I started this post before Christmas and then put it on the back burner. The hay and drive were an adventure on that horrible day of the “Blizzard”
Ever since last Thursday (December 22nd)… We have been on the run. Mentally and physically, we have been everywhere.
It all started out with Summer calling me at 9AM on Thursday morning. She got right to the point, “They won’t let me leave, I have appointments till Saturday and more transfusion scheduled.” I had no words other than “I am so sorry”. There is nothing we can do from up here in Illinois but try and stay calm. Ever since we started the chemo process months ago we had been super confident that everything would fall into place. This was not in the “plan”.
I can tell you this was the start of an emotional rollercoaster. I was ready to lose it. I was in my office trying to keep a reassuring tone to my daughter as I said over and over that it will be OK. After I hung up, I turned off my office light as a warning to keep anyone out of my space as I mentally wrapped my head around not having Summer home for the holiday. Chad told me later he was ready to cry when he heard my end of the call.
This is a final answer. There is no one to talk to at St Jude. You cant plead your case to the doctors. If you are not healthy, you need to stay in Memphis per doctors’ orders.
I called Angela to give her the bad news. (Thanks for giving me that responsibility Summer!) I could tell Angela was in the middle of heaps of work when I called her. She sounded breathless and I could hear lots of people in the background. This is not the way I want to talk about the situation. She was busy enough that she said she would call me back.
Over the next hour, it was a constant back and forth between Angela, Summer, and me trying to decide what to do. Alex, Aiden, and Nate were all looking forward to leaving today and our optimism had backed us into a corner. There was a major storm starting today and it was going to require a lot of maneuvering to get everyone home and get us down to Summer for Christmas.
Actually, reverse a few days.
Angela was sure that at some point she will be away from the horses for a longer duration and doesn’t want to bother friends, neighbors, etc about feeding these guys while the pastures are getting eaten down as they do in the winter. Her solution was to get a rolled bale of hay and place it in the pasture. For the record, we have NEVER used a round bale. These mechanically rolled cylinders are huge and are normally for livestock like cows that don’t care if the hay is moldy and wet in the center. We were really out of our element on this one.
On a weeknight, we were scheduled to pick up the bale and I had agreed to help out… But one sick employee and another on vaca meant I was letting her fly solo on this. Not a big deal… She said the man selling the hay was very nice and he loaded up the ginormous bale into our horse trailer with little problem. A few days later, it was sitting comfortably protected inside the trailer.
Now, fast forward to the Friday before Christmas.
Angela and I are getting ready to blow down to Memphis, but we need to set this hay up because we don’t know how bad this storm is going to be. It was already getting pretty crappy out by noon. The snow was flying sideways in a very strong wind and the outside temp was 15 degrees. This was going to suck. We had a plan though. Angela would pull the truck into the “upper” pasture that is gated away from the barn side pasture. This way, we could lock them away from the bale as needed later on. I would follow her to the pasture with the tractor and stab it with the bucket “forks”.
The snow was painful in my face as I drove the tractor up the driveway, unchained the gate, entered the pasture with the Yanmar, and then closed and resecured the gate. I drove as fast as a small tractor will go to catch up with the Tundra and trailer. 15 degrees is beating on me!
I catch up with her and open the doors of the trailer to find a massive bale looking right at me. It’s 5 feet tall. It has to weigh 1000 pounds or more (A quick google search says 600 to 1600lbs). I don’t think my add-on bucket forks are going to get under this and lift. The leverage angle is completely wrong. I gave it a shot… squinting through the weather just to keep my eyes on the claws to make sure I was at the best angle. I was probably rushing it… And it was not working. The bale was migrating inch by inch toward the back of the trailer and away from the exit. This was not working.
I then tried to stab it in the middle and lift, but again, the forks have no muscle when leveraged this far out. I would have been better off if they were 4 inches long to get a small grip. It was not a unanimous decision… But I told Ang that it was no use. I need a chain or a strap… And I had a better idea for this weekend… Let’s just park the trailer in the barn-side pasture and open the doors… If the horses need food… They will find the trailer. (Later confirmed by Gabe that they were eating out of it)
Angela was way ahead of me because of my pokey tractor… I could see the horses were acting like horses… Running around all excited like they do whenever there is something going on in their stomping grounds. I saw them run one way… And then another. And then… They were gone. I assumed… They were in the barn. Its cold and Angela was headed to the barn by foot. I finally caught up with her on the tractor. I was just in time to ask what she was doing. She had bridles and buckets in hand… “The horses are out!” she raged with hot steamed breath.
No way… I closed the gate. I know I did! I remember dropping the chain between the gate rungs. I do remember it as a courtesy closure as I would normally do in the summertime to mow or cut back and forth with tree limbs for the burn pile. My “Normal” laissez-faire securing technique did not withstand the blowing December storm that was creating this havoc.
At this point… We could start playing the song “Wildfire”. You remember the one… It’s cold. A girl really loves her horse. Even though, like any horse, it ignores the perfectly good shelter you provided it. Thus, it runs away, dies, and tries to drag as many innocent bystanders into the drama as well.
Marco and Calypso are no different than Wildfire. They ran off with wild abandon to who knows where. We could not see them anywhere.
I grabbed the 4Runner and we headed out onto near snow-covered Allentown Rd. Angela had a hunch they would run down to the neighbor’s house and stop because they have horses. It is a thing herd animals do. They find other herd animals and stop to look at them from across a fence. We have watched our horses do it with the neighbor’s cows. Just look at each other. Im losing focus.
We headed down to the neighbors. Angie, our neighbor (easy to remember) does not know us… But when we came to her front door to explain what was going on… She was quick to grab a coat and offer assistance. As a matter of fact, her property buts up to the field with an access road. “Is your truck 4×4?” she asked. “Lady, this is a Toyota! A Toyota TRD PRO 4Runner with differential locks and ATRAC traction assistance” was what I wanted to say… Instead, I confirmed it’s available 4×4 if we needed it.
We got about 30 yards into the field and Angie spotted our Wildfire wanna-be’s across the field. The frigid wind was still blowing and the snow was now falling harder. Angela asked me to let her out immediately so as to not spook them further. It was a good distance to the horse to walk. Angie hopped out 30 of so yards further out. Angela was shaking her feed buckets and calling the. This behavior is usually enough to draw them to any human… But again. The conditions were so that I don’t think they could even hear those buckets shake with frozen oats. They took one look at her and gently started trotting (prancing) away at a decent speed.
This is probably a great time to tell you that Angela left her cell phone in the house. As the horses were running away… I was watching my wife attempt some kind of communication pattern with her hands. Up down… Waving. Side to side… If this were charades… I am losing. I drove towards her and she then started yelling that I need to corral them back towards her. They were trotting north away from her. I hit the gas and blasted across the field and got ahead of them. They were coming right for me. I got out of the truck to give them a reason to stop. Again… If Angela had a cell phone, she could tell me what to do. I stood out in front of the truck and they trotted right past me. Ugh. It’s cold and these guys have no interest in humans. With the 100 acres of wide open land for them to play in… We could do this all afternoon. Did I mention we need to leave for Memphis?
I drove further up and drove them back with honks and erratic driving. I got them close to Angela again. She then yelled at me that I was too close. Listen… If we can’t communicate, I need to be within earshot to know what to do.
Eventually, the horses ended up in Andy’s cow pasture. Once there. Equines stood nose to nose with the bovines and took a break. Long enough that Angela and Angie were able to get ropes on them and start walking them the 200 yards through Andy’s backyard to our pasture entrance.
So, unlike a Michael Martin Murphey song… It was a happy ending. Nobody died. But, I did catch a lot of grief for this delay. While I KNOW I fastened the fence… I didn’t do it well enough for a day that everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
Below, is my nearly GPS-like memory of the chase. Red is horses… Yellow is the TRD PRO 4Runner
We tossed our luggage and about a million presents into the back of the 4Runner and hit the road. Honestly, while the temps are so low… The pavement on the north-south roads was fine for driving on. Nothing was sticking. I high-tailed it around 80mph to St. Louis sucking down gas at 11 or 12 MPG in the Toyota TRD PRO 4Runner with ATRAC etc. I bring that up because we normally take this drive in the Prius to save bucks in gas. We were taking the truck to stave off the worst-case scenario of being stuck in a blizzard, snowdrift, or mountain pass. I even tossed the traction boards in… Just in case!
As I said before. Not as bad of a drive as it could have been. St Louis was a little hairy because the snow was not blowing away into fields in the city. It was piling up on the road and keeping people from going the speed limit. I was patient but hit the gas once we got south of town. The storm was from Michigan to Louisiana… We have fully encased in the snow and cold the whole drive to Memphis.
The temps were low and in the teens all the way down as well. That meant all the snow that was piling up near trees and coverage near the road would kick up to near white-out conditions when near or behind a semi. Add complete darkness and you have a nerve-wracking drive. I, in my supreme confidence of the Toyota TRD PRO 4Runner was the fasted car on the road. I was passing cars left and right like Captain Chaos and his Econoline ambulance doing the Cannonball Run. All the while… I can feel that truck is being pushed from the west by a constant pounding wind. At one point… I was going at a pretty good clip… Holding the steering wheel steady against the wind to keep tracking south… When I felt it give out and give me a moment of pause.
Angela was sleeping… Or pretending to sleep. I think it was the former. Because if she would have felt what I felt when the wind was interrupted… She surely would have said something. I swear the truck went sideways for a split second. But, when it does things like this… You get beeps, bleeps, and alarms. Normally. So, did I feel something or not? I slowed down a bit and kept inching up the pace over the next 20 minutes.
Another overpass/underpass situation… And this time it was undeniable! I was losing this truck at 70MPH on black ice! The truck started sliding sideways… I turned into it… Snapped back the other directly and back again. There were no cars near me and I managed to say on the road… That was a blessing. The bleeps and beeps had not chirped at me… But Angela was VERY vocal! “SLOW DOWN” she yelled.
Sound advice. I took the truck down to 55 and kept on trucking. We made it to Memphis with very little excitement.
Driving in Memphis on ice with those drivers??? Now that was an adventure as well. But not much to report that you cant imagine if you know southern drivers.