This may sound silly to some folks. But I took a vacation. At 63 years old I took a week off from work and went somewhere I wanted to go to do what I wanted to do for the first time ever.
I have scads of vacation time built up….in fact I lost some this year because I did not take enough time off, even though I take most Fridays off.
But old habits die hard. For the last 25 years or so I have taken the week after Thanksgiving off and it gave me about eleven days at home to synchronize the cow herd and try to get an AI service on as many of them as possible. My vacation week was the hardest working week of the year for me as I put the whole herd through the chute multiple times during that long week. In addition I was with the cows 18 hours per day checking for heats to determine when to breed each cow. Not complaining….it was work I enjoyed and was pretty good at. Cows, horses and dogs have been a big part of my life ever since I can remember.
We sold the cow herd nearly three years ago now and for the last two years I don’t even remember if I took a vacation because I only have three pet cows now.
But last fall I took a Memorial Day weekend trip with Stewart to Stem North Carolina for a big fund raiser ride. That report is elsewhere on this blog. We had such a good time that we planned on doing it every year. Alas that ride is no more for reasons unknown to me.
So quite a few months ago Stewart came up with the idea of going to a park and camping and riding. Originally a bunch of us guys were going. James River State park was selected as the venue.
A date was appointed where all four of us were available and Stewart started making reservations. I announced in a January staff meeting that I had put a week of vacation on the staff calendar during the month of May and half of my coworkers nearly expired from shock. We managed to pull them through it without any long term effects. Although one refused to believe it and was still e-mailing me about appointments and calls this week as late as last Friday.
We actually only went for three days. I did chores around here prior to going and tried to make it easy on Marie to care for the stock while I was gone. In the days when I travelled as part of my work Marie ran this place by herself with a little help from Jack, my late neighbor. But when I started living at home and working locally, I promised her that I would try to hold up my end for a while so she could take a break. Until last Memorial Day weekend I had only missed two days in 16 years of doing the daily stock chores, and both of those were days when I had a surgery and was knocked out in the recliner.
But it was three days that matched our anticipation. By the time we left, the ranks of attendees had been thinned to just Stewart and I. But Stewart had declared that if he died he wanted his hearse to drive through the place before he was interred. I was just about as resolute, but too cheap to pay for the extra hearse ride.
We had been planning and stockpiling goods since the inception of the idea. Stewart is a veteran camper and had a lot of gear. Not camping much since my retirement from two years of olive drab, I had only the essentials. As certified old farts we both had Doctors appointments on Monday. Mine was my quarterly Rheumatoid Doctor. After the doctors we met at the local Walmart and we purchased the perishables we needed for the trip.
We were going on vacation and we figured there was little need for us to go to a distant and foreign place and impose suffering and hardship upon ourselves. We planned on riding, fellowship and fun and good meals. To that end we bought double redundancy in food supplies. We had a week’s worth of supplies and planning and we had to try to eat it all in three days.
The weather forecast was not favorable…..but we decided that neither us nor the horses would melt in the rain and as long as there was no lightening we would ride and feast. We set out undeterred Tuesday morning. The drive was uneventful with little discourse as we were both driving and pulling our own trailers. About two and a half hours later we turned in near the James River and it was up in flood and rolling and roiling muddily. I knew there was a trail along the river and I hoped it was not under water.
Upon arriving at the check in our reservation packets were there waiting on us although there was no one at the station. We found the designated camping area and pulled in to see it totally vacant. Stewart and I got out and looked around and studied our paperwork and decided that there was no assignment and we selected where we wanted to set up the trailers and where we wanted to stable the horses.
We were impressed with the facilities, both human and equine. The camping sites were nice with power and water at each site along with a permanent fire ring with a grill and a lantern hanger and picnic table. The stalls were fabulous and Perkins came to love his, even though he did not like being shut in there alone at first. Here at the Poor Farm, the horses have separate stalls, but they can see and reach each other. There, the walls were at least seven feet high and Perkins could not see Loretta and that bothered him a little ……until I gave him some hay and grain.
Bathouse was as nice as it looked.
The stalls were very nice.
We went about setting up camp. Did not take long as Stewart is an old pro and has a penchant for organizing things and has a methodology and a routine. All I had to do was try to follow directions. Pretty soon we were set up and decided to have a little lunch and try to go for an afternoon ride. We had a nice lunch of pre-prepared foods and soda. Then we tacked up the horses and rode out. The rain had held off and the skys were rolling clouds in and out but we decided to chance it. Turned out we had a beautiful ride and it did not rain until after I had crawled into my blanket in the van. Rain on the roof put me right to sleep.
The trails were absolutely beautiful. There are three albums of photos from this ride at my webshots photos site and they are on my wall at facebook as well. The albums all start with James River State Park and one is trails, one is facilities and the third is bill of fare. All of these photos need to be viewed in large format to truly see the beauty.
The terrain is varied from long flat level stretches of nice wide trail to curling descents and inclines and most of it is through beautiful southern hardwood forest. I was surprised to find more than a few white pines interspersed through the forest. When we were on the Branch trail in particular the air was fresh and fragrant and I never did discover the exact source.
The first afternoon we rode the southwestern part of the park and managed to make our way to the river trail and hoped that it was not under water. At Dixons landing we encountered some folks who were actually trying to fish in the roiling river. I don’t know if they were successful or not but the river was way up and rolling on by. Fortunately the river trail is high enough that it was not flooded and we embarked upon it.
Long flat ride of nearly three miles right along the river for the most part with alternating grass land and marsh on the other side. A soaring eagle watched us for a good part of the ride. Close enough that we could see his white head and tail as he circled above us and the river and marsh. We rode 6.54 miles and found our way back to camp. We hosed off and cared for the horses and put them in the stalls. Perkins went to munching hay and took a good drink of water. That was a relief because Perkins is usually finicky about water and on day trips seldom drinks til he gets home. Marie says it is because he is partial to the pond water pumped in fresh daily here at the Poor Farm. We have a solar pump that pumps water from the neighbors pond to storage tanks here for the livestock.
We washed up a little and then began supper preparations. I think Stewart and I both surprise each other at how well we cooked and managed to get things done together. For the first evening meal I grilled Steaks and made a fresh garden salad with mixed lettuce I grew here and Stewart fixed potatoes with butter and sour cream and chopped up green peppers and onions for the salad.
After a nice meal we cleaned up and put away and tried to bear proof things. Checked on the horses. Got Perkins some more water and hay and then after a nice shower, I hit my air mattress and crashed and burned to the sound of gentle rain on the roof of the van. Stewart said he was wakened about 3:00 AM by the horses making a fuss. He went down and checked and all was in order. I never heard a thing. I woke about four and turned over and went back to sleep until it started to get light.
Stewart started coffee and we tended the horses and then we got some fires going. Five cast iron frying pans and one boiling pot can generate a good breakfast. Omlettes, country bacon, fried potatoes with peppers and onions, fried apples, toast and sausage gravy and plenty of hot coffee.
After this lumberjack breakfast we cleaned up and stowed stuff and tacked up and set out for a morning ride. Perkins had consumed at least seven and a half gallons of water during the evening and morning. Our plan was to ride a few miles and come back for a light lunch and give the horses a break and then ride off again. This is what we did and we had a nice morning ride on more beautiful trails.
The weather was beautiful and there were no bugs to bother the horses or the riders and we had a delightful ride. We rode six or seven miles in the morning before finding our way back to camp. Along the way we found a pretty little mountain stream and Perkins had a big drink of water. This is something he never does, so my worries about him drinking went away. We untacked and hosed the horses off. I put Perkins hobbles on and just let him graze. We had a light lunch and relaxed for an hour or so. It was so peaceful to have practically the whole park to ourselves. We ran into a couple of rangers a time or two and they said that on weekends the place was packed and that we had picked a good time to come. We ran into a few guys doing maintenance and construction work. We thanked them all for their work on this beautiful park and told them how much we were enjoying it.
We rode back out and did another six or eight miles in the afternoon. I am guessing at the mileage by breaks but know we did 14.54 miles on Wednesday according to the GPS. Stewart and I are not speed demons and we enjoy just ambling along and enjoying the beauty and seeing the sights and talking a bit. We saw numerous deer, about a thousand squirrels, tracks from all kinds of wildlife. We did not see any signs of bear. But at one point the horses tensed up and were watching to the left and we did not see anything. But there was a loud crash in the woods that sounded like a tree falling. We concluded that it was sasquatch and had a light hearted discussion of, if we saw him should we shoot him. After a discussion of laws and regulations and possible legal actions, we decided that if we could drag a dead sasquatch out of the woods it would be worth it. That is just the kind of silly fun we have when riding. We might retire and become professional sasquatch hunters. We can not do any worse than the existing sasquatch hunters. No one has found one dead or alive yet.
Arriving back in camp we went through what was becoming our routine. Cared for the horses and cleaned up a little and then started some supper. Cheeseburgers and Hot dogs with all the fixings, baked beans, fried potatoes with green pepper and onions, fresh garden salad with Kens buttermilk dressing and a couple of golden beverages. That cheeseburger with good cheese and tomato and onion was delicious.
Clean up and stow the food. Catch a shower. Check on the horses again. By now every time Perkins sees me even glance in his direction he is nickering at me to bring him a treat or some grain. Old boy knows an easy mark when he sees one. Then we made a campfire in the fire ring mostly to burn the burnable trash and a few sticks that Stewart had been shaggin back to the fire ring with every foray outside the camp site. We sat and chatted for a while until the fire made me so sleepy I nearly fell out of my chair. I hit the blankets and was down for the count. I awoke once during the night and listened to see what had awakened me. Hearing nothing, I rolled over and was gone until first light. Stewart was already up and fussing with a crow that had perched over his trailer and awakened him with its cawing.
Checked on the horses and Perkins started nickering as soon as I emerged from the Van. I don’t feed in the morning at home, but it did not take him long to acclimate to two meals a day. He tried to hide it but I could tell he had laid down in the stall that night. He had some flakes of shavings stuck in his sparse little mane and a few on his belly.
Breakfast the first day was so good that we did the same thing again the second day. It was even better because we remembered to slice a tomato for breakfast. We had a hot dog left over from dinner so Stewart sliced that up and added it to the morning potatoes. We did not have any sausage gravy the second day. We had sausage but decided that too much of a good thing might spoil us so we just finished off the bacon.
After enjoying another feast and while we were cleaning up and breaking camp, I threw down the gauntlet for Stewart. I said that when we do this again we have to come up with some different menu items so that we would not be one trick ponies. All morning and ever since we have been discussing future culinary possibilities.
We decided to strike camp and have most of the stuff ready to go. Then we could take a morning ride and have a light lunch and then head home. We put away most of our stuff and packed up. We figured out what we would have for lunch and fixed it and so that all we would have to do was pull it out of the cooler and eat. We got packed up and then tacked up and rode out about 9:30 or so. Guessing at times as my cell phone did not have a signal and I use my cell phone for a watch. Stewart is on Verizon and he had a good signal.
We rode nine miles and it may have been the prettiest day of the three. Mild temperature, nice breeze, no bugs and back on the beautiful trails. What was interesting is how much the horses bonded with us during the short stay with close association. Perkins seemed to not be just looking for treats. It seemed he actually enjoyed my company. Given the choice he would rather hang out with Loretta but he liked me too. Being home today he has nickered at me several times and after he ate supper tonight he came and put his head over my shoulder. Stewart says that Loretta has been the same way since he has been home. Maybe when we retire and become professional sasquatch hunters I can spend more time with my horses. Marie suggest that any more time and I will have to move em in here with Dee Dee and Rosie.
While we were eating our last lunch, we turned the horses loose to graze. I put hobbles on Perkins just to be safe. We thought Loretta would stay with him. We had already cleaned the stalls but left the doors open. We spied Loretta going into Perkins stall and Stewart went down there to get her out and Perkins was in there as well and they were both munching on hay I had left in the rack. Perkins had not seen Loretta in over three months, I would guess, but the two of them are fast friends. I told Stewart it looked like she was going to have to come live at my house. He didn’t think it was too funny….
Got home and Marie had some excitement as well. There had been a big black snake curled up beside the house. Marie was trying to keep miss nosy Dee Dee from fooling with it and hurt her back picking Dee Dee up to get her into the house. Marie said the snake was as big around as her arm and she was afraid it would hurt Dee Dee. I am on stict orders to be on snake patrol now and the dogs must not be let out of sight.
Dee Dee and Rosie did miss me. When I was walking down the Driveway from putting Perkins in the pasture, Marie let the dogs out to greet me. Dee Dee was a black streak running down the driveway to me. Rose was trotting along behind after she howled her welcome home howl.
It was a great time with a great friend, at a beautiful venue with beautiful weather and good food. Nothing busted. No tragedy befell us. Everything went just like we hoped. Some have opined that it is as close as I am likely to get, when I say it was like three days in Heaven.