I joined my camp neighbors for breakfast. There was leftover dessert from the night before, yummy blackberry cobbler cooked in a dutch oven, bacon, and the BEST COFFEE I have ever had made over the campfire by Scott, the Master Packer, Cowboy Cook, and Poet. I did ask Scott if he wanted to come back to WI with me, because I needed a wife. His cooking skills were exceptional…and my own cooking skills are non-existent.
After breakfast, we all packed up our camps. I was mostly packed up when Beau, my Aussie camp neighbor on the other side, asked if we would be interested in joining her and some of her new friends for a ride up to Mount Rushmore. Her new friends, Diana and Don were locals and had offered to guide us.
I didn’t even know that you could ride horses up to Mount Rushmore!
I didn’t know what to say. I had a 13 hour drive home. I had to make it home at a decent time on Sunday, since Monday’s are pretty big days at work. Breezy had a pretty long day the day before. The responsible thing would be to say, “Thank you for the offer, but I need to head home.”
But, Gritty Riders don’t get Gritty by turning down amazing opportunities. And I was just wrapping up an online coaching course teaching the 6 Qualities of Gritty Riders.
In fact, this week’s lesson was YOLO: You Only Live Once.
What kind of coach would I be if I turned down this amazing opportunity?
Decision made, I said yes, saddled Breezy, loaded up, and followed the other rigs out of the French Creek Horse Camp. There were 7 of us total: Diana, Don, Beau, John, Allan, Andrea, and myself. Unfortunately, Scott had to head home and wasn’t able to join us.
It was raining when we pulled into the parking lot at the trail head, but a little rain wasn’t going to slow us down. We all donned our rain slickers, unloaded our horses, and by the time we mounted up and started riding down the trail, the rain was just a light drizzle.
As we rode on, the weather improved, and the sun came out. It took about 2 hours to ride from the Centennial Trail to where it connected to the Blackberry Trail, which took us up to the monument. The trail was really nice, there were a few rocky and steep parts, but overall I would say it was a moderate trail.
This was a really fun group to ride with. Diana is the CEO of the Mount Rushmore Society, and she shared with us stories and information about the renovation of the Blackberry Trail, done in partnership with the Back Country Horsemen of America. You could tell how proud she was of this trail, and rightfully so! I asked Don about his really nice grey gelding, and learned that Don stands a son of Paddys Irish Whiskey, and the gray was a homebred. It was fun to chat with another quarter horse pedigree geek. Beau shared some fun stories about the differences between Australia and America, and some of the word differences (I didn’t know that in Australia they call a lead rope a lead rein.) I learned that Allan and his horse Magic used to compete in endurance, and also competed in cowboy mounted shooting. John, as unflappable as his steady appaloosa gelding Heath, seemed to be prepared for and able to handle anything, and he was the only one that didn’t laugh at me taking a billion photos of the trees and rocks. He also knew what kind the trees were, and told me the names of specific kinds of rock formations when I would say-hey, look at that cool rock! The palomino horse Andrea was riding was borrowed at the last minute as her horse was sore, and I was so amazed that she rode in the Buffalo Roundup on a horse that she hadn’t ridden much-now that’s a cowgirl! (#WhoaBoone!)
We made it to the top of the Blackberry Trail, which opened up to a stunning view of the monument. There were picnic tables and hitching rails, so we tied up the horses, and walked across the road for a quick visit at the Grand View Terrace and the Avenue of Flags.
We took photos of us horseback with the monument behind us, then it was time to head back. Getting back to the trailers was a little bittersweet. This was an awesome adventure, but it was time to head home. I unsaddled Breezy and loaded him in the trailer, then it was time to say good bye to my new friends. We gave air fist bumps (cause you know, COVID) and then it was time to go.
The sun was just starting to go down when I pulled out of the trail head parking lot. Somehow I made a wrong turn on 87, and when the signs started saying tunnels, I knew I was for sure going the wrong way. The road was getting really windy, and as I made a blind corner, an oncoming car that was in the middle of the road made me have to take the corner too sharp, and my trailer tires slid off the side of the road. There was a big bump, but I got the rig back on the road. White knuckles on the steering wheel, I found a scenic viewing area, and pulled in. I got out, and seeing that Breezy was fine and there was just a little dent in the trailer fender, I honestly sat down on a log and cried. The parking lot was super small. It took a lot of back and forth maneuvers of the trailer, and a lot of not so lady-like words, but I got the rig turned around, and got pointed the correct way on Hwy 87. I will admit, the drive on Hwy 87 and Playhouse Road in the dark, with a big truck and trailer was not very much fun. Lots of really winding and narrow roads. I was relieved when I finally made it to Rapid City and was able to get on Hwy 90-finally a straight road!
I drove for as long as I could, well into the night, making it just across the Minnesota border before I pulled into a rest area for a few hours sleep, then waking up early and finishing the drive. I made it home just before 3pm. My kids ran down the driveway to meet me when I pulled in, they were glad that I was home, and wanted to hear all about the buffalo.
I learned a lot on this trip. I learned that even though I may have put a little dent in the trailer, that I was capable and could make a big trip like this with my horse by myself. I tested myself and my horse, and discovered that when the buffalo started running, that I was cowgirl enough and my horse trusted me enough to get the job done in one piece. I proved to myself again that the mental skills that I have been practicing and teaching others really do work to build confidence as a rider. I learned that I can get out of my introvert box and make new friends-and that there are a lot of really amazing people that I have had the opportunity to meet because of our shared love of horses.
So if you ever get the opportunity to take a trip like this, do it. Even if you are a little nervous, load up and go. Trust yourself, trust your horse, dig deep and find the grit to go after your dreams. Adventure is awaiting you.