The mother of all mothers has her day (and her way)

by Gillian Larson | posted: May 11, 2014

So after all our preparation on Saturday, I set out full of optimism on Sunday, ready to get back on the trail. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans for us, and the day became a very humbling (and at times scary) experience.

We drove to the trailhead at Castle Peaks, where I hoped to rejoin the trail. There was no snow at Carol's, where the elevation is about 6000 feet, and my mom and I hadn't seen much yesterday as we drove to Belden, where we left my truck and trailer, but at the trailhead it was a different situation. Looking back, we should have walked down the road a bit and checked the trail, but instead we off-loaded the horses, packed them up, and I headed out, optimistically hoping for the best. However, we didn't get more than a mile before I realized I was in trouble, as the snow got progressively deeper and the horses struggled, especially Takoda with his pack. Then he floundered into a snow bank and got stuck. I called my mom, who luckily hadn't even left the parking lot with the camper and trailer yet (she was headed back to L.A. today) and she came out with another hiker who had planned a day hike and was in the parking lot when I called. His name was Adam, and we couldn't have managed without his help, as we had to unload Takoda's pack and lead the horses out, then drag the equipment back to the truck. I felt totally defeated again, yet I wasn't ready to give up, and I hoped if we just drove a little further to another place where the trail crossed a road at a lower elevation, we'd have better luck.

So off we set on our way to Sierra City, about an hour away, hauling the horses in the trailer behind the camper. But somewhere along the road something went horribly wrong in the trailer, which we couldn't see because of the camper behind us. When we stopped at the PCT trailhead in Sierra City and went to unload the horses, we discovered that somehow Takoda had fallen in the trailer and was trapped under the center divider and between Shyla's legs; Shyla was actually standing on only three legs, with her left hind folded up under her and resting on Takoda's flank. It was a heart-stopping sight, and we feared for the worst--and wondered how in the world we were going to get them out, or if we could even do it safely. It's almost impossible to describe what we had to do, as we first took off Takoda's halter, which was holding his head up awkwardly as he was still tied to the feed manger, then set about removing the center divider, which trapping Takoda to the floor. After that was removed, we had to find a way to get Shyla out without her stepping on Takoda (and without him thrashing around and hurting her). We managed to get Shyla to move one hind leg at a time until she was positioned with her front feet on the right and her hind legs on the left, with Takoda's back and hind legs under her. Then we had no choice but to try to get her to off-load, and she managed to slip out the left-hand side door, hopping up and jumping backward with her front legs folded so that she didn't step on Takoda. What a great mom she was, to work so hard not to hurt her son!

Then we still had to get Takoda out, but his front feet where tucked against the left side of the trailer so that he couldn't get them under him to stand, and his back end was against the back doors of the trailer, his hooves near the left door and his rump on the right, with the post that used to hold the center divider blocking him in the middle. He couldn't get his legs out that way, so ultimately we tied ropes to his hind fetlocks and used them to leverage his hind legs up, rolling him most of the way onto his back so we could get his legs past the center post and out the same righthand door where his rump was. Afte that, gravity helped and his hind end began to slide out the door, and he was able to get to his feet and scramble out. We were all shaking and exhausted and traumatized afterward, but the horses seemed okay other than some minor scrapes and cuts. We got out the highline and tied them among some trees, giving them water from the camper and feeding them some hay, and they soon seemed remarkably settled.

But the difficulty wasn't over, as we now had a dismantled trailer that we didn't feel was safe to put the horses in, and no cell service to call for help. My mom drove into town and was able to use a phone at a helpful person's house, and she called Carol, our true "trail angel" and rescuer, who got in her truck with her husband Rusty and drove all the way out with a trailer to pick us up. While she was on her way, however, word got out in the small town of Sierra City, and soon cars and trucks were pulling up and it seemed as if half the town had come to try to help us! They were offering places to stay and put the horses and suggesting vets to call if we needed one, and giving us information about the trail ahead (and other possible detours). By the time Carol and Rusty got there, we had a little crowd, and we were especially touched by the special consideration of Paul and his wife Sharon and the kind offers by Lee of a place for me to camp out if I stayed. But it seemed best to go back to Truckee with Carol, where we had a safe place to stay and easier access to a vet if needed, and where we could recover and regroup before trying again.

It has been a very tough week, and Mother Nature has definitely asserted herself, and her implacable power, very clearly. I've learned a lot about how little I know sometimes, and how easy it is to get in over my head. And I've learned even more about the immense kindness and generosity of complete strangers, who have given so much of themselves so many times, and who quickly begin to feel like old and treasured friends. I cannot even begin to express my tremendous gratitude and appreciation for all the people who have volunteered their time and opened their homes to me and given me help when I would have been in a desperate situation without them. I cannot even begin to repay Carol for all she has done--and continues to do, as I have taken refuge with her here in Truckee. All along the way, people have reached out to me in amazing ways, and I am very humbled by the wonderful goodness of humanity that I have witnessed every day of this journey.


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