100 degrees, my truck digital thermometer silently announced as we made the last stop on our trip west. One more day and we would arrive at my summer home in the mountains of Colorado - and relief from the hot, dry weather of western Kansas. My horse had been in the trailer since 6 AM and it was 6 PM as we arrived at Thistle Hill, my favorite bed and breakfast just west of Wakeeney, Kansas.
Thistle Hill is my last stop each spring on my way to Colorado from Pennsylvania, and it is my first stop on my return trip at the end of August. I have been making this trip for 10 years, and I have never been at Thistle Hill when it wasn't hot. Their air conditioned home is always a welcome respite.
My alarm reminded me that it was 6 AM, and it was just getting light outside. I showered, ate a hearty breakfast and said goodbye to Dave and Mary Hendricks. By 7 AM my dog, Nina, and my horse, Black Jack (BJ), and I were back on the interstate and enduring the last 6 hours of the Great Plains. They are called the "Great" Plains because they are big, rather than because of any other quality. They do have many redeeming aspects, but very few can be seen while driving.
At exactly 12:06 PM I saw the first outline of the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains. They were still 125 miles away, but they represented home and relief from the hot plains and four days of driving. I was excited, as I always am, to see the mountains, but my joy was to be short-lived.
At 1:40 PM I passed through the Eisenhower Tunnel and descended into Silverthorn, Colorado, which is about one hour from my home. There I turned north and it started to rain. The temperature quickly dropped and was 45 degrees as we drove the last hour to my house. The last 20 miles are on gravel road - at least it is gravel in dry weather. In wet weather it is mud. My white truck and shiny new aluminum horse trailer soon looked like they had been in an off-road mud derby. The last four miles were so muddy that it required four-wheel drive to traverse.
My home is at 9000 feet and sits at the end of a 500' narrow, dirt driveway, winding uphill through aspens and pines. It is a very pretty driveway if you don't have to hike it up hill. I couldn't get my new 18' gooseneck trailer in the entrance, so I had to park it on the road. This was not good news since I had all of my "things" in the trailer. My 1400cc motorcycle was in the first stall. BJ was in the second stall. Up front were several trunks of books and computer stuff, a coffee table, two end tables, two book cases, two table lamps, a power washer, carpet shampooer, dog and horse feed, tack, suit cases and lots of clothes. I contemplated getting all of these things unloaded and up to the house. I was not happy - especially since it was raining.
I unloaded BJ first, because I wasn't worried about her getting wet. When I let her in the gate, I noticed that fallen trees had smashed down my fence. The fence had to be fixed first or BJ would escape and cause me lots of grief. I hiked up to the house, unlocked the door and retrieved my chain saw. I put gas and oil in it, but the saw wouldn't start. Back to the truck to get tools and back to the house to fix the saw. After thirty minutes of saw disassembly and repair, the saw gave its familiar roar and I was off to fix the fence. Carrying my saw, fence stretcher, hammer, fence pliers, fence stays, and tool belt with fence clips and staples, I proceeded to hike the fence line that surrounds the six acres - a fence line that goes up and down hills and through some thick woods.
Seven large trees had fallen across my fence, breaking wire, bending posts and causing as much damage as trees can cause to a fence. It took me three hours to cut the trees away, patch and stretch the damaged fence. It was 6:30 PM when I was ready to start unloading stuff. On the way back to the house, I noticed BJ furiously rubbing her mane on a tree branch. The rubbing continued and I went to investigate. She had rubbed skin off in several places as well as lots of mane. She definitely had problems. I tied her up and hiked down to the trailer for her medicine kit and back up to the house to turn on the water so that I could wash her mane.
My house sits empty for nine months, and with the severe winter temperatures, the plumbing needs to be drained, purged, and winterized. I do this every August before departing. Inevitably some water gets left in the plumbing somewhere, and freezing can easily crack a pipe. Last year my well pressure tank cracked and it cost me $1000 to replace it. Thus turning on the water is always an exercise in anticipation. My worst fear is that the well pump won't work. Everything else I can fix..
The well pump worked, and I could hear water coming into the pressure tank. All valves and faucets were closed and I was looking for leaks when I heard the familiar sound of water gushing. I had forgotten to close the hot water valve leading to the washer. My laundry room flooded before I could shut that valve. A leak in the kitchen sink sprayer hose was dumping water under the sink and on to the kitchen floor, so I had to isolate that and fix it. It was 7:30.
BJ was waiting patiently where I tied her and I now had the hose and antiseptic shampoo. I began washing her and treating her damaged skin. My antiseptic shampoo bottle had leaked all over the other items in that kit, so I had to clean up more than BJ. Then when I went to fill up her water tank, it had a crack and wouldn't hold water, so I had to retrieve her water bucket from the trailer. It was 8:00 and getting dark. It had also started raining again.
I grabbed the chain saw and went down to where BJ had rubbed herself raw and cut off the dead branch. I went around cutting off all other dead branches that were just the right height for her to do more damage to herself. Then I untied her. It was 8:30. I couldn't unload in the rain, so I unhooked my trailer, grabbed some dog food and my suitcase and drove up to the house. Nina and I went in the house and surveyed the damages. Nina tracked mud through the house.
The kitchen and laundry room carpeting were soaked, and there were the usual 10 million dead flies in every room. I don't know what it is about this area, but every year I have to deal with millions of dead flies. I don't know when they arrive, or where they come from. For all I know they beamed down from outer space. It's not just me. Everyone here has the dead fly problem. But sharing the problem with others makes it no less work. I began vacuuming. After about 30 minutes my vacuum cleaner overheated and shutdown. The bag was filled with dead flies. I put in a new bag but had to wait until the vacuum cleaner cooled and reset.
There was no hot water because I had not turned on the propane. I went outside in the rain and dark and turned on the propane tank. The hot water tank gave me no problems, but I couldn't get the propane heater working, and it was now 40 degrees outside and about 59 degrees inside. I had no dry wood to put in the wood stove. I went out to my truck to retrieve my tools. In 20 minutes I had the propane heater working. It was 9:45.
Another hour of vacuuming took care of the fly problem and also sucked the rest of my energy and a few other things that I wanted. I had been on the go since 5 AM (Mountain Time) and realized I had not eaten since breakfast. There was no food in the house. A bag of trail mix was in my truck, so I ate that, drank a few glasses of water and took a shower. It was still raining outside and Nina, who I had let out before showering, came in and once again tracked mud through the house. Eventually I'll remember to wipe her feet.
As I was about to go to bed, I noticed BJ standing outside the kitchen door looking cold and miserable. I sighed, put on my bathrobe and boots, got my truck keys, and drove down to my horse trailer to get her rain sheet and grain. She appreciated both. It was midnight.
Beds always look the most appealing when you are really tired. (There are other times,but I won't go into that.) I pulled back the covers to climb in and - more dead flies. By 12:15 I had traded places with the dead flies.
Friends and acquaintances frequently tell me how lucky I am to have a vacation home in the mountains and to be able to go there to relax each summer. Where are they now? Perhaps they would like to come and help me unload my horse trailer tomorrow in the rain. Or perhaps they could come and help me widen my driveway entrance and clear a parking and turn-around space for it. They could power wash my decks so that they can be re-stained, or they could scrape off the loose paint around the house, prime and repaint those areas. There are lots of downed trees to be cut up and the wood hauled up to the house. I'll be glad to do the easy stuff, like washing a billion flyspecks off all of the windows.
Ah, the romance of a summer in the mountains. Guests are welcome.