Travel by Mule

The Final Miles Across Illinois

Mule Brick by pond we spotted from the road – and ended up spending the night next to. (Outside Quincy, IL)

Good night from the banks of the Mississippi River. Well almost the banks of Big Muddy. Tonight mules Brick and Cracker and I are camped 10 miles East of Quincy, IL. Thanks Todd and Julie Curry for putting us up (and sending over those sloppy Joes with all the trimmings!)

From here, the plan is to cross Ol’ Man… Continue reading

She Wants to Catch a Turtle

There she stood with the fishing rod and the shoulder tattoo (outside Pana, IL)

I rode the mules over the hill and there she stood on the bridge holding a fishing rod. She and the star tattoos on her shoulders and a man and a boy drowning small worms on big hooks in a shallow creek.
I asked, “are you catching anything?”
She said, “he caught one” and pointed to her son.
Then she said, “I really want to catch… Continue reading

What Happens to the Animals When the River Floods: Patty Henken Explains

When the Missouri River floods, all that stands between Meredosia, Illinois and the river is a mound of dirt and a pile of prayers. That and the round-the-clock efforts of everyone from sand bag-filling inmates to town employees and community members.

meredosia illinois

The river and Meredosia as seen from the bridge over the Illinois river. So far, the levee has held. Nearby towns have fared worse. The levees have softened and ruptured, flooding towns and forcing residents and their pets to… Continue reading

Cruisin' the Fireball Freeway

This week I’m pondering all the Fireball whisky bottles the mules and I are encountering on Indiana’s roadsides.

fireball, fireball whisky, fireball whisky bottle

Some of the Fireball whisky bottles I’ve come across on the roads between Sulpher and Monroe City, Indiana.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, ohio river, bridge

Mules Cracker, Brick and me: on the road looking for adventure and roadside trash. (Tracy Smallwood photo)

Traveling America’s back roads by mule lets me absorb life at 3 miles per hour. How the bottom of a hill is cooler than the top. How… Continue reading

Mule Chow Gift

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, gas pump

An unexpected treat for the mules. A bag of corn left at my tent. (Hodgenville, Ky)

I was camped at Big Spring Cemetery wondering what the mules would eat for supper. It was going to be lentils and watercress from a nearby spring for me. For them it looked like it was going to just be grass. Grain is just too heavy to carry.

I strolled over to the spring and picked a mess of cress. When I got back… Continue reading

Welcome to the Land of Lincoln

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, storm cloud, rain, hail, prairie
Welcome to Illinois. Is this the real land of Lincoln?

Yee ha! The mule and I have arrived in Illinois.
Illinois is the third state that claims Abraham Lincoln. He was born in Kentucky but didn’t live there long enough to get on too many road signs. He spent time in Indiana where he got a mention on the state line. But the Illinois Lincoln Marketing Board was smart enough to step up and just claim him. They branded… Continue reading

Mule Fuel

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, gas pump

Mule Fuel. In to which slot does the gas pump go? Cracker’s pretty sure it’s not his blow hole… (Campbellsville, Ky)

It seems odd that a guy traveling across the land with his mules would need to buy gas. Sorta seems to defeat the whole reason to travel with a vehicle that gets most of its fuel from grass.

But, about twice a month, I’ll ease in to a gas station. Tie my mules up next to the gas pump.… Continue reading

What to do About Tornadoes

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, storm cloud, rain, hail, prairie

The waiting is the hardest part: will this become a twister, a hail storm, a thunder storm….or nothing? (Newton, IL)

“What are you doing about the storms and tornadoes?”, folks ask me.
It’s been an active summer tornado season with twisters getting lots of press as they destroy homes and communities.
I tell them, “nothing”.
When the closest shelter is a telephone pole, your options are limited.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, storm cloud, rain, hail, prairie

Where are you going to hide? That treeline is a mile away –… Continue reading

On a Map Versus On a Mule

To get ready for my mule ramble, I looked at a lot of maps – from Google maps to topo maps to hand drawn sketches. They’re fine for giving you a general idea of what direction you need to go. But to see the water run under the bridges, and feel the whoosh of a semi roaring, well, you just gotta physically be there.
It looks different on a map than it looks on a mule. Join mules Brick and… Continue reading

Mule Dawn

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, gas pump

Mule dawn: Cracker ponders the day ahead (outside Petersburg, IN).

I hope you have a good Sunday. I thought you’d enjoy this photo of Cracker starting his day. Yes, the sky really was that vivid.
He’s pretty chill about dawn’s early light but intense skies like this freak out the mariner in me. It’s that “red skies at morning, sailor take warning” thing. Sure enough, it rained like bejusus-crazy-hell for the next three days with tornadoes thrown in for good… Continue reading

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