

Not many more things happened after that. Highboy was conquered and was at last ready to obey me.

Not hardly a day passed last summer but what my mother and I had ridden.

We are looking forward to a colt from our mare of which Highboy is the sire. [10]

› The End 

 

Steve and Highboy demonstrating “sitting”

Editor’s Notes

 

My memories

It’s my great misfortune that I never knew this horse because he died in the spring of the year I was born. The mares on our farm had several foals sired by him, so I knew quite a bit about his temperament through his offspring. My mom had a feisty horse named Penny and the foals they threw were quite mischievous. I remember vividly one incident in which my brother and I had gotten chased down by one of those horses; it seems that chasing was apparently in their blood!  She was a mare named Pride and I fondly recall her living on the farm and even which stall she occupied in our barn. At some point she had been sold and we went to visit her a few months after she left us. My dad sent my brother and me up the hill in her new pasture to call her down, and when she saw us, she came barreling down the hill after us. No matter which way we turned she snaked behind right on our tails. We thought for sure she was going to catch us and KILL us! We ran for our lives and bolted through the fence rails just as she was about to catch us. But when she got to the fence, it appeared that she was in fact happy to see my dad, despite how antagonistic she appeared to my brother and me. He had her trained to rub her muzzle on his cheek when he asked her to “give him a kiss,” and she happily obliged when he asked her on this occasion. It was the last time we visited her, and although I really liked that mare, I was glad we didn’t have to go through the chase ever again.  Whew…my heart still beats fast in my chest when I think about it and I can almost feel her breath on the back of my neck to this day. I’ve got other, perhaps more harrowing tales with horses, but I was never more scared of a horse in my life as I was that day running for my life down that hill. If you ask him, I think my brother will attest to the same.
Pride, the horse who chased us down the hill

For the Love of a Horse

I am so very blessed to have been given a legacy of the love of horses and the ability to communicate with animals. When my dad speaks of his mother saying that it’s easy to handle a horse when you know how, I get it! My grandmother and parents taught me how to communicate non-verbally with all of our animals and that knowledge transcended simply training them. A phrase my dad used while working with me and the horses was, “Horses and kids – it’s all the same. If you can raise a horse you can raise a child.”  I took that to heart and I’d like to think that it was valuable information which aided my parenting skills. But before I was a mom, my horse Sugar was my child, my best friend, and my soul mate. When everything else in my world went wrong, my horse would always be there to make it better.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my mother is an accomplished horsewoman herself and she spent countless hours helping me train the new foals on the farm and breaking the horses. She too has her own stories of how horses were the saving grace in her life. Long before I did the same, my mom, being troubled and not able to sleep, would go to the barn in the middle of the night and grab her horse for moonlight ride. I find it humorous and fitting that I sought solace in the same exact way.
Growing up on the farm with a barn full of noble creatures at my beck and call was an enviable position and I can’t imagine how different my life would have been without horses. It’s a shame that we’ve come so far in our civilization that these beautiful companions have been relegated to either occupying a place in history or their company is only enjoyed by a select few. They could teach us all so much about life, love, and loyalty, and their mere presence is therapy enough to give us the courage to face life and tackle our mental, spiritual, and physical foes.

 

 The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears.  ~Arabian Proverb

 

 
 
Steve holding back Highboy

Highboy in his pasture


Footnotes


[1] My dad was born in January of 1933 and he and his family moved to the farm (the same farm I grew up on) in 1944. He was 11 when he got Highboy in 1944 shortly after moving to the farm, despite his telling that he was 13 in the story. He is about 6 months younger than his cousin who he also tells is 13. But after confirming the details in a phone conversation on 02/09/13, my dad and mom agreed that Steve must have been 11 at the time of acquiring Highboy and not 13 as he wrote, which means that his cousin was probably 12 and not 13 either. Steve must have written the story at age 13 which would make sense given that the horse had matured at least two years during the course of events he described. This time frame works out as my mom is certain Highboy was put down in the spring of 1966 which would make Highboy 22 years old at the time of his death.  And that rings true to both of my parent’s recollection.

[2] Another of my dad’s cousins lived in Pennsylvania and raised Standardbred horses. One of his mares had been bred by a Morgan stallion and Highboy was the resulting foal. And there was a reason his aunt and her family were a bit scared of Highboy even though he was just a young colt. He had reared up and struck his aunt’s husband in the head and they had wanted to get rid of the horse after that incident.

[3] The truth of the matter is that the horse was named Highball, after the alcoholic mixed drink. My dad strongly disliked that name and had a devil of a time convincing his father that he had to change it. They finally came to an agreement and the name Highboy was settled upon.

[4] My grandmother had a gift of communicating with animals. She could seemingly talk to any animal she came across and I recall many instances where she would have wild creatures eating out of her hands. She took the time to observe their body language and respond to them in ways they understood, and she was patient beyond measure. Several of us have inherited her gift and have benefitted from her mentoring, but she was truly was The Queen of the Animal Kingdom.

[5] My grandfather traded a tag-a-long trailer for the colt is how my dad’s family came to acquire him.

[6] I asked my dad to tell me about some of the tricks he had taught Highboy as that was such an integral part of the early pages of the story. He said that he taught him to shake hands, kneel, lie down, sit up, and stand back up.  While the horse was lying prone on the ground, my dad would back up several paces, run at him, place his hands on Highboy’s body, and doing a handspring flip over him and land on his feet on the other side. This was a favorite trick among the neighborhood kids in town. He also taught him to answer yes or no questions. To teach him that particular trick my dad had to prick Highboy in the chest with a pin. Highboy would bend his nose to his chest to rub it as if he had been bitten by a horsefly. After some time of repeating this he got so that my dad would only have to make a motion towards his chest and he would nod his head in a “yes” fashion. Similarly, my dad would take the pin and prick him between his ears and Highboy would shake his head as if to shake off a biting fly. Again, after he was trained my dad just had to make a slight motion towards his head to get him to shake his head “No.” My dad’s very close friend helped him and together they taught both their horses to do all kinds of tricks. I believe one of them was putting them both on a teeter totter together, but they stopped doing that one for fear of hurting the horses as Highboy had slipped off the board a couple of times. They took their horses to perform at schools and other local events and the kids would love to ask Highboy questions and get his yes or no answers. If the children got a yes or no response they weren’t expecting, my dad would quickly reply that Highboy didn’t understand the question and they needed to ask it again. And this time he would come up with the right response much to everyone’s delight.

[7] My dad also told me more of the story surrounding his first “ride” on Highboy.  His father slapped highboy on the rear which launched him on the runaway ride. They ran down the hill, across the road and continued down to the creek on the other side. The creek wasn’t as deep as it is today but it was still quite deep. The reason they came to a stop is that Highboy couldn’t jump out of the creek and slammed his chest into the side of the creek bed. This sent my dad over his head and landed him on the ground.

[8] I’ve been raised around a lot of horses with my dad and mom, but my dad maintains that Highboy was by far the smartest horse he ever knew. My dad could take Highboy to the horse shows and never had to worry about him being a stallion around mares. Even when a mare was in heat all he had to do was whistle and Highboy would always come right to him. Apparently though, he was also the craftiest horse he’d ever known. Highboy would chase someone down in a heartbeat and he just knew a non-horse person when he came across one. My uncle, who was chased in the story, was apparently a constant target of Highboy’s and he was chased quite often. My mom recalls a few incidences when Highboy was being devilish. One time they were fixing fence and my dad set a hammer on top of a fence post and Highboy took the hammer right off the post and ran off with it. Another time my dad set down his shirt and either the dog, Samson, or Highboy picked it up. One thing led to another and shortly the two were playing tug of war, each with the shirt in their teeth, which culminated in Highboy lifting the dog off the ground while spinning around in circles.

[9] It is very important to note that this story is written from an inexperienced boy’s perspective and that he didn’t ever really “beat” his horse in a manner in which would be considered harmful or abusive. My father has long since gained knowledge and understanding of how to communicate with and train horses that don’t require hitting, beating, or other methods of intimidation. He would be mortified if the only impression left after reading his essay is that he understood little more of horse training than physical violence and brute force. Horses are highly intelligent creatures with feelings and are quite capable of understanding what we ask of them if we ask in a manner they can comprehend.

[10] The mare was a large, gentle work horse; perhaps a Percheron, named Mary. She had actually been pregnant with twins and gave birth to a filly and the remains of the twin were found in the afterbirth. Highboy had also been kept for stud purposes and besides the horses on the farm I remember, there were plenty of his offspring spread around the community. Through them, I know he lives on today.

 

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Snow – An Unexpected Blessing

http://hdwallpaper.freehdw.com/0004/3d-abstract_widewallpaper_first-snow_34936.jpg http://hdwallpaper.freehdw.com/0004/3d-abstract_widewallpaper_first-snow_34936.jpg

Once upon a time, when my brother and I were very small, we used to get terribly excited over the prospect of the first snowfall of the season. When it became that time of year and the first flakes started to drift to the ground, my mother would announce in a very excited voice, “Come look, it’s snowing!” and my bro and I would run  down the hall and press our faces against the glass on the storm door and gaze with wonder at the magical flakes cascading down from the sky. Inevitably it was after dark when this would happen which only added to the mystery and enchantment. It seemed so magical then. There was a palpable sense of something ethereal unfolding and a profound happiness bore down to the very core of my soul as I witnessed those sparkly gems float to the earth.

Later, as a teenager I loved to take my horse out for a ride on moonlit winter nights, traversing hundreds of acres of wide open fields and woodlands uninterrupted by roads and other evidence of human existence. My folks live on top of a picturesque hill overlooking an incredible valley, so I would end my ride at the peak,  getting off my horse, turning her loose to paw at the snow and graze on anything she could find, while I lay on my back in the snow.  I would stare up at the winter stars and moon (btw, there’s no full moon bigger or brighter than a February moon shining over my farm in NY), my view unobstructed by obnoxious light pollution from the city, and if I was lucky, those magical crystalline flakes would silently fall from the heavens, gently swirling around my upturned face. It was so peaceful and serene. I loved those moments! They soothed my soul and quieted any teenage angst lingering in my heart. God Himself spoke to my soul in those sublime hours I lay sprawled out on my back on the top of that snow-covered mountain with my horse pawing and snorting plumes of steam a few feet away.

Then I grew up. I moved off the farm, and made my life  in town. And something dark and insidious took the place of the peace and tranquility that used to fill my heart when it would snow. Slowly, I became hardened to the beauty and magic of it all and became depressed and bitter over the gray skies, dreary days, FREEZING temps, and endless mountains of dirty, sludgy piles of frozen misery filling every available space. I had to drive in the stuff, shovel the stuff, and look at the stuff for months on end and it seemed like it would never go away. I learned to curse the stuff. Approaching the Fall of 1997 I had had enough. I couldn’t take another winter of misery so I packed up my family and moved us to the hope of happy times the sultry South  offered with her seductive promises of sunshine and blue skies. I told my family that if they wanted to see me for Christmas, they would have to make the trek to me because I would never go back home in the winter as long as I live.  And for 15 years I’ve held firm in that conviction and have only traveled back home in the Spring, Summer, and Fall.

Until this year . . .

January 26th 2013 marked my dad’s 80th birthday and a huge celebration was planned. One of my aunts was gracious enough (and insistent enough) to help me travel back home via airplane (I still resolutely refuse to drive through the Poconos in the winter!). I was a little apprehensive knowing that I’d be back home during the dreariest part of the year and the forecasted temps for my visit was to be at or below zero at night and only in the single digits or low teens for the day. ~Heavy sigh~ This was the very thing I moved away from. But it was my Dad’s birthday and I wanted to surprise him (and everyone) with my visit and this was an occasion that I really shouldn’t miss.  Sooooo I braved the possibilities of flight delays and cancellations, packed my warmest clothes, said many prayers and off I went.

Well, for the record, simply spending time with my family made it all worth breaking my stubborn vow. I thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship and bonding, but another unexpected joy beyond my anything I could have imagined took me by complete surprise. It began to snow one night. And not just any snow;  MAGIC snow!!

That’s right – just like when my bro and I were 5 years old with our faces pressed against the glass – it was that magical snow that makes everything right. It was so cold that the snow looked like crystals in the hovering in the air and it spread out on the ground like a sprinkling of diamonds. The snow, glistening and shimmering, danced to life before my eyes under the glow of the full moon. (You really have to stand in the middle of it to appreciate the magic). Oh, and it crunched under my feet!! I had forgotten how it did that. I couldn’t believe it, but I missed that! It awakened a part of me that I had forgotten existed.  The next day the sun shone on the fresh fallen snow so that it blinded me with a myriad of colors reflected from the prisms of the snow crystals. Although the temps were well below freezing, I didn’t feel cold. I was enraptured and felt more peace in my heart than I’ve felt in many, many years. I was 15 again laying on the top of the hill with my horse a few feet away. . .

A trip home in the winter wouldn’t be complete without coming down sick with a sinus infection (they call our area Sinus Valley for a reason) and I caught a doozie! Because my congestion was exacerbated by the hot, dry air from the wood furnace, I couldn’t sleep very well, so I would get up in the middle of the night and just stay up until morning. My Dad (even though he wasn’t sick) would get up and join me in the living room and we whiled away the hours talking and laughing, and in general, solving the problems of the world. In the minutes just before daybreak he and I would stand in the middle of the house and through the floor-to-ceiling windows watch the moon setting on one side and turn around to watch the sun rising on the other. For a brief, spellbinding moment each morning, we saw the light simultaneously reflecting from both heavenly bodies on the fresh-fallen snow and it was BEYOND beautiful; it was MAGICAL. And it was beyond special to share those precious moments with my Dad! Thank you God for snow – magical, beautiful, healing, snow! A part of me I didn’t even know was missing was restored by this unlikeliest of substances.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
~Robert Frost, New Hampshire 1923

 

http://74211.com/photos-of-nature-landscape-snowy-woods-tall-trees-sunlight-pouring-on-them/ Photo by Anthony Michael http://74211.com/photos-of-nature-landscape-snowy-woods-tall-trees-sunlight-pouring-on-them/ Photo by Anthony Michael

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