When you are launching off on a big trip, it’s nice to have several things you aren’t worried about. As we spiraled out of the sky into Norfolk, Virginia two Saturdays past, I had at least two points on which I was extremely confident. First, if we got stuck in the sand road, we had Sheldon to pull us out. Of course, Sheldon himself would not get stuck because he was bringing his big farm truck. Second, I was actually going to see wild horses around our rental house.
I had previously worried about the horse issue.
Oh, these majestic creatures definitely lived on the ocean shore close to where we planned to stay. But I’m not dumb about spotting wildlife. I visited Maine a few years ago. The road maintenance people post signs up and down the highways in Maine, warning about the presence of moose. But despite driving hours, I never saw a moose. Of course, I was glad I didn’t hit one. But it would have been nice to get a glimpse of one in the bushes.
Also, I remember a cousin of mine going out west to hunt bear. As I recall, they had a guide who told them that his hunters were always successful. Maybe not everyone, but at least someone, would bag a bear. They came home empty-handed.
The point is wildlife are unpredictable. Also, seeing wild horses was important because I’m about to turn 40, and I wanted to do something out of the box for this occasion. Seeing wild horses seemed like a great way to kick off the celebration. If I could be sure of seeing them.
That’s why in March, I specifically messaged the owner of the rental house we reserved, with a burning question about our planned stay at the end of May.
What are the actual odds of seeing horses at that time of year? I’m kind of excited about it, but I know how wildlife sightings are. I would rather have realistic expectations so I’m not crushed if we don’t see any.Katrina to property owner
Absolutely awesome chance there’s about 45 that visit my house every day. 🤙🏝
Not 45 four or fiveProperty owner to Katrina
Soothed by this update (even if not 45) I quit worrying about the wild horse problem. There seemed to be excellent chance that I would be able to sit in my armchair at the rental house, feeding Anina her bottle, and watching the wild horses out the window while thinking profound thoughts about growing older and wiser.
I had also worried about the sand road
Getting stuck on the sand road was a real fear, especially after we started researching. There is no road up to the wild horse country. Instead, people drive on the beach. In fact, it’s called a “4×4 beach.” So we reserved a four wheel drive vehicle to pick up at the Norfolk, Virginia airport Saturday evening, May 28.
A few days before we were scheduled to leave, the property owner sent a message instructing us to reduce the air pressure in our tires to 15 psi before getting on the beach. I showed this odd message to Marnell. Neither of us had been on a road where tire pressure had to be reduced in order to drive, although Marnell seemed to have a good understanding of why this might help. He looked up some Youtube videos about driving in sand. Sure enough, those tutorials agreed with the decreased air pressure, although one man clarified that about 50% of the total air should be released, rather than a hard and fast 15 psi. The videos included instructions on driving at high tide or low tide (low tide is easier because there is more hard sand) and how to shovel around your tires if you get stuck. One tutorial suggested carrying a tow strap and shovel in the vehicle. Another said a tow strap was unnecessary.
We decided having a tow strap along couldn’t hurt. I text my sister Kristie and suggested that her husband Sheldon bring a tow strap and a shovel. Sheldon drives manure spreading trucks and has all the things.
Sheldon’s wondering if he should bring his 120,000 lb. rope they use to pull manure trucks with? 🤣Kristie to Katrina
Marnell says “probably” about Sheldon’s rope.Katrina to Kristie
It was a relief to know that Sheldon and Kristie were meeting us there. Marnell is an excellent driver, but he’s used to driving on actual roads. Not only that, he would be driving an unfamiliar rental vehicle. Also, high tide was going to be at 7 pm that night and the summer sun was going to set at 8 pm. Unless we departed the airport in record time, we wouldn’t be arriving until almost sunset, approximately at high tide.
No Stopping For Any Reason, and Other Bad Signs
When we landed at the airport in Norfolk, the Avis rental man told Marnell that he had been on the sand road himself many times, and we would be fine. He set us up in a Toyota truck and told Marnell to let air out of the tires for about five seconds per tire. No need to measure it with a gauge.
Our flight went well, but collecting luggage and a rental car took an hour, with Anina making wild dashes for escalators and stairs at every opportunity. It would almost certainly be after 8 pm when we arrived on the sand road. Dark. Check. Close to high tide. Check. Unfamiliar vehicle. Check.
But at least Sheldon and Kristie were meeting us with the truck and the tow rope and the shovel. Everything would be fine.
By the time we got Corolla, North Carolina, the sun had set and the light was fast fading from the world. The GPS said it would take us about a half hour on the sand road, so it was likely to be completely dark when we arrived.
Suddenly, the road vanished and we were staring at the ocean on the other side of an expanse of sand. Clearly we had to stop and let the air out of our tires, so both trucks stopped under a sign that said NO STOPPING FOR ANY REASON. There was no way to go on without letting out air, and turning two big trucks around would probably take longer than a five second air reduction. Thankfully, there was hardly anyone around, so Sheldon and Marnell jumped out and quickly let air out of the tires. Marnell didn’t have a gauge, but he let air out for about 15 seconds, much longer than the rental man suggested. Sheldon’s tires normally had 70 psi, so he went down 50% to 35 psi.
Kristie and I both decided to hold our babies since we would be going slow and it was just sand, right? The babies were tired – everyone was tired – and we just needed to get to the rental in one piece to put the children to bed and unpack everything. Kristie handed us the sandwiches they had bought for us since they arrived in Corolla first. Maybe Marnell and I could eat supper on the way.
Eat on the way? Ha. Marnell turned the corner onto the beach. Wham! into a rut. Crash! Out of a rut. (DO NOT HOLD BABIES ON THE SAND ROAD.) Marnell focused on the tracks ahead and held the wheel with both hands. Would we really survive half an hour?
Occasional vehicles passed, but the beach was mostly deserted. We did see a tow truck sitting on the beach, looking for desperate customers. Thankfully, we had Sheldon for our backup tow truck if needed.
The ocean roared and the tracks wavered through banks of soft sand. Several times the truck seemed on the verge of stopping, but we went on. In several spots, houses had been built nearly to the ocean, so we had to pass around them on a narrow strip of sand, close to the soggy water line.
As we rattled north, we noticed three bad signs.
First, Marnell noticed the tire pressure readings on the dash board. All of his tires were around 30 psi. Yikes.
Second, I must have dropped my phone. I could not find it, and I needed it to look up the rental house address on the GPS. The owner had told us to get off at ramp 20, but we could not read the signs in the dusk. I had to find my phone, but it was out of the question with the bouncing and crashing and trying to hang onto Anina.
Third, Marnell noticed that Sheldon’s lights seemed to be disappearing.
Marnell finally slipped the Toyota into neutral and let it coast to a stop, a trick he had learned on one of the videos to keep the tires high on top of the sand. We needed to find my phone, put Anina back in her own seat, and further decrease the air pressure. Maybe Sheldon would also catch up with us.
We found my phone, and I noticed a missed call and two messages from Kristie.
We went down.
Could she mean stuck?
Yes, she did mean stuck. Kristie said that Sheldon had gotten out and circled the truck, ending at her passenger door with a gloomy look on his face. By the time I called though, Kristie said passersby were assisting them. She suggested we drive on and find the rental. However, by the time Marnell got our tires down to 17-18 psi and wolfed down a few bites of sandwich, Sheldon and Kristie were ready to roll again. (Apparently at Avis “five seconds” is a code phrase for “five minutes.”)
Well, we finally all made it to the rental, although Sheldon and Kristie nearly hit four wild horses strolling on the sand road.
The Unlikely Good Samaritan
Here, Sheldon told the story. After circling his truck and finding the rear end low in the sand, he was considering his options when another truck pulled up and offered to help. Sheldon told the man he had a tow strap if the other truck would just be willing to give him a pull.
While that man was turning around, a man walking on the beach came over to see what was happening. He held his can of beer high.
“I may be six beers in, but listen to me!” He said. “I’ll save you $400. How much air do you have in your tires?”
“Nope, nope, it’s got to be 15 psi,” he said. Then, out of his pocket, he pulled four “air-letter-outers” that could be screwed onto the tire and would stop once the pressure reached 15. They let the air out of the tires, and Sheldon began shoveling around his back wheels. They also screwed them on the tires of the truck that was going to pull him out, since his tires also failed to meet the specifications of the man who was six beers in.
With a quick pull, the truck came out and they were on their way. The reduced air pressure, gift of the unlikely Good Samaritan, dramatically smoothed the ride.
I need a Good Samaritan
By Monday noon, when Sheldon and Kristie were leaving to go home, I needed my own Good Samaritan. All the adults had seen a wild horse… except me.
Sheldon found this highly amusing, especially since I may have made one or two comments about him getting stuck. In fact, at one point he neighed while riding in the back of the pickup.
I messaged the property owner to see if there was a certain time the horses came by. Perhaps we were missing them at the house by not looking out the window at the right time.
Sometimes they come around like clockwork, sometimes they don’t.Property owner to Katrina
Great. I bet he grew up in Maine posting road signs about moose.
I did finally see some majestic wild horses when we were out and about. We saw eight by the water, five passing us on the road, and four walking on the beach. I’m going to call my 40th birthday kickoff a success. But my dream of seeing them from our rental house was not to be.
It was almost as if Sheldon was praying that the Lord would take vengeance on me for writing this post, but of course I hadn’t written it yet. Hopefully by the time we leave for our family gathering in Illinois in August, he’ll have forgiven me. Because when you launch off on a big trip, it’s nice to have several things you aren’t worried about.
P.S. I’m planning to do 40 out-of-the-box things for my 40th birthday. Seeing wild horses was the first, but most of them will be simple, like trying a new recipe or learning a new skill. Send me ideas, and I’ll try to share my progress!