FISH! BOTH OF us enjoyed fishing, but long, steep hikes to mountain lakes lowered our fun factor. Wouldn’t horses make fishing easier? Why hike six miles to a pristine mountain lake if we could ride? So we decided to buy a couple of horses and a horse trailer and put a scare into those elusive lake trout.
Little did we know horses would change our lifestyle, flatten our pocketbook, and propel us into a world full of amazing adventures. Horses have, without a doubt, enriched our lives in ways we never could’ve imagined. First, horses were to be a tool, but they became our family.
Lady Luck and our guardian angels played a big part in our early years with horses. Fortunately, we inadvertently purchased tried-and-true mounts; they both possessed trail experience and calm minds. Charlene’s horse especially played a huge role in our successful horse ventures. At 10 years of age, her Appaloosa, Buckwheat, had already been ridden over the entire Continental Divide Trail. Buckwheat truly took care of Charlene. She’ll be forever grateful to him for his steadfastness and gentle nature.
With our new horses, we were ready to rock and ride! Why settle for fish and mountain lakes when there were wildernesses to explore? With that in mind, we bought a pack horse, acquired pack equipment, and got Bill Brown and Smoke Elser’s book, Packin’ in on Mules and Horses. Our first summer, we went on three wilderness pack trips. One particularly ambitious trip was an 11-day loop in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. Little did we know Charlene’s horse’s previous owner bet his wife $10 we’d never make it out alive.
We didn’t have a clue about what we didn’t know! We happily forged ahead, enjoyed ourselves, and learned from trial and error. Our early pack trips were done without a satellite phone or GPS. We gathered what information and maps we could. Did we make mistakes? Absolutely!
One example: taking commercial freeze-dried food for all three meals for all 11 days. Meal times were miserable! Day 5 found us sitting by the fire, talking longingly about Kent’s mother’s cooking. “Which dinner is your favorite–the roast pork, mashed potatoes, and gravy, or her fried chicken?” But we learned. After that trip, Charlene bought a dehydrator and prepared our own lightweight meals. She even made awesome chocolate-chunk cookies!
The Bob Marshall Wilderness became our launching pad for pack trips into the Canadian Rockies. An old Canadian packer told us, “If you aren’t on the edge, you’re taking up space.” On our Canadian pack trips, we were on the edge, hanging on by our fingernails! The trails were unmarked, and the milky river water from glacier runoff made it difficult to judge water depth at river crossings.
On one perilous crossing, we briefly lost the pack horse. He floated downriver a way before we got to him. We celebrated recovering from our near mishaps (thankful they weren’t worse) and tried to avoid similar ones in the future. Still, we rejoiced in being in the heart of nature; each journey was a spiritual retreat for both of us.
Even though we enjoy wilderness packing, it’s also fun to stay in a living-quarters trailer where you don’t have to worry about grizzly bears lurking around at night. We began to investigate all the interesting places we could travel to with our trailer and explore on horseback. This began another phase of our horse life: camping and traveling with horses, with occasional pack trips.
We’ve now ridden in all the contiguous Western states, a few Midwestern states, and parts of Canada. We’ve driven countless miles between riding destinations. Traveling down the road and riding down trails have given us a profound appreciation for our country’s enormous variety of beauty. Trail riding has also bolstered our appreciation for the farsightedness of our predecessors who’ve worked to protect land from development and other threats, saving it for all people to enjoy.
Looking back, we’re amazed at the ways horses have changed our lives. They’ve influenced where we live, our social life, how we spend our time, our physical fitness, and our finances.
We joke about how much money we spend on them, yet the experiences and memories they’ve given us are priceless.
Sharing Our Journey
Both of us enjoy writing; Kent loves capturing beauty in photographs. We discovered that we enjoyed sharing our traveling adventures with others through writing and photography. This led to a rewarding 16-year relationship with The Trail Rider, now merged with Horse&Rider. So far, we’ve covered approximately 100 trail-riding and horse-camping destinations.
With H&R, we look forward to sharing our thoughts, experiences, and travels with you. Much of what we’ve learned has been from the school of hard knocks. If we can soften some of your lessons, we’d be thrilled.
And those mountain trout? They’re safe. Too busy riding!