Friday, November 20, 2015

Looking Back

For the first weekend in a long time, goats are not ruling my schedule.  The last show of the year finished up last Sunday without any fanfare.  We have a 4H meeting in a few weeks, but that’s about it for the regularly scheduled program.  It has been quite a year. 
It started in January when Katherine and I bought a trailer.  With great bravado, I assured the salesman, “Of course I know how to drive a trailer, and I can teach Katherine here how to do it, too.”  Yup, I had driven a trailer … twice.  And, technically, Katherine didn’t have a learner’s permit. Details, details. 
Then came the first show of the year in February.  As you will recall, the proverbial sh*% hit the proverbial fan ten days before the show.  I discovered that my recent Ex had been having a “thing” with our daycare lady who also shows pygmy goats. I refer you to my post “Goat Show No Show” (7/5/15) for all the gory details.
But, you know what? We all survived just fine. I learned that my friends were still my friends despite my break up, and that Katherine is an independent young woman, fully capable in her own right.  And there you have the two themes of the rest of our show season.
In September Katherine got her driver’s license, and so it was time: Time to learn to drive the trailer. The 6-hour drive to Susanville, California, seemed like the perfect learning opportunity. We hitched up the trailer, and I handed Katherine the keys--much to her surprise.
“Your turn!” I chirped.
“OK?” she responded tentatively.
“Swing wide and give yourself plenty of braking room.”  That about sums it up.  Besides, you can only focus on a couple of instructions at a time, and I figured those were the most important ones.
We chugged along, over hill, over dale. I looked at the map on my phone and decided to take the direct route, instead of the longer route that would take us all the way to Nevada before veering back into California. Ridiculous. Just take that blue line across the diagonal. Squiggly, schmiggly.
So, we turned off the highway onto a four-lane road through Plumas National Forest. It was a beautiful drive: trees and rivers, rocks and sky.
Katherine was unnerved by the hilly and twisty road; but I sagely said, “Just keep doing your thing over here in the slow lane.”  The Suburban strained against the weight of the trailer, and sometimes it down-shifted dramatically to a lower gear with a great roar.  But no matter.
The road narrowed to two lanes. Katherine learned how to use turnouts to allow cars to pass, and how to ignore drivers behind her gesticulating wildly and making rude gestures.  No matter.  “Just watch for the next turnout and wave politely (and smile, always smile).”
Feather River Highway (Highway 70)
Katherine bravely traversed narrow, two-lane, steel-truss bridges.  She held her breath the whole way, letting out audible sighs at the far sides. “Just stay between the white lines,” I advised.
Then, fatefully, I detected an even more direct route on the map: Caribou Road.  “Aha! Take the next left,” I pronounced.
We nearly missed the road because it was so … insignificant, but she made the turn. The first sign we saw said, “Windy One Lane Road Next 7 Miles.”
“No problem. The GPS says the road is 11 miles long, so just make it through the first 7 miles, then it’s smooth sailing. Onward!”  Katherine is so trusting.
The road narrowed to one lane – one wide lane — and we both watched intently for oncoming cars.  “Always have a plan about where you could pull over,” I harped.
The road narrowed, and not one car passed us going the other direction.  The miles ticked by on the odometer.  I forgot to mention that Elizabeth and Robbie were along for this great adventure, and they were getting hungry (and had to pee).
Katherine tensed up at this little bridge, and I confidently said, “Stay between the lines, no problem-o.”
Phew. Made it. Next came a wood bridge, and the road got even narrower.  The road turned sharply, and the right 18” of its surface had crumbled into the ravine 75’ below. Good thing Katherine couldn’t see the precipice. A couple small cones sort of marked the pavement. “Just stay to the left,” I said -- duh. (I stealthily watched the side mirror, praying the trailer wheels would stay on the paved part of the road.)
Phew. Made it. “Way to go, Katherine!” She glared at me this time.  
“Not long ‘til lunch now!” I called to the back seat. Still no other cars.
In my mind I was thanking God that at least the road was paved, when I saw the “Dead End” sign. We had arrived at a boarded-up camp from the early 20th century. It had an empty concrete pool and a single tennis court with a ratty net blowing in the woodsy breeze.  A lone gas pump and shed marked the entrance. I said, “Pull in there and I’ll go scope it out.” Big smile. “Don’t worry, kids – I got this!”
I marched up the road a little ways to see if there was a place to turn around the trailer. A few cabins perched on a hill, and some giant pine cones dotted the road. No people, no cars, no place to turn around. 

Oh my god, what have I done?! I could hear the goats bleating in the trailer behind me. (I was too freaked out even to take pictures – sorry!)
I walked back to the car to report my findings, and a pickup truck pulled up. A woman my age, rolled her window down and looked at me blankly. Her two kids pressed their faces up to the rear window of the king cab.
“Hey!” I greeted her, with a jaunty wave of my hand for good measure. Big smile.
“I thought we could cut through to Route 89 this way. I guess not?”
“Caribou Road?” I questioned.
“That was the dirt road going up the hill back there. Four-wheelers only.”
“Oh. Ha ha!” Nervous laugh. “Is there a place we can turn the trailer around?”
“Sure. Follow me,” she said bluntly.
By this time Katherine had scooted over to the passenger seat, and informed me, “I am done driving.”
Big smile.
I followed my new BFF to an open area around the bend next to a creek.  I started making my turn … then jack-knifed.  My brain just clicked off.  Totally empty.  Beyond blond.
My new friend rolled her window down and said, “Do you need me to do it?”
“Yes!” I pounced on the offer and hopped out of the ‘Burb, handing her the keys as fast as I could.
She climbed in, and turned my trailer around in about 5 seconds flat.  I was too thankful to be embarrassed. Or to think about the fact that I had allowed a total stranger that I met in the middle of the abandoned woods drive my car WITH MY THREE KIDS INSIDE.  Thank you, Universe, for saving us all.
Big smile.
“Thank you!” I climbed back in my ‘Burb and headed back down the road we had just come up – all 7 miles of curves, bridges, broken road.  Katherine was having a PTSD moment.
Back at the intersection of the Feather River Highway (Highway 70) I coerced Katherine into driving again. Suddenly that two-lane road looked HUGE. Hills? Turnouts? Angry drivers? NO PROBLEM! There is something to be said for "baptism by fire."
We made the rest of the drive in 2.5 hours, and I damn near kissed the ground when we pulled into the fairgrounds. The kids had long since stopped nagging me about lunch.
We came home the other way – the “long” way to Nevada and back.
That was September. Katherine drove herself to a goat show in October, following me in my car.  Progress.
There she is, behind me

By November, the “worm turned” and I followed her to a goat show.  I can tell you with no uncertainty whatsoever that there is only one thing scarier than watching your kid drive a trailer in front of you. You are utterly powerless to screech instructions (i.e, “take the next exit” or “watch out for that car that doesn’t want to let you merge onto the highway!”). You have to trust that all of your teaching paid off.

There she goes....
The only thing scarier? Letting Katherine drive home from the goat show all by herself.  I had to leave early from the show, so Katherine had to go it alone. 
All I saw in my rear view mirror on the way home was my dog, Mhysa.

Back at home, time stood still.  How long is that drive, anyway? Shouldn’t she be home by now? Should I call her? NO she can’t talk on the phone!

Oh my god:
·       Did she hook up the trailer right??
·       It’s dark and now it’s starting to rain!
·       Does she remember how to use the windshield wipers?!

Three long hours later, Katherine pulled into the driveway – headlights on, windshield wipers flapping, trailer attached.

In hindsight, I recognize that this is the essence of our job as parents: teach them, watch them, let them go.  Fly little bird, fly.  I guess it’s just me and the dog in the car now.

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