Written By Julia Dake
I start this tale by saying that I am new to riding in the South. I have ridden many miles in the Sierra, the redwoods and along the coast of California. But I have returned to the land of my girlhood recently and found the riding to be very different. The sandy wide trails, the ancient oaks covered in Spanish moss and the very flatness of the land are all new to me. One of my first trail rides in the south began with the guide telling me “If you come across an alligator on the trail, don’t ride over it”. I thought to myself; You have to tell people this?! Add in the humidity and the afternoon thunderstorms and it couldn’t be any different from the trails I’ve ridden in the West.
The weekend is going to be warm. For some reason, I think that North Carolina is going to be cooler after all it is NORTH Carolina. It might be a nice treat to get out of the city and have some quiet time. Mom and I head to the barn. Yes my 70 year old, very arthritic mom is going with me. I hook up the rig. Mom offers to help but retracts when I give her 'the look'. I bathe my gelding, Dakota. I get him and his food loaded and off we go. The truck is running great, Dakota is quiet, Dru (my dog) is asleep and mom is happily reading the road signs. I have directions from the internet. It’s a pretty straightforward trip, mostly freeway until we get to the campground turn off.
Everything is going smoothly but not for long. An accident closes I-95 to one lane. We lose twenty to thirty minutes but that’s okay because I have directions from the internet. And it’s a pretty straightforward trip.
Past the accident, slowly, and we are on our way once again. We haul down the freeway, me, mom, my dog and the horse. The campground is near the tiny teeny tiny town of Everwild (the name has been changed to protect everyone) and I have mistakenly asked the amazing internet for directions to the town and not the campground. Unfortunately, I don’t know this…yet.
Mom, who has been reading every sign for the last 100 miles on the road STOPS....and I sail at 60 miles per hour past the turn. In truth she did say I needed to slow down. We turn around three miles later because the rig is 35 ft long and, even with a gooseneck trailer, I prefer a football field when I have to turn around. We get back to the original turn and turn the wrong way.
Quickly, we are in the little town with no place to turn around. We roll through the ‘main’ street and I notice that pretty much everyone owns a pit bull. Dru is slunk down in the seat. He’s met pit bulls before and these look like they mean business. At least I don’t hear the theme from ‘Deliverance’ strumming in the background. Mom keeps telling me that we are going the wrong way. How does she know?
Finally in the spirit of women, I call the camp ground. The lady is very helpful but in giving directions feels it is necessary to give the entire history of the inhabitants of Everwild. I mutter ‘huh huh’ while trying to keep the directions straight.
We get turned around, again. And carefully following the directions from the owner of the campground, we find the place at last. It’s lovely. Quiet. The stalls are small but okay. I get everything settled but we are missing a lot of needed items in the rig and mom doesn’t have a clue where anything is. The rig is too small for anyone other than me and one other person who is agile and can move quickly. That lets mom out. Let’s add the dog to the mix. Getting a good picture?
It’s HOT and HUMID. I have to run the A/C the entire night. It sounds like the Starship Enterprise is landing on the roof of the living quarters. Mom, under a blanket and a minus 40 degree sleeping bag, is a frozen Popsicle in the morning. I suppose it was a blessing that the dog felt the need to sleep with her. Bless him.
In the morning (six a.m. because there is no point trying to sleep with the Enterprise hovering just over head) I feed and water the horse. Mom makes coffee. I pull out the awning and set up the TV so she can watch while I am riding.
I get my gelding ready. I am going to ride early because of the heat and humidity. Unbeknownst to me there is another thing I haven't considered. Bugs.
A couple of nice men (one deaf and the other in his 80s; "I got a lot of health problems you know") ask me to ride with them. Why not? I've never been here and it might be safer. After a long lecture about something called a 'yellow fly' we start down the trail toward the forest. Being from California the lecture means nothing to me but being raised politely I listen and nod. I’ve hauled a long way and not just to sit in camp!
We ride about a mile on an asphalt road. I don’t like it because it’s hard on the horses’ feet but hey...the forest is up just ahead. I can almost feel the coolness against my skin. We ride into the beautiful, verdant forest (I am sighing softly right about now) and get swarmed, SWARMED, by yellow flies. Biting and buzzing down my shirt, in my hair, my mouth, my ears and they bite leaving quarter sized welts when they do! They bite my horse. They buzz his ears. He is getting crazy, stomping and bucking. Dakota rarely misbehaves but this is something else. NOW the lecture about ‘yallah flies’ means something.
One of the gentlemen I am riding with comes up next to me and hands me a slender tree branch. “Use this to brush them yallah flies off yah horse". I have now discovered an essential piece of gear while riding the Carolinas; a small branch with the leaves on the end. Dakota found some relief as I rode along brushing his ears and face and all other reachable parts of his body. Pleasure trail riding. Yeah right.
Finally, I give up. Forty minutes into the ride I turn around. Anyone who knows me knows that is NOT something I do. The Granite Stair Case at Echo Summit didn't cause me to turn around....but bugs...biting stinging bugs...that’s it. I tell the gentlemen I am riding with that I am returning to camp. They also turned around. I’m not the only one who finds these flies too much.
I ride back into camp and start stripping the gear of my gelding. No yellow flies so he stands quietly. My mom comes out of the rig. I can hear the question before she speaks.
“We’re outta here.” I don’t hike. I don’t swim. I don’t catch sun in a lounge chair. I ride and if I can’t ride I’m leaving. It sounds petulant but it’s one of the little truths about me that I won’t hide.
I pack the camp up in forty minutes. That has to be a record. Mom is in the truck with the dog, the horse is loaded and I haul on down the road nearly turning right when I should have turned left but mom-mom (I don’t own a Tom-Tom) caught that one before we had to hunt for a church parking lot to turn around in and we are on the road. Interstate 95 south toward Charleston. The weather is cool. In the south, in the summer that is usually a bad sign.
We roll down the freeway. Mom is quiet and I am happily following a motorhome that is going my perfect speed. I get lulled into a kind of hypnosis, following the sway of the coach in front of me. I’m humming and thinking about yellow flies, the cost of diesel and going to work on Monday when my mom quietly mentions, “This is our exit right here.”
Now when my mom says “right here” she means right here. It’s a good thing that gelding of mine stands up in the trailer with his feet spread because the exit to I-26 came up quickly. I nearly missed it and would be in Florida by now still following the motorhome. But I make the turn. I don’t know what possessed me not to go on to the next exit but when my mom said ‘right here’; I turn.
I hear my mother gasping as I make the turn and head south toward Charleston. Tires squeal. I make a mental note to have the brakes checked on the rig. At least they aren’t smoking. This time.
I relax my grip on the steering wheel. What more can happen? Through my windshield, ahead in the distance is the blackest, meanest thunderstorm on the planet straddling the freeway. Will this fun filled weekend never end?!
It sits over the interstate; a monster waiting and like a moth to the flame I haul myself, my mother, my dog and a 35 foot aluminum lightening rod toward it. The storm is right over head. The lightening strikes and crashes at the same instant. I am IN a lightening storm. Mom is trying to comfort the dog. He is shivering and his teeth are chattering. Mom is, with the same words, comforting me. I've slowed to twenty mph with my flashers on. I’m thinking about pulling over even though I know better when twenty feet off the right front of my truck, lightening strikes a pine tree and it explodes. Dru now wants in my lap! I want in my mom’s lap!!!! Dakota is hopping around in the trailer. The air is hot and every hair in the rig is on end. Mom later tells me I was talking a mile a minute and white as a sheet. She also mentions that I might want to unclench my jaw.
We make it to the barn. I unload. Unhook. Take care of Dakota. We drive home. The sun is shining. The next day is Sunday. I watch NASCAR and paint cabinets in the kitchen for my mother. I don't complain. I'm just happy there are no yellow flies at my mother’s house.
Yippee Ti Yo!