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The Cross Country Trail Ride

Author Diane Kangas' husband, Don, is flanked by her sisters, Teresa (left) and Tina.

We cherish The Trail Rider articles from such folks as Garth and Kathy Rumsmoke, who go out on the road for months at a time to seek out amazing trails across America. My husband, Don, and I dream to do this one day, too. But until retirement excuses us from the corporate rat race, we need to be content to pack our horsey adventure into one glorious week every year.

To get the most bang to feed our turbocharged curiosity, we pick a different trail ride to attend annually. This has led us to some awesome rides, such as the Midwest Trail Ride in southern Indiana, Ride With the Stars at Golden Hills Resort in Missouri, Bear Branch in the Shawnee Forest of Illinois, the Flying W Ranch in Pennsylvania, and, here in Michigan, where we live, the MTRA Shore-to-Shore Ride, as well as the beautiful Upper Peninsula.

Missouri Bound

One very fun aspect about going on trail rides is meeting new people and, of course, learning about new places to go to based on their colorful experiences - which is what prompted us to drive 800 miles to the Cross Country Trail Ride last October in Eminence, Missouri. Located in the breathtaking Ozark Mountains, this is the mother of all trail rides.

The ride attracts about 2,500 people and horses. Pulling into the campground, I commented that it felt like a county fair on steroids, having never seen so many rigs and horse stalls in one spread.

The campground housed a full-time veterinarian, three full-time farriers, a trailer-sales area, a huge indoor arena, a dining hall, a restaurant, shower rooms, and an outdoor dance amphitheater, plus a big tack store.

We quickly noticed how well organized this weeklong event is. I suppose after 50 years of hosting rides, owners Jim and Jane Smith have learned a thing or two about throwing a big party. Some of our camp neighbors informed us that CCTR had held its birthday celebration in August, and one of the entertainers had been George Jones.

Speaking of entertainment, this seemed to be a big draw for repeat campers. Because Eminence is close to Branson, CCTR is known to bring in some well-known bluegrass and country entertainers. Moe Bandy's group performed one evening in the arena, and every night, an excellent house band roused cowboys and cowgirls out to the dance floor.

Gaiting the Trails

Onto the fabulous trails! Lots of river crossings in the James Fork and the Current River kept our horses happy and hydrated. The trails are a mix of two-track and single-path. Footing varies from sand to rock and the elevations range from slightly steep to rolling.

CCTR had organized rides leaving every morning at nine with guides. Options were for half-day or all-day, and one could pick the speed group that best fit the mount. We didn't go out on any of the group rides but instead chose to use the provided trail map to find our way, and hey, if I could get us out to a destination and back to camp while riding and reading a map, anyone can do it! I must admit, we missed a few turnoffs, but that's half the fun.

The week ended up having a strong family focus as well. My sister, Tina, flew in from Michigan, and another sister, Teresa, and her friend, Susan, flew in from Colorado. Also, my parents rode in from Michigan on their Honda Gold Wing motorcycle. Fortunately, I was able to rent two full-size campers.

Don and I ride Tennessee Walking Horses, and Teresa and Susan are gaited-horse riders as well. They were both on a mission to buy a couple of Missouri Fox Trotters. They lined up a couple of Fox Trotters to ride just about every day. By the end of the week, they'd each found a horse of their liking.

Don decided to take an afternoon off from riding and rented a kayak to paddle the crystal-clear waters of the James Fork. He was impressed with the abundant wildlife along the way, as well as a rocky path he took up to a large cave.

In the meantime, my mom and dad were content to lounge around the camp, taking naps and having a fine time soaking in the horse scene around them. They said it was well worth the drive down on their chromed horse.

Home Again

It's now been two weeks since we got back home from our glorious one-weeker. I know the trip is officially over, because I finally emptied the horse trailer and washed all the bedding. Teresa and Susan both got their little cuties delivered to Colorado and have already taken them out on a ride.

It's now been two weeks since we got back home from our glorious one-weeker. I know the trip is officially over, because I finally emptied the horse trailer and washed all the bedding. Teresa and Susan both got their little cuties delivered to Colorado and have already taken them out on a ride.

It's now been two weeks since we got back home from our glorious one-weeker. I know the trip is officially over, because I finally emptied the horse trailer and washed all the bedding. Teresa and Susan both got their little cuties delivered to Colorado and have already taken them out on a ride.

Ahh, so what about next year's adventure? Well, the urge to go find yet another fantastic trail ride has already led Don and me to book a trip to East Fork Stables in Jamestown, Tennessee. We've already studied the trail maps and the campground layout. So, until that precious week arrives next October, we'll live a lifestyle dream of dust and campfires through other trail rider's stories.

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