My interview with long rider, Gillian Larson, PART 2.
In case you missed it, here is the link to Part 1 of my interview with long rider, Gillian Larson.
To sum up my previous post, Gillian is doing what I dream of doing – she’s riding her horses for months at a time through the most glorious parts of America. Sigh.
Here is a quote from her website:
In both 2014 and 2016, I traveled on horseback alone from the Mexican borderto British Columbia on the PCT. I completed two new equestrian adventures in 2017, riding the Arizona Trail and the Colorado Trail. Then in 2018 I followed the Continental Divide Trail through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Summer of 2019 will feature a ride across Utah and through the high Sierra Nevada mountains.
I had to meet her and I had to plug-in to her unique spirit!
PART 2 OF MY INTERVIEW
We were sitting at the Madonna Inn restaurant – one of the only dining establishment opened with inside dining (Covid 2020).
Gillian is a tiny, beautiful, waif of a girl. Tall, but small. I imagined that she was an amazing pioneer woman in her past life. Don’t let that slight frame fool you! This girl is tough as nails. She could hook up the oxen and drive the stagecoach… all with a determination and kind smile.
She’s that kind of a girl. The kind we read about in romance novels that we think aren’t really real… are they? I mean, who takes her horses alone for months at a time in the rugged mountains, and is also polished enough to shake off the dirt and become an ideal pitch person?! Very few. Michael Jordan, Beckham… and Gillian Larson.
Shock and Awe.
After I got over the first impressions, I listened. I wanted to hear it all. I wanted to grasp, ingest, feel what it was like to rely on an equine partner like the men and women of the Old West. I wanted to know what it was like to not be afraid. I wanted to feel the air, the breezes, the pristine places, the mystery, magic and mayhem of nature and the night.
But, I know Mother Nature flips both ways. Total serenity… total control. Gillian’s tales delighted me and sobered me.
What I felt as she told me of her amazing adventures… was shock and awe over her HUGE accomplishments when pitted with the true outdoors. Would I have done what she did – as me? Could I have done what she did? Do I want to do what she did? Heck ya.
I think the reality of long riding is ‘harsh and wonderful’. I would ABSOLUTELY sign up for one of her ‘how to’ courses (and encourage you to do the same…) before ever attempting to do this. Learn as much as you can before you set out, because you are going to learn A LOT as soon as you do. (Her website to sign up for courses.)
Long Riding isn’t just trail riding for longer… it is like backpacking through Europe where you don’t speak the language or eat the food. You have to think ahead – way ahead – for both you and your horses, in a very remote landscape.
PLANNING is everything.
Gillian told me how she made many errors as she learned how to do this successfully. She plans. every. single. detail. and then things still change. The saying, “Life is what happens after you make plans…” totally applies to long riding.
Not that things going wrong while alone in the remote stretches of America’s wild lands is a bad thing… but, it could be. Mostly, though, it has all worked out and created in Gillian a constant craving for more.
You see, long riding isn’t like it was in the Old West. I mean, it sounds romantic, riding the range, but it wasn’t really then and it isn’t now. Oh, it is glorious and amazing and mind-blowing, but it isn’t easy.
There aren’t little towns every 25 miles. There aren’t liveries that will take your horse for the night while you get a shower and a hot meal. There aren’t set trails or people you meet along the way… or the skills passed down from generations of ‘know how’ on what to carry and how to live – out there.
Nowadays, you have to have a team that meets you every few days at navigation points. The team will bring what is needed, which can change all the time. You carry a satellite phone, food for you and your horses, emergency gear, tents, lines and bedroll… and so many items, small items, that fit in exactly the same way in your pack – every day.
Gillian said that the first time she went out, she had way too much stuff and not enough of what she needed. Now, she has it down.
Still, however, she uses a team (usually her Mother) who meets up and provides supplemental horse foods and drives Gillian into town for supplies. Sometimes, Gillian has to leave her horses on a high-line and trust that they will be undisturbed if her team doesn’t find the meet-up location.
Once, Gillian had no choice but hitchhike into town.
It all worked out.
But suffice it to say, no long rider can just ride into town, stock up and refresh both rider and horse, like they did back then. Town is not horse-friendly any more.
What she didn’t tell me… but I read on her Instagram…
Here we were, sharing so much over a 3 hour lunch… and she didn’t tell me about the worst thing that could ever happen on a trail ride – and it happened to her.
She lost her best friend and partner, her lead horse. The mare was walking behind Gillian and suddenly she stopped… and then the mare dropped. She was gone.
Gillian didn’t tell me this story at all. I read it on her Instagram.
So I texted Gillian and gave her my condolences. She told me that it was all so raw. She still cannot speak much about what happened to her mare. Brain bleed, heart attack?… she didn’t know and it didn’t matter – she knew her mare was instantly gone and didn’t suffer. But, talk about LONELY and ALONE… she was out there in total distress, with only her pack horse and her shock.
In true pioneer spirit, this mighty girl rode out on her pack horse, found a ranger, came back and had a ceremony for her girl.
Now THAT is true grit.
Through it all, I still long to see the world through ears. Don’t you?
Throughout the lunch, I kept asking myself, “She does it… can I?” And although the lunch ended far too soon, I felt a kinship of heart, soul and horsehair. I felt a renewed life force in me that wants to run to the hills with my horse.
And, I will pester Gillian as she trains her new best horse… to let me come along for the ride.
I want to see the best places in America through beloved ears… Don’t you?