Sunday, May. 26, 2024

Fueled By Truck-Stop Coffee

Did you miss Day 1 of Octavia’s epic journey across the country with horses in tow? If so, make sure to read “San Francisco To South Carolina With Two Horses, Two Cats, Two Trucks, Two Trailers And Three Humans.”

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Did you miss Day 1 of Octavia’s epic journey across the country with horses in tow? If so, make sure to read “San Francisco To South Carolina With Two Horses, Two Cats, Two Trucks, Two Trailers And Three Humans.”

It’s easy to get excited about the little things when you’re in a car for long periods. Truck-stop coffee, for example, is a revelation for those of us, i.e. me, who like frothy sweet flavored confections. I began with English Toffee yesterday and had Irish Mint today. I intend to follow up with French Vanilla tomorrow, and hope to find another country for the day after.

Truck stops are amazing places, full of enormous semis and bigger, generally genial, drivers. I’m rather tempted to ask one if I can have a look inside his cab, as I imagine them to be tiny little havens of comfort, although I fear they will actually be dank holes full of McDonald’s wrappers.


Truck stops, the land of fuel and artificially flavored coffee.

But back to our journey: the horses looked bright and happy this morning after a good night’s sleep at MCS Stables. The stalls were an excellent size and everything was clean and dust-free. Pictures on the wall are of champion reining horses and, excitingly, the Wells Fargo stagecoach horses, presumably guests at one time or another.

We renewed the shavings in the trailer and replenished the horses’ hay, then loaded them up. They have already become very attached: we put Echo on first, who proceeded to rock the trailer with impatience waiting for his new best friend. Maxine puts standing wraps on Eigen to support his legs as he balances and protect them from any knocks, but Echo’s owner is content to leave him free and unrestricted. Each to their own, every horse is different and what’s right for one isn’t right for another.


Load up!

Two-wheeled and four-legged conveyances safely stowed, and after a cyclists’ bonding session between Brett and Paul, we set off past cloud-wreathed San Francisco mountain and turned east across the Arizona desert, tucking into delicious fresh homemade blueberry muffins from Sherry. Sagebrush and sand stretched off for miles here, leading to red-tinged mesas on the horizon.

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We strained for a glimpse of the petrified forest, but had to be content with the splendid collection of automated dinosaurs roaring and posturing beside the road. One particularly fierce Tyrannosaurus Rex had a disgruntled looking human torso hanging out the side of his jaws.

Nearing New Mexico, the weather closed in and we saw distant bluffs misty with rain. As it cleared across the border, distant mesas loomed deep red above tree-speckled ranchlands and tumbled beds of ancient lava flanked the road. Chugging across the deserts, their containers strung out for miles behind, were goods trains bound for distant towns, both an eco-friendly 21st-century method of transport and, tracing as they do the great transAmerica railroads of the 19th century, a romantic one, too.

Less attractively, clefts in the rocks were scattered with fake animals and flanked by Native American gift shops. The endless billboards trumpeting Indian jewelery, rugs, moccasins, pottery and so on are made uglier by the grandeur all around, and the whole caboodle is thoroughly lacking in dignity. That the great Indian chiefs should come to this!

Albuquerque, nestling in its lush valley at the foot of the Sandia Mountains, is startlingly attractive, its roadsides and bridges thoughtfully landscaped with neat gravel, well-tended plants and creamy-hued bridges striped in blue. They clearly love their town here. Beyond the pass, the New Mexican desert stretched to the horizon, begging for a posse of cowboys to gallop into view.

Our objective was somewhat less romantic: food. We tried the town of Moriaty, exciting at first for its Sherlockian namesake, but “dead-beat” doesn’t begin to describe it. A grotty dance hall abutted a pharmacy, the promised Pilot truck stop never materialized and the one restaurant that might have given us the desired Mexican lunch was closed, with several shady characters hanging around outside.

We spurred on, but the gently rolling landscape was picturesquely devoid of civilization. The pleasingly named town Wagon Wheel turned to be nothing but a mechanics shed, our hopes raised by signposts only to be dashed.

The sole hope was the billboard after billboard announcing Exit 234, home of Flying C Ranch and, apparently, dozens of stores selling blankets for $7.99, three T-shirts for $10, and assorted “Wild West Stuff.” It turned out to be a single building with one fast-food burger place that was less “fast” than “snail-like,” but the staff were friendly and one bearded chap called James complimented me on my scuffed cowboy boots, which instantly won my undying devotion. I wore them on a Wyoming ranch for two months—they’re real, not for show!

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Stuffed with fried chicken, we drove away across breathtaking cowboy country, with Longhorns and Black Angus cattle browsing the valleys and distant cliffs beckoning the adventurer. Ancient ranches clung to a windswept existence—it’s a tad breezy here, as a particularly philosophical road sign said, “gusty winds may exist.” Yes, I think they may!

Storms flashed out of the blue, black sheets of rain splitting dramatic and impossibly vast cloudscapes. It was glorious to be out of California—the roads are better, the drivers friendlier, the horizons clear and huge, invigorating rather than claustrophobic.

As we crossed into Texas, the landscape became less interesting, with flat fields broken only by grain elevators, the “cathedrals of the Midwest.” We were longing for a steak; Paul was determined to eat the full 72 oz. version advertised everywhere, free if you finish the whole thing; a 16 oz. steak is “an appetizer in Texas” but the treacherous two time zones we’d crossed meant that we were too late to do anything but drop off the horses and collapse.

Eigen and Echo were perturbed by the pungent cattle smell when they got off the trailer, and weren’t too keen on the small, dusty stables of Happy Tracks Horse Motel, but with hay, grain and water, they settled down. Eigen was stiff on his hind legs at first and couldn’t really stretch his 18-hand bulk out in the stable, but Maxine walked him round for a spell and he loosened up nicely.

One good thing about trailering a horse long distances is that the motion acts like a vibration exercise machine to tone up their muscles! We apologized for the cattle smell and left, calling Hotels.com to ask which of the dozens of options took cats. Amarillo, Texas, is chock full of motels, perhaps because there are none for hundreds of miles. We left Taz and Izzy to explore every nook and cranny of the room and departed quickly for the land of nod.

Longer day tomorrow: the aim is Memphis, Tenn.!


Izzy the cat is Maxine’s co-pilot.

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