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[RC] Endurance, Carolina Style: CONCLUSION - Howard Bramhall

Just when I thought we could go on no longer, I hear the familiar sound of a car, off in the distance, traveling on the paved road back towards the barn.  Even if a directional arrow were to point us back into the mountains, on the other side of the road, I would break off and head for home.  I had had enough of Leatherwood for the day.
Luckily, this did not happen.  The road back to the barn was, also, part of the trail.  The finish line was marked up ahead.  There were even a few folks, sitting under a tarp, nice and dry, waiting for us to come in.  Abbie's Mom was one of them, she took my card, recognized me, and kind of chuckled when I told her, as much as I adored her daughter, I was cursing Abbie for a time because of the endless hills and monsoon America and I had just traveled through.  As if any of that was Abbie's fault.
Even though it seemed to be a mile or more from the finish line back to the barn, I walked, on foot, in front of my beloved horse.  I couldn't bring myself to get back on this creature, who is larger than life to me, again, on this particular day.  The rain stopped, the sun came out, and, I found myself wondering if the entire death rattling experience had all been an illusion.  Here was the real Leatherwood, the beauty, the coolness in the air, everything I had come to love, out in the sunlight again, for all to see.  As it should be.
Paula, Barney, and Pat all completed.  America and I did, also.  When Ken gave us the completion, I gave Ken a hug.  For those of you who know Ken, he's not able to run away quickly because of a serious hip problem.  I knew I took him completely by surprise when I did this; it surprised me, also.  But, it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
Later on that evening they had the awards.  All of the 50 milers who completed Leatherwood received a belt buckle; similar to the one they give out at Tevis and the Old Dominion.  When I went up to get mine for coming in 30th place, it was everything I could do not to cry in front of that crowd.  I do know I had tears in my eyes.  That damn buckle meant more to me than I could ever say here, although I did make the attempt, and I've been wearing it ever since.  When America passes on, perish the thought, the buckle will be laid to rest alongside the best horse that ever is/was and ever will be.
I'll finish with a short note about my nephew:  SSgt Shannon Gallagher, US Air Force, Special Forces.  He finally got in touch with his mother.  A short phone call from Baghdad.  He is alive, doing fine, but needed a bath desperately.  It had been over 30 days since his last one; I think he'd make one Helluva endurance rider.  His mother thinks he might have been involved in the POW rescue operation, although we'll never know for sure.  In my world, he was there.  When he comes home I will do my very best to make sure he receives the largest party and welcoming ever thrown by my family, and, we've thrown some real humdingers in the past. You're all invited. God bless our troops, and God bless America.
Howard  (btw, Lara has written to me and her horse is doing fine)