After drying off from our polar dip and changing clothes, we jumped in the truck with Mark and his wife and headed for the stable where the horses were to rest for the next couple nights. Suddenly, I was really grateful that Judy remembered to give us the pizza that was donated by Dough Boy’s when we finished because we were ravenously hungry and we had a few hours yet before the benefit dinner was to start.
We pulled into the lovely barn area, met our horses’ hosts, and then unloaded them into the large paddock where they would spend their first nights of recuperation. Then we started on the task of lugging all of our gear and tack into the barn and stashing it in an unused horse stall. Richard and I then hightailed it to the barn shower room where we got dressed up at warp speeds for the benefit dinner. Since the barn was more than a half hour away from both the beach and the church, we had to hurry to make it in time!
Arriving at the Rugged Cross Cowboy Church for the Hearts Up Ranch Benefit Dinner, we found it to be decorated well by our volunteers, complete with hay bales, Hearts Up Ranch signs used on the mule, and dozens of pictures from the Ride Across America. A lovely buffet was provided by the members of the church, and many guests brought a delicious dish to share as well. The room was full of friends, family, and supporters from all over the local area, and we (and Bella too!) all enjoyed an evening of good music, great food, and wonderful conversation.
As we finished with dinner, we moved into the sanctuary of the church where we had the privilege of sharing our hearts. Pastor Bubba spoke to the group and was wonderfully supportive of the mission of Hearts Up Ranch, then Richard and I shared our vision for those who had never heard the whole story. But we had a little surprise for our dearest and hardest working volunteers- those who had ‘been in the trenches’ with us for months and were our dear friends and helpers. We also called up our parents who all supported our ride, vision, and showed up at the beach from many states away. To both our volunteers we gave a massage at a spa near their home in appreciation for all their hours spent craning over the computer and on the phone. Additionally, we gave them and all our parents something very special- a personalized (and cleaned!) hoof boot that had walked many, many miles on the cross country ride on the bottom of our horses’ feet! The evening was completed with a wonderful slide show created by our previous hosts, Matt and Dianna. We spent that night in the KOA again with Judy, and could hardly go to sleep for all the excitement!
While Saturday was a public event day, Sunday was set aside for close friends and family who traveled from long distances to see us. We were up nice and early to meet for breakfast since my older brother, sister-in-law, and my cousins all had to leave before the luncheon that afternoon. We swung by Rugged Cross for ‘cowboy church’, then headed to the convention center provided for us by a local hotel where we hung out for the rest of the afternoon. It was an absolute blast! We shared lots of stories of the ride, my aunt and uncle shared many interesting facts about life in Alaska, and we all laughed and laughed and laughed. When we were all stuffed and tired of sitting in one place, we headed downstairs where Richard and I collected the two HUGE boxes of stuff that we had left behind at Ronnie and Talli’s in Kentucky and stuffed them in two different cars who would drive over to the horses and our gear for us. After saying goodbye to them those who had to head back home, we split up for a while so Richard and I could reunite our boxes of stuff with our gear that we actually finished with. That chore done, we headed to the boardwalk light show, a drive-through Christmas light spectacle, which was quite unique and very enjoyable.
Then what else was there for a whole group to do on a seashore but head to another restaurant!?! The are certainly an array of seafood restaurants to choose from, and with a bit of leg work, we finally settled on one that seemed promising. Big Sam’s was set right on the water and was prepared for us with a large table and even a dog bowl for water on the deck where we could leave Bella and watch her through the window. The local specialty, She Crab Soup, seemed to be a group favorite. It was really a delicious meal and the splurge on seafood combined with the blessing of spending some quality time with our dearest friends and family felt like a perfect way to finish our finale weekend celebrations.