Suzanne Sommers really missed the boat with her design of the thigh master. You remember that contraption: it was basically a big figure 8 folded in middle at a 90 degree angle. You placed the wings between your knees and squeezed and it was supposed to give you thighs of steel. She probably sold a million of them because who didn’t want to look like Suzanne Sommers did back in the day? Well, today I discovered something even more effective than the Thigh Master at creating pain and loathing everywhere below the waist: mule riding.
I am currently filled with gratitude that I am sitting on my worn out settee in the saloon of Galapagos. As much as I have complained that these cushions need replacing and make my butt hurt, they are multitudes of softness compared to the saddle on the nameless mule I met today; the saddle I spent 4 hours, 23 minutes, 16 seconds sitting in as we engaged in one of my bucket list adventures: traveling by mule.
We are in San Juanico, one of our favorite spots. We picked up crew in Guererro Negro, that’s another story, and we wanted our new friend, Ryan, to see this special place. Our first day here we were walking the road for some exercise and met another crusing couple out walking their dog. They told us that the guys at the organic farm up the road were offering a trail ride up to see the petroglyphs. It was on Saturday morning and cost 500 Pesos, about 25$/person. I felt like this opportunity was simply too good to pass up. We said yes and decided right then that it was worth hanging around for.
Yesterday we ambled up to the farm to let them know we would be coming along. We love this farm because they have goats, chickens, turkeys, peacocks and dogs; including this precious little pup they found on the streets of Loreto. It was only 2 weeks old when they got it, its eyes not even fully open yet. They are raising it with the goats and it suckles from one of the mamma goats who allows a person to hold the pup up to her teet and take milk. It will be a goat dog and is the sweetest thing I’ve seen in a long time. When it is big they will let it hang out with the goats, as their other dog does, and it will help keep the goats safe from coyotes by barking if something is upsetting the goats.
There is something that brings out the child in us all at this farm. It is so well kept, the animals so well treated and all so healthy. We are greated by the current goat dog, a love of a dog who comes to be petted, smiling a toothy grin. This morning when we arrived at the farm for our trail ride, we were shown a brand new baby goat born just in the wee hours of this morning, placenta still on the ground next to it. We were allowed to go into the goat pen and be surrounded by goats, many of whom thought the straps on our backpacks were a special treat. Maybe some day we’ll have some goats. I could see that happening.
As we mounted our mules and started down the road I began to feel relaxed in the saddle, casually holding the reins in one hand and doing my best to keep my heels down like I might know something, anything, about what I was doing. I tried to remember all the things I’ve ever heard about riding mules and came up only with images of John Wayne and the Lone Ranger. No, those are big horses, not mules, and I’m completely missing the six shooters they carried. Should I use my knees to try to post? I vaguely remembered someone trying to teach me that during a riding lesson 50 years ago or more. At that stage of the ride, everything was still possible; as in it was possible that I could do this and still be able to walk afterwards.
As the trail wound on, up and over, down and through terrain, the old body began to protest and it was clear I needed to pay attention. Am I supposed to keep my core muscles firm to protect my spine from wobbling? Looking ahead on the trail, I see others in our group looking like bobble-head dolls in the saddle. Surely that is poor form and they will pay for that tomorrow with pain? Is it bad manners to hold onto to that horn in front of me on the saddle, because I could use the extra support. I think someone once told me you were not supposed to hold onto the horn. Supposedly it showed the world that you didn’t actually know how to ride, but, actually, I do NOT know how to ride so could I get a pass on that? By now I couldn’t really feel my feet because my blood flow was cut off at the knees, so I just went with it and tried to channel my inner horsewoman, whoever she is. Or mule woman, as it were. Because I know the difference between horses and mules. Yes, I do.
About the time I figured out that I could actually tell my mule not to drag me through the cactus, he got a wild hair and made an executive decision to trot. Downhill. On a very rocky, narrow path. Whoa, Nelly! Now, I’m not averse to animals having minds of their own when I’m not on their backs, but I do recall our daughter-in-law, Jillian, who knows horses, speaking about having to take charge of them and let them know you are the boss. Right. Let’s do that then. A quick pull up on the reins and I found some kind of a “heyah!” noise exploding out of my mouth like I knew what that meant. Whatever, because clearly I gave the correct impression that no, we absolutely were not going charging down the steep rocky path regardless what the other mules were doing. It just wasn’t on. Nameless obeyed my command. Heady stuff, that.
Eventually we came to a meeting of the minds and Nameless and I got along. I think he was an older mule, based on his grey hair, and he was certainly recalcitrant; but also careful. It was absolutely necessary to trust him as we picked our way over rocky tide pools, along sandy beaches, climbed steep and narrow trails of gypsum, and forded wetlands. I let the reins hang loose in my hands. We got the full meal deal with this trailride and it was fantastic. In spite of the considerable pain in my derrière and knees, and the fact that I could not actually use my feet, I found myself thinking how much I would enjoy doing this kind of thing more regularly, and that got me thinking that maybe I’ll get our Jillian to teach me how to ride when we get back up to Washington.
How much better would it be to have a saddle that actually fit me and, ok maybe also an animal that had less girth. It’s not that Nameless was rotund, it was that he was…wide. Anyhow, I think maybe it’s in my blood. After all, my family is from Texas. At some point some of them probably at least had horses, if not mules. By the time we get to Washington my knees, inner thighs and tail end will surely be better. Surely.
As we approached the petroglyphs I could tell Nameless was excited. He began to hurry. I figured they had food at the end of the trail and he was of a mind to be eating, since he was pulling stuff from the side of the trail every now and then and had to be redirected. But as it turns out he just knew the end was near. And after viewing the petroglyphs and giving the mules a break, his excitement crested as he knew we were on our way back. Surely THEN there will be food.
He expressed himself by picking up the pace outright and trying to maintain a lead for awhile. All the mules were filled with the excitement of a trailride close to being over. It seemed like Nameless wanted to be first back to the farm. Soon we were trotting, an interesting experience from the point of view of my bum. Because by this time the pain in the knees was such that trying to clasp them to the belly of this beast only increased their protest, I tried kind of standing in the saddle to relieve the agony. That worked marginally.
By this time I was absolutely sometimes holding onto the horn when no one was looking.
Then Nameless decided to canter. I decided enough was enough. I mean, had I been able to use him as the thigh master he was at that point, it would have been fine. Cantering is a smoother ride that trotting, or even, at that point, walking. But by this time Nameless wasn’t the only thing not obeying my command. My thighs, knees, and feet also had minds of their own as there seemed to be a disconnect between those body parts and my brain, so clasping his girth between my knees just wasn’t happening. He had begun full blown cantering across the beach in pursuit of the other mules, who were also cantering.
I had a fleeting moment where I registered something close to delight that we were taking off, figuring we’d get back all the sooner and realizing that cantering offered me a smoother ride. But that moment was fleeting. I did, after all, want to live to see another day. It took several seconds for my brain to register that yelling ‘no nononononononooo!’ to a mule is both meaningless and fruitless and to pull back on the reins sharply and with expression. He stopped, but he didn’t like it as the other mules outpaced him. Still, I thought it was worthwhile for him to know I meant to survive this ride, even if my bum did not. I shifted once more in the saddle, butt bones hard against the unyielding leather.
After that it was as though he had called my bluff and refused to go faster than a slow walk. As we neared the road to the farm I thought I’d let him go a bit and catch up with most of the others. I clicked his reins, jabbed him in the belly with my heels, made kissy noises, did all the things he had previously responded to. But he had put me firmly in my place. He would canter no more. He would trot not an instant. In fact, it felt to me like as we approached the farm he plodded slower and slower and the cowboy riding with us was laughing good naturedly and shaking his head. I believe had I been able to spend some time with Nameless I could have won him over, at least to learn how to lord my will over him if not come to an understanding of mutual respect. He was a mule with attitude and I can understand and even appreciate that. But for today, checkmate. Game over. What a grand day!
Next we head south and we’ll be keeping a fairly rapid pace without hurrying. We like to thread the needle like that. And our crew? Well, his name is Ryan and we met him in the Pelican Cafe in Guererro Negro. We sat down at his table and began to visit with him over our coffee as we waited for our bus back to Santa Rosalia. Turned out he was going to be on our same bus going south. His agenda was to explore the Baja and see what it had to offer. He hails from San Diego and has never crewed on a sailboat before. He’s a vegetarian (and I’ve been enjoying exploring vegetarian cooking), meditates twice a day, and we have had a great time sharing all things boats, cruising, sailing, and just introducing him to the possibilities of this lifestyle, plus having deep philosophical conversations. An electrical engineer in a previous life, he learns fast, is curious without getting in the way, and has been extremely helpful on board. Plus he plays chess so Mike has a chess partner and he speaks very good Spanish, which is more of a help than he will ever know. It was a stroke of good fortune that we met like we did and that everyone felt comfortable enough to be on the boat together. We don’t know how long he will be with us, so we’re just enjoying the moment.
Here’s a little ditty Ryan wrote to describe his our mule ride day:
We got on mules
Rode beach and cliff-side
Bouncing like fools
Each a rough ride
Sitting like that
Three hours or more
Now I lie flat
Man, am I sore
True words, Ryan. True words.
A very fond farewell to the anchorage at San Juanico. When we remember our time in the Sea of Cortez, our memories will certainly come here first.
Next stop Loreto.
As always, S/V Galapagos, standing by on channel 22.