From time to time a signal is given and we circle the wagons for some local history from our guide.
As Larry and I are getting our horses harnessed and ready for the ride Charlie loads up the essentials: fence stretcher, small spool of barbed wire, gas can and a chainsaw. There are going to be about 30 riders and three wagons on the trip. Larry’s wagon is ruggedly built. If we can borrow car terminology it might be considered mid-size. The second wagon is about the same, maybe smaller. The third wagon is ours – definitely full size. It’s wider, longer, longer wheel base and has a 2-1/2-foot railing all the way around.
Trail boss Ron gives the word, the riders congregate and we wagoneers get in line. As we leave the staging point the scenery is beautiful. We are driving into the foothills of the Turtle Mountains. The terrain is rolling pasture land ringed with oak and poplar trees. The colours on this late-spring day are beautiful.
Not far along, the path diverges and half the group takes the road less travelled by.
We cross through a gate into an adjoining property and continue on. From time to time a signal is given and we circle the wagons for some local history from our guide. He tells us stories of how the community looked 50 to 75 years ago; where homesteads stood, where squatters squatted, and of abandoned communities where settlers would have gone for supplies.
We cross another property line and notice a change in the trail. The brush along the sides is closer, but still very passable. At noon we stop in a clearing to share the lunch that has been packed for us. Wagon riders dismount, mingle, visit and stretch their legs. As we finish off our lunch, three men walk out of this clearing to explore safe passage onward. Here is where they break out the chainsaw.
On this next leg of the trail the bush is even closer, and my wagon riders are constantly on the lookout so they don’t get swept overboard by greenery. Farther down the trail we call a halt and rearrange our bales so the seating is down the middle of the wagon and the riders won’t have to sit with their chins on their knees.
The lead wagons are disappearing in front of us not 50 feet away, yet we still keep going. We are determined to see Lake of the Island – or maybe it’s just because there is no turning spot. Just before the lake I must shoehorn my “limo” between poplar trees inches away on each side, and down into a marshy creek bed. The two lighter, smaller wagons have already made it and are waiting on the other side. We get about halfway through before the mud stops us. Three of the wheels are half-buried. Passengers dismount to lighten the load and walk up to view the lake. The team seesaws once or twice, they strain for all they’re worth, and I nearly burst with pride as Macey and Dixie wrest the tires from the muck.
A short pull to the top of the rise and the edge of the water only to discover there is not a big enough clearing to turn the wagon around. Fortunately the chainsaw is not far away – the clearing will be big enough if there is a next time.
Back out on the bush trail and then onto the open foothill pastures where we are again traversing rolling green hills. We stop at an old cemetery that has recently been refurbished. We gather under the oak trees for a picture at this historic spot, and then remount our wagons one last time.
Arriving back in camp the waiting horseback riders are wondering where we’ve been. We just smile because we took the road less travelled by and that made all the difference.
The Turtle Mountain Charity Trail Ride raises funds for diabetes equipment at the Tri-Lake Regional Health Centre in Killarney. Funds raised from last year’s ride purchased a Vital Signs Monitor for the hospital. Lunch is provided along with a catered meal back at the campsite and a draw for some great donated prizes. This year’s ride will be held June 6 and 7. For more information or to reserve a spot please call Ron and Margaret Howarth at (204) 523-8549.
– Tim Freeman writes from a farm at Wakopa, near