You have to be mounted and tossed off, for it to count as being thrown. I had my left boot in the stirrup and was on my way into the saddle when the horse started to spin away from me. When I hit the ground, it was just plain falling. And I fell in the best possible place during 34 hours of riding: in a damp river bed where there was no cactus, and where the sand was a very fine grit. I missed most of the fist-sized river rocks, too.
Despite the October monsoons, the San Pedro river is all but dried up now. Yesterday we saw a few deep spots where there were puddles. When we rode along the course of the river, hooves sank deep enough to fill with water, bringing to mind a line from “True Grit” about Texas rangers surviving on the water that pooled in a horse track. That doesn’t seem at all unreasonable to me. We carried a lot of water with us, but I now understand thirst in a way that a Great Lakes girl never did before. I wouldn’t have hesitated to drink that way if it had been necessary. It wouldn’t even merit a shrug. You’d just do it.
Away from the river bed, the fine sand that saved me from a serious injury becomes a smoke-like dust. We rode into the Chiricahua mountains two days ago. Geronimo and his warriors held out up there for years, and it was obvious why. Cavalry dust can be seen for 30 miles or more, and there’d be two days’ warning whenever troopers left Fort Huachuca. The Apaches undoubtedly spent those two days laughing their asses off in relative comfort and absolute security before disappearing into impossible terrain at their leisure.
We lost three riders and a horse after Wednesday. The horse was mine. Pepper went down in the trailer on the way back and got stomped by the others. He will recover but was too hurt to go out again.
I was very close to my limit that day, but reached it decisively on Thursday. We did 14 miles, and for the first 12, I was pretty sure I was going to see this thing through to the end. I had a better horse, despite his impatience with my inept attempt to remount without getting a leg up from one of the wranglers. My friend Ann is an experienced rider who very graciously offered me Jake and switched to a different horse on Thursday. Jake is a beautiful animal with a much smoother gait than Pepper, who is 22 and bony and graceless. Jake was also a little fat, which meant that my legs were not awkwardly bent around under him, trying to keep in the stirrups. And Doug (inventor of the Jack Daniels Float: ice cream and whiskey) loaned me a sheepskin saddle pad, which also made a huge difference.
For 12 miles, Jake and I did well together. I was strong enough, and rode well enough, and had enough stamina for that. My gear was doing the job. I’m fine riding up and down steep grades on stony ground. The dust and heat were both formidable, but didn’t really bother me. We mashed through mile after mile of thorny mesquite and that was no problem.
What gave out was my thin skin. The last two miles produced gen-u-ine saddle sores, and the skin of my ankles is weirdly affected as well — no pain, just the blooms of broken blood vessels all over them.
Once you’re past the point of being able to absorb the shock of a trot through your legs, riding gets bad. “Butt-slamming” is the term of art, and it is not pretty. Last night, faced with another 20 miles on skin that is already significantly damaged, I decided I’d had enough.
This afternoon — along with 9 other riders who have packed it in — I will drive with “the ladies” up to the site of Johnny Ringo’s death. I regret not being able to ride into the woodcutting camp where Wyatt executed Indian Charlie for holding the horses of the men who killed Morgan. But my wonderful new posse friends will take a bunch of pictures for me and tell me about it tonight at dinner. That’s going to have to be good enough. I can’t do more.