On March 1st, 2010, my friend Walter and I set off on an adventure with my Arabian horse, Sojourner. I rode Soj across America and Walter drove our little truck (with no trailer). The trip began in Los Angeles, California and successfully ended in Bath, New Hampshire 8 months and 14 days later. It was a 3,700 mile ride.
We rode in celebration of family and as an outreach to those dealing with divorce-related depression.
This ride tells a tale of love in many forms - through the people we meet along the way, our connection with the horse, with the land, and with each other.
As this blog goes on it gets more and more in depth with tons of photos and experiences. Snuggle in with a cup of tea and read this like a book. I have switched the blog around so it reads start to finish so you don't have to read backward (except the first entry).
Here is our story...
Two months ago I went for a run in the canyon and I turned to hear loud singing from above. Soon two horses appeared with riders-one singing his heart out and the other laughing at him. I smiled at them and continued running and then when I had gone a little ways ahead I thought, "why am I being shy? I am about to ride a horse across the country and here are two guys who obviously live near by on horses!" So, I stopped and kinda pretended to stretch for a while until they caught up. Eventually they came along and I said hello. They asked me if I wanted to pet the horses. I did, of course, and told them that I work at Ricochet Ridge Ranch up in Mendocino. So, we exchanged numbers and went our separate ways. We text messaged back and forth a little bit, but I was leaving Hayward for Mendocino and so we gradually lost touch.
A couple of days ago I went to look at some horses and met a wonderfully kind woman with beautifully cared for, loving horses. It was such a pleasure to be with them and it made me really feel like I was going to be getting my horse soon. I would love to get one from her because she is a beautiful person with beautiful horses, but either way-I can still feel that the horse is coming soon. So, I called "Henry" again.
Now, I put Henry's name in quotations because neither of the boys that I met were actually Henry. The one boy said to call that number because he had his cell phone at the time, but by the time I called back two months later it was back to the original owner (I think he was their dad or uncle or something). Anyway, I called Henry and he said "come on over, I'm in the corral". I thought I was talking to one of the boys I met on the trail, but when I pulled in I could see it was someone else. He was trotting his horse beautifully around the corral and as soon as I got out of the car he said "Hello! Jump on a horse"! I said "oh, wait...really?" and he said "Yeah! Jump up!"
So, I did. My sister, Caiti, was with me and she is still a little nervous about riding but Henry insisted that the horse was gentle and before long a family member was out to help her up too.
So, off we went-Henry, his best friend from childhood, me, and Cait into the night on our horses. We went right down the road-walking on the sidewalks when they were there and just down the road when there weren't any. Then we went on a trail through the woods and it was so dark I couldn't see at all! Eventually my eyes adjusted, but it was so fun to put my complete trust in the horse. The moon was nearly full, the stars were out, and the lights of the city on such a clear night were incredible.
Henry and his best friend moved to Hayward from Mexico and they live with their families all together on the ranch. When Cait first got up on the horse and was nervous, their kids came out to assure her that it was okay and that they too were nervous when they first started. They were instantly welcoming-as if we were family.
We even stopped at a general store and let the horses stand outside the shop while we got four waters. This was funny because Henry and his friend asked Cait and I so many times if we wanted water and we said "oh, we're fine, thank you" over and over again. It was as if they couldn't bear the thought of getting a drink and not giving us some so he yelled in the door of the shop to his best friend "quatro agua!" and minutes later we had big bottles of water for the rest of the ride.
When we got back to the ranch they showed us how they've trained their horses. It was incredible! The horses were turning in extremely tight circles without a bridle. The rider only used his legs and voice. These are horses that were nervous and totally untrained when they came to them. He could even make the horse put his left leg forward and then his right-the same way you would ask a dog for it's paw. Henry told me that the horse is the mans best friend and no matter what stresses he may face during the day he is able to groom his horse or jump on it's back and all his stresses go away. When he said this he lifted his arms into the air and smiled. I could feel love and care in everything he said. He truly loves his animals. We laughed and joked about the pigs they aquired because they saved one from being used for tests. Apparently one of the pigs had already had $7,000 put into it for tests and the people who do the tests want the pig back. Henry and his family said "No way! You can't have this pig back! I wouldn't want you testing my eyes!"
They couldn't guarantee that the pig would be able to see again after the tests so the family said the pig stays.
I even milked a goat. They just wanted to share everything they had with us. They are less than a mile from me and I asked them if I would be able to board my horse with them until I leave for my ride in May. He said "of course". There was not even a second of hesitation. He only wanted to be sure that the horse would be level headed and safe for me to take on such a ride. He recommends that we keep the horse for a couple of weeks and try it out to be sure that we will be able to take care of each other out there. I asked him how much it would cost to board the horse and he said "Oh, nothing. This house is your house. Mi Casa es tu Casa". I couldn't believe it. Such instant care and comfort. They have skills that I am anxious to learn in these next five months (including Spanish!). They have a way with horses that I have never seen in real life. They are the real rodio guys who ride bucking bronco's and bulls and go out for long weekends to herd cows! All of this they are willing and excited to teach.
As Caiti and I were leaving they said "this home is yours".
There is such generosity and kindness out there. These people were less than a mile from me all this time and I never saw them-just right around the corner. One day I don't know them, the next day they say their house is ours. It's amazing and so perfect.
There is an organization called the Long Rider's Guild and they are also a big group of incredible people who have gone out of their way to offer their guidance for the ride. I am constantly overwhelmed by the energy and care people are willing to offer others. I don't even know how I will sleep tonight I am so happy!
I guess the lesson here is go meet your neighbors! I was so bummed about living in the suburbs, but look at what is here! Henry said he works very hard-6 days a week-but he doesn't care, in fact he loves it and smiles because he comes home to his horses and his family and to Henry, that's life and he's happy.
What an experience.
"...and I think to myself, what a wonderful world"...hardships, yes-so many hardships, but with people like that-it will all be okay.
I have been thinking a lot about how to express what it is I want to achieve out of this ride. I feel like everything I have, everything I am, I owe to my family. There is nothing that I have done or can do now or in the future without them. They are my strength, my confidence, my power, my love, my happiness.
My grandfather died over Christmas. My mom woke me up at 4 am to buy her a ticket because Poppy was going to be put on a respirator (he had driven himself to the hospital two days earlier for a checkup). She wanted me to buy her, myself, and Caiti a plane ticket to fly down there and be with him. Poppy refused the respirator and was going home on hospice, but his oxygen intake became less and less and it wasn't long before he was gone.
My mom and Cait and I didn't make it there in time to see him alive. He didn't look the same in the coffin. I have his pictures all over my room-his ties and cigars and I wear his shirt to bed at night. I wear his boots and his necklace. If I could have dove inside of him and made sure he got to where he was going happily I would have. I have never missed a person so much. It's an ache that comes and hits me in the stomach time after time throughout every day since he left. I looked at a picture yesterday and examined every bit of his face to pick out what still looked the same in the coffin. His forehead was the same. The thing that upset me so much is that I laid the entire upper half of my body on him in his coffin and hugged him and he couldn't reach back. Poppy would have wanted to hug me back and it would have upset him to be there cold and still.
But...then I had a dream. Poppy was in line at a fast food place and he asked me what I wanted to eat. I just walked up to him in the line and hugged him and asked him how I was supposed to deal with this. What do I do? How does one lose someone so sacred to them and still go on? How do I not cry day after day and ache like this? I could feel his chest hair and the medal I now have on my neck on his chest against my face. He didn't say anything but he held me so tight. He hugged and hugged. Maybe that was the hug he wanted to give me. Maybe it was just my brain, I don't know. It is funny how things happen though.
But this is my point. He is everything. My dad, my mom, my uncles and aunts and my cousins and brother and sister, my Grandma, and every amazing person that has come into our lives that I consider family now. Poppy knew what was real and what was important and he loved us to his core.
When I first decided I would ride across the country it was to talk to different people about divorce. This is still a focus, but I've decided I want any stories about family-no matter what the story is. I think we all relate and connect to family stories and it doesn't just have to be a hundred different stories of divorce, just stories about whatever.
This ride is about endurance and stamina. It's about overcoming difficult situations and connecting with strangers that become family. It's about being out in the land and with an animal whose life I will depend on as much as he depends on mine. It's about showing people through my little camcorder that there are others out there who feel the same pains, laugh the same laugh, cry the same tears, and have the same desire we all have to be seen, heard, loved, and live.
I don't pretend to have any answers about anything. All I know is that I love the land, this horse, music, people, and art, and I am going to connect them all the best way I know how.
do you get happy Boss do you
get tickled by a funny bird
or doubled over by a tree
a lonesome tree less lonely Boss
because it has a horse beside it
it doesn't matter if the horse
is rubbing anything or not
as long as it's beside the tree
so simple Boss a horse beside
a tree it makes me happy just
to think about two things beside
each other the stick beside the fire
the rock beside the sleepy field
O Boss the moss beside my mouth
when I bend down to say it's me
you mossy bank you happy piece
of green it's me beside you like
a bird I thought I'd let you know
in case you don't have eyes I thought
I'd tell you Boss what always leaves
me happy if you didn't know
already Boss in case you spend
a lot of time beside yourself