There are many ways to get out of the house and away from convention to start a life on the road exploring, and because we are out and about ourselves, we’ve bumped into some fascinating folks who have taken an approach to travel that is nothing like our own. Each one, in their own way, is having an adventure that is truly extraordinary.
On the 4th of July we stopped in Troy, Montana, way up in the northwest corner of the state near Idaho and Canada, so we could enjoy their “Old Fashioned” small town Independence Day celebration with a parade and a car show.
The parade was terrific. There were lots of fire trucks and sirens and honking of horns, and tons of candy was thrown out on the ground for the kids to scramble after.
We joined a sizable throng lining the highway (which had been temporarily shut down for the parade), and we cheered everyone on.
Near the end of the parade, some horses went by. One in particular caught our eye. A petite woman in a very broad brimmed hat sat astride a horse, and she held the reins for a second horse that she had in tow. The second horse was carrying saddle bags and had a large sign on its back that said:
Lady Long Rider. 12 Years. 28,000 Miles. Today ends 8,000 mile Coast to Coast Journey.
Holy Smokes!! Who was this gal and what was her story??
In a few seconds she was gone down the road, along with the rest of the equestrian part of the parade, and we were caught up once again in watching the kids dive for candy and cheering the floats that went by.
Later that evening, as we went through our photos from the day, we both stopped at our pics of this unusual “lady long rider” and wondered again what her story was.
The next day, when we were driving on a back road near the town of Libby, we were both completely shocked when we looked up the road and saw the Lady Long Rider walking towards us with her two horses, right down the middle of the road.
What luck! We pulled over and jumped out to talk to her.
She smiled warmly and began telling us about her journey as her horses took advantage of the moment and started doing some serious grazing in the tall grass.
Her name was Bernice Ende, and we found out she has been traveling alone with her horses since 2005. She has covered 28,000 miles all together, criss-crossing the US and Canada several times. Her two horses, Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit, are both Norwegian Fjord horses. They are steady, strong and mellow horses that are ideal for this kind of long distance journey.
Raised on a Minnesota dairy farm, and trained as a classical ballet dancer, she enjoyed a twenty-five year career as a ballet dance teacher that included teaching stints from San Francisco to Montana. After retiring from teaching, she struck out on a 2,000 mile Long Ride at age 50 with her first horse, Pride, to see a bit of the world. She hasn’t looked back since.
Her story touched me deeply, because much of it paralleled my own journey, with my performing arts figure skating background and my own powerful middle-aged yearning to seek adventure on the open road.
Like me, Bernice was raised by a strong, colorful mother who, along with her four aunts, inspired her with their independent and brave spirits. She says her mom “sought to change the world through education, the arts, science and…adventure,” and she instilled in Bernice an insatiable curiosity to find out what lies over the horizon.
She carries everything she needs on her horses, and she told us she hasn’t slept in a bed in a house since 2008. Totally self-sufficient, she even shoes her horses herself! We were amused to discover she lives without a cell phone too, just as we do.
She has dealt with adversity and faced some scary experiences, but the twinkle in her eye gave away her total love of this lifestyle.
“I cried the day I left and cried for weeks until fatigue finally broke the fear into tiny digestible pieces. I eventually found a life that tantalized and called to me, a life that suited me. I remember thinking, ‘How will I ever return to a normal life?’ Well, I guess I never did.”
Her long rides have taken her all over North America on treks ranging from 2,000 to 8,000 miles and lasting from a few months to a few years, always bringing her back to Montana for a little R&R between trips.
We were both astonished to hear her story unfold. When Bernice started traveling, although she had ridden horses her whole life, and had even galloped around standing on her bareback horse at age 8, she knew little about long riding. Like so many brand new full-time travelers, she had much to learn.
She has ridden these long rides with several different horses. One of her most beloved horses, named Honor, died in a tragic corral accident that nearly ended her horseback travels. But she persevered and was encouraged and supported by newfound friends along the way, and she resumed her travels with another eager and willing horse named Hart who carried her for 8,000 miles before retiring at age 18.
As we chatted, Bernice’s two mares munched the grass around us. She introduced us to each of them, but they were content to let us chat with each other while they got a quickie mid-morning snack and ignored the conversation.
Bernice’s little traveling trio was once a quartet that included her faithful companion Claire Dog. Named after Clara of the “(Not Quite) Nutcracker” performances her ballet classes put on, but with a much more unruly personality than her namesake, Claire Dog accompanied her mistress for 7,000 miles on her own four paws (sometimes wearing leather doggie moccasins) and then rode in a doggie box atop a horse for another 12,000 miles.
Sadly, Claire Dog left this earth last year at age 16, but Bernice herself shows no signs of slowing down or ending her travels.
After spending a little time back in her cabin, which has been cared for by a friend in her very long absence, she will be out on another Long Ride to the eastern states soon.
One of her reasons for her Long Ride is to encourage women’s leadership. She visited Seneca Falls, New York, the birthplace for the women’s rights movement, and she has been invited to speak at Harvard University as well as at several women’s colleges in the eastern states. So, in her next tour she will travel to these campuses on her way to the Appalachian Mountains and the Smokies.
Our jaws were still agape long after Bernice had gathered her horses together and begun making her way down the road once again.
We had forgotten to ask her how far she was going that day or where she planned to stay that night. But she had told us she never plans ahead too much, and she camps much as we do, finding out-of-the-way places on public land.
Adventure travelers come in all shapes and sizes, and just a few hours after seeing Bernice disappear down the road, we bumped into a pair of cyclists who have been touring for 3,000 to 4,000 miles each summer for the past five years. This couple had pitched their tent near us, and when I saw their cycling shorts hanging out on a line, I had to go over and find out more.
Their names were Rupert and Cyndy, and it turned out that they had ridden with some of the same bike clubs and on some of the same long distance bike tours as we had back about ten or fifteen years ago, and we knew quite a few of the same people and cycling routes. What a small world!
For this summer, Rupert and Cyndy had decided to do multiple “loop tours” in western Montana, rather than riding in a straight line from one destination to another or doing a single big loop from home. So far they had covered about 1,000 miles around east and west Glacier National Park, up into Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park and around Whitefish, Montana.
Like Bernice, Rupert and Cyndy are very experienced in their mode of travel. They have done about 18,000 miles of self-supported bicycle tours all over the world. They have ridden all around the western states, up and over the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado, all through Maine and New Hampshire and into Nova Scotia and even in Newfoundland. They’ve ridden throughout the Canadian Rockies, including two trips along the breathtaking Icefileds Parkway.
They’ve also ridden their bikes overseas, touring both the north and south islands of New Zealand and cycling all over Italy.
Perhaps the most fun surprise for me, though, was discovering that Cyndy studied ballet for 13 years and had a 30 year career as a gymnastics instructor. What are the odds of meeting two such similar women as Cyndy and Bernice within hours in one day?
Rupert and Cyndy often take advantage of a wonderful website for cyclists, WarmShowers.org, where folks that wish to host traveling cyclists can make their home available to them and where cyclists looking for a place to pitch their tent and take a warm shower can find one.
They have hosted lots and lots of cyclists from all over the world at their home, and during their cycling tours they have been hosted many times as well. They’ve found it’s a really rewarding way to travel.
They sipped a cup of coffee with us at our campsite before they left and then headed out for the day’s 60 mile ride to their next destination. Like Bernice, they weren’t sure exactly where they would bed down that night, but they talked with excitement about the travel adventures that lay ahead, and they couldn’t wait to hit the road and get started.
There are many ways to travel, and our truck and trailer and sailboat have given us some beautiful experiences over the last nine years. But it is a thrill to cross paths with other travelers who are voyaging long distances for extended periods of time via very different means.
I’m not sure I could be a Long Rider or a long distance self-supported touring cyclist, but what a joy it was to chat with these travelers and hear about their lives on the road. In the end, though, as our conversations flowed and we found our common bonds, it seemed that the most significant journey we had all taken in our many years of travel was not to one particular destination or another but was the journey within that happens when you leave convention behind and follow the rhythm of your own heart.
As Bernice wrote on her website after six years of travel:
“I think with each ride I grow a deeper appreciation for others, for the country I live in, and for the animals that willingly travel with me… Now, with nearly 17,000 miles under my saddle, I am beginning to know what long riding is about….A never ending education. A reminder that the most important thing about traveling from A to B is what is in between.”
There are links for Bernice’s website, Long Riding and Long Distance Cycling below.
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Here’s a litle more info about these travelers and the way they travel:
- Bernice Ende – Lady Long Rider – “Ende of the Trail”
- The Long Riders Guild – Info for Long Rides on Horses
- How to Prepare for a Long Ride – Prepping both You and Your Horse
- Adventure Cycling Association – Maps and Info for Long Distance Cycling
- WarmShowers.org – Community for hosting touring cyclists
- Where are Troy and Libby Montana? – Google Maps
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