NOTE: So this post is waaaaay overdue! This trip happened over memorial day, but shortly therafter I was hit with an extreme case of writer’s block and am just now getting around to posting about it!
Ashley wanted to leave early for our latest adventure, which meant pulling out on a Friday evening. I watched the clock like a hawk at work all day, running a countdown in my head. 5 hrs, 3hrs, 2….
I even posted a little update on this blog during my lunch break (fyi not a good idea if I’m going to fail to blog about it for 6 weeks lol!) While Ashley was able to leave work early, I had to wait until my regular time.
I had left all my stuff in a pile in the kitchen – all that remained was to throw it in the truck and go! I had to stop at Dollar General to get some ice, then scurried over to CS to meet Ashley and hook up the trailer (if you’re wondering whatever happened to mine btw, it is STILL sitting, waiting on repairs…so we have been continuing to borrow Ashley’s godmother’s in the meantime). I then headed to my barn to pick up Justice. I am blessed that both my horses are incredibly easy to catch, and I have no problem loading either of them by myself. Then we met Ashley back at her barn. She had already gathered her stuff and caught the wild man so all that remained was just to throw everything in the back and hit the road.
Because it was memorial day weekend and we had anticipated the free campgrounds being full, Ashley had booked us a spot at 4B Farm, which sits adjacent to Helen’s Loop (a trail that is technically a loop but connects to quite a few others along the way).
We arrived about 9, checked in and headed to our assigned corrals. The corrals, as it turned out were actually more like outdoor stalls consisting of metal panels. I was a bit apprehensive about this because our horses would have to stay back to back with two others and all four could reach over and mess with each other. My biggest fear was that someone would strike out and get a foreleg caught in the panels. Thankfully, Justice was a rock star. He made nasty faces at the other horses but only charged at them once to let them know he meant business. After that he turned tail and stuck his head in the corner and didn’t really interact with them at all.
My enduramax had thankfully arrived in the mail just days before our trip, and I mixed some with his grain that night. I was determined to get a head start on electrolyting after our scare last time! While the boys ate, Ashley and I set up the tent. Despite the fact that 3 weeks had passed since our last trip, it
was supposed to drop down to 50 again overnight.
After getting the horses settled for the night, we turned in ourselves. I could see Justice’s shadow reflected on the tent “wall” and it made me feel better knowing I could “watch” him.
However I hadn’t been asleep 30 minutes when I was woken by a loud squeal and banging of a hoof on a
panel. I sat bolt upright and looked for Justice’s shadow. He was still standing in his corner, it seemed, and all was quiet. I laid back down again, but had just barely managed to doze off when I heard another “bang!” Again, sat up, looked around. Nothing. Laid back down. And again.
This continued throughout the night. Everytime I would start to fall asleep, I’d hear another sound, another bang and I’d be wide awake again. Around 3am I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I gathered my stuff and snuck out of the tent, careful not to wake Ashley. Both the horses stared at me accusingly so I threw them a flake of hay before crashing in the cab of the truck. I cracked the window so I could hear if something went terribly wrong, but thankfully all the little click and clangs of the metal panels were much more faint and I was able to quickly fall asleep.
The next morning I was awake but still drowsy when I saw Ashley walk past the window. I could not believe my eyes. She had slept so late on our previous trip! I got up and after feeding the boys, we decided to walk up the hill for breakfast. My phone was charging in the truck so no pics, but the first day
they served a delicious hot breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs and coffee. It hit the spot!
After breakfast we mucked out the corrals, and tossed the manure into the woods as we’d been instructed. I was very pleased to see Justice had drank from his bucket during the night and I gave him a little more grain with a few more electrolytes mixed in before we tacked up.
I was a little self conscious about my English tack. Everyone else was in western getup and I knew that Uwharrie’s hills were going to present a bit of a challenge with no or mane to grab ahold of (I’d roached Justice’s mane just days before). After all the rocks we’d encountered last time, I’d had Justice shod on the front, and decided to try his Easyboot Epics behind.
After mounting up we debated about where the trailhead actually was for a moment before we ended up falling in behind some other riders who knew where they were going. Once we reached the road, we followed it a ways to head toward Heathen (Old Horse Camp) and from there headed back in the general direction of the lake. At the bottom of the very first hill was a spot where water (not quite a stream) had turned into a sea of mud. It made a sick sucking sound when we crossed and I leaned down to check Justice’s boots. They appeared to still be on so we continued. However somewhere within the next mile one of his boots somehow took it’s leave. We ended up backtracking to search for it and ran into some other riders who had found it and picked it up. I decided then and there to remove his boots for good. I didn’t want to have to constantly worry about them staying on and risk back tracking again. Ashley suggested we mark the spot and hide them, as I don’t yet have any real saddlebags for my English saddle and I wasn’t keen on the extremely muddy boots rubbing against him for me. So we stuck them under a log, covered with leaves and stuck a stick in the ground to mark the spot.
Studying the map that morning, I’d noticed that there was another body of water labeled “Narrow Falls Reservoir” (which I later found out is most commonly referred to by locals as “Deep River”). Apparently it is a body of water between Narrows Dam and Falls Dam (which holds back Badin Lake). When Ashley insisted she didn’t care where we rode, I suggested we check it out.
At first we were running into a lot of people. We got stuck behind several groups, and although Justice was NOT pleased he managed to behave himself. Funny thing is, we were passing people at a walk! I find it highly amusing that our horses always move SO much faster than everyone else’s (and I am
grateful that Ashley doesn’t mind!) Finally after we passed the Lake Trail and proceeded down (Leslie?), there was significantly less traffic. Taking the road less traveled meant that the trail got a little narrow sometimes, but it was a small price to pay.
After riding a couple miles we decided to veer off and a loop that the map showed went down to the lake. Between my gps app (I used MyTracks as “MapMyRun” eats my battery and has proven unreliable in areas where cell coverage cuts in and out), we were able to have a pretty good idea of where we were and where we were headed.
To my surprise there were a LOT of people camped right along the lake on this loop. Every area that provided access to the water was taken. Fortunately neither of the horses batted an eye at the brightly colored tents, makeshift clotheslines, blow up rafts or the little rat dogs that would appear out of nowhere, yammering at the top of their lungs.
We were beginning to think we might never find a spot where we could water the horses and possibly go swimming when we rounded a corner and there it was. The perfect spot!
We stopped and I stripped Justice of his tack. Several hikers stopped and watched as I rode him into the lake. He was a trooper and didn’t object to swimming the first time. But when I asked him to go in again, he was not thrilled. By the third time, he wasn’t having it. He planted his feet at the water’s edge and refused to take another step. Ashley came to the rescue and led him in. He had no problem following her but refused to move forward without her. In the end, I slid off him and led him into the deepest water. I didn’t really remount after that. It was clear to me that he was much more comfortable with me
leading him in and throwing my arm over his neck or grabbing his tail for a tow. It was SO much fun! I can’t even begin to describe it! Swimming with horses – really truly swimming – has been a dream of mine for years (along with riding on the beach and riding/camping at Mt Rogers in SW VA). And it was definitely fulfilled that day. We probably spent a good 20 minutes in the water, and Ashley and Thunder eventually joined us.
Once we finished, I gave Justice a couple carrots and we allowed the boys to graze alongside the trail while they dried. The sun was warm and it didn’t take long. As we were saddling back up, we were joined by another large group whom we’d actually run into during our last trip as well! They gave Ashley
a couple beers and the one guy decided to swim with his mare as well.
Eventually we parted ways and continued on our own.
It was relatively uneventful until we hit the trail called “Rollins”. Although Rollins was not hilly, it contained horrible rocks. And that is how Ashley and I found ourselves walking again.
Thunder is not shod, so I was concerned about him but he has good hooves and did ok. We walked maybe close to a mile before we were able to remount.
Eventually the trail came to an end in a campsite close to a forest service road. Looking at the map, we knew we would have to ride the road a short ways to read the water. A couple of campers came over to talk to us and kindly offered up directions. As we neared the reservoir we encountered more and more people. We stopped a couple times to talk and let curious kids pet the horses. Eventually we made our way down to the water. The main entrance was quite crowded but we followed a little trail through the woods and that opened up to a much quieter, more secluded spot.
We dismounted and I removed Justice’s tack again. It had gotten hotter, and Justice practically dragged me down the bank and into the water. The water was much colder here! Justice, however, was quite happy to be wet again and he voluntarily struck out on his own and swam a small circle around me. I grabbed his tail and let him tow me. So. Much. Fun!
Ashley decided to join us as well, but didn’t want to unsaddle again so she left Thunder tied to a nearby tree. What happened next is kind of a blur. Ashley was standing beside Justice when she ducked under water to wet her hair. Justice turned to look as if to say, “Huh? She just disappeared!” Suddenly Ashley
jumped up out of the water, right underneath him and smacked her face square on his muzzle (and teeth).
At first I didn’t realized what had happened, but I quickly became alarmed when I realized she was
bleeding. She had a sweet cut above her upper lip that had to have been super painful. It soon stopped bleeding but I was shattered. It was technically nobody’s fault but I felt as if I had somehow ruined a great day. I saddled back up and we headed back the way we’d come.
Ashley wanted to avoid Rollins again because of the rocks so I tried to head a different way and follow what I believed to be a different trail. However, it soon became apparent that we were on a fork that came right back to Rollins anyway, and there was really no way to avoid it. We dismounted and led over
the worst parts again. We eventually came back to Tony and took an immediate right to hit Todd (I think), thus giving us a more direct route home. Ashley was very quiet. She insisted she was still having fun, but was tired. As we got closer to home, the horses and us got a second wind. The air had begun to cool, and we picked up the pace. If I recall we took Indian to Home to Heathen and then headed down the road and back to 4B.
As we arrived back, we saw that they were serving supper up by the bath house. We hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast besides a couple granola bars (and Ashley had had some Vienna sausage as well), so we were famished. We untacked the horses and waited somewhat impatiently (on my part anyway) for the water spicket so we could hose them off. There were these 2 ladies, one of whom was apparently a Parelli gal who took FOREVER…they literally gave their horses full baths with shampoo and the works before we were able to get to get any water. We finally got the horses settled with fresh water, hay and grain with electrolytes and headed up towards the bath house. But of course, by the time we got there, they had packed up the food and spirited it away. The only people left were the same two ladies we’d been waiting on (both of whom had managed to secure plates of food). I didn’t say anything, but we were STARVING and I think if looks could kill those women would’ve melted where they sat lol.
Fortunately we’d brought some food of our own. Chips and salsa, smoked sausage, apples and Ashley brought tortillas, turkey, cheese and pepperoni. So even though it would’ve been nice to have hot food, we didn’t go hungry.
I had already warned Ashley I would be sleeping in the truck that night. After we ate, and finished calling our significant others, we went directly to bed and fell fast asleep.