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  • Writer's pictureEllen Bookman

My happy place!

I am in my new happy place, Cataloochee Ranch, Maggie Valley, NC.

Literally, the most beautiful views. They took my breath away.

Lee and I are here with Shelia and Ross Caroland, our dear friends from Tennessee. We get together periodically with each couple picking the next meet up spot. I chose this. Ross is next.

For dinner, we sat outside our room at the Inn and looked at this:

At about 9 pm, my anxiety kicks into overdrive in anticipation of “my private, trotting, cantoring, maybe galloping best best horse back riding adventure ever.” Will my back and tennis elbow hurt? Will my horse be tame yet spunky? Will I get a good guide? Will I get stiff? Will I? Will I? Blah blah blah! I was literally obsessing on whether this ride will be the best ever.

“Fricken relax,” I say to myself. Life is good! We’re In a beautiful place with great friends on a mountain top. Kumbaya!

The big day is here!

It’s 430 am the day of the “big” ride, and I am up. Shocking! I check to see what time the sun is going to rise. I am literally the only one up on the 1,000 acre property. At 6 am, I leave the room for the perfect shot of the sunrise, get the shot, and go inside the Inn cause my hands are freezing.


I am trying to be all polite and literally scared the woman in the kitchen to the point that she actually jumped. She was setting up for breakfast for 37 people and has worked at Cataloochee Ranch for seven years. One of the first things she said to me is how much she loves her job. How many times a day do you hear that….like never!

My new friend is Sandie. She’s awesome, retired and 72 years old, When she told me that she was also a ski instructor, I was thinking how she is so cool. Then, I found out she bakes all the unfricken-believable desserts. And, our friendship was cemented.

Miss Sandie loves her job and loves her some ellen. Thanks for the convErsation And fresh coffee at 7 am.

Breakfast was delicious/ pancakes, fruit and oatmeal…ah, yes, and bacon. My body is literally shaking with anticipation. My synapses are crackling like lil firecrackers. During breakfast, Tracy, the head horse wrangler, came up to the table to see who was going to ride. Trying to work my magic, I pull Tracy aside to give her “my best ride ever” story. I asked for a private wrangler and told her how I needed to run due to my Parkinson’s riding bucket list I created — which basically states how I will ride till I can’t hold on anymore.

So, imagine my shock when she said “there was no cantering or galloping.” Nor, could I go out on a private ride in the morning. I was devastated (and quite dramatic). My first thought is how much this is going to suck. We wait a long time to mount, which makes me anxious that I am going to get stiff. We get on the trail, and I am still feeling like negative nelly.

And, then this:

After seeing the most breathtaking view; I realized that I was actually not thinking clearly about this ride. When on I saw how gorgeous this view was from the top of the Bald, I recognized that this was just as good as the trotting and galloping. Now, it’s 451 pm. We’re resting or Lee is and snoring. I am contemplating the day. The ride has come and gone… you know the one that was supposed to be the “best ride ever” The one I wanted to go on by myself, so I could cantor and gallop.

The moral of the story: As per my usual, I ended up having an awesome time on the ride with Joci/ Chris — a quick shout out to Chris who put up with that ornery Huckleberry and having a bit of a sense of humor through it all; and Dan/Melinda. Even as the third wheel, everyone welcomed me with open arms. And, guess what? The ride didn’t suck at all.

My new friends:

Top Left: Jocie. My horse, Timber, bit her horse’s butt. Lil kicking ensued.; Top Right: Marie, Miss Helen’s fabulous granddaughter; Bottom Left: Beth, head of housekeeping, at Cataloochie Ranch - the understatement of the year, cause I saw her doing every job at the Ranch. Lee got Starbursts on his pillow. They are now best friends. Bottom Right: Ah, the Marvelous Miss Melinda. This lady is a hoot!

Enter Miss Helen!

And, finally I get to Miss Helen, matriarch of what I call “The Helen family” on a girl’s trip celebrating her 85th birthday. Helen is loving and kind. She is spunky. A lot like me, actually. We shared a warm hug when we said goodbye. I missed my mom for a minute…almost took my breath away. Thank you Miss Helen for lightening my heart during our hug.

Miss Helen astride thIs very spirited young boy. She turns 85 June 6. Thank you for being you! Your family is Beyond blessed!

Thank you Ross and Shelia for helping me to keep my bucket list in tact and for becoming wonderful friends with “the crazy jewish couple”; Jocie and Chris for being a part of this fabulous ride and especially for Chris and his trials and then success on that ornery horse; Dan and Melinda for the laughs, Beth for the starbursts and general wonderfulness; Sandie for the conversation and coffee; and Miss Helen for just being you.

Each of you now have a place in my heart and will forever share in my “best getaway ever” experience.

I can do the “best horseback ride ever” anytime.


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