The Tuggles

Episode 8: The Conditioning

November 16, 2017
conditioning

Lynn stood at the window, pensively watching Tim work Sonny in the round pen as the setting sun cast its golden rays across her upper body. The sudden contrast of the sun’s heat with the chill of the living room sent a shiver down her spine and goosebumps up her arms. There were fewer glorious sights to her than a man with a horse. She bit her lip as the stud loped in circles around her husband, the whip in his right hand and the lead rope in the other.

“You’re going to get on that horse.”

The phrase was smooth and clear within her spirit with the gentle stillness of divine peace. A soft smile spread across her face as she settled into the comfort of His voice, even in a thought that would utterly terrify her in the flesh. Ever since breaking her neck in a car accident several years prior, she could hardly manage to hold a lead rope without a blanket of horror swarming her as vivid images of Christopher Reeves pummeled her mind. She settled deeper into the embrace of the Holy Spirit’s grace for this moment. Each thought of hesitance that rose up was calmly subdued, like a large mighty hand in the face of all apprehension.

Fear has no grip on me. I am courageous. Lord, give me strength.

She moved towards the door and slid her feet down into her cowboy boots. With a deep breath she turned the knob and walked out into the breeze of dusk, heading towards the round pen.

“Good boy, Sonny.” The horse shook his head as Tim stroked his blackened mane. He turned to see Lynn approaching the fence.

“Tim, I’m going to ride Sonny.” The words tumbled out boldly and emphatically, as though she had said them every day for years. Bewildered and confused, Tim stared at her with his hand resting below Sonny’s ear.

“What? You know he only bucked me off just last week.”

His words left her unfazed. “I want to ride Sonny.”

“What has gotten into you? He’s a two-year-old stud, Lynn. He’s barely broke to ride yet. There ain’t no way. You haven’t ridden in years.”

“Tim, I want to ride Sonny.”

The resolution in her voice was peculiarly unwavering. Confused by this sudden bout of confidence, Tim held her gaze for a few more moments. Knowing her bullheadedness, he conceded without a fight. Removing the chain, she opened the fence and approached them. The three of them stood together for a moment. Sonny swatted a fly with his tail and blinked at Lynn. After retrieving the lead rope from him, Tim helped her get her foot in the stirrup and she pulled herself up into the saddle. The horse stood sturdy and still while Tim nervously held onto his face, softly scratching either side of his head.

“You’re sure about this?” he asked with concerned eyes.

She looked down at him, a smile slowly growing on her face. “I am absolutely sure, Tim Tuggle. No fear.” She gave Sonny a slight kick on each side and he started walking around the round pen.

Tim watched, speechless, as his wife effortlessly handled a wild horse around and around the pen with complete composure. A swirl of emotion welled up within his chest and he clamped down on his throat against the forming enlarged lump. Tears filled his eyes and he found his legs giving way. His knees sank into the damp sand in the center of the pen and with his head in hands he sobbed out his thankfulness. “Lord Jesus, You’ve done it. She is truly free!”

Lynn glanced over at him mid-trot and began laughing with joy over this indescribably powerful moment in their lives. Freedom poured over her soul like a warm bath and visions of crossing the country began filling her mind and heart. She called over to him, “Let’s ride, sweetheart!”

***

“You doing alright, honey?” Tim hollered back at Lynn, keeping his head turned to hear her response.

“Yes, Tim,” she called up to him past Leif’s bulging cowboy hat. “You don’t have to keep asking me. I am doing just fine.” She tightened her grip on the reins as the three of them filed their horses up the incline of the grassy hill. Ever since her breakthrough with Sonny a week prior, the couple had a renewed vigor for their upcoming adventure and nothing seemed impossible.

The smoothness of Freedom’s gait beneath her reassured Lynn’s confidence of the climb and she intentionally relaxed into the stride. This isn’t so bad, she thought. I can definitely do this right here across America. What could possibly be so bad? She watched Cher’s strong legs smoothly carrying Tim up ahead of her and marveled at how far she had come in only a few weeks of training. One could hardly tell that Cher and Freedom had only recently been pulled out of a pasture—abused and starved. No one reasonable would be taking them out on a two-day journey through unknown territory. Tim Tuggle was never considered all that reasonable though, so it fit the bill quite nicely.

As they approached the top of the hill, Leif gave Sundance an extra kick and he trotted up next to Tim and Cher. As inseparable as they were already, ever since Leif committed to joining them on their journey the two men barely ever spent a moment apart. Lynn lagged behind them ten yards or so and saw them briefly drop out of sight as she began cresting the summit. Expecting to come upon another meek little hillside, Lynn looked over the edge of a several-hundred-foot drop-off and her eyes bulged so wide she thought they might pop out. Her sudden fear and discombobulation shifted into pure anger as she beheld these two men ahead of her beginning to slowly descend down the steep slope.

“You two are verifiably insane!” she called down to them. “Just what on earth would possess you to think that this is okay right now?” Lynn exasperatedly tugged at Freedom’s bridle, the mare’s head jolting backward against the panicked jerks.

Tim turned Cher sideways and halted to look up at Lynn. “Honey, just stay calm,” he assured, pursing his lips to keep from bursting out in laughter at the frantic look on her face. “Don’t yank on her like that. She’s perfectly capable of climbing down here and she knows it. Just ease up and let her do what she knows she can do.”

Lynn studied Sundance as she carried Leif down past Tim. She loosened the reins and Freedom took her cue to begin the descent. The slope seemed to go on for hundreds of feet and she feared at any moment the awkward inching of the decline would send them plunging downward like a snowball at an ever-increasing speed.

Attempting to talk her through it, she snapped at him to keep his mouth shut so she could concentrate. This girl will never get on a horse again, Tim thought.

What seemed like hours later, the three made it to the bottom of the canyon. Lynn heaved a heavy, exasperated sigh of relief and leaned forward with her head down on Freedom’s mane. Her tense muscles aching and throbbing from the continuous flex from the downward climb. She spent the next few hours recuperating as the trio ambled through twists and turns not quite as treacherous, yet intimidating enough to keep her from fully relaxing.

The hot, June sun beat down on them as the clouds parted and beads of sweat formed on each of their brows. Lynn took a swig of lukewarm water from her canteen and wiped the excess dripping from her chin. A clearing in the trees gave way to a small grassy knoll and she begged the two men to stop for a rest. A nap sounded amazing. It was only two o’clock in the afternoon, but it might as well have been eight—she was exhausted. They chuckled at her suggestion, not taking her seriously. Her pride was so tired she couldn’t even hold back a whimper.

The grassy knoll went as quickly as it came, and the crew found themselves approaching a small canyon. Tim and Leif halted side by side and began murmuring to one another as Lynn came up behind them, unable to clearly see. She nudged Freedom to come alongside Leif and quickly backed away as soon as she saw the 30-foot drop-off. Palms sweating, she swallowed and looked at the men, trying to listen to their mutterings. Just before she could ask them to speak up, Tim nudged Cher toward the rock wall, Leif following a few feet behind.

“What are you doing?” she was afraid to verbalize the question. As they reached the edge of the wall, Leif steered Sundance out front and began gingerly stepping out onto a narrow path alongside the rocks, the cliff to his right. “You cannot be serious right now,” she said incredulously. Tim followed after him. “Tim Tuggle. That is not even an actual path!” she emphatically bellowed.

The two men kept silent, concentrating on the 30 feet ahead of them. Lynn grunted and scoffed. Bringing Freedom to the edge of the path, she hugged the rock wall and tentatively began nudging her onto it.

About halfway across, a loose rock came out from underneath Sundance’s hoof and the brown mare quickly lost her balance, scattering rocks and dust. In Leif’s struggle to reorient her, the two of them went tumbling down the cliff.

Lynn’s eyes bugged out in sheer horror at the sight of the two tumbling down into the small canyon. Paralyzed with fear, she gave a quick jerk on the horse’s reins and Freedom began nervously stumbling and teetering. “I’m getting off my horse!” she cried.

“Do not get off of your horse!” Tim yelled back at her, eyes still fixed on the few remaining feet in front of him. “You alright, Leif?” his voice echoed along the canyon walls.

“Yeah. Just a bruise or two. We didn’t even wreck,” Leif let out a cackle and smiled up at the two of them. Trying not to look down, Lynn dismounted and leaned up against the wall, clutching the reins in front of her horse.

“You are going to get hurt!” Tim scolded, climbing down out of his saddle. He took the few steps between them, grabbed onto her, and took Freedom’s reins out of her hands. Tim shoved Lynn up against the rocky wall in order to maneuver the horse past her.

Jaw clenched and white-knuckling a protruding rock, she muttered, “Oh my goodness, I do not want to do this!”

Tim hoisted himself into Freedom’s saddle and rode her behind Cher to the end of the path, leaving Lynn all alone, inching sideways along the rock wall with chin in the air to avoid looking down off the ledge. After several heart-pounding minutes, she reached the end of the ledge and the rest of the crew had already circled back up to the top of the canyon. The men smiled at her with tight lips, restraining snickers.

“I did not think that was a great idea,” she disparaged, rolling her eyes at their amusement. Climbing back into Freedom’s saddle, she looked at Tim and let out a burst of laughter.

That evening they set up camp with a warm fire next to a creek and stared up at a brilliant starry sky. The couple settled into their sleeping bags inside their tent and Lynn moaned as her whole body tried to relax for the first time that day. The soreness had already set in. She let out a loud cackle. “Just what in the world do we think we are doing?”

Tim giggled next to her. “You’re doing great, sweetheart,” he assured.

“Oh, we are definitely nut-jobs,” she teased. “I can’t decide if this is all a joke or if we have truly fallen off our rockers.” They laughed as hard as their exhaustion allowed and drifted off to sleep.

At first light, the trio rose for breakfast and packed up their tents, journeying on through the California mountains. Day two of their conditioning extravaganza the group settled into a steady groove consisting mostly of uphill climbs over rocky terrain. Lynn hadn’t felt soreness like this since high school gym class.

Day three brought the first gleam of the light at the end of the tunnel. Knowing it was the final day brought a new burst of tenacity to her achy muscles. Around late afternoon, the crew made way into a valley filled with large rocks, scattered shrubbery, and sparsely fallen trees. After an hour of trekking, crossing several small streams, the area grew denser with more and more fallen trees until the crew could no longer navigate around them with any sense of ease. Leif attempted to coax Sundance into scaling a thinner tree trunk, but to no avail. They soon recognized that there was no way forward.

“We should turn back,” Lynn advised.

“We’ve been in this valley for over an hour,” Tim responded. “If we turn back now we won’t make it out of here before dark, and you have work in the morning.” Tim dismounted and examined the scene in front of him, wheels turning in his head. He began loosening the pack gear from Cher’s saddle. “I want to try something.”

After removing all the gear, he led Cher to the widest opening between trunks and coerced her down onto her belly to crawl through. The other two watched the tedium of those fifteen minutes before following suit and unstrapping gear from either of the other horses. The gang managed to crawl the horses onward for nearly a half hour until the fallen trees were too dense to fit through.

Tim removed his hatchet and began chopping at the smallest tree.

He glanced at his watch. Five o’clock.

Looking over at Lynn, he said, “I think that I should call Max to come get you.” He continued hacking at the tree branch. “I don’t think we’re going to make it out of here tonight.”

“Is he going to come in by helicopter?” she sneered. “What do you mean ‘come get me’?”

He stood upright and wiped his brow. Looking around the outer walls of the valley, he answered, “Well, the only way out is up.”

She stared at him, incredulous. “‘Up.’ So you did mean by helicopter.”

“Seriously, Lynn?” he derided, rolling his eyes.

“Sweetheart, what else could you have meant by ‘up’? Enlighten me.” She folded her arms with the lead rope hanging down by her side.

Tim scratched his head, looking out in the distance past Cher while she tore a chunk of grass from a small patch nearby. Lynn followed his eyes.

“You cannot be serious right now,” she exclaimed in disbelief, dropping her arms to her sides. “Tim Tuggle!” she scolded.

An hour later Lynn stood at the edge of the precipice and stared upward at her conquest. The rocky cliff went straight up for what seemed like one hundred feet, jutting inward at various places. Her knees felt weak and the blood went rushing out of her head, leaving her face pale and her head dizzy. She leaned back against Tim.

“Honey, I know you can do this,” he encouraged her. “Do you need a drink of water?”

She took a swig of his canteen and fought back livid anger towards her husband.

What kind of idiot just blazes a trail through uncharted territory in the California mountains? How dare he does this to me? He knows how heights are my vice. Let the miracles begin.

Tim took her hands in his and they bowed their heads while he prayed.

Her mind went numb as she reached forward and grabbed onto the first rock. She planted her cowboy boots nervously on a large rocky step near the bottom.

“You’re doing great, Lynn. I know you can do this,” Tim reassured her.

Her anger at Tim drove her adrenaline to its peak and she found herself steadily scaling the wall like a true mountain climber. Every five or six feet she came to another small flat spot, giving her a short rest period where she would crawl over to the next rocky section to climb. All she could see was Max’s head at the very top, cheering her on and shouting accolades for her progress.

Tim steadily encouraged her from the bottom, trying to keep her calm and focused on her task. Every sight of the bottom of her shiny, slick cowboy boots gave him sweaty palms and a knot in his stomach.

If she freezes up in the middle of this, Tim thought, it’s gonna be bad.

“Don’t look back, honey, don’t look back!” Tim hollered up at her, nearly fifty feet up now.

Lynn continued to press on, refusing to think of anything except reaching Max at the top and how she currently wanted to murder her husband.

Heights, she thought. Horses. My two greatest fears of all time, and THIS is how he wants us to live our lives. I could punch him in the eye socket.

Twenty long minutes later, she reached Max’s outstretched hand and he helped pull her up to the flat asphalt about twelve feet off a back California highway.

She rolled away from the cliff’s edge and let out a loud groan of anxious soreness and relieved victory. They could hear the echoes down below of the guys shouting their celebration.

After a minute and a nice, big drink of the water bottle Max brought to her, Lynn peeked her head over the edge and almost fainted at how high she had just climbed.

“You boys have a great life!” she howled.

 

 

 

 

 

READ MORE:

Previous–Episode 7: The Calling
Beginning–Episode 1: The Funeral

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