Have you ever thought you would like to just pack up your horse.... and travel for months on end?
That was the opening line to a program describing Brenda Braidwaith and her adventures on horseback. Would that question be all it took to make me leave my upper management job in a computer company, and my comfortable home on a 110 acre ranch, to embark on a four to five month adventure? It certainly got me thinking.
Not once, but twice, Brenda took horse adventures of more than 1000 miles: once in Italy, and again in the US from the Canadian border to San Francisco.
As I heard her story, my thoughts began to drift and wander. As far back as my childhood, I had dreamed of doing some long trip on horseback. Reading about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and Davie Crocket instilled in me an adventurous spirit.
In his book The Long Haul about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Craig Haire writes, most of us have grown up in a culture steeped in the traditions of our pioneer past, romantic stories of the conquering of the American wilderness. But now the wilderness is already over-conquered, and there are very few adventures left to satisfy our romantic spirit.
Today, because of traffic, riding a horse anywhere outside the arena is dangerous. But for many horse enthusiasts like myself, the rewards are worth it. Staying in the arena is fun, but there is certainly more to see elsewhere. Add a pack and tent and the opportunities unfold.
In his book Treading Lightly with Pack Animals, Dan Aadland mentioned Thoreau's dictate, that we must simplify life in order to know it better. He says, Some of us have answered Thoreau's call strenuously, even passionately . . . so we have periodically fled the concrete for a carpet of pine needles, . . . we have rejected the snowmobile in favor of snowshoes. In my case it would mean a giving up a great job, the comforts of a 110 acre ranch with a great king-size bed, and a good pick-up truck for a couple of horses, a sleeping bag, and a tent. Am I really ready for that? He also mentioned packing with animals is about rediscovery. I certainly was in the mood for rediscovery.
Something of Brenda's story inspired my spirit of adventure and desire to conquer America's lack of wilderness. There is no better way to do so than using horses (my passion) in a challenge that fulfills not only my desire for adventure, but also my love of the outdoors. There is a lot to be said about possible escape back to a simpler time, and rediscovery. An adventure this large has its cost, risk of injury, and sacrifices, such as loss of the comforts of home.
The dream began two years ago, but this last year, I began thinking maybe I could do this. I learned there are many who have attempted, and who are at this moment attempting, similar feats of adventure on horseback around the world. So many that there is actually a Long Riders Guild that tracks rides of over 1000 miles not only of the past, but current treks. There are almost 200 documented Long Riders around the world alive today and most are listed on the Long Riders Guild site www.thelongridersguild.com.
The pace at which we live and life now moves, seems to cause some people at times to stop and jump out of the system or race as it is sometimes referred. We have all heard of someone who has followed the beat of a different drummer.
Being in corporate America for the last 20 years in high tech Silicon Valley, I have seen many people decide to try something outrageous. For example a friend who is an executive for one of the largest computer companies left her good job to spend a year circumnavigating the globe in a sailboat. Another friend took a year to ride her bike across America. Be careful before you judge it could happen to you.
Recently a friend gave me a card with a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, I find that the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving. I realize he was not referring to geography alone, but the path of growth in our lives.
In planning for Brenda's last trip she intended to ride from Canada to Mexico, yet changed her direction due to unforeseen problems, and ended in San Francisco. I realize the magnitude of a trip this long and I ask myself the question, am I up to this large of a challenge?
Don West defines success in his book, Have Saddle Will Travel as follows: I must survive, my horse must survive, and I must have fun! I like the fun part of that!
A close friend gave me a magnet for my refrigerator two years ago that had a picture of a very small boy in front of a very large horse, which was captioned, "Never stop Dreaming!"
Lisa Wood, a biologist from San Diego has taken three trips on horseback, one the length of California, a trip in Tibet, and last year from the West Coast to the East Coast.
In her book Chasing the California Dream she states she was inspired by Joseph Smeaton Chase's journey along the California coast in 1911. She said in reference to her trip, I do not enact most of my dreams but in this case, common sense failed me.
Many of us at some time did stop dreaming. Responsibilities and routine have robbed many of us of the spirit of exploration and conquest and those childhood dreams. Maybe it's time to take them back as adults. On March 15th I set out on my journey to travel the length of California. I hope to see many of you out on the trail.
Update to "Your Dream Adventure"
by Garry Stauber (written on March 25, 2003)
"This is really happening!" Two years of planning and the trip is finally happening. Eleven days and over 200 miles completed with only 108 days and 1300 miles to go.
Days 1 and 2 were awesome and fairly easy, with few surprises. However, on day 3 I awoke to find three shoes missing on "the girls" (my two quarter horses joining me on this trip). It was devastating, knowing I had to climb San Benito Mountain with shoes missing and no town for three more days. I walked over the mountain for nine miles and the entire twenty miles the next day, leading the saddled horses. I was not prepared for that much walking, with my riding boots. My blisters were larger than silver dollars. But two days later I found a great farrier in Coalinga and we were back on the road, with me "back in the saddle again."
Martha McNiel came to ride with me from Coalinga to Parkfield and on through the Carrizo Plain. On day 6 we rode to Parkfield, the self-proclaimed Earthquake Capital of the World. This was a great stop with a hot shower and a good steak dinner. The next two nights' layover stops were not planned (as we were not sure where the days' ride would end). Ranches are far apart out here and we had to knock on doors to ask for permission to camp in their yards and leave our horses on their properties. Both nights our hosts were very kind and generous and both actually cooked for us. On the second night (of day 8) our host wasn't home when we arrived (at the only ranch site for miles and miles) and we didn't know what to do. It is one thing to ask to set up camp at someone's ranch, but another to do it without permission. We did unload our horses and waited by the road. Our host arrived back home at dusk, after a full day of branding 135 calves. Unbeknownst to us, our previous host had called ahead and they were prepared to see us.
On day 7, after crossing under Highway 46, I had dismounted to open a farmer's gate at a cattle guard. Oh, and can I tell you that I have had to do that at least 25 times so far on this trip! I now hate cattle guards, but I digress. Anyway, by highway 46, a semi-truck decided to "encourage" us by tooting his horn, which frightened my pack horse (Ginger) into a race across the countryside. She was dropping equipment as she ran in a panic. Later I found out that during this little escapade, I lost my flashlight and my cell phone re-charger in the field. Shucks, I can't call my work.
Our next town was Simmler and there we stayed with the most hospitable family on the Carrizo Plain: Sandy, DeWayne and Robbie Rowlett. They literally gave us their home. I am overwhelmed with how nice people have been on the road. Riding through the Carrizo Plain was beautiful, but no people for miles and miles. But wildflowers and gorgeous landscapes have given me the greatest front yard every night. The stars are bright in the heavens and a red-tailed hawk keeps circling overhead, meaning "safe travel" to the Native American peoples. As I look ahead I can see snow on the upcoming Tejon Pass. But that's in another update.