The last activity of note during our Shenandoah Valley vacation was horseback riding, for which we headed over to River's Bend Guest Ranch in Stanley, VA. You may recall that we had decided not to use the 'Net to plan ahead for this vacation, so we found ourselves pulling over and asking for directions once we got to the outskirts of Stanley. The directions involved the following statement: "After you cross the bridge over the river, it's the first left. But not the first left that goes down to the river. The one after that."
We made our way there and found that our horses were already saddled up and ready to go. Steve would ride Bud, one of their tallest horses, and I would ride Red.
[I hadn't been on a horse since horseback riding camp in 4th grade, which cured my interest in horses. They are much less interpersonal than you might expect from the equine children's literature I'd read. And they poop a lot, and at camp, we had to clean it up and scrape it out of their hooves. Not. For. Me. When my parents picked me up at camp that year and I told them what I thought of the horsewoman experience, clearly casting aside all prior horse-related interests, my dad looked at my mom and said, "Huh. Cheaper than buying a horse."]
At River's Bend, Steve hit it off with Bud immediately, and petted him frequently throughout the trip. Since we seemed fairly competent, mounting the horses with ease and quickly catching on to the proper steering techniques, the trail guide upgraded us to the advanced trail, which went over a few streams and up and down some steeper grades.
During this time, Bud had been exhibiting a bit of a rebellious streak. He was the second horse in line, behind the trail guide, and he bit that horse's butt three times. He also seemed to turn and nip at Steve's leg. I was right behind Steve, and saw him peek down over the horse's shoulder to see what was going on. As we climbed down part of the trail, Bud stopped in his tracks and started eating foliage. Steve asked if Bud had eaten breakfast yet, and he was advised that Bud most certainly had, and to kick him and make him keep going -- the trail guide said horses would eat themselves to death if we'd let them. Bud also pooped twice (the other horses pooped once) and engaged in a monumental Austin Powers-length pee that left a bathtub-sized fetid puddle beneath Bud's belly that covered much of the trail.
My horse Red was very professional, following direction for the most part, except when Bud's excessive stream of pee incited Red to trot out of the spatter line. I couldn't blame him for that. And when I nudged him back onto the trail once Bud's peeing had ended, he was happy to oblige.
As we neared the end of the ride, the guide began talking about the polluted Shenandoah River. She said she'd been fishing a few weeks earlier and every fish she caught had lesions on it. It was catch-and-release fishing anyway, she said, because the fish all had such high mercury levels that any more than one fish per month was considered dangerous. Steve and I had spent the prior day kayaking, soaked with river water much of the time (we went through class 2 rapids), and this news greatly dismayed us. For the next couple of days, we both experienced a number of odd symptoms, possibly psychosomatic, such as swollen lymph nodes and headaches.
In just a moment, the river in our eyes had gone from unspoiled wilderness to a major health hazard. It made me think that politicians and the media are always distracted by the "global warming" discussion, but it's kind of a red herring. Even if there is no global warming, we still have a major pollution problem. In the end, less pollution is definitely better, for thousands of reasons beyond the temperature of the earth.