(Cover Photo:  Johnny and June on The Horner Schooner, with Curt Herman, Swamper, in the driver’s seat)

It has been awhile since I sat down to write an entry for the 4H Wagon Train Adventure Blog. My time and attention focused on conditioning horses (and starting my garden) as soon as we started having semi-reliable sunshine, and I’ve been making lists and preparations for the trip. I’m obsessive about list-making and plan-making and being ready has been on my mind, non-stop, for months. I’ve been making lists and plans in my sleep!

My obsessive preparations were put to a mini-test for the “4H Wagon Train Tune Up” last weekend at Flying M Ranch in Yamhill, Oregon. This is a weekend designed to introduce the participants to the logistics and traditions of life on the 4H Wagon Train, test our gear, and enjoy a small taste of the food and activities and friend-making we can look forward to on the 7-day Barlow Road trip July 8-14. All the details I’d been churning in my head finally got to come out and play – in sports this would be like running plays in your head and practicing some of your moves before you finally get to take the field and see what your team can do.

Lemme tell ya, Oh Boy, my team CAN DO!

In this case, my team is Johnny and June, full-sibling Percheron crosses. I’ve had them since they were 2 & 3 years old and they are now 8 & 9. We’ve done a lot together in that time and I am always looking for new opportunities and adventures, which is how I got hitched up to the wagon train (pun intended). My team has proven themselves to be able to go-anywhere-do-anything and they do it all with a gusto for the work and affection for the people around them. In all of my little-girl dreams of the horses I would have when I grew up, I could not have dreamed-up these two horses.   I am constantly in awe of them, not for their beauty (yeah, I guess they are kinda pretty), but for their work-ethic and what they put into everything they are asked to do.

Saturday was only their second time hitched to the wagon and really only my first time driving it!  There were a few hiccups and one near-tragic moment that was the driver’s fault (that’s me). But in spite of the driver’s learning curve and the rain and sloppy trails, and wet, low-hanging limbs crashing into the wagon (and them, and me), and some seriously crazy new terrain (like water-crossing stream bottoms with basketball sized boulders), they hardly seemed to notice they were pulling a 2,000lb wood box, rolling on primitive wheels with zero suspension and a big flapping canvas behind them, draped 10-feet over their heads.

The first 30 minutes were a bit of a shock from the deafening clatter of the wagon and the rough ride. I was wondering what I’d gotten myself into (and asking myself how I was going to get out of it). My body was jolted and bounced, like I was riding a jack-hammer. Then, we stopped for a break and I focused my attention on the horses, wondering, if they could, would they ask the same question – what are we doing out here?

My answer came back to me through their body language – relaxed, ears forward, eyes soft, heads-up, scanning the trail ahead and ready to move out. No stress, no resistance, just quiet anticipation and willingness. During each break, while fallen brush and trees were being cleared by the trail Scout and his helpers, and then, turn by turn, over the next 5 miles or so, over trail you would never imagine you would take in this rig, the answer came to me: this trip is going to be amazing!  This is a dream team for this adventure and they are totally into it. Yes, it’ll be rough, but, it’ll be so worth it. When we have conquered 80 miles together in this procession, we will all be changed forever for the better.

On Sunday morning, after a fabulous breakfast (something I will definitely be looking forward to on the trip), the wagon train covered another 5 miles or so. The sun shined, and the trail presented beautiful vistas to us around every corner, and the rhythm of wagon and the hoofbeats and the happy voices of kids just filled me up.

Ultimately, I was prepared for everything except the range of emotions I experienced in my first 10 miles with the wagon train…and, at the end of the The Tune Up weekend, all doubts about the trip and our readiness and commitment to this adventure had vanished.