The Tuggles

Episode 11: The Desert

November 25, 2017

The sound of forks clanking against porcelain overtook the tiny mobile home kitchen. Tim added more pepper to his ribeye and pulled his chair a little closer to the table, clearing his throat.

“Cindy, what would it be like crossing the desert up to Elko?” he inquired, lifting a bite of steak to his lips. Lynn glanced at him in between passing the cottage cheese to Cindy and receiving the sweet potatoes from Leif.

“Do you mean in a vehicle?” asked Cindy. “Or are you talking you three on horses?” She held Tim’s gaze across the table while taking a sip of her sweet tea. Tim put the chewed bite of steak in his cheek to give an intelligible response.

“Horses,” he responded, resuming his chewing.

“I don’t know,” she said, contemplative. “You’re gonna go that way?”

“I believe that’s the way the Lord is leading us to go,” Tim said, very matter-of-factly. Cindy glanced around the table at Lynn and Leif who showed no signs of agitation or disturbance.

“You could do it,” Cindy stated after a moment of thought. “We could ride out there tomorrow and just see.” Her suggestion lingered for a moment, waiting for confirmation from the crew.

Tim’s thoughts raced, neurons firing like a firework show on the fourth of July. Possibilities soaring from one height to another. The unknown of crossing the Nevada High Desert floor would have sent the typical wife into a tailspin, offended and horrified at the suggestion from her husband’s mouth. Lynn felt a surge of excitement through her heart and she smiled softly at the mystery of the unknown. Tim caught her eye for a brief second and noticed the gleam, settling his spirit deeper into the stirring of the Lord’s direction.

“Have you thought about how the horses are going to manage a trek such as that?” Cindy continued without waiting for a response. “Their palates wouldn’t be able to handle what the wild horses live off because they haven’t grown up in that environment. We can take some hay with us to leave out there for your first night at the very least.” Her tone conveyed a twinge of apprehension subdued by a controlled safety plan.

Tim gulped down a swig of tea and looked at Cindy, holding her gaze as she waited for his consensus. “Honestly, Cindy,” he began, “I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to plan all that out. I feel God stirring my heart to cross the desert floor and that’s all I’ve got right now. So if it’s all I got, it must be all I need.” He removed the napkin from his lap and placed it on his empty plate.

Lynn stood and began stacking plates to carry to the kitchen sink. Cindy looked at her and then at Leif, searching for any hint of conflict within them at Tim’s resolve; finding none.

“We can go out there and just see, though,” Tim appeased, folding his hands behind his head. “That’ll be fine. And then we’ll leave first thing Monday morning.”

Cindy’s heart sank and her face fell at the mention of their departure. How could she go back to business as usual after they leave? She could barely remember what life was like before them.

“First we have a radio show to do, though,” Lynn said with a sarcastic smirk, standing over the pile of dishes in the sink. The idea had amused her all day since Tim got the call that morning requesting them on Fallon’s local country radio station for a brief interview.

Cindy’s chagrin faded with the forming of a grin on her face as she gathered the remainder of dishes from the table. “I’m sure it’s just the first of many for your ministry.” She stood next to Lynn at the sink and gave her a wide-eyed, playful scold, “So get used to it!”

They all laughed.

****

“Tim, will you grab me another loaf of bread right there?” Cindy asked, pointing from behind the grocery cart. He pulled another loaf of the whole grain wheat off the shelf where Cindy had just been. “I think that covers it all,” she concluded. “Can you think of anything else you might need?” she asked them.

“I don’t believe so,” Lynn answered with a smile.

“So you already got the Godiva chocolates, then?” Tim asked with a mischievous smile. Lynn gave him a playful smack in the arm and they all chuckled.

“You the folks from the radio show this morning? The ones riding across the country on horses?” Tim and Lynn turned around to see a dark complected, middle-aged man with a full, black beard. He stood a few inches taller than Tim and held two loaves of bread in his left arm.

“Indeed, we are. Tim Tuggle.” Tim introduced himself and reached towards the man for a handshake. He stared down at Tim’s hand in a moment of reluctance. “How’d you figure it was us?” Tim asked, hand still extended.

“There ain’t no way you can do that,” the man stated emphatically, his brow furrowing and eyes narrowing. “You are not gonna be riding across that desert on a horse.” His volume was rising and his face reddening, attracting several nearby onlookers. “What the hell is the matter with you, ya Jesus Freak?”

Tim dropped his hand at the swiftness of the man’s anger. He forced himself to swallow the ball of rage forming in his throat and held his breath to remain quiet.

“Tell you what. You leave her here,” the man continued, pointing at Lynn, “and you go on out there. And in two weeks we’ll come out and pick up your bones.”

Tim absorbed the derision deep into his heart and stared into the man’s eyes that appeared almost entirely black. After several moments of deafening silence, Tim spoke.

“We thank you for your encouraging words,” he responded with obvious sarcasm, yet lacking the same derision. He gave the man a nod and then ushered the rest of the group out of the bread aisle.

“You’ll never make it!” the man hollered at their backs as they walked away.

****

A few hours later the four of them set out in Cindy’s ’97 Ford F-150 with three bales of hay and traveled the 25 miles from Fallon to Stillwater with the terrain shifting back and forth from grass to sand the whole way. As the crew crossed over into the small town of Stillwater, the pavement suddenly came to an end and the vehicle slowed to accommodate the shift from asphalt to the finely grained sand of the Nevada High Desert. The truck followed the obvious tire marks that indented the crude path in front of them, clearly nearing the far side of the small town on the edge of the vast desert floor. Several minutes later, the team came to a government windmill with a small watering hole next to it.

“Here is our first sign of water,” Lynn said from the backseat of the extended cab as Cindy slowed the truck to a stop next to it. She shifted the gear into park and they climbed out of the truck into the Nevada heat, examining the nearby empty corrals. They unloaded the three hay bales and tested the single water spigot which clearly had not been used in months, if not years, before quickly climbing back into the vehicle to escape the blowing sand.

“Wouldn’t it make the most sense for me to just trailer you three out here tomorrow?” Cindy asked. They all stared out the window together at the lone windmill barely moving in the wind.

Suddenly like a megaphone to the ear, the man’s voice in the bread aisle earlier that day violently invaded Tim’s thoughts—You’ll never make it! It echoed and reverberated all through him.

He blinked several times and faced forward, looking out at the wide open desert through the windshield, his thoughts swirling with the sand. “That should work fine, Cindy,” he said pensively.

Cindy rested her hand on the ignition and paused a moment longer as they sat in the stillness of the desert with only the whistle of the wind surrounding them. The events of the day combined with the weightiness of what lay ahead held a taut line of tension within Tim’s spirit, his own thoughts lying in the mix. Like an overloaded barbell sitting on his chest, the massive burden of it all took his breath away. As he settled into the knowledge of the first day’s provision, the comfort from an established plan settled over his current anxious doubts which he quickly resented any need for. He knew deep in his spirit that Cindy’s compulsion to trailer them and leave hay for the first night was not necessary, yet it was entirely understandable. Logical, even. He knew God would provide, but what if this was His provision? After all, they hadn’t experienced anything of this magnitude yet on their journey, and crossing the desert was nothing to mindlessly step into. Dusk was setting in and the team headed back towards town to beat the sunset.

“One thing you should know though, Tim,” Cindy began, glancing over at him from behind the wheel. “There is a naval air force base southeast of Fallon and I know that they do bomb tests out in the desert on a weekly basis. Thursday is their usual day. You will want to be sure and clear the first two mountain ranges by then so you don’t get caught in the testing site. Three days should be more than enough time, though, to get through there.”

Lynn cackled from the backseat and Tim smiled. “Not only are we crossing the desert,” Lynn started, “But we’re passing through a warzone!” she laughed again. She seemed much more amused by the news than disturbed, and Tim added one more nervous notch to his belt of doubts.

The next morning the three horsemen loaded up their gear and their gang of horses in Cindy’s trailer and set out for Stillwater in mid-afternoon. Arriving at the windmill, the crew unloaded the horses into the corrals and unpacked their gear from the bed of the truck. Leif and Tim got the fire going and the ladies unloaded the ingredients they had packed for their dinner—brats and mashed potatoes. During dinner they exchanged memories from the past few weeks and the wonder of how God had brought them all together.

Leif was the first to finish his meal and then he headed into the corrals to check on the horses. While the women cleaned up the remains of dinner Tim finished off the last two brats and had a moment to himself, getting lost in the sight of the flickering flames in front of him.

Suddenly, his echoic memory inundated his thoughts with the voice of yesterday speaking death over their desert journey. The bombardment seemed to only increase as the seconds turned to minutes. What if there wasn’t another windmill with water along their path tomorrow? There was no way to go ahead and check unless they had gone clear up to Winnemucca and accessed the ranch roads from the main highway. Those roads were only used by the local ranchers, hunters, and the government for rounding up wild horses. One had to know the country. There was no map.

And even if there is another windmill, what will the horses have to eat? He knew they wouldn’t be able to survive on the same exotic plants as the wild horses of the desert. It wouldn’t be palatable enough to withstand without having been raised in it.

The cloud of Tim’s anxious thoughts swirled around him intermixing with the billowing campfire smoke. He swallowed the last bite of his brat, nervously.

“Look at those mountain peaks over there,” Lynn spoke up from the other side of the campfire, enraptured by the sight. He could feel the thrill in her voice at all the newness.

I have to stay at least one night out here, he thought. I don’t want her to think I’m a sissy. He resolved to put his thoughts to rest until morning and then to further assess the wisdom in continuing to move forward so ill-prepared. The resolution temporarily calmed the storm of his doubts.

Lynn looked out at the desert floor in front of them, marveling at the stark shift in environmental surroundings. She walked across the crude pavement extending from the windmill’s foundation and stared down at the sudden shift from asphalt to hot, desert sand. The peculiarity of the juxtaposition sent a shiver of excitement down her spine at the wonder of the adventure ahead of them. Recognizing her own lack of hesitancy, she gazed out at the open, sandy expanse and gave a soft chuckle. Cindy appeared next to her, peering out at the same view with arms folded across her chest, lacking the same thrill of wonder and swallowing the lump in her throat.

“Are you afraid?” Cindy softly asked. Lynn smiled without looking her way.

“I’m not, Cindy,” she responded peacefully. “Because I know deep in my heart that this is the will of God, no matter how bizarre it sounds. I am actually excited for the next phase of this journey, believe it or not.” Her words were confident and sure. Cindy wiped a tear from the corner of her eye, hoping Lynn wouldn’t notice. Turning towards her, Lynn placed her hand on the bend of Cindy’s arm, still crossed and clutched across her chest. “This is not a final goodbye,” Lynn assured her. “This is only a ‘see you later.’”

Cindy wiped another tear from just below her eye and turned to face Lynn. Tears quickly welled up again and they embraced for a long moment, clinging to all the depths of the Spirit-bond that had so quickly formed between all of them.

After the same tearful embrace with Tim, Cindy drove off into the sunset, waving at them with a hand out the window. Leif and Tim set up their two tents on opposing sides of the fire, and the three sat around the dwindling flames and watched the stars grow brilliantly brighter in the darkening night sky, competing to see who could spot the most shooting stars.

About an hour later, they turned in for the night. The setting of the sun brought on an unexpectedly cold shiver to the group and they were each glad to retreat inside their bedrolls.

Tim awoke the next morning at the first sign of dawn. His pulse immediately quickened as the questions flooded his mind again. Was he ready for the risk of what lay ahead? Would it be wiser to go back to Cindy’s and continue the journey on a more assured route? The doubts crept back in again, having no security for the next night—where would they stay or eat or drink?

Something in him said to keep going, as illogical and uncertain as it felt.

His heart skipped a beat at the recognition of the Lord’s leading. He took a deep breath and accepted the unknown.

Okay, Lord. I’ll trust You. But just so we’re clear—this is crazy.

Within an hour they had the tents disassembled and packed, and the horses caught and saddled. And like astronauts in outer space, they set out into the utter unknown.

The crew headed northeast with a long mountain range stretching out in front of them seemingly only several miles ahead. After the first two hours at a comfortable pace, the mountain seemed virtually no closer. The wide range of space across the open desert floor was deceiving in distance.

They eased into a grind with Tim out front, Lynn in the middle, and Leif bringing up the rear. The wide open feel of the desert floor liberated the caravan from all constraint to spread out with more than enough comfortable space. As the horses adjusted to the drastic climate change, Tim attempted to adjust to the internal climate change in his heart, and to no avail.

Three hours into the day’s trek, Leif spoke up from the back. “You all hear that noise?”

“What noise?” Lynn asked, perking her ears for something peculiar.

“It’s a buzzing,” Leif clarified. “A motor, perhaps. Like a plane or something, but not normal.” He looked from side to side, scanning the skylines. Nothing.

The sound of horse hooves clopping on the occasional large rock was soon overtaken by a buzzing accompanied by a heavy, droning bass felt deep to the bone. Tim turned himself all the way around in his saddle and caught the sight of a military plane heading straight towards them.

“And that would be the sound of a Naval Air Force jet arriving two days ahead of schedule,” Tim stated with emphatic apprehension. Lynn and Leif turned and gawked with eyebrows raised, unsure of a response.

The plane closed in on them and veered back to the south, followed quickly by another plane, then another. The third one descended much lower than the first two, hovering about 200 feet above ground when the first bomb was dropped.

Kaboom!

The explosion was nearly a half mile away, yet the ground shook like it had landed inches from them. Every one of the horses went berserk. Shuffling side to side, spinning around in circles, whipping their heads around, neighing and pawing at the sand, jerking the pack string and each other in every direction. Suddenly there were four planes surrounding them on all sides, so close that they could read the numbers on the paneling, and alternating the bombs every thirty seconds. Each explosion seemed louder than the previous. The three horsemen were too busy trying to keep the pack string from tearing themselves apart to have a freak-out session of their own. With every bomb that dropped the fear inside of Tim screamed loudly that this was their last chance to just turn around and find another way. And the wide eyes of Lynn and Leif seemed to tell the same story.

After the five longest minutes of their lives, the bombing stopped. Heart pounding and heavy breathing continued for the three horsemen as they calmed the nervous squeals and snorts of their horses, untangling and straightening up the pack strings.

No one spoke for several minutes after the calm had returned to everyone.

“Well,” Lynn finally broke the silence. “Now we can say that our horses are bomb-proof.” She let out a loud cackle and the men felt the comic relief wash them over. His fear began to dissipate and Tim felt another surge of assurance that they continue forward, as maddening as the illogic was.

As the team pressed on, nearing their first mountain range, Tim noticed a cloud of dust rising from a hilltop almost a mile northeast. Over the next several minutes the cloud expanded outward, coming off of the hilltop and heading towards them like a jet stream.

“What is all that dust?” Lynn asked.

Before anyone could respond, a vehicle came into view from behind a cluster of sand dunes. Still far off, the trio couldn’t even hear the motor yet.

“Who could that be?” Leif inquired. Pioneering its own path, the automobile steadied on at about 35 miles per hour, the dust thickening the closer it came to them.

“I guess we’re going to find out,” Tim stated, wheels turning in his head. Relief and apprehension coalesced in his nervous system at once as he awaited the reveal of this passerby.

Nearly twenty minutes passed before the truck finally reached the traveling caravan, blazing its own trail in the wide open desert expanse. Pulling up next to them about thirty feet away, the letters BLM were marked in large white, block letters on the side. The driver shifted the gear into park and shut off the motor before stepping out. Tim halted Cher and turned towards the vehicle to greet him as he approached. Lynn and Leif followed suit with the rest of the pack string.

“Good Afternoon,” Tim initiated, tipping his hat to the man as he rounded the truck.

A tall, lanky man in his mid-forties came towards them wearing a long-sleeved, navy blue button-up and a silver star pendant on his shirt pocket. He wore steel-toe boots and thin-rimmed, heavy duty sunglasses with pitch black lenses. “Afternoon, folks,” he replied. “I’m gonna need to see your hunting license.”

“Hunting license?” Tim repeated. “We’re not hunters.”

“You’re not hunting? What are you doing out here, then?” He asked inquisitively, scanning the full view of their fleet.

“We are traveling across the country on horseback asking people like you to pray for our military and our government,” Tim answered, almost poetically. It was becoming somewhat of a song by now as they became more and more familiar with the flowing nature of the response to that question.

The man stood silent and still, staring up at Tim.

“And you’re crossing the desert floor?” he asked, incredulous.

“Yes, sir,” Tim responded, his confidence renewing. He would soon recognize the realigning power of the testimony of their mission each time he spoke it to an inquisitor. “My name’s Tim Tuggle. The Lord spoke to my heart several months ago to sell everything we owned and to set off on horseback across the country. We left from the Redwoods about a month ago and now the Lord has led us to travel across the desert from Fallon up to Elko. This is my wife, Lynn, and my good friend, Leif.”

Several horses grazed their noses over the desert sand, sniffing and searching for any stray snack on this short pause in travel. The dry heat from the ground was much more palpable while stopped than when they were moving, and Lynn wiped the extra beads of sweat from her forehead.

The man took a deep breath and let it out in a slow release, looking down at the ground in front of him with his hand loosely resting on his hip.

“Where are you going to water your horses tonight?” he asked, thoughtful.

The question struck a chord in Tim’s deepest doubt, calling it forth like a lawyer to the witness stand.

“I don’t know yet. The Lord just told us to go.” The words tumbled out in resignation to the inevitable—he was a fool for Christ and there was no turning back.

“Well,” the man began, looking down at the ground in deep thought. “I know why I’m here.” Looking back up at Tim briefly, he turned and walked towards his truck. “Come with me,” he said to Tim over his shoulder. Tim dismounted and led Cher and his two other pack horses with him over to the navy blue pickup. The man opened the glove box and retrieved what appeared at first to be a pamphlet. Unfolding it, he spread it out on the hood of the vehicle to reveal a gridded map of the desert floor, everywhere between Fallon and Elko. He pulled a pen from his front pocket and began putting strategic X marks all over the paper. Finishing a minute later, he removed his sunglasses and met eyes with Tim.

Holding his gaze, he extended his hand. “My name is Aaron Weigle.” Tim shook his hand. “I work for the Bureau of Land Management for the government.” He slid the creased page a few inches on the hood in Tim’s direction. “This is a map of the High Desert, and these X’s mark every wet waterhole from here to Elko.”

Tim stared at the marked-up paper in disbelief.

A lump formed in Aaron’s throat without warning and he attempted to swallow it down. Tim looked back up at him to see his eyes filling with tears. “It’s been no accident that I crossed your path today, Tim. It would seem that God knew I needed it just as much as you would.” A tear spilled over onto his cheek and he moved quickly to brisk it away.

The interruption of this stranger along their path was nothing short of an act of God, Tim knew. The obvious manner in which he was so deeply moved was further confirmation to him of the orchestration of a divine plan unfolding uniquely from each of them and powerfully engaging each heart in unspeakable measures of fullness.

Still dumbfounded, Tim could hardly speak. The map whipped in the wind between his two hands and he leaned against the truck’s hood.

“The next waterhole on there shouldn’t be more than 13 miles from here, I’d say.” Aaron explained the unique gridding of the map to Tim. “I’m going to call ahead and let the lease owner know that you will be stopping in there tonight.”

Tim emphatically thanked the man for his profound generosity and headed back over to his troop as he drove off. Lynn cackled as Tim speechlessly held up the map for her and Leif to see.

“A map!?” Leif blurted.

“Of course!” Lynn announced, bolstering her confidence in the evidence of God’s provision. “How could He not send someone to give us a freaking map!” Her eyes widened with her smile, boundless joy in full radiance. “These are the miracles of God,” she continued. “These are the testimonies we will have of His goodness. First, Cher’s leg. Now this. What are the chances?”

Tim gazed up at her in Freedom’s saddle, utterly captivated by her freedom of trust in this mysterious God of miracles they were witnessing. He held her gaze without response and tears silently flowed down his cheeks. Lynn watched the humility sweep over her husband’s disquieted heart in this sacred moment. The precious presence of God was thick and palpable between the contrast of her divine joy and wonderment with his sweet humility at the sight of it.

They steadied on for the remainder of the day’s journey, crossing over their first mountain peak in a smooth fashion and otherwise enjoying the liberty of the desert’s flatlands. After lunchtime they encountered nearly 80 wild horses about a half mile away in a thundering stampede. Lynn caught the last thirty seconds on camera as well as the awed reaction from the three of them. Unsurprisingly, there was no cell phone service out there in the uncharted territory of the High Desert, rendering any contact with civilization altogether nil. They did, however, cross paths with an antelope, a snake, and several jack rabbits.

Mid-afternoon they came upon the first windmill marked on the map, totaling 20 miles for the day. It resembled the one from their previous night, yet with strong indication of recent human presence. As they approached the corrals they noticed a heaping mound of alfalfa hay at the gate’s entrance.

“That is hay, isn’t it,” Lynn exclaimed, her eyes fixed on it in amazement.

The three of them dismounted and Tim opened the gate to find a note resting up against a hay bale at eye level. He reached forward to pick up the white slip of paper and read it aloud:

This is for the travelers. I own the next five leases and there will be hay in every one of them for your horses.
                                                —Jim Estele

A teardrop fell from his face onto the outside margin of the small slip. The refined quality of alfalfa hay wasn’t something they came across very often. There, in the middle of the desert, his horses would be eating better than in many of the finest country pastures of California. He looked up at Lynn and Leif who both stared back at him, speechless. Tim choked back the growing lump in his throat and silently thanked the Lord for overwhelming his doubts. He read the note over and over again, the power of God’s love emanating from those two simple sentences. A minute later Lynn cried out to him from next to the windmill. He looked up to see her standing next to the water tank with a rectangular, black object in both of her hands.

“It’s a cooking grate for the fire,” she said. “We ran out of propane yesterday for our Coleman cooking stove…” She smiled, knowingly. Her eyes twinkling with the same joy from earlier. Tim watched her silent rejoicing, the dancing of her heart emanating from her eyes.

His tears kept flowing.

You want to see miracles? the Lord whispered to his heart. Ya gotta stop trying to do everything yourself.

 

 

READ MORE:

Previous–Episode 10: The Encounter
Beginning–Episode 1: The Funeral

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1 Comment

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    Reply Cathy November 26, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Wow. Beautifully written and beautifully encouraging: trust God.

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