Journey to Simplify Life
I didn’t know it at the
time, but my life was about to change profoundly. There was nothing extraordinary about the reporter’s
interview. It was essentially the
same interview I had given over five hundred times. The same questions, and the same rote answers.
Looking back, I know I had crossed some imaginary line.
I was no longer speaking to the newspaper’s readers, but finally
allowing myself to be honest. It
may cost me the interview, I thought, but I was tired of portraying myself as
what the external world expected of me.
The question the young
woman asked was, “So why did you undertake such a long journey in the first
place?” I looked at her and asked
whether she wanted the rehearsed answer, or the truth.
Even she sensed that something different was taking place between us, and
flipped to a fresh page on her notebook.
I took the trip because I
wanted to prove to myself that I was still alive. My life no longer made any sense to me. I had everything that the television had told me for 25 years
that I needed in order to be happy. But
I felt like an M&M… I had
this wonderful candy-coated shell, but there wasn’t any chocolate inside of
me. I didn’t have any noticeable
depth, I guess. I had become little
more than a consumer, and I couldn’t face another 25 years living like that.
“I was waking up every
Monday morning wishing it were Friday, and soon realized that I was rushing away
five out of every seven days. And I
was a real stress junkie. I
wasn’t happy unless the pace at work was frantic.
I was up to four and a half packs of cigarettes a day, 70 pounds
overweight, and I didn’t care if I was shortening my life.
It’s a slow form of suicide, and there are many of us out there who
don’t realize that.”
A typical interview would
last about 15 minutes. That
interview at a county fairground in southern Idaho lasted six hours, including a
large pizza. She even returned the
next day with supplies for my journey, and heartfelt thanks for inspiring her to
follow some of her unrealized dreams. From
that day forward I have never told anyone what they wanted to hear, and have
found it impossible to engage in small talk (or superficial talk).
The journey referred to was
the second longest horseback ride in recorded history.
It began in 1991 when I dropped out of the rat race, purchased a Shire
draft horse, and logged in nearly 14,000 miles over the next four years and two
months. What made such a bold move
more astounding, was that I had never ridden a horse prior to undertaking the
trip. I chose an unlikely ride on a
draft horse, but wanted something that matched my disposition;
in other words, liked to eat and refused to run.
Louise was perfect, going the distance that a more suitable choice
probably wouldn’t have.
The final 14 months my
horse Louise and I did alone, but the first three years were spent with a dear
friend, Tracy Paine (now a resident and student in Washington state).
We had planned on marrying when we reached the Pacific Ocean, but after
reflecting upon it, discovered that our long-term goals were divergent.
We still keep in touch several times a month by mail or phone calls. She rode her Saddlebred horse Dawn for the three years she
was with me.
We had a variety of animals
with us, usually strays, that would join up until we could find them suitable
homes. There was Skidder, Tracy’s
Newfoundland-mix dog that paced from New Hampshire to Florida with us, only to
be eaten by alligators there. There
was Myles, a yellow Lab mix who decided to join up in North Carolina.
He traveled 6,000 miles with us to Oregon, where we finally found him a
suitable home. I never really
clicked with Myles. He was a real
strange one. He was always sitting
in an open spot staring up at the sky, as if waiting for the mother ship (UFO) to
come and get him.
The weather was rarely kind
to us. We got trapped by a
hurricane the fifth day of our trip in a cemetery in Massachusetts.
It was 104 degrees in Washington, D.C. and only 8 degrees in
Tallahassee, Fla. It rained the
whole way, it seemed, aside from a surprise snow storm in June in Montana.
It rained so often that the press had dubbed me “The Rainman”, a
title that sent drought-stricken farmers in Utah to the fairgrounds I was
staying at, bearing gifts, and asking me to please stick around.
They hadn’t seen rain in three years, until a black cloud followed me
We camped out at every
place imaginable, from zoos to jails, city parks, inner cities, remote outback,
and all points in between. It was
one of the unusual side effects of the trip, to wake up and take several minutes
to remember what state we were in, let alone what town. It took almost a year to cross Texas, and about the same to
get from southern to northern California.
The people were friendliest
in the Midwest, and the most unfriendly in the southeast. Denver was the best large city for horseback tourism.
We also rode through the downtowns of Philadelphia, Houston, San Antonio,
Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, and even took a picture of the White House in
Washington, D.C., when the Secret Service allowed us to ride through the
Presidential Rose Garden so we could get from the back of the building to the
I was, in total,
interviewed by more than 600 newspapers, magazines, and special interest
publications. We appeared nearly
100 times on television, including the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, as well
as countless radio interviews. The
media coverage helped us to get donations of money, food, and supplies, as well
as some great invitations to stay with folks.
As we weren’t independently wealthy, the entire trip was funded by
private donations. We refused to
In writing this, it is not
my intention to get into much detail of the trip. For that I could write several books. I wrote this article (July - 1999) because this month it is four years
since I last saddled Louise up. I also wanted to share a chapter of
my life with my friends and family here in Maine. I hoped to find
out what subtle changes such a journey had made in me.
I was surprised to discover how much of my present day life was based on
the personal growth I experienced those 50 months through 33 states.
You have to bear in mind
that the journey wasn’t about high adventure (although there was plenty of
it); it was about discovering what
was important in life. It was about
reclaiming those day-to-day things that we all take for granted, such as
shelter, warm food, a hot shower and true friendship. After meeting nearly a million people, I can assure you that
these “luxuries” aren’t as universal as you may think. I can remember Tracy and me thinking we had discovered the
Holy Grail in the West because we had finally saved enough money to buy a
hotplate, and were going to be able to have hot meals for a change.
One of the most enduring,
and endearing, habits that I developed on the trip was to witness the world
going to sleep each night, then waking the next morning.
Today I spend an hour or so every dawn listening to nature waking up, and
repeat the same contemplative exercise every dusk.
It is a gift that I give myself each day – a time out from life’s
ambitious addictions. On the trip
it was especially poignant when we were camped at a city or town park.
I was determined to witness the final sound of the day of that particular
town, and be witness to the next day’s initial activity.
This discipline may seem a
bit strange in a culture driven by the necessitous activity of doers, but until
you witness dawn and dusk in silent contemplation, you have no idea how
desultory your life has become. I
can recall a day in Kansas that I was increasingly disturbed by a deafening
sound, and when I focused my attention on it, was surprised to discover it was
silence. Today I search out that
same silence. The fact is, I’m
one of those rare people who isn’t afraid to be alone with his thoughts.
The other gift the trip
afforded me was simplicity. I have
remained very faithful to the reason I undertook the journey in the first place
– a need to keep my life simple. Undertaking
such a trip brings into stark reality that there are few things that we really
need in life, aside from food, shelter, and friends. I know that I will never return to that place, in debt, where
my possessions owned me. As my need
list was established, and my want list was reduced to simple terms, that 40-hour
work week became replaced with two days of work, and five days of leisure time
to pursue intellectual and spiritual self-education.
Of course I am blessed with
special circumstances, such as living with a parent at my age, and enjoying good
health. I’m still not certain if
a stress-free life can be achieved, but I do know that you can make your
environment more conducive to peace, as the work I have done at my mother’s
home by the airport here in Stonington I hope can attest to.
I know that it has brought me many hours of contentment watching her
And so this day has brought
me full circle, to the greatest gift I ever gave myself – the choice of living
my life the way I choose, not having it dictated to me by a culture that has
gone money mad. Independent
thinkers like myself will always be criticized for our lifestyle, but it is my
life – a fact that I discovered on a four-year horseback trip. And to those critics I will disclose a truth I discovered
along my travels: the people most
judgmental of others are the ones who are most disenchanted with their own
Don’t be afraid to step
outside of the crowd, for you will be amazed at what you will find.
Ode to the Long Rider
I threw another unnecessary calendar onto the night's campfire,
then took out the journal from the pack to write down a line or two.
You know that conventional living has never retained my desire,
as I have had to have deep conviction for every breath that I drew.
Compasses and maps will surely only hold the discovery back,
for I have created the trail with every hoof beat that hits the ground.
From the saddle you will always get the entire sensual impact,
that fossil fuel explorers in their boxes simply have never found.
There is an ancient natural heartbeat matched at this pace,
where rider, mount, and environment find their communion.
Only when you leave routine existence will you find this grace,
and the completion of the journey will leave you in this union.
We have explored millions of miles and conquered your terrains,
the men, women, children, and horses of The Long Rider's Guild.
Our intention will never be to settle down into society's constraints,
for we have found the untravelled places where expansion cannot build.
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