The morning after Clara’s birthday party, we entered the northern Rocky Mountains and everything changed. The highway, sandwiched between the Liard River and jagged rock faces, made the ride extremely dangerous. Motorhomes and transport trucks roaring by the horses and myself only inches away at times. The ride became hell.
But the traffic and lack of space were the least of my worries. We had much bigger problems all around us. To be exact, 11.0 ft long, 6.59 ft tall, and 1,179 kg (2,600 lb) in weight—on this section of the journey we were forced to ride by several herds of wood bison.
These beasts, armed with sharp horns atop their giant, fluffy heads, are extremely territorial. I hold my breath every time I cross their path. The big males always kept their eyes on the horses and me while the calves ran off into the woods with their mothers. Smokey and Mac snorted and tried to run off every time as I fought to hold them back.
Luckily, we never got chased, but the large male from the final herd we crossed began pawing at the dirt and took out his frustrations at a nearby spruce tree, ramming it with its head repeatedly.
After 200 kilometers in bison territory, we arrived at Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park. Clara and I soaked our stresses away in the natural hot springs while the horses rested in a nearby corral.
Before we continued we met a wonderful family who gave us a delicious grayling they caught the day prior for dinner and a $100 donation for the Barretos Children’s Cancer Hospital.
“You guys have inspired us with your story… You are so young and doing something so beautiful,” said Shannon Moleski passing me five $20 bills.
After our relaxing day off we continued the tense ride south through the Rockies, fighting our way around every blind turn. Only 60 kilometers down the road we faced our greatest challenge yet—the rock cut around Muncho Lake.
The jade-green lake whose name means “big water” in the Kaska language, is flanked by stunning mountains that stretch far into the clouds and are mirrored back into its serene waters.
I wish I could have marveled at the majestic scene between Smokey’s grey ears, but the 12 kilometers of Alaska Highway, sandwiched between a jagged rock face and the lake, kept me moving.
Forced to ride on top of the highway, Clara stayed behind me and pleaded for trucks and cars to slow down.
On one of the worst stretches, a terrible blind corner with absolutely no space, Clara drove the motorhome behind the horses and I with the blinkers on. When we finished the corner, a truck hauling an RV pulled out from behind Clara and punched the gas right when it reached the horses.
The sound of the roaring engine sent my Mustangs off into their usual adrenaline filled gallop. I fought to stop them as the RV passed us followed by another vehicle.
For a second, I thought it was all over.
“People don’t have a minute to slow down… to wait?” said a frustrated Clara once we left the zone of danger.
As hard as the past weeks had been, nothing could have prepared us for what was yet to come.