Riding, and … riding


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Our last day of this trip. Trips to the White Mountains always end too soon for me. Sunday, I wanted to make the most of my day, so after breakfast, I geared up to go horseback riding with Wild Bill McClain at Hannagan Meadow Lodge. Bill, as you may recall, was the man who took me into the Blue Wilderness last year on horseback for a four hour ride that ended in a crashing thunderstorm. This time, I made sure I had a raincoat with me that was made for horseback riding!

It was Bill and me again on this ride, but I intended to be out for only an hour or so, which is what we did. We rode on two beautiful trails, one of them was “Bill’s secret trail,” and another was one Hal and I had gone cross-country skiing on about a year and a half ago.

Bill was waiting. He had already saddled his horse and was riding her around the grounds of the lodge. He had been working with the pretty dark brown, almost black, mare for the last few times I’ve seen him riding. She is a little “spooky” on the trails, but if Bill works with her a bit, she will be a nice trail horse. Bill had “my” horse for the day, Bella, saddled, and he was waiting for me to finish breakfast before he bridled her and got me settled in. When I got on Bella, we walked through the lodge grounds, then off we went through the lush forest.

There is a calmness about riding a horse through the forest, not to mention the advantage of being able to see things I miss while on the motorbike. While riding the KLX, I am always trying to go faster, farther, and get in the most miles while discovering new trails. While on horseback, I slow down and really look at things. I took my camera, too, so I could shoot tons of photos of recovering forest. When I am on the motorbike, by the time I see a shot that I want, I am already long past it.

Riding along, viewing the fern-covered world from between the ears of a horse, I saw things I wouldn’t have if I’d been on the bike.

Weird plant:

We stopped at what was left of the foundation of a cabin used by some ranchers. Bill told me that one of the ancestors of the people who built the cabin had it disassembled, then rebuilt as a library in one of the towns south on the 191. I always like tales of preserving historical things that are interesting.

The cabin foundation remains are up under the trees, toward the left part of the photo. It looks like a pile of rocks:

We saw many trees burned in the Wallow fire three years ago. There are oceans of vibrant green ferns  and aspens growing up around them. Much of the wood is rotting, but there are still salvage logging operations going on in parts of the forest, as you have seen in previous posts.

We came through a grass covered meadow. The meadow was actually where Hal and I had seen a “kill” while we were cross country skiing during the winter of 2013. There had been blood on the snow, fur was spread everywhere, and the  rib bones were stripped clean. Perhaps the random bone that we saw now was from that same kill.

Farther along, we saw the thin skull of a deer, still attached to its spine and rib cage. Nature can be brutal, but this is life in the forest.

From there we took the same trail back to the lodge that we’d skied down that winter. The sky had been overcast during our ride, but we didn’t get any rain. Bill teased me that if it rained again while the two of us were out, he wouldn’t take me solo anymore! But since I had a proper raincoat with me, of course it didn’t rain – I was prepared. It would have been a different story if I’d forgotten the coat!

On the way back to the lodge:

All too soon, the horseback ride was over, and after thanking Bill, I quickly exchanged my horse gear for my motorcycle gear. Hal and I wanted to get one last ride in before we had to put the bikes on the trailer and drive home. The sky was darkening, getting ready for the daily afternoon thunderstorms that occur here from July through September. We were determined to ride, though, because our time here is so short.

We left the lodge at 11:38 and went to FR25. From there, we took FR24. It was a little muddy, but not too bad, and we were flying. We rode it in about 10 minutes, where sometimes it had taken us as long as 30 minutes on previous trips. When we got to the intersection of 576 and 24, we took the section of 24 that we hadn’t ridden for a long time since it dead-ends with a closure at the bottom, a distance of 4 miles.

View from 24:

It is rough terrain, and even rougher since the forest service is not maintaining it because of the closure. There were plenty of rocks, gravel sections, and erosion channels. I remembered two years ago when I’d tried to ride it on my F650GS and been too uncomfortable riding it. So, what was the problem here? I asked myself as the KLX happily sailed over everything, and I hardly noticed the bumps.

When we got to the bottom, we found a pickup truck, and its occupants were walking toward the closed section. Darn it. I so wanted to go in there and ride since there is no real reason for it to be closed in the first place, but there were other people around – again. Hal and I turned around and started back up the grade.

Going up:

By this time, the sky was looking very threatening. One black cloud was hanging quite low over the vicinity of the lodge, and I thought, that one is laden with rain, lightning, and hail. The wind was starting to exhale from it, a storm gathering strength, and I wanted to get back to the lodge before it began. Being high on the mountain during a lightning storm is not preferable. We’d already seen what a lightning bolt can do to a tall tree near the lodge. So, we rode like death was on our tail.

I did stop at one point to get a quick photo of the vista, and to his credit, Hal kept going. He rides up slower than I do, and I was glad to have him get a head start. I wanted to fly up that grade, and I did. A few drops of rain fell on us after I caught up to him, within a couple of miles of the lodge, but miraculously, the rain held off. Exactly one hour after we’d left, we returned. We managed to get de-geared, the bikes loaded, and the car organized before it started to sprinkle. The black cloud had gone north, and now we were under the comparatively benign-looking light gray clouds.

Back to the lodge to say our final good-byes, then we got in the car and were on our way home. Only a couple of miles down the road, we saw three wild turkeys in one of the small meadows. They were parading around, fanning, and it was an amazing sight. We managed to get some photos before they were partially obscured as they walked casually up into the trees, but not before we noticed that there were hens and babies as well.

Fanning:

Hen (Photo by Hal Korff):

The rest of the ride home was uneventful, we said good-bye (temporarily) to Alpine, but we will be back in less than two weeks.

Rain through the windshield, near Alpine:

Several hours of driving and an hour-long traffic delay got us to Payson for dinner later than we wanted, and near home, we were treated to an “epic” sunset.

Our summer vacation time is winding down, but we have two more long weekends planned. More riding, of course, and I can’t wait!

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