Tonight, I found out that my friend, Billy, who drove me to the Canadian border to start the Divide committed suicide right before Xmas. We weren’t that close of friends, but, it was his kindness and generosity that allowed me to get to the start of the Divide and then complete it. He was the beginning of my journey on the Divide. I am so sadden by this news. Life is so fragile. It hits home for me because I too struggle with depression and anxiety and I’ve been to that dark lonely place many times of wanting to end my life. In fact, after I lost my horse Hayduke in 2016, I attempted suicide and I woke up in the ICU on a ventilator. That wasn’t my first attempt either.
I am happy to be alive today, however, I know the secret deep struggle of depression and having suicidal thoughts. I know the storm clouds that suffocate you when you are at your lowest point. I know the feeling of wanting to disappear, to feel like a burden to others, to dislike yourself so much you feel it’s best that you aren’t around anymore, to feel exhausted by life, overwhelmed by life and to feel completely and utterly alone and drowning in pain, pain that’s just too deep and too difficult to talk about. I know that pain and that scary place and I’ve spent many days trapped in that place within myself. The struggle is always there, it never goes away, at least for me, it doesn’t. It’s a daily battle within yourself to get through the day, to cover up the saddest parts of who you are and to bravely face the world. It’s so hard. It’s so fucking hard sometimes! People are scared and or uncomfortable with the topics of depression and suicide so sometimes the conversations that need to happen, don’t.
The world can shut down the chance for honest conversations about true feelings and the reality that some of us face. Most people who struggle with depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, do it in private and no one suspects it, but, we need to change that. We need to rid society of the stigma that all of this carries and we need to open up the channels of communication, understanding and love. You never know, maybe your kinda words to a total stranger or a simple phone call to someone you know will make all the difference in the world to them. You don’t ever truly know someone else’s struggles- so call your loved ones more, say hello to strangers, for God Sakes smile at strangers, give a stranger your extra dollar or two, listen more- listen with the intention to listen. Because of Billy I was able to have the adventure of a lifetime on the Divide and now as I sit here and write this I feel so god damn sad, I should have reached out earlier to take him up on his offer of going on an adventure or a trip, but, I didn’t. I didn’t know.
So, if you read this remember to check in on those you love, to create memories with them, to talk openly about things like mental health- even if it’s hard for you- talking and loving one another is the only thing that will change things. Hold on to your loved ones and encourage them to talk, write, adventure, whatever they need to do to honor themselves and to help them get through the day. This world needs more love and more open ears, more kindness and more true humanity. Mental health is so important to us all, to everyone whether you know them or not. We all need to be better humans to one another!!! In loving memory of Billy❤️
Turning onto CR 189 and heading onto Abiquiu Grant Lands was a bit nerve wrecking for me. I chose to follow the standard route despite my anxieties and worries about my safety. I rode through a neighborhood where I counted 4 red trucks. I was worried one of those trucks belonged to rhe guy that had been known to harass bikers- hold them up and rob them. I felt very alone, I felt very vulnerable. I questioned my decision to take the standard route over and over as I rode. I was scared. As I pedaled across Abiquiu Creek and rode up to a steep ridge which opened to amazing views I continued to feel scared and worried and unsure of the hours ahead. I reached a plateau about 5 miles in and enjoyed the beautiful views, the juniper trees and piñon. It reminded me of home in Arizona. I still was struggling to wrangle in my anxiety and focus on the riding. Every so often, I would turn around and check to see if there were any vehicles coming up behind me or any vehicle parked on the side roads or in the trees off the route. I turned off of CR 189 and onto FR 27. A few miles later I entered into Santa Fe National Forest, as I made more miles away from that neighborhood I started to feel a tad more safe, but, I still felt vulnerable. I kept praying I would run into other campers at the end of the day so I would not be alone that night. Around 10 miles into the day, I saw a truck and they stopped and talked to me, they were out hunting, it was opening day for the season. That made me so happy because I knew there were others out there, the likelihood of that guy bothering me was starting to become less of a concern. I entered into a canyon, the road was in decent shape and I began to descend for awhile. The riding was enjoyable and the weather was perfect. FR 27 started to get very rough, very uneven, very rocky and very hard to ride- I was beginning the climb up to the top of Polverda Mesa. The slick rock made riding difficult, but, it was nice to be in the tall trees of the forest- it was quiet and beautiful and though the miles were hard to ride, it seemed to go by fast. I continued to climb the volcanic road towards the sky. 12.5 miles after beginning the steep climb, I finally reached the top.
I noticed a group of hunters camped off to my right. I walked right up to them and asked the first guy I saw if I could camp with them for the night? They didn’t even hesitate as they welcomed me into their camp and showed me where I could pitch my tent. The guys then left on their ATV to scout for their hunt the next morning. I setup my tent and went out for a short hike. I felt relieved that I was at the top and that I had stayed safe and was going to be safe all night long. I could feel my anxiety simmer down and my entire being seemed to shift into a calm place. The sky lit up with magnificent colors, the day was coming to an end. I crawled into my tent after cooking some food; right as it became dark, the guys returned to camp and offered me a hamburger and some drinks. I bundled up and joined them around the fire. The night air was cold. The guys built a fire, it was a welcomed addition to the evening. To me, fire is like primitive tv, it is mesmerizing and for some reason they always provide good vibes and good times. We ate, exchanged stories and embraced each others company for the night. They talked about their lives in New Mexico and how Covid was impacting their towns. We talked about my trip on the Divide and where I was from. They were externally generous and told me to take whatever I needed or wanted out of the cooler in the morning before I left camp. We stayed up for a few hours and then called it a night. Around 4 am the next morning the guys left camp, they were determined to get an elk. I was not getting up that early. I laid in my warm sleeping bag until about 7 am and then started my day. It is never fun to pack up in the early morning when it is freezing cold, but, it is part of the journey and the bitter cold against your body reminds you that you are alive. To Cuba, NM I go!!
It was a extremely hot day in July of 2016 down in Supai, a village located in the Grand Canyon, the home to the Havasupai Tribe. The sun was burning my skin, the heat was giving me a headache and as I walked pass a home; I saw him. A beautiful dark brown horse lying down in the dirt in the front yard, his legs stretched out, his body covered in sweat, he appeared lifeless, but, he was not 🙂 As I looked a little further through the wire fence I saw that his hooves were in terrible shape, his hip bones protruding through his sweaty and dirty body, his ribs so visible he looked like a skeleton. His spirit gone, his heart weary and lonely and it was then that I knew, that horse was going to be mine. I was going to get him out of there, come hell or high water, that horse was mine.
On this trip; I wasn’t down there guiding, rather I was down there to gather information and pictures of the abuse that haunted the canyon, the abuse that became the reason I quit my job. I left Supai a day later, with the knowledge that getting him out of that place would take awhile, it might not happen at all and he might not make the hike out, but, I was going to try. After all, I promised him that I would get him out.
I was no stranger to Suapi, or the Tribe, up until the 4th of June, 2016; I was a backpacking guide, taking people down to camp at Havasupai Falls. After finding out more information about the tribal wrangler our company used to haul our camping gear up and down the canyon; I quit my job, no longer was I going to keep my mouth shut about the horrific animal abuse that took place in that canyon, no longer was I going to accept what all the other guides and people did, I was not going to accept the answer of, “that is just the way it is.” NO, it was time to stand up, yell at the top of my lungs and tell everyone I knew about the truth of that deceptively beautiful place. I spoke to the Channel 12 news, created a page on FB to advocate for the animals and told everyone I knew. The attention began to grow and the pressure was felt by the Tribe. While all the attention was being brought to the abuse I worked everyday to get him out, every night, I dreamt of him. I was ready at anytime to go, hike down and get my horse, bring him out, take him to Flagstaff and rehab him, love him, and begin my journey with him. On July 26th,2016; I was at Best Buy and I got the text, “come get your horse”, it was around 6pm. I packed my backpack with everything I would need for an 8 mile hike down to the village and a hike back out not knowing how long it was going to take. My heart was screaming in happiness, I was getting my horse, I was on my way to rescue him and man, that was an awesome feeling. Wade drove my car, I couldn’t drive, I felt high, I was too excited to focus on driving the 3.5 hrs. We arrived at the Hilltop around 11:30pm and headed down the trail to Supai in the dark. We reached the village around 3am and were excited to get him around 630 am, but things did not happen the way I had hoped. When I arrived at the owner’s house, my horse was gone, I was terrified that something had happened to him. I knocked on the door and was told that my horse and his owner had left the village hours ago. I started running. I had not had anything to eat, nor had I slept and none of that mattered. All that mattered was that I needed to get to my horse. I had made a promise to save him and so I ran my heart out, crying, praying he would actually be at the Hilltop. I ran 8 miles up, arriving around 940am at the Hilltop, he was there, my heart relieved to see him. I met up with the owner, he had run him up the canyon, riding him for a mile and a half. I had to keep my cool though I wanted to smack him and yell at him for what he had done to my horse and so many others, but I knew I just needed to get my horse and paid him $250 like we had agreed on. I will never forget the second he took his lead rope off and walked off.
There I was, in the hot sun, alone for the first time with my horse. MY HORSE!!!!! I was told by his owner he did not like people, but judging from the way he nuzzled right into me as I attached my lead rope to his old halter, I knew that wasn’t true. I had a HORSE!! I was excited, nervous, scared, worried, tired, hungry, but, I was content and I could see relief in his eyes. Well, I had a HORSE now, so of course he needed a name. I named him Hayduke, in honor of Edward Abbey’s writing and passion for the Southwest. So, now I had a HORSE and he had a name. We sat together at the Hilltop in the heat for almost 7 hours, his feet looked like paddles, his body like a skeleton, but I knew he was a fighter, I knew that he knew that I saved him and was going to get him out of there. We spent a few hours together hunkering down under the outhouse looking down into the canyon where he had been living, a place he was never going to see again.
Hayduke was transported to Flagstaff and taken to a wonderful place, that first night in Flagstaff was filled with a ton of commotion and unknowns. I watched as the farrier trimmed his feet, as the first set of abscesses appeared in his feet. It was bad, his feet were in bad shape. I remember feeling like a zombie, so tired both emotionally and physically and worried beyond words about this amazing creature that I had rescued and instantly fallen in love with. The next day, Hayduke’s first day in Flagstaff he ate and ate and ate and ate, and he seemed calm and happy. He seemed as though he felt safe.
The Vet came out on his second day and gave him an exam, did blood work, etc. Again his feet were a concern and we began a daily process of soaking, medicating, wrapping his feet to help open and drain his abscesses. Hayduke moved from that first place to a ranch in Flagstaff where I spent hours everyday trying to heal his feet and allow him to eat as much as he wanted. He also received an excessive amount of love, he probably was so sick of the kisses and hugs, but he got him, everyday. His story began to touch others, so many were rooting for him. I became aware of how generous, kind and loving the horse community is as well as random people. I was nurturing this wonderful creature back to health. He ate and ate and somedays that is all he did 🙂 he became my best friend so quickly and my love for him grew daily. I woke up everyday excited to drive out and spend my days with him, it was as though the rest of the world stopped and it was just Hayduke and I. He was gaining weight, getting some of his spunk back, but his feet, his feet were not improving.
On August 15th 2016, the vet came out to the ranch, Hayduke had been lying down and I could tell his pain was immense. The vet opened a deep abscess that bleed like crazy, he preformed a series of X-rays and I could see it in the Vet’s eyes that Hayduke was in trouble. Hayduke was taken into the hospital that night and put on IV meds, had medical wraps on his feet and received medical care around the clock. I spent my days lying in his stall with him, most of the day, he would lie down next to me, put his head in my lap against my chest and just sit there. It was like magic, but, I knew in my heart that he was sick and that no amount of love was going to fix this. After four days in the hospital it became apparent on X-ray and by watching him that his pain was not going to be manageable, he was suffering and the abuse and neglect he had faced could not be reversed. It was time to say goodbye, time to allow him to rest and be at peace. I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was a cold rainy day, I knew I had to say goodbye. The Vet told me that I did not have to stay, but, there was no way I was going to leave him alone. It was about 430 in the afternoon, I led Hayduke outside his stall and behind the office. The Vet explained how the process worked, I hated it, I was so angry and heartbroken, but I could not let him suffer any longer. The vet make a braid for me from Hayduke’s tail and handed it to me. He gave Hayduke the first injection, in a few minutes it caused him to collapse to the ground, I remember screaming out, crying my brains out. I felt so sad, so hurt, so fucking mad, so fucking mad. Hayduke now laid on the ground, his beautiful body right in front of me. I went to his head, started loving on him, the second injection went in and he faded like he was going under for surgery. I told Hayduke that I loved him, that I was sorry. And then, the last one, the vet whispered a few seconds later, he has no heart beat. I wanted to throw up, I wanted to run down to Supai and yell at his former owner. I wanted my Hayduke back. I wanted his silky nose to nuzzle my face, I wanted a story with him. But in a matter of minutes that was all gone. I felt like I had failed him. I felt so broken so lonely. I had three weeks with Hayduke and in that short period of time, I feel like I had a lifetime. A lifetime filled with love, hope, smiles, life lessons and compassion, for what else is there in life? Hayduke is now in my heart forever, that is where is was always meant to be. He taught me so much, much more than I ever expected to learn. He loved me and I loved him and though I wish he was still here, I know that my job in all of this was to get him out of suffering and to send him to heaven knowing love. I could have never prepared myself for what Hayduke brought to my life. Out of all of my adventures, this one truly changed me. I am humbled to have been a part of Hayduke’s life. I am honored to have been there as his friend at the end. I am grateful to so many people- Scott and Terry Small, Kathy Oliver, Christine Griffin, Don and Marci Walters, Ruthann Penn, Dr Shane Dennis, Colleen and Dan Larrabee, ATGNIphotoworks, all my horsey friends on Facebook- too may to list, but thank you to everyone who donated, gave their advice, support, friended me to help, assisted Hayduke and I in anyway. Thank you for holding some of Hayduke in all of your hearts.
In loving memory of George W Hayduke, the horse from Supai