Another Trail Begins

by Gillian Larson | posted: August 5, 2017
Heading out of Indian Trail horse camp

It's official . . . I am riding on the Colorado Trail! Today was our first real "trail day," complete with gear, although the actual adventure started a couple of days ago. And it included a lot more drama than I wanted or anticipated. But all in all, I consider myself very fortunate, as all the bad things that happened could have been so much worse.

I left my home in Topanga on August 1st, with a two day drive ahead to get to the starting point of the Colorado Trail south of Denver. Because of some missed connections, I left home without the health certificates that are usually part of any out-of-state trip with the horses, but I wasn't very concerned about that; I've never actually been asked to produce those certificates, and they have simply sat in the glove compartment in my truck. So when I realized that I was going to be without them, I figured it wouldn't really matter; after all, I did have the mandatory Coggins test papers, and the horses are all up to date on all vaccinations, etc., and had been seen by a vet, so I knew that everything was fine with them.

We drove to Utah on Tuesday and I planned to stay in a horse camp there overnight, and that's when the first bad thing occurred. As I was driving down the highway, almost to the camp, at about 9pm (I forgot that the time would change and I would lose an hour in the day), a doe and fawn suddenly darted across the road in front of me. I had a fully loaded pick-up and three-horse trailer (the one I call "Bombshelter"), but even if I was in a more nimble and quick-stopping vehicle, it wouldn't have been possible to avoid a collision, and unfortunately I struck the fawn. I immediately pulled over and rushed back to try to find it, although I don't really know what I could have done if I did; I was devastated that I had hit it and wanted desperately for it not to suffer. The doe ran off afterwards, and I never did find the fawn; it would be nice to imagine that somehow it survived, but I don't think that's possible. I was an emotional wreck afterward, although looking back, I suppose that it would have been worse all the way around if I had stuck the doe instead, as the fawn would have died of starvation without its mother, and it's possible that hitting a bigger animal could have done serious damage to the truck or to me and the horses, especially if it had caused me to lose control while driving. So I continued to the horse camp with a heavy heart.

The next day we were on the road early, and I was glad to think that we would arrive at the horse camp near the beginning of the Colorado Trail with daylight to spare this time. But as I crossed the state line into Colorado, I encountered a livestock inspection station. Ironically, if I had exited the freeway for a gas station, I would have ended up bypassing the checkpoint, so really it was hardly a fool-proof method, and more likely to ensnare only people who are honest and transparent, but when they asked for my health certificates and I explained why I didn't have them, they refused to let me enter the state. I called my vet, and she was going to fax the papers as soon as possible, which was fine with the inspectors, but she was in the field on call and had hours of appointments ahead before she would be able to return to her home office to do that. I tried to call eight local vets (from a list the inspectors provided) and none were available. At that point I was looking a long day of sitting at the checkpoint with the horses in the trailer, and I was feeling really overwhelmed by the irony and futility of it all. To be honest, on top of the previous night's accident, it had me emotionally raw, and I started to fall apart even though I was embarrassed that the inspectors could see I was upset. But then they took pity on me and decided that it would be okay for the vet to fax the forms to the state office instead (which is where they were going to send them anyway) and they let me go. Once again, I was grateful that what was a difficult situation turned out okay in the end.

But perhaps the worst was still ahead. As I was turning off of the highway onto the dirt road that lead to Indian Creek horse camp, all the sudden a bolt broke on the suspension for the trailer and one fender collapsed onto the wheels. Thankfully I was going only about 5mph and on a dirt surface, so the wheel just skidded across the top of the gravel. But because of the delay at the checkpoint, it was once again at the end of the day and getting dark, and I wondered how I would ever find a way to get the trailer repaired. I was supposed to ride part of the trail the next day, in preparation for meeting my aunt to move the rig to the next re-supply point where I would arrive five days later, and I didn't have any wiggle room with her, as she was leaving the Denver area to drive back to her home in Spokane on the day that she was helping me.

Once again, however, I was immediately thankful that this had happened when and where it did, as I could only imagine the potential catastrophe if I'd been sailing down a highway at 55mph when the bolt gave way. So I unhooked the trailer, put the horses in a corral at the horse camp, and drove back to the highway where I had some cell service. At first I wasn't having any luck, as it was after business hours, but then I got fortunate and found a trailer repair shop--the closest one to me, 30 minutes away--and the owner answered my call! It turned out that his work number was also his cell phone. He had me go back and take photos of the trailer to text to him, and when he determined the problem, he said he had the parts on hand and would send someone first thing the next morning!

So despite all the drama, I felt so lucky in the end--at every turn, I could have encountered something truly horrible, which definitely was a lesson about keeping things in perspective. And the next day--yesterday, August 3--I got the trailer fixed and then still managed to drop some supplies at a pick-up point, then drive my trailer to the northern terminus of the CT. I parked it there and took a Lyft ride back to the horse camp, then rode the horses 12 miles to the terminus and trailered back to camp. The reason for all of that is because there isn't a place to stay with horses at the trailhead at Waterton, so beginning at Indian Creek horse camp is so much easier. But I also didn't want to skip any trail miles. So this way I already rode from the section between Waterton and the turn-off to Indian Creek, and now I will pick up from there and continue south towards Durango. It's a four-mile long access trail to the CT, but it was worth it to make sure that I covered all of the trail.

Shyla in our new gear from Tucker!

And then this morning at 8am my Aunt Lisa and her husband Al arrived to bring me some last-minute supplies (like headlight batteries!), help me tack up, and then they moved my rig to Camp Hale Trailhead which was 130 miles ahead, or a 5 day ride. They also were bearing a box from Tucker Saddles, who have been sponsoring me, and I feel so pampered! I'm in a brand new Horizon trail saddle, and the box my aunt brought (it was shipped to my cousin in Boulder because it couldn't get to my house in time) contained a new halter bridle and breast collar and reins--I am riding in style! I headed off for the trail on Shyla with Takoda packing along behind us. It has been a tumultuous beginning, but hopefully now we can get down to just enjoying the experience of the Colorado Trail.

It was just after 9am when I got going, and we traveled to camp at mile 27.5. It was a pretty easy day, no rain and the trail was well graded and easy to navigate. At camp I actually stopped about 4 miles early in order to stay with about 50 endurance riders who had a race the next day that was on part of the Colorado Trail. I did not want to camp on the race course and have 50 riders coming through my camp at 5:30am, so stopping early seemed like a wise decision!

Takoda heading south on CT from Indian Creek trail


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