Knocking on Doors

When my mules Brick and Cracker and I set out on our latest journey from North Carolina to Idaho, we did so with minimal planning. We had no chase crew, sponsor or person lining up places for us to stay. We just went.

The Uninvited Guests. A painting my wife Julia did of how mules Cracker, Brick and I found lodgings on our journey from North Carolina to Idaho. (Julia Carpenter painting)
A long way to go: Brick and Cracker loaded up for their first day on the road.

I knew where we’d stay the first three nights on the road. After that, I winged it.

At the end of every day, I needed to find a place to spend the night with the mules. I didn’t need much. A patch of grass and some water for them and a level spot for my tent. If I stayed at a campground or barn, I was prepared to pay.

I found my digs the old-school way. I knocked on doors. I talked to folks in gas stations. I asked people that pulled over on the side of the road to talk with me if the mules and I could stay at their place. Or maybe, did they know somebody…?

It’s the way I always did it.

On a recent trip, from North Carolina to Virginia and back with my wife Julia, we winged it, too. A few hours before dark, we started asking farmers, ranchers or anyone with a field if we could stay there.

Sure, it was stressful, with night coming on, traveling up the road with three mules, not to know where we’d sleep. But it usually worked out. The two nights we didn’t find lodgings, we found something. We spent one night in a Christmas tree plantation and the other in a farmer’s field.

Stealth Camp #1: Camped on a Christmas tree plantation (outside Todd, NC)
Stealth Camp #2: Camped in a farmer’s field (Off the Virginia Creeper Trail)

A Better Way?

As I rode Brick and Cracker through Tennesse, I thought, “Hey. I should try social media.”

I posted a message on social media along the lines of, “Hey, I’m traveling through western Tennessee on my mules. If you know of a place we could spend the night, please let me know.”

That experience taught me that generosity knows no bounds. Folks from Georgia to Oregon write me things like, “when you’re in our town, be sure to look us up.” Or, “are you traveling through Dallas?”
The hospitality was incredible but all the offers were way out of the way. When you’re traveling with a mule, you don’t want to travel more than about a mile out of the way for lodgings. A mile means almost an hour detour. Remember, you have to ride there and back.

I ended up knocking on a guy named John’s door and he put the mules and me up for the night.

I posted one more time on social media that I was looking for a place to stay. I got the same result. I spent so much time telling people that I couldn’t make it to their place that it cut into the time I had to look for a place to stay. Worse than burning daylight, it took my head out of the trip. Instead of looking at a nice pasture and figuring out who owned it, I started wondering if anyone was messaging me.

After that, I went back to knocking on doors.

That trip showed me that, though our nation is so politically and socially fractured, there still are lots of generous people out there ready to reach across the divide. Some want to help from far away. Some are right in front of you.

Knock on doors when you need help. Open doors when you can give help.

Bernie Harberts, mule, pavillion
Ryan Crick finishing breakfast in his shop. Ryan invited me to join his crew for a bite. I hadn’t had biscuits and gravy, bacon, fried eggs and Coke for breakfast in a while. Ryan is a direct man. I like how he stabbed his knife through his breakfast box to signify breakfast was over.
Bernie Harberts, mule, tophat, allie brewer, yolanda treece
Easter evening with Allie Brewer and Yolanda Treece. Allie was up from Knoxville visiting her parents. Yolanda is known for her beautiful voice and vocal performances. (outside Russellville, TN)
Bernie Harberts, Dan Coffey, Geneva Lynch, mule
Geneva Lynch and Danny Coffey. I showed up at Danny’s back door pretty rattled from riding the mules too many hours up the highway. (Tazewell, TN)

About That Trip With Brick and Cracker

I ended up riding Brick and Cracker from western North Carolina to Idaho. We found a place to camp almost every night on the road.

Nightfall (Muddy Gap, WY)
The route

Right now I’m editing the third draft of my book “Trash to Triumph” about that trip. I’d be happy to give you a heads up when it comes out. Just sign up for the newsletter and I’ll send you an email when it’s ready. You can do that right here.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Patrick Walsh
Patrick Walsh
2 years ago

I really admire what you did.Would love to experience something like that. very encouraging, how old are you? I am 71 in pretty good shape, but not sure. how did you stay warm? blessings, Pat

bill Boyles
bill Boyles
2 years ago

That sounds like a great trip!! Wish i had tagged along!! Bucket list!

Ben Gonzales
Ben Gonzales
2 years ago

Sir,your adventure is an inspiration to many of us that never got up the courage to take that”leap.You have given me hope that”yes” it can be done!God Bless!

Current Ramble
Other Cool Reads