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Wednesday, June 14, 2000

I did something today I'd never done before. It wasn't taking the aerial tram to the top of a mountain, because I did that three years ago in Jackson Hole. We did enjoy watching the kids feed the chipmunks today at the top of the Estes Park tram. The views of surrounding mountains and canyons, and even the town itself, were spectacular.

top of the tramDillon and the chipmunk

That trip took up most of the morning, and then we cruised around town for a while, looking in some of the shops and having lunch. While we were there we made arrangements for the rafting trip tomorrow morning. When I left home this was the one thing I was sure I was not going to be able to do. But my back has been fine, and the woman in the shop assured us that it was an easy trip (3 out of 5) that even children would be safe on.

The thing I did for the first time today was sit in a saddle, on the back of a horse. There were eight from our family who took the dinner trail ride this evening, and all but one were beginners. So they gave us our own guides and made us into a Very Special Group of our own. They gave us the gentlest and most reliable horses available. And of that group I got the slowest. Mongo.

At first I appreciated Mongo's unhurried pace. For a first-timer, it seemed like a good thing. Gradually I began to realize that Mongo had no interest in keeping up with the rest of the horses. He never strayed far off the trail, but he would be distracted by the grass growing off to the side, and I'd have to pull him back. Or, on a whim, he would simply stop.

A kick would usually get him started again, but nothing would make him keep pace with the other horses. The guides encouraged me to kick him hard, but Mongo had two speeds. Slow and slower. And it was excruciating to try to ride him downhill, especially in rocky areas. He would pick his way down so carefully, it was like a toddler trying to walk down a stairway. I really didn't want to kick him at those times when he seemed so unsure of his footing. Maybe he wasn't, really, but I didn't want to take a chance.

on the trailMichael and Mongo
Note: David volunteered to take these pictures, and I'd like to thank him for doing what I couldn't - take one hand off the reins long enough to click the shutter. If not for him, there would be no photos of our trail ride at all. (On the other hand, my horse was barely moving, so I probably should have tried taking a few shots myself.)

The ride up to the campsite where we were to have an old-fashioned cowboy dinner was supposed to take an hour, but our group took almost an hour and a half. Because of the fires no open-flame cookouts were allowed, so they had grilled steaks, with potatoes and beans, ready for us when we got to the spot.

They told us to remember what horse we were riding, so we could take the same one back. As if I could ever forget Mongo. There are so many horses in the stable there that most of them don't even have names, but all the guides and other helpers knew Mongo.

The ride back down to the stables took about half the time of the ride up, but not because Mongo was moving any faster. It was just shorter. And Mongo and I were last again.

There was a low-lying area of shallow water just before we got back to the stables. All of the other horses walked obediently across the middle. Not Mongo. I thought he was looking for a shallower or narrower place to cross, but he headed up the hill instead. Then he stopped and started to eat the grass on the side of the hill. I managed to pull him up and head him back in the right direction, but he stopped in his tracks twice more before we got to the place where there were hands ready to help me off.

All of us loved the experience. We might have wished we hadn't tried to convince them what raw beginners we were, because all of us felt we could have handled livelier horses and a somewhat quicker pace. (I certainly did.) WE sat around for hours afterward rehashing the experience and telling stories on each other. It was a wonderful day.

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