Not your average travel blog
While in Moab last year, I didn’t meet a new friend called Shareena. Drinking a beer at the end of a Utah bar, alone, her rainbow coloured hair cascaded across her cheeky face. She wasn’t too difficult to miss. Shareena had previously found my blog and recognised me from it. Maybe a little nervous (or enjoying her beer too much, I imagine), she didn’t say hello. I was clearly unaware of the rules of engagement and bashfully continued my dinner. I left, probably after staring rudely at her colourful locks and smiling like an awkward parrot sucking on a lemon. I was also wearing ripped pants, hadn’t showered for a few days and although doing my best to resemble James Bond, probably resembled a dirty, swampy pond. A few days in the desert passed and I received an email asking if it was me that she’d seen through her beer goggles. She was a bit more complimentary, but I read between the lines…
We kept in touch through the normal channels of mundane, social networking and this year, after a soul searching trip of her own around North America (which involved a little love and some professional dog grooming), my open hearted, enthusiastic and quite nomadic new friend has found herself working for a horse back tour guide company just outside Skagway.
Camped out on a horse ranch a dozen miles from Skagway, around the spectacular fjord coastline, I was privileged enough to be welcomed by Shareena and some wonderful seasonal workers, all mushing their butts off in the forest. As always, it pays to know people, even if my friend does live in a leaking, one-roomed hut with no electricity, nine miles from the nearest store. There is a hot shower somewhere in camp and I’m told I can even cook for people – in basic terms, this means I’m home.
Without getting off a ship in Skagway and much like all the locals here, I’m still semi-tied to a cruise ship agenda, gratefully unashamed however, without the price tag. As adventurous as I am, I’m not over curious when it comes to blatant tourist traps; doing things with dozens of catered for and pampered, decisionless sheep tends to be the last thing on my to-do list. However, while KP is exploring around Haines and we take a break from each other, I am treated to some local hiking, a brothel tour of one of the town’s oldest saloons, some local restaurants and an afternoon of ziplining, high in the forest understory. I may be on a schedule that’s run by tight ships, but it’s finally relaxing to stay in one place for a few nights, talk with some new international friends and be challenged in a different kitchen.
When I lived in France as a five year old, I was maliciously attacked by a horse. I have always felt like I’ve known where the boundary is between any animal and myself, domesticated or wild, but because of Magalie, I have issues with horses. The dirty-maned, schizophrenic French floozy – one minute all, “My Little Pony” with rainbows and light-toed tappy dancing, the next minute, kicking me across the soggy field as if I were a screaming, deflating football – ruined me for other horses. I have never been able to trust them. I can’t count on myself to know where their boundary is and failing to feel comfortable when I’m too close to a horse, only gives them the option to move their humiliating goalposts. I dislike the dynamic I have always had with horses, but I have disliked even more, not having the opportunity to build some bridges with the stable community.
I don’t need to go into detail, but facing a fear head on and taking instruction from Shareena (who thankfully is infinitely more knowledgable about horses than I) on how to actually bond a little with the horse before riding it, was the most rewarding and primal accomplishment I have managed in probably the last decade (well, not including a few intimate situations). I have only ever ridden a horse once before this week, and it wasn’t much of an overcoming. I was merely taken for a stroll on a beautiful old beast. This time, on the slightly more lively and aptly named “Black Sabbath”, I felt like Sabbath and I finally understood each other.
Small steps, but a boundary line was at least recognised. As much as I fancied riding off into the mountains and camping in the woods with my new four legged friend, the company had a few strict rules on where we could go. I also didn’t want to lose Shareena her job. I was likely getting ahead of myself anyway. Still, riding out through the the woods, along the horse trail was enough to satisfy my new love….and I’m now no longer fearful of being in their presence. I realise I’m still (although a little less) clueless, and sore while walking like I’ve just ridden a heavy metal beast through an ensemble of groin-altering riffs, but I’m no longer shy after being bitten (as well as being mauled and trampled on and probably having bad words mumbled about me as a toddler under Magalie’s horse breath). Horses are no longer the distrustful disasters that I once had trouble with. Although I still wouldn’t gamble on them. I’d dismount first.
Unlike after a battering from a French horse who will only talk if it’s behind my back, friendship between people lasts when apologies are made. Even after damaging a man’s groin in the woods, never underestimate the power of an apology.