It started a show weekend like any other. We drove to Williamston, no muss, no fuss. Horses worked great. We won a bunch of stuff (Pony Team, Pony Individual, Junior Individual, Junior Freestyle, Young Rider Team, Young Rider Individual, and two rounds of Developing Prix St. Georges, including a 70.588% in the USEF Qualifier, so yay Fender and yay Team Sprieser girls, woohoo!). It rained, even though when we’d checked the weather on Thursday morning it was calling for a gorgeous weekend. But we dodged raindrops, loaded up, and hit the road.
It was raining quite a bit, and progress was slow. We had just crossed into Virginia where, mercifully, it had stopped raining, when smoke started pouring out near the back of the trailer. Allison and I were relieved to discover that one of our tires had busted a tread, which caused it to smoke – a simple tire replacement and we were back on our way.
At this moment, longtime readers may be thinking about how I’ve had my fair share of trailer tire related mishaps. It’s true – anyone who hauls as often as I do is inevitably going to have some blow outs, and I have. I’ve gotten quite good at changing a tire, and previous encounters with my own stupidity have made me doubly nutty about making sure I always have the tools I need to change a tire, not to mention that I take excellent care of my equipment. In fact, we were driving my big trailer, which had just come back from its annual inspection. These things happen.
I have cultivated the same values in my students, which is why we just chuckled when, not ten minutes later, little Kristin and her parents, who were following us in their truck and trailer with Whisper, Kristin’s rockstar FEI Pony, in the back, had a flat themselves. They changed it, and off we went again.
Until they had a second flat.
At this point, Allison and I are getting nervous. One flat stinks. Another flat means there’s likely a problem – maybe the tires are in serious need of replacing (no, they’re fairly new), or maybe there’s a defect (not good, since they were all replaced at the same time, and are therefore all the same age and wear history). It’s also Saturday afternoon on Easter weekend. They call US Rider, which we all got after my previously-mentioned brush with my own idiocy, who is normally really on top of their game. Today, naturally, they are not, and the Countermans are stuck on the side of the road for quite a bit.
They tell us to go on ahead after flat #1, which we did, so we were considerably ahead when this happened. We stopped to refuel and have a look at our own tires (all good), and then debate whether or not to get ice cream to carry us through the last chunk of the drive.
Here’s another important life lesson: when you are debating whether or not to get ice cream on a road trip, always, Always, ALWAYS, get the ice cream. Passing up on deliciousness is, clearly, an invitation for smiting.
We hit traffic where we expect to hit it, and it lingers like we expect it to, and we finally get to our exit off 95 and are just checking in with the Countermans (still stuck, with US Rider nowhere in sight) and debating whether to go home or to turn around and get them when my truck starts pulling hard one direction. Weird. I chuckle nervously. Maybe it’s the road; the horrible winter has left all the Virginia roads in wretched condition. And sure enough, it only lasts a few moments before it stops and everything seems fine.
Which is when I smell the smoke.
We get off to the side of the road and smoke is, once again, pouring out of my vehicle, this time from the front wheel of the truck. The brakes have overheated. We are going absolutely nowhere until they cool. And we are less than an hour from home.
This is when we were really, really regretting not having ice cream.
The horses, thank goodness, are complete pros. They stood like soldiers while we chilled out on the side of the road. It was a beautiful day. We got a visit from my aunt, who happened to be driving by and saw us lounging in the grass. We started counting our blessings – that it wasn’t raining, that we didn’t also have a second shredded tire, that the horses were being good, that we weren’t in the Ukraine or in a sinking ferryboat in South Korea (we were getting pretty desperate at that point).
Eventually the brakes cooled, and we coasted the remaining part of the drive home squeaking with paranoia every time anything abnormal happened. (The smell of a barbecue from a roadside stand nearly gave us the vapors.) And seven hours after we’d set out on a five hour trailer trip, we made it safely home.
Meanwhile, in the middle of nowhere, Virginia, the Countermans decided they’d had quite enough, thank you, and called a commercial hauler to come and pick up Whisper the Wonderpony and bring her to us, since no one at their barn was answering the phone (it is Easter weekend, remember?) to receive her. Finally, at 9:30 at night, someone comes to fix their tires. Whisper arrived at my place around 11, and I haven’t heard from the Countermans yet, so hopefully they’re sleeping it all off and not still stuck on some other godforsaken corner of I-95.
So here’s what we learned from the experience. First and foremost, a lesson we can never learn enough – anything can happen to anyone at any time. I keep our trucks and trailers in excellent repair, and stupid things still can take you out. Second, having a road buddy is really a good thing. I could have handled everything that happened solo, but having Allison in the truck to freak out at the smell of every roadside BBQ stand made for a much more fun experience. Third, have good friends – major love goes out today to Michael Barisone, who knows a little bit about everything in the world; Kevin Hennessey of Nobody’s Business Farm Horse Transport, who is a professional road warrior; and Kevin Richards, who in addition to his second job as one of Sprieser Sporthorse’s Official Medical Experts is also a passionate car dude; all of whom were good ports in a storm and gave great advice about what to do.
And fourth and finally, never, ever, EVER pass up road trip ice cream.