(Richard’s worst day was in California when he fell off the cliff- but I was more scared for MY life on this day!)
We had ridden through Prestonsburg the day before- and the roads there were a bit scary- full of guard rails and no shoulder. But it was Sunday, and the traffic was light. We had been gathering intel from locals about a shortcut we were hoping to find- it would have saved us like 8 miles. But no one seemed to have adequate information about the 4 wheeler trails in that area. By the time we had to make a decision about cutting cross country or continuing on the road, it was getting a bit late to continue. When the Goble’s invited us to stay the night with them, we accepted. We were glad to meet the Gobles, but we should have taken advantage of a quiet Sunday evening on a dangerous road. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. But… we would have missed the Goble’s if we had kept going, so it was great to get to know them.
They were kind and offered us a bed, a warm meal, and good conversation. One of two short cuts that we were looking at was actually on our map. No one believed us that it went all the way through, but our map has never been wrong if the road is named or numbered. But just to be sure, the Goble’s lent us their vehicle, so Richard ran out to check the road and found it to be a viable route. Sweet- that would save us a ton of miles too.
That was mistake number two. We should have used a compass and tried to find our way- because that section of road nearly did us in.
As we wound our way up the mountain on the switch backs, we had no trouble hearing the coal trucks and finding places to get out of the way before they got to us. That gave us confidence that we would be ok.
The downward side was a whooooole other story. It makes my heart race just to re-tell our story.
Being a Monday, the coal trucks were out in force. We were able to find pull outs on the downward side for the first few that passed us. But then we got to the hairpin blind corners. Not only could the trucks not see us ahead of time, we could not hear them coming because the rock walls on the edge of the road blocked the sound of the jake brakes.
The first time a truck came around a blind corner right behind us shook me to my core. We tried hard to get the horses to jump down into the two foot wide and 3 foot deep ditch between the edge of the tar and the bottom of the rock wall. The effort was futile. Our horses are quite dull now from a year and a half of just plodding down the road at a walk, tuning everything out from vehicles zooming by inches from their ears, to their riders rooting around in saddle bags for their lunch. They just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. Quick responses are so rarely asked of them that they are no longer quick to respond to our cues. Had we still been out west or at home, we would have had no problem getting our horses to jump in a ‘horse-eating’ ditch like that, but right now- no way. It simply wasn’t going to happen in 5 seconds.
Not only that, but the sudden rush of urgency somewhat scared Apache. He thought about getting in the ditch, but then decided I had lost my mind and he should be very concerned. Rather than jumping forward, he backed up- fast.
Meanwhile, the full size trailer truck was barreling down on me. Apache had backed up and was completely standing across both lanes. I kicked with everything I had while I heard brakes squealing and tires skidding. I was ready to jump off and run for the edge when Apache finally got his wits together and moved forward. The truck- thank God it was empty or this story would have ended differently- had slowed down enough to maneuver around me in the other lane.
No sooner had we collected ourselves when another truck came around the corner. The whole scenario was repeated in a slow de-ja-voo – only this time it was Satchmo who did it.
Richard had actually gotten Satchmo and the pack horses to jump in the ditch, but Satchmo couldn’t handle the mud and jumped back out into the road as the coal truck was passing us thinking we were out of his way. And Satchmo brought the whole string of pack horses into the middle of the road with him. This trucker drove well and managed to get around the horses as he tried desperately to slow his truck down.
While Richard was after Satchmo to get back in the ditch, the rope to the lead pack horse (Chance) came off his saddle horn, which left Chance wandering around in the middle of the road on a blind corner, pulling Fiddle and Tiska after him. I desperately tried to catch him while on Apache, but Chance was a little shook up and kept moving away from me. Richard then came to help on Satchmo. Bella had no idea what was going on and was standing in the middle of the road waiting for direction. At one point in the chaos, I remember realizing that every single one of us was in the middle of the road sandwiched between two blind corners.
I had enough of that and jumped off Apache, grabbed Chance, Richard called Bella, and we all got off the road to a narrow pull-out on the opposite side of where we were riding to regroup our nerves. When we were all slightly out of harms way, I sat down on the guard rail- mainly because me knees were buckling because I was shaking so bad.
I don’t know how long I sat there- maybe 5 minutes, maybe 10- before I mustered up the courage to get back on Apache and get back out on that road. I just wanted to sit there and cry with fear. It took every ounce of courage I had to ride on that road again. I was so jumpy and I kept imagining that I heard coal trucks coming.
Then we really did hear another coal truck coming. We heard the jake brakes from a ways away. But we had nowhere to go. We were on a long, long blind corner that had absolutely no ditch to even attempt to get in. There was nothing. Just a solid rock wall jutting straight up from the edge of the tar, which ended at the white line on the side.
I started praying outloud with everything I had. I was so scared. I screamed at Richard to start trotting to try to find somewhere, anywhere, that we could get out of the way.
And here is where I tell you that my husband is a hero. I am convinced that his fast acting and remaining calm while I was in a panic saved all of our lives. We trotted around that corner until there was another ditch- only this one was narrower and deeper than the other we had unsuccessfully tried to get our horses in. But the coal truck was close now and if we were all to live, this was our only option.
We got off our horses and Satchmo and Apache actually listened to us and jumped in the ditch. But the other 3 did not. I called Bella to me, flattened myself against the rock wall, forced the bile back down my throat, and watched helplessly as I envisioned my 3 beloved pack horses getting smashed into by the coal truck in a matter of moments. I plastered myself against the rock, shaking violently, and hoping that I would not be part of the gruesome accident that was impending. I have never been frozen with fear before, but now I know it can happen to anyone.
But thank God, Richard was brave and brilliant. He left his horse in the ditch, jumped up in the road, and started kicking the butts of our pack horses with everything he had. One by one, he got them to jump into the ditch. As he did, I grabbed the lead ropes of the ones I could reach to try to convince them to stay in the ditch and not jump out. I’m pretty sure I was screaming for him to get in the ditch before he got the last horse to jump in, but he was calculated and intensely focused. He jumped down in the ditch after the last horse was in, just seconds before the coal truck came around the corner. I don’t know how I didn’t throw up.
The driver hit the brakes and his eyes were wide and astonished as he came upon 5 horses, 1 dog, and 2 people plastered against the rock wall in the ditch with terrified looks on our faces- well, at least mine. But he passed safely by and left us in one piece.
We stayed there for long moments waiting and listening for more vehicles. It took alot of praying by me and a lot of coaxing by Richard to help me get up my nerves to get back on my horse in the middle of that blind corner. I think I have an inkling of what Richard went through when he had to get back on his horse on a mountain full of cliffs right after he had fallen off the cliff in California.
Thankfully, the rest of the way down went much smoother since the road became slightly less windy and there were always pull-outs within reach when we heard coal trucks coming. I was so shaky that I don’t think I could have handled another close call.
From that day on, the Facebook message I got from our friend, Patty, in Lexington has stuck with me. She said, ” Always remember the WORD says He will be with us “through our coming and going from here and forever more.” you ARE safe. Believe it! LOVE YOU GUYS!!!” She is right. No matter what, we have life in Jesus. And angels protect us. And fear is from Satan- not from God. God gives peace, not fear. But, I am human after all, and in my weakness, I was dearly afraid. But God gave us courage to continue through the rest of coal country, and I repeated over and over throughout the next several weeks, “I AM safe, I AM safe.” And thank God for my brave husband who saved the day with his quick thinking and acting.
I can not tell you how overwhelmingly relieved we were when we passed the mine entrance. There would be no more coal trucks passing us that day. The final few miles of the afternoon were passed in peace as we road the shortcut that supposedly “wasn’t there” and we enjoyed a short bit of riding on an unimproved dirt road. We camped that night in a lovely, quiet field next to a large creek and let the sounds of nature sooth our frazzled nerves and upset stomachs from stress as we slept deeply in our tent.