Yearly Archives: 2018

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 2: Getting There is Half the Fun

The morning after our big hike to Wheeler, we finally got a good view of the place we were staying. I’d driven through Cottonwood Cove many times over the years when traveling to and from my hometown of Lake City, but I’d never stopped. It’s a beautiful little spot nestled down in a narrow notch between big cliffs known as “Wagon Wheel Gap”. I love staying in places like this with our goats because there are nice places to walk and for them to browse.

We had a leisurely drive from Wagon Wheel Gap to Taos. We took the longer scenic route through Chama, NM and stopped in Carson NF between Chama and Tres Piedras to do a little exploring.

I’ve never seen an aspen tree like this before. Its trunk was burnt black and knobbly and it split into several trees further up–common in evergreens, but not so much in aspens. It obviously had been struck by lightning but lived.

Not more than 25 feet away there was another lightning-struck aspen. This one was not so lucky.

We discovered a weather station back in the woods. It had obviously gone through several technological generations. This thing was fascinating. I’m sure it has something to do with measuring wind, but have no idea how it works.

Love the color of these aspens.

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 1: Wheeler

We left home late Thursday afternoon October 4th because our first stop was not very far–only about a 3 1/2 hour drive. Our destination was Wagon Wheel Gap, situated between South Fork and Creede, CO. Our cabins were only a mile from Pool Table Road, which would take us to our trailhead next morning. I was on a quest. Not only did I want to see Wheeler Geologic Area again (I hadn’t been there since 2004), but I was scouting for a potential spot for a future North American Packgoat Association Rendezvous. In that sense, I was disappointed. The area was not as ideal as I’d remembered, and pine beetles have made it temporarily even less suitable until the dead trees fall and the new ones can attain some height. But it was a perfect day for a hike.

The morning was clear but cold. We started off at 8:00 in the morning, and that was almost too early because our road was still in shadow at that hour. It was 12 miles from our cabin to the trailhead and the goats had to ride in the open truck bed with no sun to warm them. Luckily the 11-mile Pool Table Road had recently been graded. When I was there fourteen years before, it was a very slow, bumpy ride because of the terrible washboards. We parked where the 2-wheel-drive road ended. From there, you can 4-wheel to Wheeler, but it’s a very slow, very rough 14-mile drive. The hiking trail is only 7 miles by comparison, and by all accounts it’s easier and takes less time to walk.

Phil and I had a lot of miles to cover, so we kept up a pretty brisk pace. It was seven miles to the Wheeler area, but another mile to actually get to the formation, and more distance still if we wanted to walk around on it. The first few miles of our hike were frosty. We were mostly in the trees and the sun was also mostly blocked by a high ridge. It’s around 10:00 in this photo but there’s still frost on the ground.

Around noon, we came in sight of Wheeler Geologic Area. This was Colorado’s first National Monument, declared by Teddy Roosevelt himself in 1908. Wheeler was a far more popular tourist destination 100 years ago than it is today. It was known as the “Bryce Canyon of Colorado” and was the most popular tourist attraction in the state after Pike’s Peak. Now a century later, very few people have heard of it and even fewer have ever seen it.

And here we are on this bizarre formation of petrified and eroded volcanic ash. It’s very difficult to describe because it rises out of the trees like an incongruous scar. In Utah, the land changes gradually to the point where you almost of expect this kind of thing around any corner. But not here, emerging out of a spruce forest in Colorado. Like Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, you look at Wheeler and think to yourself that it just shouldn’t be there. And it certainly shouldn’t be that big.

I love this giant stone torch.

Phil and I had just enough time to climb to the top of the formation, but not enough time to walk the 2-mile trail around it.

I loved this hollowed-out stump on the way up.

It looks like a moonscape on top. I’d love to see this in the moonlight someday.

Balanced rock!

And before we wrap up this adventure, I must insert this blast from the past. Cuzco accompanied us on our trip to Wheeler in 2004. This was back when he still had two horns.

I was a lot skinnier and my hat was not yet faded.

I loved the colors in the woods. Dead trees are eerily fascinating with their weird, twisted bare branches. And then there are the new ones bursting up all around with their thick foliage and rich, green color. It’s as if they’re trying their best to make up for the ones that died.

Although it was long, the trail was not steep. A good stretch of it ran through an alpine meadow. We saw lots of elk tracks, and for an hour we heard so much bugling from the surrounding woods we thought maybe there was a national elk convention happening that day. But we never saw an actual elk.

There was one last golden aspen that caught the fading light at the end of day and turned it to fire. Had we been there a week earlier, the entire hillside would have been aflame.

Our trek ended right about sunset, and we arrived at our cabin close to dark. We were exhausted and our legs ached, but it was a wonderful day. We’d hiked a round trip of at least 16 miles with enough time in there to take some photos, eat lunch, and enjoy the scenery. What a wonderful place!

Goat-O-Rama at the 2018 Colorado State Fair

The Colorado State Fair was a great success this year! Phil and I were in charge of setting up the goat obstacle course, so instead of bringing dairy goats we decided this time to bring just Finn and Sputnik so we could concentrate on fewer things. There were entries in every division from Pee-Wee to adult, and the adult division actually had the biggest turnout. The stands around the arena were filled to capacity. This made it a really fun time with lots of laughs and energy. We had a nice variety of colorful obstacles to make the course interesting.

Phil was the master course designer and he did a great job giving the course a nice flow.

There wasn’t an overall Grand Champion, but if there had been I think this little gal and her Nigie would have won on cuteness alone.

All of our competitors were dairy goats and got to run the course without equipment. But Finn and Sputnik got duded up in saddles for the occasion. The announcer did a great job building us up as professional obstacle course competitors who spend hours practicing at home and touring the country. The audience was fully prepared to be wowed by our supergoats’ stellar performances.

But Finn and Sputnik had other ideas. Sputnik is perfectly capable of clearing this jump on the topmost rung, but the minute we came in the gate, he planted his feet and absolutely refused to budge. He didn’t care how low the jump was–he wasn’t going to attempt it. Treats held no interest for him. He’d decided he didn’t want to do the obstacle course and that was that. He was the only goat in the entire competition who would not clear the jump in any way and had to go around. One disadvantage to using a full-grown packgoat is that if he decides not to do something, there’s no way you can drag him, lift him, or push him over!

We struggled through the most of the obstacles with Sputnik dragging stubbornly at the end of the leash, his face fixed in a permanent sulk. However, he picked up his pace once we turned back toward the gate (and toward Finn waiting at the other side of it), and I thought perhaps we would finish well.

But a few seconds later, all forward motion ceased when Sputnik balked at the water and refused to budge another step. How many times have Sputnik and I practiced this exact obstacle? “For shame, Sputnik!” After circling it 2-3 times, he did eventually tip-toe through, but I was a little red-faced from my goat’s apparent lack of training, and from my efforts at trying to haul him through by main force (see previous statement)

Finn did a little better than Sputnik. He balked at first but eventually decided to clear the jump. He went over the teeter-totter like a champ and I thought the rest would go well.

Although Finn was fairly willing, Phil had difficulty guiding him through the narrow weave poles and Finn got his saddle caught a couple of times. This obstacle cost Phil and Finn a lot of time.

The water was a sticking point for Finn too.

But Finn’s run ended on a high note. Finn loves to jump up on a stanchion, and he stood poised at the end with his head cocked proudly toward the audience so they could take photos. He didn’t want to get down.

I believe Sputnik ended up placing dead last in the obstacle competition, and Finn didn’t do much better. But it was hilarious and everyone had a great time. I can’t wait to go again next year!

After the obstacle competition came the much-anticipated annual goat costume contest. Unfortunately, it seems that most years the only people who really anticipate the costume event are Phil and I. But this year quite a few kids dressed up, which sure made the event a lot more fun!

Some lovely entries in the junior class.

This little gal was the lone contestant in the pee-wee division. Wait–I think the goat’s dress was on the girl during the obstacle class!

Although the judges awarded these two second place, Phil and I would have placed them first. This is Dorothy and the goat is Toto in a picnic basket.

Phil and I had complimentary costumes. Our goats were ships and their “costumes” were limited to flags. We rigged our crossbucks with bungee cords and used them as sling shots to lob mini tennis balls at each other in a great sea battle.

Phil was the British naval captain, Lord Ramage.

I was Captain Goatbeard the pirate. You can’t see it in the photo, but Sputnik was wearing an eye patch! I named my ship the “Baa-aarnacle”. That name works in goat language AND pirate speech!

There was another adult besides Phil and I in the costume class this year! Last year was the first time this happened, so perhaps we’re seeing the start of a trend (fingers crossed!). This was Dr. Ellie from Jurassic Park with her little triceratops.

What a fun event! I hope we see an even bigger turnout next State Fair!

Why goats make the best pack animals…

Gayle recently sent me her photos from our pack trip a few weeks ago. I love this one. This is why I love goats. Finn laid down right behind me and Sputnik curled up near my feet. I leaned back and used Finn for a pillow so I could have a comfy little nap, and Finn curled his head around and rested it on my shoulder so he could have a comfy nap too. It was such a sweet moment.

Goat-O-Rama at the State Fair Parade

Phil and I drove our team and carriage in the Colorado State Fair parade this morning. And just for a little added fun, we brought Max and Sadie with us as passengers and to help us advertise Goat-O-Rama.

I had some custom car magnets made up so we could add them to our carriage. I figured this might be a good way to sell some goats.

Sadie was awesome. This was her first time away from home and she never made a peep or got fractious. We had Max in the wagon bed with her at first, but he kept hogging all the space and pushing her off the side, so we removed Max and let Sadie ride by herself. We made Max walk on a leash beside the carriage during the parade and Sadie went straight to relaxing once he was gone. She laid right down and stayed there quite contentedly during the entire parade. It was funny to hear the kids squeal with delight when they spotted her laying down in the carriage. They’d squeal at the goat cart first, and then the volume would go up considerably when they spied Sadie. They’d jump up and down screaming, “Look! Look! There’s a baby goat riding in the back!”

We were entry #88, which meant we didn’t really get started until after 11:00, but we had to be at our place in line by 9:30. This meant we had a long, tiring wait. It was fun for Phil and I because we enjoyed watching the parade go by in front of us (our lineup position was on an intersecting side road), but Finn and Sputnik weren’t interested in the parade so they just had to be patient. Luckily we found a shady spot under a tree. The parade seemed to be largely made up of huge, noisy marching bands. Luckily the goats didn’t mind the noise at all and weren’t nervous. The only thing that upset the boys was when a young kid ran up and hit Finn in the face with a balloon during lineup. His mother grabbed the kid and scolded him pretty soundly and apologized to us. Finn and Sputnik spooked and jumped backwards, probably not so much out of fear but from surprise that someone would do something so rude. I don’t think they’d ever seen a balloon up close before, and they’re certainly not used to someone walking up and bopping them in the face! I’m glad the kid’s mother took charge right away.

Sadie was a picture of contented relaxation the entire time–first while we waited in line and then while we marched in the parade. But Max was something else altogether. He’s not particularly rowdy or mischievous, but I’ve never seen a goat so “on the move”. He has to be doing something all the time. And he’s extremely enthusiastic about whatever it is he happens to be doing, so he’s a wonderfully fun goat to be with. He ended up walking the parade route on a leash because he wouldn’t share the wagon nicely with Sadie. Today was his first time wearing a halter, and he led very well in it. Phil didn’t once have to get out of the carriage and encourage him on foot.

Finn and Sputnik were eager to get back to the staging area after the parade and head home. They were wonderfully good during the parade, but it was a long, long wait before we started and the weather was hot and humid. They earned their break today! And I’m really proud of Max and Sadie. They were little troopers.

Multi-species pack trip: Day 4

I awoke next morning to a heavy feeling in the air and the smell of rain. The sky was low and dark. We packed up camp before breakfast so we could beat a hasty retreat in case it started raining. But the rain held off and Gayle cooked egg and bean burritos for us.

It drizzled on and off as we headed back to the trailhead. The thick brush on this part of the trail soaked us from the waist down and drenched the panniers from the bottom so that when I got back to my truck, stuff in the top of Finn’s panniers was dry while the stuff in the bottom was damp.

Finn was a little sore starting out. He never objected to being saddled–in fact, he seemed quite eager to the task–but when he started walking I could tell that his back was sore. He was hollowing his back and walking with his hind end crouched low to the ground as if trying to walk out from under his load. I readjusted the saddle and tightened the cinch another notch to keep the load from swaying. It helped, but I could tell Finn was mostly just sore from yesterday’s steep descent. I need to find a saddle that fits him better. This one is ok, but it’s a little too narrow for Finn’s wide frame and it bridges a bit in the middle.

Sputnik was a champ. He loves having a job and it really showed on this trip.

The last creek crossing.

Gayle, me, Alexa.

We got back to the trailhead and our day’s adventures had only just begun. Gayle had driven a huge rig into the parking area and it took us around two hours to figure out how she could get it back out. It wasn’t as straightforward as backing onto the highway they way she’d come in and then driving up the road to find a turnaround. No, the highway was closed to vehicles over 35′ because of the sharp hairpin turns that started immediately above the trail parking area, and there was no turnaround. Suffice to say, it was extremely fortunate that several cars left the parking area during the two hours we spent trying to figure out how to get her rig out of there.

By the time we finally got going, all of us were sopping wet and very tired, but it had been a wonderful outing. This was a great first experience at multi-day goat packing for me. The goats seemed to love it too. They never once shied off or walked away when I got out the saddles in the morning–even Finn with his sore back. They stood for saddling and loading without being tied or held. The boys’ training is pretty solid and it showed, but Petunia was my little wild card. She’s never been a trail goat and knew nothing of trail manners or of her place in line. She would cut in front of the boys, then cut in front of me, then go off-trail for a snack, and she liked to cut switchbacks. Her bad manners tended to make Finn and especially Sputnik forget their training, so I had to do a lot of reminding on this trip. But I feel like if Petunia hadn’t been there to lead them astray, Finn and Sputnik’s manners would have been pretty impeccable. They were never really bad even with the distraction, and there were only one or two times when I had to remind the boys about staying on-trail for switchbacks regardless of Petunia’s antics. It makes me feel good to know that the time spent working on trail manners has paid off so well. I can’t wait for our next trip!

Multi-species pack trip: Day 3

I turned the goats loose after breakfast and Sputnik soon settled himself on a sunny little perch on a mossy rock.

This morning I waited until the llama saddling was well underway before I began packing up my goats.

But it didn’t matter. Soon my goats and I settled back down while Alexa and Gayle wrestled with Tuvoc and Spot. Tuvoc kept kicking while Spot turned saddling into a full-fledged rodeo. When she wasn’t bucking, charging, and spinning, she was laying down in protest.

Even hyper-active Petunia took the opportunity to nap a little longer.

Things went much better once we got underway. Spot realized we were headed back the way we came and she stopped dragging on the rope.

Gayle was even able to tie Spot to Tuvoc without wearing the 18-year-old llama out.

The trip out ended up being much easier than the trip down, despite the uphill climb. We stopped wasting time searching for a trail and instead we stuck to the creek bank. We crossed and re-crossed the creek many times to stay on firm footing. I imagine this valley is pretty tedious during a wet year. In fact, I wonder if the trail was obliterated last summer when we had so much rain.

It was a beautiful hike now that the sun was out and we weren’t in a hurry.

Sputnik’s pack was a good deal lighter after last night’s feast!

We enjoyed sunshine on our hike back up the valley. The scenery was so beautiful I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

Once we started up the steep part, the goats made the rest of us look bad.

Gayle and Tuvoc: Mountain conquerors!

Waiting for llamas… again.

Finn is dwarfed by that pack!

Here comes the first llama!

We picked up the trail at the base of the boulder field, but it branched off in several different directions near the top. Gayle and Tuvoc took the high road, Alexa and Spot took the low road, and my goats and I took the one in the middle. Alexa and Spot met some hikers going the other way. Finn and Sputnik studied them with interest from above.

We crested the saddle and stopped at the pond on top for an hour or so. Alexa wanted to fish. The sun was warm and the grass was soft. It was the perfect place for a picnic. I unloaded Finn and Sputnik so they could have a proper break. If I hadn’t left their brightly-colored saddles on, you’d have a hard time spotting my goats among all the gray and white rocks!

Sputnik always manages to find a little nook to lie in.

A bearded dragon goat!

I haven’t seen Gayle’s photos yet, so I hope she got a good one of me and Finn. Finn plopped down behind me on the grass, so I leaned back and used his warm, soft belly for a pillow. That’s when he curled his head around me, rested his chin on my shoulder, and promptly went to sleep with his cheek against mine.

After our rest at the pond, Gayle and I headed down the mountain to start setting up camp while Alexa finished fishing. The llamas were going well because they were headed back, so Gayle was able to string them together and lead them by herself. It was the goats that had problems on the steep descent! Sputnik uses a Sopris saddle with a flexible tree, and it isn’t always the best at staying put. The steepness of the hillside caused it to inch forward until the cinch worked its way up to a narrower part of his chest. Once that happened, the saddle promptly slid off to one side. Sputnik stopped and waited for me to come back and fix it. I did my best, but the hill was so steep I couldn’t find a good spot to readjust the saddle. I would have liked to remove the panniers and start from scratch, but I was afraid if I took them off they would go rolling down the mountainside. So I had to fix the saddle as best I could with the panniers attached, which meant I couldn’t tighten the cinch properly. Naturally it happened again… and again… and probably one more time after that… before we reached the bottom. Sputnik was very patient. Every time the saddle slid off, he just stopped and waited for me to go back and fix it. I think many animals would have run off with the turned-over panniers flapping and spilling their contents all over the mountain.

Finn’s wooden John Mionczynski saddle stayed centered, but the front edge of the saddle slid up against his shoulder blades and made him a bit sore. This is where I wish goat saddles were made with an upturned front edge like horse saddles. That straight edge can really dig into their shoulders when they’re carrying a heavy load down steep terrain.

All this fiasco meant that Gayle and her llamas got well ahead of me before I reached the valley floor. This was a novel experience and I had the opportunity to stop and take some beautiful photos of her in this breathtaking green valley. I love the creek meandering through it.

Gayle and I reunited in the valley and Gayle had me lead Tuvoc down the next steep section. It had some tricky spots on it that required more maneuvering than she she thought she should do with the llamas strung together. The goats had no difficulty crossing a large, steep boulder the size of a dump truck, and they went on ahead of us down the trail. Little did they know that I planned to take Tuvoc around the far side of the boulder. When the goats looked back and didn’t see me following them down the rock, they panicked and ran back up to look for me. They came bursting around the boulder just as Tuvoc and I were about to carefully negotiate a series of smaller boulders. Tuvoc spooked and leaped off the rocky hillside, smacking me square between the shoulder blades with his right pannier in the process. I almost lost my balance on the rocks and started to fall as Tuvoc pulled the rope out of my hands. I know I should have held onto him, but I was afraid he was going to pull me right off the edge, so I let go. By some miracle I managed to stay upright, but Tuvoc was trotting down the mountain as fast has his old legs would go and the goats were chasing after him. I called the goats back while Gayle jogged down the trail after Tuvoc. Thankfully it was the old, highly trained llama that had escaped and not the wild, unhandled one. Tuvoc eventually stopped in some thick brush near a creek crossing so he could wait for Spot and that’s when Gayle managed to catch hold of his rope.

We set up camp in the same spot we had used on our way out. I unloaded the goats and Finn and Sputnik immediately crashed while Petunia went straight to eating.

Finn fell asleep almost at once.

Then it was Sputnik’s turn to fall over. The goats never laid out on their sides at the same time. One always waited for the other to pop up before he flopped over.

The sun was hot on the hilltop but Petunia found some relief under the rain fly of our tent.

What a view!

Spot was tired too.

Sputnik laid down near Spot. By the third day, Spot was accustomed to the goats and didn’t mind them at all. The goats enjoyed hanging out in Spot’s picket area that evening and the next morning.

I don’t know how they sleep like this. It looks uncomfortable to lay balanced on a single horn tip.

Multi-species pack trip: Day 2

We broke camp after the sun was well up and the early morning frost had melted. Gayle and Alexa went to saddle the llamas so I figured I should start getting my goats ready. One person saddling three goats should take about the same amount of time as two people saddling two llamas, right?

A few minutes later my crew was ready to rumble.

But “Hurry up and wait” became the name of the game as I discovered that the llamas took much longer to pack than I anticipated. Luckily my guys are patient and know how to avoid tiring themselves before the hike even begins.

We got going and our view widened as we climbed out of the valley floor.

This boulder was child’s play for my nimble goats who skipped right up it like it wasn’t there, but it presented something of a problem for the llamas, who had to find a way around.

We crested a shoulder of the mountain and saw the valley spread out behind us while another valley widened out in front.

We stopped in this second valley to eat some lunch and take a break after our morning climb and before the biggest climb. Gayle discovered that Spot likes apples, which apparently is somewhat unusual for llamas.

The big climb was not terribly long but it was very steep. I loved the views of the grassy green valley floor below us.

As Finn and Sputnik approach the top, you can see Gayle and her llamas not far behind us but very far below. This was just the top part of the climb. Most of it is out of the frame.

As we crested the ridge we discovered a small lake in the saddle.

When we crossed the saddle we could see another valley spread out below us with Frying Pan Lakes in the distance. It looked like it would be an easy downhill trek to the ponds where we planned to make camp.

“You da man, Sputnik!”

Our path became more difficult as we descended the far side of the saddle. Trails fanned out in several different directions and cairns were sometimes misleading. My goats and I got up on the scree so we could look at the lay of the land from above.

Once past the scree slope, it looked like an easy and pleasant walk through the green and gently sloping valley below, which was a relief because bad weather was moving in and rain was starting to sprinkle down.

But as we got going, we realized that this was a trackless valley filled with marshes, jumbled rock, and thick brush. We weaved back and forth, searching in vain for an established trail, but we never found one. It was beautiful and looked how I imagined the wilderness to look between Bree and Rivendell when I read The Lord of the Rings. But as the day wore on, the lovely walk became more and more of a slog and then a death march as we trudged doggedly on toward the lakes, wet and tired. I wanted to press ahead. My goats spent more time waiting for the llamas than actually walking and it was wearing them out. Spot was dragging on her lead the whole time which was tiring Gayle out and slowing everyone down. I tried not to think about having to hike back UP this valley tomorrow. We ended up stopping before we reached the lakes. We were tantalizingly close and Alexa and I were game to keep going, but Gayle was worn out from dragging Spot and we weren’t exactly sure just how much further the lakes were since we couldn’t see them past the trees. It turned out later that we were almost on top of them, but we stopped in a boulder-strewn dell among the evergreens and made camp just as more rain set in.

I was on cooking duty that night and I made shrimp linguine alfredo. It was a surprisingly easy camp dish, especially since I had milk on the hoof, and it came out delicious. I love it when a simple meal looks super fancy so I can take credit for being a five-star chef with the ease of preparing a box of mac ‘n’ cheese.

It was nice to have a piping hot meal after such a cold, tiring day.

Multi-species pack trip: Day 1

I’ve had a rough time with Jet’s unexpected death. I’d marked my calendar ages ago for a goat packing trip the last of July/first of August, but when Jet died just a few days before I was set to leave, I felt like canceling. However, I’d been looking forward to this trip for months and I had other people counting on me to be there. So although I didn’t feel like going, I decided that it would be good for me to get out and have a few days away from home doing something completely different. I’m so glad I went…

Last fall, Alexa Metrick of Pack Animal Magazine contacted me and several other women to propose an “all-animal pack trip” for summer 2018. The original idea was to have packgoats, llamas, alpacas, a yak, and possibly a burro on the trip. In the end, only the packgoats and llamas represented, which turned out for the best because of the limited parking available at the trailhead.

Our crew was scheduled to meet at 10:30 Tuesday morning, July 31st at the North Fork Lake Creek Trailhead (there’s a mouthful!) on the edge of the Mount Massive Wilderness Area, situated between Twin Lakes and Aspen, Colorado. I arrived exactly on schedule and Alexa showed up a short time later. Our llama buddy, Gayle, however, was delayed several hours so Alexa and I ate lunch and spent time exploring the trailhead area.

Gayle showed up around 2:00 and it took her almost two hours to unload the llamas and gear and get packed up, so we were fortunate that Alexa’s plan for our first campsite was only about two miles in. Alexa had no pack animals, so Gayle and I divided her gear among the two llamas and my two packgoats. Finn carried Alexa’s clothes and Sputnik got the tent.

Finn and Sputnik carried the gear, but Petunia came along to provide fresh milk on the trail so we could dine in luxury. She carried a small pack containing her milking things, which included a couple of empty bottles, milk strainer and filters, disinfectant wipes, disinfectant spray, clean cloths, and an inflatable cushion for me to sit on while milking.

Sputnik was so boss on this trip! His panniers weren’t huge, but they were heavy because they contained the food, first aid and survival kits, and other assorted dense and oddly-shaped items. I slipped a couple of lightweight plastic trash cans inside his panniers to protect his ribs from the hard-sided things in his pack.

Flower child.

This is Gayle with her llama, “Spot”. This was Spot’s first experience on the trail. She’d been saddled at home and given very light weights to carry, but she’d never actually been packed and she took a bit of persuading to stand for being loaded. She also needed a good bit of encouragement to keep moving along the trail the first couple of days.

My crew had never really packed either for that matter. Finn and Sputnik have always had it easy. Our packs have never weighed more than about 30 lbs. tops, and I’ve nearly always traded the pack between them since we’ve rarely needed two full loads of gear. This time they had to carry full loads of about 50 lbs. each and they didn’t get a break. I have to say, they really stepped up to the task. They never acted like it bothered them or slowed them down.

Finn’s pack weighed about the same as Sputnik’s but it was much bulkier since he carried the sleeping bag, clothes, and other fluffy items. I brought winter gear since we planned to be near timberline for most of the trip, and I was glad to have it at night!

Left to right: Alexa, Spot, Tuvok, Gayle, Me, Petunia, Sputnik, and Finn.

There was quite a lot of thick brush on the lower part of the trail and I was thankful we weren’t tackling it at the height of tick season. The goats didn’t mind their panniers scraping between bushes.

The first day was the hottest, and my goats had spent most of it sitting in the sun while we waited for Gayle so they were quite thirsty despite the easy work load.

You know you’ve found the perfect campsite when beams glow down on it from heaven.

“Well, hello Spot!”

I worked out a pretty good system for milking on the trail. I’d tie Petunia to a bush so she could eat, plop my inflatable cushion on the ground next to her, set my milk strainer in an empty bottle, then milk straight into it.

I chilled the milk overnight by placing it in a creek. I don’t drink coffee but I love my milk in the morning. It’s filling and it gives me energy to last for several hours, which is good for someone who isn’t much of a breakfast eater.

In the blink of an eye…

I lost my good friend Jet last week. We’ve been so worried all summer about fire, but it was during the rain that tragedy struck–literally. We had a tremendous lightning storm around dinner time and when it was over, Jet was gone. The tree he was under had been hit and he was gone in an instant. My only consolation is that he did not suffer even the tiniest bit. He fell exactly as he’d been standing. I have a long and wonderful history with that horse. Jet was 16 years old last month. I helped his mother bring him into the world–a gangly rambunctious little colt with a bold, adventuresome attitude. He grew into a fantastic all-around horse who did a little of everything and excelled at much of it.

Jet and I had a wonderful “last hoorah” the night before he died. I took him to Salida for the “Gambler’s Choice” obstacle challenge. Jet won first place in the jackpot. I drove home at a snail’s pace through thick fog in the wee hours of the morning and Jet, as always, was quiet and patient in the trailer over those winding mountain passes. Little could I know that less than 24 hours later he would be gone.

My nephews and niece came to watch the competition and they got to ride Jet around the warm-up arena. He was so good with kids.

This is me and Jet’s last photo together.

This may be the hardest loss I’ve ever experienced because it was so unexpected.My neighbor buried Jet the next morning. I was worried that scavengers might bother Jet’s body before we could get it underground, but Skokie stood near him all night. The only trauma to Jet was the ear that Skokie pulled on, trying revive his friend.

Hug your loved ones. You never know when they may be gone.