There is something special about slowly heading down your driveway with your horse trailer packed full of your squad on the way to an event. Maybe you’re reminded of those first trips you took with your family, or maybe you’re just happy to hit the road knowing you can leave chores behind and focus on the horse or horses you’re traveling with. This is, of course, failing to mention the simple fact that hitting the highway with a big diesel truck and a large trailer leaves you feeling that much more important than all other tiny car-driving motorists. As a teenager, the first time I flashed my lights to a semi so they knew they were clear to come back into my lane, I felt pure butterflies when they hit those axillary lights as a thank you. Road trip with horses…nothing better.
Of course this experience can have its ups and downs. The flat tire when you realize you haven’t broken loose a lug on your trailer wheel in four years, resulting in you in the parking lot physically jumping on your spare tire wrench. Who hasn’t had that stretch of road when you thank God for the gas station on the next turn off only to realize….no diesel? Or what could be better than finding that lovely family home that allows overnight boarding only to roll in at 5am the next day to see your four-legged buddies have eaten half the stall and broken three rails?
However, for those who have experienced the joys of living all over this beautiful country, there is a special place for those who have gone from the wide-open west to the people-crammed east coast with beasts in tow. Let’s just say the roads built in the 1700s were not designed for 4-horse living-quarter trailers and one ton diesel trucks. You realize very quickly why so many people don’t even own a trailer, but instead pay to have their horses hauled. After moving from Kansas to Connecticut to Montana, I can honestly say that this cowboy couldn’t be happier to finally be back home in the states where big rigs roam! Still, there is a special place in my heart for one quick weekend trip that my wife would never let me forget even if I could…
I used to travel from Connecticut to Pennsylvania to practice team roping on the weekends with friends. Well, one lovely sunny day started with the usual trek out of the driveway, then crossing the Hudson River over the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. For those who’ve not had the pleasure of traveling northeastern roads, this is one of many bridges that crosses the Hudson, but it has a unique toll that only gets paid going one direction; in this case the toll was eastbound, which meant I would pay it on my way home at the end of the day. After a great day of roping practice with friends, we hit the local cafe where I offered to buy lunch. This cash-only establishment drained my wallet and I didn’t give it another thought…that is, until we headed back home over the lovely Newburgh-Beacon Bridge….
When you travel with a large trailer in the northeast, you are essentially stuck in the lane you’re in. There is simply not a lot of lane switching, especially on a weekend when all lanes can be packed with cars lined up bumper-to-bumper. But as I mentioned, this bridge is a toll bridge which means it expands to eight lanes just before the toll to help with traffic passing through. As I followed my buddy, we found ourselves stuck in the lane furthest to the left. I drove up to the window, cracked open the glove compartment where I always kept my trusty electronic toll payment tag, and low and behold…it was not there. Fortunately, there was a kind lady in the toll booth, who promptly said, “$6.50, please.” I whipped out my wallet…no cash.
“Ma’am, it looks like I’m shit out of luck!”
Meanwhile, cars were WHIZZING through all eight lanes on my right. The lady looked back at my truck and trailer, pointed over to the toll facility building located on the far side of eight lanes of traffic, and said, “Well, go over there and pay with your credit card then.”
I sat there thinking that I’d seen it all while hauling a trailer, but this one was going to really test my skills. Crossing eight busy lanes in one hundred yards would be a real accomplishment (the guy behind me blasting his horn was obviously being super helpful, as well). Anyway, with my boys in the back, I wasn’t about to put my trailer in harm’s way, so I put on my saddest eyes and said, “Ma’am, I’m really not sure I can get over there with this rig,” to which she promptly replied, “No problem, Honey. One minute.” She then proceeded to pick up the phone, yell loudly over the speakers, “HOLD ALL LANES!” and traffic on the entire bridge came to a complete standstill. I was speechless, but I tipped my hat, mumbled my thanks, and promptly crossed eight lanes of halted traffic while some very angry New York drivers expressed their distaste for me.
After paying the tolls I jumped back into my truck only to receive a phone call from my lovely road trip partner up ahead, who was desperately asking where I was and why all traffic had stopped. I could only think to myself, “Son of a bitch…a witness! Now it’s unavoidable, and I will have to admit to my wife that I’m the idiot traveling down the highway with a rig full of horses and zero cash.”
The lesson to all my fellow haulers out there: Tuck away that emergency twenty…you never know when you might need it to prevent a major highway shutdown.
Safe and happy trails.
Neal, Team Roper, Montana