"We can spend so much of our lives worrying we can't actually enjoy living," he said.
A few moments earlier I had wondered if he was going to bust me for taking out my phone during the trail ride.
"I'm really not trying to Facebook this. I'm really not checking my work emails. I'm really not..."
I imagined all the things that I would say when he, the guide, busted me for taking out the phone while I was here, sitting atop the horse, with the great Smoky Mountains around us. A minute of self-loathing sunk in.
But he didn't say anything about the phone.
It was 30 degrees and the sun was breaking through the trees.
"Some people are so excited to ride, then they get out here and are so nervous they miss out on all the fun," he said, in between spitting out his chew and checking on the riders behind us, one of whom was my seven-year-old, who had never been on a horse before.
"Um, I know I'm probably over-worrying, but he seems a little close to the edge," I'd said to the guide, as I watched my child, perched on this horse, get a little too close to a ledge that seemed like it had 50 feet from it and certain doom.
"Just tell him to pull in the reigns," he replied. "A horse knows better than to go over the edge. If a horse goes over the edge he breaks his leg. He knows better."
"Hold the reigns, Nate. Sit up straight to keep your balance. Remember the rules," I said, nervously watching him, a small boy on a large animal, fiddling with his glasses, which almost fell from his face.
I tried to reassure myself. What was going to happen here, half a mile from the main road, with its go cart tracks and mini-golf courses, its air brushed shirts and laser tag emporiums? I looked at the steep hill to our right and stared writing the lede of the story. Old reporter habits die hard.
"Lean in, Mom," Nate said. "The instructor said to lean in when you are going up a steep hill. Those are the rules!"
Then my horse took off and cut in front of my son's.
"Your Mom doesn't follow the rules," the guide said. Well, there's that.
When I turned around to take out my photo, realizing the guide didn't care, a Twitter message flashed across my screen.
"Here that? Those are wild turkeys."
I shoved the phone back in my Patagonia, the one that I got for a photo shoot on a mountain many years ago. The jacket had only come out a few times since then, though what happened on that mountain was one of my favorite stories. What happened was, I, carrying a Starbucks latte and a phone, I, who can't walk without stumbling on flat ground, fell and twisted my ankle, and told the photographer and stylist to go ahead. I sat there, cursing the cold as my phone died. They told me that as they shot it was "the most beautiful light ever." We still tell that story.
"Some of the best stories I've told are when I'm in the emergency room," the guide said, leading us up and over the pass. "It might hurt, but damn, it was worth it."
"I totally get that," I replied.
"You know, your life was written on this earth before you arrived," he said.
"That's freeing, isn't it," I replied. "But we still have to make choices."
"Yep," he said. "I figure."
I eventually stopped turning around. "You OK, Nate?" I would ask every few minutes. "Yeah Mom," he replied. He had a horse named Daffy. It was spring break. The temperature had gone from 30 to 50 during our ride.
I let my hands fall from the saddle, from the pockets that contained a phone, lip balm, tissues, a driver's license.
The guide told me of his daughter, who had been a barrel racer starting at age eight, and then in the rodeo. She was just like him, an adrenaline junkie. One she convinced him to drive his Jeep on an off-road expedition into a river. The water rose up to the window. They got out but the Jeep was destroyed.
"It sure was fun," he said.
And, "You have to stop thinking so much. Or at least that's been my policy for 49 years."
At the end of the ride out came the staff photographer, who took the overpriced pictures we'd buy at the end. We dismounted the horses on platforms made of wood, sanded as smooth as they'd be at Disney World. Easy on, easy off.
"If it's been a good ride, don't forget to tip your guide." Nate read the sound aloud. We looked through our wallets and handed him a bill.
With wobbly legs, I said to the guide, "Hey, thanks for the advice. Saves me a lot of therapy."
"Oh, I still need therapy," he replied. "But the horses help."