I Love to Go A'Wandering
Despina tacks up Ibn, heading into the mountains, sure that she cannot get lost, as he will know how to return to his home pasture. Tore is frantically trying to follow, but stay out of sight. He informs Ragnar of her whereabouts via cell phone. She has no idea how well looked after she is. Ragnar demands the illusion of freedom for her because of his understanding of her American nature, of how offensive the tight security would be to her. She refuses to see herself as royalty.
Cantering along a track that leads to a wide cleft in the rock, she can hear the breaking of ocean waves. "This must lead to a fjord," she tells the swiveling ears. Ibn looks at the far bank, ears pricked. Backing up around the last curve, she sets him into a canter, picking up speed until they are in a flat-out gallop as they come to the crevasse. Effortlessly, they sail across, landing securely on the far side and slowing again to a canter as they cross the relatively level meadow on the far side. She is exhilarated by the stallion's endurance, his athletic ability.
Tore thunders to the brink of the cliff and reins in. Anyone who knew him well, glancing at his face as he watches her fleeing form flit between the far-off trees and disappear from view would have been hard-pressed to remember his inflapability in times of crises. Flipping on the cell phone, he describes the trail she has taken and her disappearance into the trees on the far side. Then he reverses his route, heading for the down slope area where a flat route will eventually lead him back to the spot she's re-entered the trees. He will, however, be several hours behind her by then, he calculates.
Ragnar, after reaching his own conclusions, heads out for another town towing a trailer. When Despina appears out of the trees above the town park, she is guided to Ragnar and the waiting trailer by a kindly guardsman who just happens to be standing on duty there. She has no idea what coordination this apparently casual meeting has taken.
With a swift peck on her cheek, Ragnar loads up the stallion, noting that he seems none the worse for wear; even his sweat has been dried by a prolonged walk. He glows with the realization that his wife is a consummate horsewoman. She may take on feats of daring-do that would pale the cheeks of a rugged army veteran, but she certainly respects her mount in the process.
At first Ragnar regrets that Despina has ever heard of the Trans-Nordic Endurance Race, but gradually he accepts that her daily rambles have left both she and Ibn in superb competitive condition. After entering Tore and himself also, he consents to her participation. She quickly outdistances the more seasoned mountain riders, and is sure to "burn out" en-route. But she does not. Steadily, her lead increases. Tore is quite beside himself trying to keep her in sight. He eventually has to withdraw and accept a fresh mount from one of Ragnar's men. When he is on his third horse, he realizes she is off course. Since she is leading the pack, everyone will undoubtedly thing the trail has simply been re-routed. She is on the lower end of the fjord trail, but is not up high enough to recognize it yet, he is sure. Cell phone out, he notifies the race authorities of the change. Since the official helicopter can see that, indeed, everyone is following the same route, she is not declared out of bounds. It would be absurd to disqualify everyone. This ruling is made BEFORE anyone has traced where her route is going to end up.
Ibn easily crosses the chasm, but Tore knows he will have to go around. Leaving his mount on the west side with another guard, he climbs down and up the far side, accepting another mount from another man stationed there. As he thunders over the meadow, he hears the main pack hit the cleft. Two hurtle it fearlessly. Several others dismount and coax their reluctant mounts down a less steep-sided place a quarter kilometer to the north. Two others turn back. Five riders leap the forbidding gap out of the 53 entered, including Ragnar, whose mount scrambles for a purchase on the far slope. Once the afternoon shower hits the area, the ride officials close the trail, turning the rest back to a lower route that is not life-threatening.
The race ends with Despina never seeing a competitor after the start of the race. Although the official helicopter missed filming her leap, Ragnar's and several others make the evening news. Despina's reputation soars. Ibn, who was chided as being a "pony" before the race, has taken on the stature of legend as the little horse who could.
Ragnar, in the post race interview, laughs at this description of his beloved Arabian. "What you people seem to have forgotten is that the Arabian was bred for endurance. Granted, his turf was originally a desert, not the mountains, they are the endurance horse of choice in most nations of the world and the universal winners and record-setters. He's just finally had a rider of the proper size to allow him to compete."
Brandon Gannon, sticking his mike right under Ragnar's nose, asks, "Do you feel any dent in your Viking armor at being bested by your own wife?"
Ragnar's rich laugh booms out. "Oh, no. She's a mighty competitor and a worthy opponent. Nobody needs to feel badly for not being able to keep up with her. Tore used four mounts, and still could not keep her in sight, and he's always been in the top three riders. He dropped out this year as a favor to me, to try to provide her with a guard."
Race officials justified the route change as being an added challenge to spice up the race. "I'd be ashamed to say a woman could ride where I could not if I were one of those who could not make the leap. Since they were not in the lead before they hit that area, I don't see how they could think they were going to catch her no matter what the terrain. That little stallion was flying without a license or plane. This is the fastest time on the ride we've ever had, by more than an hour and thirty minutes. In the beginning, the race had NO set course. Just start here, and end here, the fastest time wins. No matter how you slice it, she won. Nobody else was anywhere near her."
Last updated 11/12/04.