Many years ago, back in my single days, I spent four years working in a machine shop. The pay was decent, but for an outdoorsy sort like me it was a horrible way to make a living. I came home every afternoon soaked with toxic solvents, my ears ringing from ten hours of close-range exposure to deafening noise levels, my back and arms and eyes aching from the endless repetitive motion of feeding stock into the machines at one end and making sure the tiny parts that came out the other end were all within tolerances so tight they had to be checked constantly with a micrometer. As often as not I also came home angry, for reasons that are probably common to many workplaces and way too tiresome to go into on this blog.
Every weekend I cleared my head and unknotted my muscles and my spirit by riding my horse (it was Stormy then, in her exuberant youth) out to the PC Trail and then dismounting and hiking along it for several hours.
(Sidenote for non-Westerners — the PC Trail has nothing to do with Political Correctness or Personal Computers; it’s actually the Pacific Crest Trail, and it runs all the way from Mexico to Canada along the coastal mountain ridges of California, Oregon and Washington. It runs right through Anza, and it’s a wonderfully quiet place to ride or hike.)
At one point my little section of the trail crosses a small creek. Back in 1993 we had some spectacular floods, and that little creek turned into a raging river that carved a deep ravine with sheer cliffsides from what used to be a shallow creekbed. The first time I saw that ravine after the flood, it was littered with cottonwood trees that had been uprooted and washed downstream by the force of the water. Two determined trees had held their ground, and beneath their spreading branches the newly-hewn ravine seemed to me a place of wild beauty and quiet shelter. I felt drawn to it.
It wasn’t easy to get a horse down into the part of the ravine that had captured my interest. It involved sliding down the least steep part of the wall, and hoping Stormy didn’t break her legs on all the loose rocks on the way down. Once at the bottom, though, it was flat and grassy and Stormy could graze beside the little creek while I relaxed in the hammock I’d soon packed in. One of the surviving trees was so old and massive that I could actually tie one end of my hammock to one of its branches and the other end to another branch of the same tree, and hang comfortably up there in its shady heights. I kept a book there too, hidden away in a tiny little cave in one of the ravine’s cliffsides. I whiled away many a Saturday afternoon down there, reading my book and enjoying the breezy shelter of my cottonwood tree. I thought of it as my “hideout,” my once-a-week refuge from the soul-withering stresses of what used to be my life.
And then I met Steve and eventually stopped working at the machine shop and got married and had kids and years and years went by without a visit to my old hideout. Before yesterday I hadn’t been down there once since Elizabeth was born. But yesterday the weather was gorgeous and a family ride sounded like just the thing, and for once we were all old enough and well-mounted enough to go all the way down to that ravine. So we packed a lunch and saddled up!
The trail was a bit rougher than I remembered it, but all the horses did great. Mahogany is still very green, so I was really pleased with how well she handled herself. I was able to get some great pics from her back.
When we reached my “hideout,” all the horses slid down into the ravine with no fuss. Stormy remembered the place well — I just pulled off her saddle and bridle and she got busy grazing. Mahogany and Beau were tied to trees, and Steve held Marshall to let him graze.
The dogs had a blast splashing around in the creek, Luke and Elizabeth climbed all over the rocks and trees, and I soaked up some sunshine.
It was great to be back in the old hideout, and even better to be sharing it with loved ones this time instead of trying to escape reality there. I’m glad we went.
When it was time to head back we rode up to where the trail crosses the creek. The weeds were as tall as a horse’s back there, thanks to all the rain this winter.
The only horse that made a fuss about crossing the water was Mahogany. We eventually got her through it, but it took a while.
All in all it was a great day though. Mahogany gained a ton of trail experience, and the kids can’t wait to go back. I think we’ll be doing more of that from now on.