Well, it happened

Remember last month, when I wrote that our sheep are defying the odds by refusing to die? And I added: check next week to see if I jinxed them.

Well, I should have written, “check next month.” Because it happened: I jinxed the sheep.

One in particular.

img_4446

From a distance, I half-hoped that she was just dozing like a dog, wedged against the shed. But when I approached and only 4 scattered, there was little doubt.

It was bound to happen. At least three of the ewes were mature when we acquired the herd 8 years ago. (We started with 6; one died in the first year.) Sheep live 10 to 12 years, but one Katahdin sheep site estimates the lifespan at 7 to 12 years.

So she had a good life… aside from being periodically terrorized by Maisie’s high-speed herding style.

IMG_9959.JPG

And there was that one experiment with mutton busting in 2012.

But the kid fared far worse than the sheep.

img_7995

img_7996

If anything, life has been too good for our flock; they’re all in the 200 pound range and they do not hesitate to throw their weight around when we try to minister care: deworming and hoof trimming.

I will spare you the unsavory details of moving and disposing of a dead, bloated, 200+ pound sheep. I’ll just say that it was smelly and physically challenging. And Martin and I wanted to burn our clothes afterward.

So if it’s possible to retract a jinx, I’d like that option, please.

The final four are welcome to stick around awhile longer.

img_7931

Pigpen’s Demise

gwtw_3lg

Fear not, our car Pigpen is not dead yet.

But we have a do-not-resuscitate order, and the end is approaching.

This summer, when the exhaust system started rumbling and the main control panel failed (disabling every operable knob except the radio), we had Pigpen triaged.

The findings weren’t good. If Pigpen were human, he’d be on hospice care. Repairs exceeded the car’s value, but the auto guy shrugged and said, “It is drivable. It’s not like it’s going to explode or anything.”

That’s when I decided to drive Pigpen to the bitter end.

And this is a horrible image — especially egregious from a horse owner — but I liken Pigpen’s impending doom to the carriage horse in the movie, Gone with the Wind.

Remember when Scarlett is desperate to reach her family’s plantation, Tara, and see if it survived the Union’s siege? Scarlett pushes this wretched horse to his breaking point. In a silhouetted scene, we see the poor animal give out; Scarlett flogs the horse until he collapses and dies.

That’s kinda how I picture Pigpen’s final moments: rattling down the road, until the car can’t manage another mile and slows to a silent stop.

Other times I imagine a Hollywood ending: we are cruising down the road when suddenly, the axle cracks, the wheels fly off, and the car vomits a flood of engine parts all over the pavement.

Then a tow truck driver scrapes up Pigpen’s remains with a giant spatula.

That’s my prognostication.

So why mention it today?

Because it was particularly chilly this morning. And when the kids piled in, I said, “Remember riding in Pigpen this summer without AC? Well, we’re facing a similar problem. There’s no heat.”

The solution seemed obvious: use our newer, functioning car. And I assumed that the kids were on board when Had announced, “I know what we can do!”

But instead she said, “Blankets! We’ll wrap ourselves in blankets!” There was no objection from the other two sitting back there.

“Okay,” I said, “We’ll be just like the Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie. But in a car, not a carriage.”

That’s what I said, but personally, I couldn’t see myself bundled in blankets. And there’s something that the kids don’t know: one other button still functions in that pathetic car.

The driver’s seat warmer.

Of course a faintly-warm cushion is a paltry source of heat, but it’s fine for now.

And who knows if Pigpen will reach winter without self-destructing and spewing belts, hoses and gaskets all over the road.

We’ll just have to see.

The Melon Report

img_4342

It’s 8 am Saturday morning (hour 3 of Xtreme Hike) and I’m slogging up a muddy trail, in sodden socks…with 15 pounds of fruit on my back.

This year’s 27+ mile hike involved a watermelon. I toted it for 7.2 miles. Me & the melon shared Moonstomper trail and Homestead together. We stood atop the rocks at Bear Cliff Overlook — where there was nothing to overlook. Just fog.

But I wasn’t tramping alone with grocery store produce. I partnered with Craig, one of our hikers, and of course, Maisie the Wonder Dog. Martin and 38 other Xtreme participants were scattered along the trails as well.

To back up, my Xtreme Hike 2016 book report begins on Friday morning, with our 4 1/2 hour road trip to the mountains near Blacksburg, Virginia. Along the way, we stopped to grab energy bars and drinks.

And browse the clothing racks.

img_4305

Mike Johnson snagged some reading material.

img_4308

When the 5 of us (me, Martin, Annie, Mike and Maisie) finally ascended the mountain road to our destination, “Mountain Lake Lodge,” we could barely see the resort through the fog. (Or “clouds,” as Martin kept saying.)

Fog, clouds, whatever. The hotel and its cottages were blotted out by hazy white. But we had the details: Mountain Lake Lodge is an old resort, dating back to the mid-1800s. And it is best known as the filming site for the 1987 movie, Dirty Dancing.

Hence, the watermelon. Movie fanatics should be familiar with the scene: Jennifer Grey (“Baby”) and Patrick Swayze (“Johnny”) meet, and Grey awkwardly explains her presence in the staff quarters by saying, “I carried a watermelon.”

This spurred Dave Lemen, Xtreme Hike participant and committee member, to create a secret fundraising challenge, which he revealed Friday night: an extra $1,000 donation to the team willing to tote a 15-pound watermelon from start to finish.

Folks weren’t exactly clamoring for the honor. Everyone just glanced around the room. I caught the gleam in Mike Johnson’s eyes and we volunteered “Team Brynn” to ferry the fruit… to the relief of others (and the dazed astonishment of those at our table.)

img_4313

Fortunately, I was reminded that Craig Connolly was part of our crew. Not only is Craig a veteran of this event, but he’s speedy. Xtreme Hike isn’t a race, but he has finished in front the last three years. (Staff from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation chart each participant’s time through the hike, to keep track and account for everyone involved.)

After dinner on Friday, we readied our packs. And Saturday morning came way too soon. We convened at 4:30 am.

vzm-img_20161001_090414

All of us at oh-dark-thirty

Craig volunteered for Leg 1 of melon transport. And as it happened, Maisie and I kept pace with him for those first 7 1/2 miles. Our headlamps bobbed in the dark and we paused periodically, to snap the light sticks hung the previous day, to guide the way.

In the early morning light, we reached the rest station first. And after a quick snack, we transferred the watermelon into my backpack.

During the first leg, I’d asked Craig about the added weight. He claimed, “It isn’t that bad.” He even said, “Sometimes, I forget it’s there.”

Well, when it was my turn, I did not forget it was there — a solid, 15-pound orb riding my spine. We departed at 7:35 am, and I felt every bulky minute and every weighted incline, until 10:30 am, when we completed the 7.2 miles of Leg 2.

Two sections down, two to go.

I was downright giddy, freeing that fruit from my pack, and I happily left it for the next volunteer (or victim) from our team.

img_4345

Ready for the handoff

Melon-free, I was energetic and recharged. Maisie, Craig and I blazed through Leg 3. We didn’t discuss the fact that we were leading. Because Xtreme Hike is not a race. The goal is to finish, not to win. But silently, we were thinking: we’re in the lead.

img_4352

The old golf course; a respite from the mountain trails.

We took a longer break before the last section, propping up our feet. I fed Maisie beef jerky. Then we began the most difficult portion, with the steepest, lengthiest climbs. As the front runners, we had cracked the light sticks in the dark, and adjusted ambiguous signs for those in our wake, but on Leg 4, we suffered a setback:

We were sent out in the wrong direction.

The rest stop staff and volunteers realized the error when the next set of hikers arrived, and questioned the route. They were sent the correct way, while we were radioed to turn around and start over. Stunned, Craig and I retraced our steps as quickly as possible.

Ultimately, our detour tacked on 2.5 additional miles and wasted time. At the rest stop — our start-over-again point, we learned that the two hikers who had trailed right behind us all day, had a 30-minute lead.

We had 6.5 miles to make up the difference.

img_4415

And that’s when we abandoned our fake, blase attitude about when and how we finished. Though exhausted and sore, we speed-walked at a ludicrous pace, half jogging/half stumbling when we hit rocks and roots. We barely talked — we were too winded — and around each turn we peered ahead for the leaders. When we didn’t see them, we wondered how long we’d sustain our crazy pace.

The hikers ahead of us — nice people, who’d maintained a consistent pace all day — would’ve finished first, had they not been pursued by demented, excessively-competitive maniacs.

At some point along the mountain trail, we caught up with them. They kindly yielded to us on the narrow path… though they had little choice with Maisie trotting behind them, panting heavily and practically nipping their heels.

So, extra miles aside, Maisie, Craig and I were first to hear the cow bell and whooping and clapping at the finish line. That was at 4:23 pm. Afterwards, we shed our socks and shoes, sat down, and cheered the other hikers as they celebrated their final steps. Included, were our teammates who’d heaved the watermelon over those grueling miles to the bitter end.

img_4372

Our melon carrying crew

My thanks to every hiker who hoofed so many miles this past weekend, despite aches, pains and blisters; and also thanks to the volunteers who kept everyone fed, hydrated and motivated.

Finally, my deepest gratitude to the supporters who contributed to Xtreme Hike and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. You’ve taken a step, as did we, in helping Brynn and others with CF.

img_4348