It was time to see my wife Julia. The mules and I have been on the road for 4 months, traveling from North Carolina toward Idaho.
Julia and I decided the Sand Hills of Nebraska would be a great place for her to fly out and meet me. She booked a plane ticket and a rental car. She didn’t click on that “Add a Room to Your Ticket” option.
She just said, “I’m happy to stay in the tent or whatever we find.”
I thought, “I’ve slept on the ground in this damn tent 115 nights. A bed might be nice.”
Instead of climbing online to find a place for us to stay, I climbed on to my mule. It’s the way I do things.
The Search for Lodgings
The day before Julia arrived in Hyannis, I hadn’t a clue where we’d spend the next week. I had a tent in my saddle bag so at least we had somewhere to spend the night.
The tent had been a fine home for my quarter of a year on the road but I wanted to do better. What would be really cool, I thought, was if we could rent a bunk house or cabin. Maybe on a ranch. Maybe in Hyannis.
But the few feelers I put out for cabins fell flat. It was peak haying season. Seems all the cabins, bunk houses and mobile homes were occupied.
Down to the Last Day
It was my last day on the road with my mules before Julia arrived. I was riding up Highway 2, counting squashed toads and windmills. For variety, I added coal trains. On the side I wondered, “where the hell am I going to stay with Julia?” There was always the tent…..
A car pulled up and out piled a lanky cowboy. “I’m Tim” he said, “and I think it’s cool what you’re doing.”
I groove on these visits. I get to catch up with folks and the mules get to catch their breathes from walking up the road. Tim worked on a ranch. The conversation swerved from pack saddles to hoof boots to how I fed the mules on the road.
Just before he drove off I asked, “hey, do you know where I might rent a cabin for when my wife visits?”
I told him what I was looking for and kept riding up the road, counting down the mile markers until Hyannis. 157, 156, 155….
Hours later, on the outskirts of Hyannis, my pack mule Brick nickered at a golf cart putt putting up a golf course. The cart stopped. Out stepped Tim. He waved us over.
“Hey, I think I’ve got a place for you to stay.” He knew a rancher with a cabin and gave me his number.
I arrived in Hyannis and dialed the number. Ring, ring, ring. Ring, ring, ring.
Straight to voicemail.
Damn. Julia was arriving in less than 24 hours and this lead was thin as the pants I’d been riding 4 months in.
Next morning. Same phone and dance routine. Ring, ring, ring. Ring, ring, ring. Voicemail.
T-minus 8 hours ’til Julia showed up. How many bottles of Coors would it take to turn the tent in to a romantic lake side cabin?
T-minus oh-crap-Julia’s-pulling-in-with-her-rental-car. My phone rings.
A man says, “Hi, it’s Seth,” and tells me he’s been out rounding up cattle and didn’t return my call because he doesn’t get phone reception way out there in the Sand Hills and sure, he’s got a lakefront cabin he’d be happy to rent us while Julia’s in town.
I checked out the cabin and knew tent life would be hard after this. The cabin sat on a lake inhabited by white pelicans and cormorants and moss covered snapping turtles that dragged themselves ashore to lay eggs in the sand.
There was a cotton wood tree and 2 beds and the curtains were held back with handkerchiefs.
It’s Not About the Room
Finding a place for Julia and I to spend the week was fantastic. But that wasn’t the biggest gift. No, the biggest gift was experiencing how not over-planning lead to some of life’s grandest experiences.
This was the serendipity part of it. This whole experience hinged on one stranger stopping on a highway to talk with a guy on a mule. If that person hadn’t have stopped, the outcome would have been different. Maybe better, maybe less so. But definitely different.
Not hitting the “Add a Room to This Package” button is how riding up the road on a mule lead to a ranch hand that lead to a cabin that lead to Julia and I pitching in to work what some ranchers around here call “trouble in a leather sack”.
But that’s a story for tomorrow, Sunday’s, photo-essay. For another take on our meeting in the Sand Hills, read Julia’s “You Never Know” article at her ConsideringAnimals.com blog.
- Tim Billingsly: for putting me in touch with Seth and Jenna Adam
- Seth and Jenna Adam: for providing Julia and me with a cabin
- Keiko Sakakibara: for the shower, runza, washed clothes and great conversation
- Mose and Micky Hebbert: for putting up the mules while I’m visiting Hyannis
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