Not me. The horse.
This weekend we went on a trail ride in the Idaho mountains, and my horse was called – no kidding – Captain. I was thrilled; Captain was less so. Horses are spiritual beasts, and when I looked in his eyes I saw something I was certain I had seen before, but could not remember when or where.
It was a look that was somewhere between disappointment and alarm.
Then I realized where I have seen it: on airplanes, right after boarding as I am walking down the aisle. All the sitting passengers ahead of me avoid eye contact, whispering silent prayers that I will just pass by. When I get to my assigned seat, I see the same look that I saw in Captain. As if they were thinking the same thoughts.
In Captain’s case, however, he didn’t just have to sit next to me and share an arm rest. He had to carry me. In the mountains. Uphill.
As for the Bacons, we were ready. The Navy had taught us to wear the right equipment, to be safety conscious, and to be prepared for adversity.
Which, in this case, meant looking like a cowboy. I had a cowboy hat I got for Halloween last year, a USO shirt that kind of looked like cowboy casual, and boots I bought last year during a raging midlife crisis. Jeans from Walmart.
When our guide – I am going to call him The Dude – asked me if I had ridden before, I said yes in the most matter-of-fact-like tone that I could muster. I did not tell him that the last time I rode a horse was in 2003. Before that? 1998. Before that was in Bahrain in the early 80s.
At that particular moment I also did not think it would be appropriate to tell him that I have a mild horse allergy but that I would be fine because I had taken a tablet of loratadine earlier that morning. The Dude was already eying me suspiciously and I did not need to give him one more arrow in his “oh brother, another city slicker” quiver.
He turned to me, pointed at the stirrup and told me to get on up.
I looked at the place my boot was supposed to go and literally thought there had been some mistake because it was ridiculously high. I took a quick glance over to our guide to see if he was smiling in case he was pulling a practical joke. He was not. My eyes returned to the saddle and I realized that if I was ever going to go horseback riding, I would have to get my foot way up there.
With a giant lean backwards (to improve the angle), I took a blind kick and by some miracle my boot went right into the stirrup. Amazed, I quickly got up on the horse before anyone noticed how hard I was breathing.
The Dude had noticed.
After making a comment about my flexibility he helped the girls get on their horses and we were off.
During the ride he talked about wolves and mountain lions. He told us how wolves kill his livestock but his biggest concern was mountain lions. He told us not to make any sudden moves or approach our horses from behind because that is how they attack.
Mountain lions. One of the top three in my All Star list of fear-inducing things in life. The other two are heights and sharks.
Being in the Navy, I learned to manage my fear of sharks.
Since horses are measured in hands, height was really never an issue for the ride. Getting to the ranch on mountain roads wasn’t exactly a cake walk in the paranoia sense, but that is a topic for another day.
That just left mountain lions.
He had deliberately put me in the back of the pack and I realized that I was there to be the canary in the mineshaft for the rest of the riders because cougars attack from the rear. I figured the Dude was probably packing, but was not sure whether he would shoot right away or wait until the lion dragged me out of the saddle for fear of accidentally hitting the horse.
We rode for a couple of hours and returned unscathed, leaving only the dismount as a final challenge to overcome. I do not remember aching so much the last time I rode, but I don’t remember being this old either.
Trying not to groan as I got off, I took one last look at Captain. He had been a good companion, although a bit “gassy” on the uphills (but who isn’t?). I bid him a cowboy tip of the hat and left him. We all went home happy and satisfied for having the privilege of being surrounded by beautiful scenery on a perfect day.
As for the Captain, I think he had a short layover and a connecting flight to catch.[updated 9/6]