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Ocean in view! O! The Joy! – the final day

If  you look in your change bucket and pull out one of those special commemorative 2005 nickels, you will see that those words were taken from a journal of the 1805 Lewis and Clark expedition. Though ours was the Atlantic, we  can certainly relate to their elation at finding the Pacific. I have carried this nickel in my pocket for several months now, as its simple statement struck a cord in my heart. What better words are there to summarize the experience than those spoken by a kindred adventurer over 200 years ago?

And how do I even begin to verbalize the emotion of our last day on the Ride Across America? I don’t even know where to start. It was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced or felt… ever.

We were up early to be sure we were ready for our Mounted Police escorts who were arriving at 11. We had intentionally been hush hush about where we were staying on our last night, but nevertheless, our helpers were kept fairly busy keeping onlookers at bay so Richard and I could focus and be ready on time. We had a date- 1pm at the beach baby!!! Considering our serious sleep deprivation and exhaustion, it was all we could do to be ready by 11! But the excitement and nerves of the morning kept us moving along at a steady pace. I nearly broke down in tears several times out of shear joy and overwhelming emotions. Richard and I took some ibuprofen and we gave the horse equivalent medicine to all of them. We didn’t want any of us to be hurting one bit on this last day! By the time 10:30 rolled around, we were putting the finishing touches on our horses, packs, and escort vehicles. Once again, the SEAT organization demonstrated their phenomenal support and generosity by taking care of all the clean-up from the horses and temporary fence and being ready to do the final day of ‘pooper scooping.’

We greeted our two Mounted Police escorts and while they were getting ready, we mounted up and finished getting the pack horses lined out. We grouped together at the KOA sign for a photo opp, then hit the road at 11am sharp.

Our last 5 miles.

Yeah, I can’t even write this without crying. The emotion, oh the emotion.

Our first thought was that we were going to be late. The police horses walked a bit slower than ours who had been conditioned to move at a ground covering clip. Plus, one of the horses was in training and a bit skittish. We were pretty proud of our guys being calmer- but then again, I think 4,000 miles would do that to any living being! Thankfully, we did give ourselves a little extra time, but we kept a close eye on the clock until it became obvious that we were actually going to be early! We noticed right away that cars are much more courteous around the police horses and that people weren’t in any hurry to ask questions when we had uniforms with us. That saved us the extra time we were used to having to take in the city where there were always more questions. So needless to say, we weren’t going to be late!

I’m not sure if those 5 miles passed really fast or excruciatingly slow. Maybe a little of both. The anticipation was palpable. Our escort drivers kept whooping. People alongside the road that knew what we were doing shouted with joy and excitement. Our photographer was taking pictures, people were shouting, my phone was ringing off the hook with well-wishers, we were giggling and choking on emotion, tears kept jumping into our eyes every few minutes. In between fits of emotion, we enjoyed great conversation with our fellow riders. They told us some hilarious mounted police stories and we shared some stories about our adventure. The Virginia Beach Police also joined in the escort with a car to protect our pooper scoopers following behind. We took pictures of our ecstatic faces as we rode our last few miles. Bella accidentally went around the wrong side of a guardrail post with her leash on and had to be rescued by one of our escorts- the only mishap of the morning. :)

The intel we had gotten from the locals was correct- we could not see the ocean at any point during those last miles until we were only blocks away. At the corner where we were to turn down 17th street toward the beach, we made a spontaneous stop at the corner restaurant. It wasn’t even open yet and we took up the whole parking lot- us and our entourage- but at the request of the police, we all were without hesitation allowed to use the bathroom. We delayed for about 15 minutes so that we would be on time and last minute people wouldn’t miss our final steps.

When we got on our horses for the last time, we were shaking. Ok, I’m crying again. :) Walking that last quarter mile was positive elation. We were shaking with joy, disbelief, excitement, relief, accomplishment, and a host of other unnameable emotions. I was cold because I had been determined to wear my pretty western shirt instead of my ugly brown coat, and it was REALLY windy, but I didn’t care! I was shaking from emotion, not cold.

When we first turned down the road, we noticed an odd formation of poles at the end of the road. Maybe trees or statues? But as we got a few blocks closer, we could see they were moving. People? Surely not. Ok, maybe they are people. But there’s too many for it to be for US….. It’s a huge crowd!

“Is there something going on at the beach for such a huge crowd?” We asked our police escort.

“Yeah,” they said, “YOU!”

That’s when it really hit.

THAT WHOLE CROWD WAS THERE FOR US!!!

That’s when the dam that was containing the emotion broke loose. The tears came freely- laughing and crying at the same time. Both of us. We were a gushy mess! The crowd became distinct. We could make out bodies. Then faces came into view.

Then we saw it- the mighty ATLANTIC!!! It’s blue-gray infinite majesty. The salt smell, the seagulls, the sound of surf. The sky that melted into the water as far off as the eye could see. No more land. None. That’s it!

As we rode abreast of the crowd whose edges were spewing into the street and along the sidewalks, some of those faces became recognizable. And so many we didn’t know. Patty from Kentucky, one who made it possible for Apache to finish, ran into the road and gave me a hug. Ariel and Talli from Kentucky were holding neon signs. Bev, our 2 week host from Colorado was  there on the phone with Janet, our dear friend from California, giving her the play by play of our arrival. I see my mother in the crowd, and my younger brother walking alongside us. Friends from Pennsylvania, the fiery red hair of my cousin, kids I hardly recognized from how much they’d grown but I knew they were my cousins, Richard’s mom who flew from our home in Wyoming, Richard’s dad- who we scheduled the last day’s date making sure he could be there, so many family and friends from around the country. And dozens and dozens we didn’t know. Nameless faces who honored us by being there.

Then I was sure Richard had lost his mind. He told me he had just seen Sharon. She and Steve are my aunt and uncle from Alaska. I told him he was crazy. Then I saw her. I nearly fell off my horse. I had no idea they were coming!

We passed “Pacific Avenue” then “Atlantic Avenue.” OH MY GOSH!!! As we neared the main crowd, our new police friends peeled off to the left so we could take our victory steps alone. They left us with these instructions, “Do not stop when you get to the crowd or they will swarm you and you won’t get to the water! Just keep riding straight ahead. THEY WILL MOVE! Don’t stop until you reach that water!!!  Good luck!”

Oh those last few moments. Unspeakable emotion. Laughing, crying, shaking. Yet having to keep it together enough to keep our horses calm through all the commotion! And Bella too; she had no idea what was going on. We rode right through that crowd, wanting to hug everybody there- especially those we hadn’t seen in years-, yet the ocean’s call was stronger! As we moved past the protection of the row of hotels, the icy wind hit us like a freight train! Everyone hanging onto their hats, the crowd ran alongside us, whooping and hollering, yelling and shouting with excitement, joy, and congratulations. We whooped back.. over and over. Still laughing and crying. The energy in the air was tangible, electric, contagious to everyone in the nearby vicinity. After a moment of coercing, we rode our horses right down the stairs into the sand.

THE SAND!!!

There was a mass group surrounding us whooping and running to keep up with us as we made our last steps on dry land. Pure joy.

Wet sand.

We are there!

It took a few minutes, but at last we convinced Apache and Satchmo not to be afraid of the waves and the foam… and WE ALL STEPPED IN TO THE ATLANTIC!

WE DID IT!!!! :)  :)   :)

O! The joy!

We stood there on our horses in the water as the waves crashed against their feet. We held hands and whooped with joy and victory and the crowd continued to whoop and holler too! It was indescribably awesome.

We then moved back onto the wet sand and for the last time for many months, we dismounted our horses.

As we stood there at the center of the half circle the crowd had made, our faces were plastered with the biggest smiles ever. We held all our horses and Bella for non stop photos and just took it all in. There was well over 100 people there, maybe 200 or more. I don’t know- it was alot.

Then our helpers took the horses from us and the crowd converged on us with huge hugs from everyone. People we hadn’t seen in years, people we’d never met. We have a great picture of my mom and I with tears just streaming down our faces. “I don’t know what to say,” she said, “you did it like I knew you would!” And then there was my uncle Joe who looked at Richard, looked at the ocean, and said, “Jump in! I’ll meet you Eur0pe!” :) I hugged my father, my brothers, my cousins who are growing up too fast, my aunts and uncles, dearest friends, hosts and new friends from all across the country, and all the strangers- guys from a biker group, the foreigners who were amazed at what was going on, the guy who delivered us pizza, and anyone who got in our  path!

As Richard and I made our way up to the stage for the ceremony, we were still brimming with joy and triumph. The Mayor of Virginia Beach offered his sincere congratulations, as did Mark on behalf of SEAT, and Mike Eason on behalf of the city’s tourism department. We offered our appreciation for all they did to make this grand finish possible, and we presented the Mayor, Mark, Mike, the police department, and the mounted police with a signed and framed photo of the Ride Across America s Richard and I made our way up to the stage for the ceremony, we were still brimming with joy and triumph. The Mayor of Virginia Beach offered his sincere congratulations, as did Mark on behalf of in action.

  Then we were in for a real surprise! Our dearest helpers did something very, very special- they contacted Ambiance Salon and Day Spa who in turn donated an entire spa day to Richard and I!!! The shock was evident as they presented this gift to us on stage! How thoughtful- we had been dreaming of this impossible wish we couldn’t afford when we finished – and here it was coming true! How awesome God is for taking care of not only our needs, but the desires of our hearts!

              

But the fun wasn’t done. While we were doing presentations, someone was passing out and filling glasses of sparkling cider to the crowd for a toast! Judy took the microphone and gave this toast that we will never forget:

“A toast!

To the Atlantic! (whoops and cheers!)

 

 

To the end of the ride! (whoops and cheers!)

To God for His protection and guidance each step of the way! (loud cheers!)

To the people all along the trail who made it possible! (whoops and cheers!)

To a dream come true! (HUGE whoops and cheers!)

And to the next dream- HEARTS UP RANCH!”
(ROARING WHOOPS AND CHEERS!!!)

With that, we commenced to the horses where Richard and I felt like we were at our wedding all over again as we did family and group shots with the whole crew! Only this time we had a biker group in black leather as body guards to keep the crowd away from us so the photographer could get pictures! Our cheeks hurt from smiling but we didn’t care! Every bit of it was wonderful.

When we had gotten pictures with everyone, Richard and I did our ‘ceremonial’ removing of the horses’ gear and tack. Every step of the way was emotional. Tiska was first. As the last blanket came off her, she did a big shake, I hugged her neck and whispered, “you made it,” and she began to nibble grass. Then Fiddle and Chance were untacked- both received hugs for going the distance for us. But Satchmo and Apache, our main riding horses, now THAT was emotional. As we pulled the saddle off each one, tears of joy, thankfulness, and admiration for their devotion to us mixed together with their manes as we hugged them. To Apache I whispered, “You hung in there buddy, you really did it.” Their

hearts are so big, so much trust, so much devotion. They did it for us alone and for no other reason. We hope to spend the rest of their lives making them all comfortable and happy until the day they die in honor and respect for everything they suffered for us.

As we took the last hoof boot off, it was then our turn. I took off my heavy emergency belt and then Richard and I took our chaps and hats off and threw them up in the air! I looked over then and realized that Richard was taking off his boots. I knew what this meant! As he gave a silly grin, he took off running toward the ocean and we all chased after him to watch his polar dip! He hit the water

full speed ahead and was in the ocean up to his neck in moments! Bella and I followed after up to my hips. Laughing, we made our way back up the beach to shelter from the wind as the onlookers exclaimed their disbelief in Richard’s daring act! But the last joy of the end of the ride was yet to come.

We put the horses in the trailer. :) One by one, they stepped up onto their free ticket to a nice pasture they’ve earned many times over. No more walking, no more carrying packs, no more carrying riders, no more traffic, no more walking, no more walking, no more walking. They are done with the journey. 21 months 6 days and 3,928 miles. I love the picture of us sitting on the back of the trailer with the horses all loaded. It is finished. Praise God, Hallelujah, PRAISE GOD!!!!

A DREAM COME TRUE! :)

(… the rest of the day is to be continued…)



18 comments

  1. I met you in California, briefly, giving you directions to Soil Born Farms and an idea for the next night, Knicker Knob Stables. I didn’t know you were Christians until I got home and checked out the web-site. I have followed your blogs and posts daily since then, watching your steps via GPS tracker, and as I read your rendition of the last steps, I cry. Congratualations! May God bless the rest of your dream as He has blessed this ride.

  2. I’m so happy to see these pictures and read this blog. We were there in spirit. Did you spend your last night at a campground? I thought I saw a motor home in the background of one of your photos some time back.

    We are so proud of you!
    Love, Barbara and Jerry

  3. Well, I cried through this whole post!! Loved the re-living of this exciting day with you. Great pictures! I so wish I could have been there – but, this way is a lot warmer – :) Love you both :)

  4. I just wanted to express my heartfelt congrats!! I have followed you since you went through Kansas, I did not get the pleasure to meet you or be a part of your glorious adventure! I am a die hard horse lady an I only dream of doing something as AWSOME as what you are doing I would love someday to help people with these majestic animals!!! GOD BLESS YOU BOTH !! Hazel Criswell Abilene, Kansas

  5. again I am the lady you met on the street in Versailles kY so glad you completed your journey truly a worthy cause and hope my little donation helped congratulations

  6. You were right…………I needed the tissues. What a wonderful finish to your ride. Congratulations again for finishing this part of your dream. This post holds so much emotion. And we will contionue to pray for your dream of Hearts up Ranch. May God Bless You always.

  7. I have been following you since you stayed with us at Knicker Knob Stable. Your journy has been truly insperational and Kelly and I were glad to be able to be apart of it. Congratulations !

  8. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!! We met you in In Ky. You came to our church Willisburg Church of God of Prophecy. We’re great friends with Mike & Darlene Shields. So proud of you 2. Don’t suppose I know anyone personally that has ever gone the length you have for such a cause. When I think about what you all went through with the faith it again makes me know we can surely do anything through Christ that strengthens us. Amen.
    CONGRATULATIONS.

  9. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
    Hebrews 11:1 NIV

    You have brought a community of believers together and brought others to believe ,by your faith and trust in Lord! I am so happy and excited to read THE END. Like other folks, I have looked every day. I hope the momentum contiues toward the ranch and there are plenty on opportunities for speaking engagements that can hel bring Hearts Up Ranch to fruition.

    God Bless and keep you all!

  10. We are SOOOOO PROUD OF YOU! We praise the Lord for being able to know you guys! We hope we can see you again when you pass through Humboldt, KS again! We’re sorry we didn’t get to see you when you were here in January! We love you so much and pray that the Lord will continue to bless you daily!!
    God Bless you!!!!!

    The Sharp Family

  11. What a great day that must have been. We met you as you came through Missouri. My son had been on his 4-wheeler at the end of our lane as you rode past. He asked you about the horses, and you told him what you were doing. He came up to the house and told me that he had just met the COOLEST people. He told me about the website and I immediatly looked it up. We jumped in the truck and went up the road to talk with you. You stopped and talked for a few minutes, told the kids about Bella ( which they ask about often), told us what your mission was and off you went. This was only about 4 miles before you rode into Gordonville, Missouri. We have followed you on the website and facebook, and I have to tell you that you both are amazing people. Anything can be accomplished with faith and alot of determination. Congrats to you both, the horses and of course little Bella!! Kimberly, Bryton & Brynnleigh Jones

  12. We met at Knicker Knob Stables in CA. I read this as I was filling water troughs…brought tears to my eyes. I’ve followed your blogs and you and your horses are inspirational. Thank you for sharing your lives with all of us. Congradulations and I look forward to hearing what the Lord will be doing with Hearts Up Ranch.

  13. Thank you so much for this wonderful account of the end of this amazing journey! I cried while reading it, just from the sheer joy in your writing. I wish I could have been there, it must have been a truly amazing thing to see. Love you!!

  14. So happy for you…ALL. Thank God you made it safely. It was so fun to read this today and see the photos, for those of us who are not on facebook! It’s been a long journey since the Nevada desert! Can hardly wait for the book and or movie! Wish we could have been there but this post was so moving it was like being there. I will miss the posts! A tip of the hat, it was a long journey 1 step at a time!
    Clay/Robin Sharp Eureka Nevada

  15. Surprise! I am at a loss for words for once. This was one of the most amazing days of my life, so I can’t even imagine what it was like for you. All the lives you’ve touched and what you have accomplished…it can not be fully comprehended. Now you have the experience of true endurance, unbelievable pain, lasting connection and genuine trust in God to pass on to those you will ride alongside of at HeartsUp Ranch. Persevere now through the down times, the drudgery of housework and the sameness of every day life-for much is in store for you. It is coming and it is going to be HUGE! Much love from our entire family! We will always be here for you 100%! Juli

  16. Yep, I cried through this whole post, too! I second what Juli said!!! It was an AMAZING day, absolutely amazing! And this is just the beginning . . . . . . . . . . .


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