Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Angel of Two Mule Junction

It was a hot day in August when we shoved the last of the camping essentials into the trailer and caught the horses to load them for the trip. The summer had been a bit off kilter. Good times were certainly had, but the stronger theme of the last few months had been ' Crap, it's broken.'

The day after our house went on the market, the refrigerator broke. The sewage line backed up two weeks later. Our youngest child was rushed to the ER, for fear that his appendix was inflamed. The dog was obviously dying. The trailer blew a tire on the interstate, blowing apart the entire wheel well and sounding like a canon (which happened a week after some sick jackhole was randomly shooting people along said interstate). The truck was struggling with overheating and we had recently replaced many expensive parts, including both batteries and the alternator. My shoulder had been out all summer and in an effort to make my oldest child's pony listen, I rode him and whacked out my hip, causing constant pain. That is just a small example of what had been happening. To add insult to injury, our finances proved that we were literally "broke". But we were going on vacation, dammit. This was my kids' opportunity to be in the great outdoors on horseback with their grandma and grandpa. You have to grab those experiences before they flit away.

Right on schedule to hit the road at 10 a.m.,  I pulled up my big buckskin, Gus. He'd been trying hard to be too lame to ride, but I refused to see the beautiful horse go to waste, so I had been working tirelessly with our farriers and veterinarian to find a lasting solution to his laminitis. It turned out the trick was all in the shoeing; full pads with wedge bar shoes every 8 weeks, to be exact. He could not go barefoot on those front feet, that's for certain. When I walked Gus toward the trailer, I noticed he was missing something on his right front. He had thrown a shoe in the 40 acre pasture. A very important and expensive shoe. The location of said shoe remains a mystery to this day. Gus was unrideable in this condition, particularly in the rugged South Dakota terrain where we were headed.

Of course this hot day in August was also a Sunday.

I crossed my fingers and dialed the farrier. My guardian angel hovered over me and I sighed a great sigh as I heard her say that she would head right over to fix my horse's feet. This woman and her partner have not only been reliable and skilled, they have also prolonged my horse's riding career. It certainly pays to be choosey about the people you invite into your life, and I definitely chose well with these two.

Only an hour and a half behind schedule, with four shod horses in the trailer and my heart full of gratitude, we pulled out of the driveway. We were heading to South Dakota by the way of Wyoming! Only six hours to the cool breezes, starry night skies and friendly faces at horse camp! I could almost taste that first ice cold beer from our cooler.

Did we remember to pack the coolers? Check.

It was about an hour north of Cheyenne when we heard the trailer tire blow.

Brock was able to maneuver the rig over to the side of the interstate and we firmly instructed the boys to stay put and not get out of the cab for any reason. The speed limit on I-25 in Wyoming is 80 mph and everyone seemed to be using that as a minimum speed guideline. Brock and I got out of the truck and cautiously walked to the trailer, bracing ourselves to see a repeat of the ripped off wheel well that we experienced in April. It was a great relief to see everything but one shredded tire in tact.

Donning a red shirt and cream-colored topped boots tucked into blue jeans, I stood at the back of the trailer like a patriotic human traffic cone. Using the glowing white flesh of my inner arms, I instructed he speed racer drivers to move into the outer lane while my brave husband worked no more than three feet from the traffic. He used our only spare and replaced the tire in under 15 minutes. There are so many times when I am grateful that I married a 'real man' and this was one of them.

A bit shaken, we pulled back onto the interstate to continue our journey. We were worried about the hot asphalt on the other tires- the two that hadn't yet blown since we acquired the trailer- and set out to buy a new spare for the remainder of our trip.

But we were travelling on a Sunday. In Wyoming. So we had about as much luck finding on open tire shop as we did a pot full of gold next to a unicorn with a rainbow mane and glitter hooves.

I dialed my parent's "travel phone" and informed them of our situation. They were headed to horse camp from the east and were scheduled to arrive a little before us. I asked them to keep their phone near them in case of emergency, then hung up and realized that there is no cell service at camp; which is as it should be, but not at all helpful in our situation.

We crossed our fingers and traded the interstate travel for a slower two-lane road. All was fine for another hour until Brock noticed the temperature gauge for the transmission sneaking up into dangerous territory. Soon after that we stopped in the tiny town of Lusk, Wyoming. We attempted to pull into a fuel station but it was jam-packed full of chrome, tattoos and leather. The bikers were blocking the entire parking lot and all access to the fuel pumps, particularly for 30+ feet of truck and trailer. The 75th annual Sturgis Rally was in full swing and motorcycles were crawling everywhere.

We pulled around the corner, onto a side street, and parked. I opened the truck door and was greeted by the strong stench of rotting carcass. I wondered how people could live in a town that smelled like decomposing meat. Then I realized that the smell was not of the animal variety. It was our truck.

Brock checked our transmission fluid (that he had refilled the day before) and discovered that it was used up- so broken down that it wasn't registering on the stick. He poured in more from his stash in the truck bed, then said that he used everything he brought. We still had three hours to go and some big hills to pull. I felt an inkling of panic in my chest as I limped with my bad hip around the corner to the gas station, weaving through the Harleys and red, chapped faces with my kids in tow. As I stood in front of the rack of fluids, I read every label five times, searching for transmission fluid. It wasn't there. Of course, the automotive store across the street probably had plenty, but it's window was prominently displaying the CLOSED sign. Because Sunday. In Wyoming.

Brock and I stood slack-jawed for a moment, then decided to drive. We made it about 30 minutes north of Lusk before the temperature gauge started creeping up again. Brock slowed down to save the transmission, but his speed was causing bikers to take risks in passing us. We were highly stressed. I looked around for a place to stop with the horses but only saw rolling hills of grassland and not a drop of water or shade.  It was hot, windy and we had two kids and four horses, one of which was 31 years old. Naturally, there was no cell service, nor any towns with services nearby. Plus, it was a Sunday. In Wyoming. All of it was too much. I felt my blood pressure pounding in my ears. I tried to think of something to do and came up with nothing. So we had a Jesus Take the Wheel moment. I instructed everyone to hold hands. Then I said a prayer for our safe arrival to horse camp and for protection for us, our animals and our truck and trailer. Because when all else fails, you can only pray and have faith.





A few agonizing miles later, we pulled into a spot on the map called Two Mule Junction. It was a rest stop at a fork in the road, surrounded by prairie grasses and barbed wire fences. It was full of bikers and had a metal playset reflecting the harsh sun. I had been driving to South Dakota on this route since I was 12 and remember when Two Mule Junction was a gravel parking lot with an outhouse, so the current vault toilets and running water was a vast improvement.

My blood was boiling with stress and rage when we stopped. I called my parent's cell phone for help, but it went straight to voice mail. I left a message, knowing it was futile. I was mad that we were having so many problems. I was mad that we were too poor to properly fix the truck before the trip. I was mad at Brock because somehow it was his fault for not being 'a man'. I was frustrated with my life in general and it was quickly surfacing as barely contained fire hot, rage. The kids asked to play on the metal playset that was glistening in the sun- a beacon of hope for fun. I barked NO. Then immediately apologized and said of course they could play. They ran over to the playset, only to be immediately scorched by the heat of the unforgiving sun on the metal.

So Brock took them to the restroom instead.

I tried to give the horses buckets of water, but they had no interest in drinking. The task soothed me nonetheless. I patted their long noses and looked into their soft brown eyes. For the millionth time in my life, I found some much needed solace in my horses.

While trying to find my complete Zen on the hot, windy prairie in the middle of an impending crisis, a lady appeared and asked if she could pet the horses. I said of course and we fell into an easy conversation. She had rescued a pony from the big flood in 2013. She lived in Cheyenne. She liked dogs. Her husband trains horses that no one else wants. She and her family come to Two Mule Junction- a pit stop literally in the middle of nowhere- every year just to hand out free ice water to the bikers riding to the Sturgis Rally. That blew my mind. Every year for a week, these people volunteer their time to stand on a windy knoll outside of a restroom and give out water? All I could think was, "Wow. There are so many people so much nicer than me in this world".

My new friend walked away and I closed up the bars on the stall windows and decided to hit the restrooms before we attempted any more travel. As I walked toward the door of the women's side, I still didn't know what in the hell we were going to do.

....to be continued







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