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Jonathan Avitia, left, and Winston Hall.
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In October 2012, Jonathan shared that, if he didn’t make it, he wanted Winston to have his saddle.
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Winston Hall fulfilled his promise to his lifelong friend, and made the 1,000-mile journey from Texas to Colorado.
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Winston Hall is working on a book about the Journey for Jonathan.
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Winston Hall arrived at Wind River, the dude ranch in Estes Park, Colo., where he and Jonathan worked years ago.
Some stories cannot be explained, they simply must be told. These are the ones that defy our reason and shatter our understanding of the way things are. The story of two friends, Jonathan Avitia and Winston Hall, is at the least this kind of story, and perhaps even more.
Jonathan and Winston grew up together in Gatesville, Texas, a small-town in the heart of the Lonestar State. In this middle-of-nowhere, the boys found a spark of friendship that led to a story no one could have foretold.
As Winston tells it, Jonathan was always the one to jump first. He was the reason they both came to work at Wind River, a dude ranch in Estes Park, Colorado. From the dust of Texas to the Rocky Mountains, there the two young men shared what Winston describes as “two friends becoming brothers.”
In October 2011, however, their story became tragic when Jonathan went to the hospital one day for pain in his chest. In less than forty hours, he discovered that he had stage four cancer. He sought the best medical care possible. Winston says that he and Jonathan had a few near-death-experiences in Colorado; but this time it was just too close.
In October 2012 Jonathan shared that, if he didn’t make it, he wanted Winston to have his saddle. It was the saddle Jonathan rode while working in Colorado. One summer he even let Winston borrow it to lead trail rides there. It was a tangible memory of their shared experience. Winston replied, “If you leave this old world before me, I’m going to put that saddle on a good horse and ride it all the way to Wind River.” Jonathan’s response was simply, yet profoundly, “That would be perfect.”
Jonathan passed in March 2013. That next March, Winston saddled up to ride from the Avitia family home in Gatesville, Texas, to the ranch in Estes Park, Colorado. Winston in Jonathan’s saddle, and his girlfriend Donna driving ahead of him each day along the journey, they set out on an adventure that would redefine their relationship as well (spoiler alert, they’re now engaged). A thousand miles lay between them and their destination, but much more awaited than just distance.
A thousand miles lay between Winston and his destination, but much more awaited him than just distance.
The trip involved what you might expect. Weather, of course, was an issue. He battled rain, snow, wind, and even a dust storm. But the true story is in the unexpected.
Winston recalls one day, while riding through the middle of the Texas panhandle, he noticed something buried in the dirt. Reaching down to unearth the object, he picked up a ball cap. The logo on the front was of the University of Colorado Boulder, the very college Jonathan had attended, which was hundreds of miles away. On one level it was just a dirty old hat, but on another level it was so much more.
Moments like this occurred so often, Winston says that each day he began waking up expecting something amazing to happen. And to use his words: “That’s a cool way to live, man.” Stories like the hat from Jonathan’s college, the woman that decided to take a different way home one night and showed up right when Winston needed help, the community that just a day earlier had lost a teenage girl to cancer, tell of something far bigger than a mere horse ride.
“We had these little signs and coincidences,” he said, “that were just so unbelievable they couldn’t have been coincidence.”
As Winston shares this, he says, “I felt this overwhelming sensation that we were being taken care of, by someone or something.”
This story is about something more. It’s about a childhood friendship that grew into brotherhood, a summer job that became a life-changing experience. It’s about a life lived in such a way it was worth far more than the sum of its years, a trail ride that took its rider much further than the measurable distance traveled.
Jonathan Avitia lived more in his 32 years than most do in twice that time. And his story continues to draw others further up and further in. Further up to something bigger than their self. And further in to their own heart and the hearts of others around them. It’s an amazing story, one most profoundly heard in the creaking leather of a good saddle.
For more information on Winston Hall’s journey, please visit his Facebook page Journey for Jonathan or visit www.journeyforjonathan.blogspot.com to read updates about Hall’s soon to be released memoir.
By Josh Guthrie