Stories from Bernie's current trip - a mule voyage from Canada to Mexico

Snow and the Mysterious Capt'n Peanut
May 27, 2008

Today, May 27, 2008, was the day I was going to hitch mule Polly to the Lost Sea wagon and resume our Canada to Mexico voyage. When I woke up and the Black Hills were white, I decided that, well, I’d still take off.

So I booted up, dragged on my coveralls and waded out to the Lost Sea wagon. And what in the snowy South Dakota world should I find moored next to my prairie schooner?

Yep, ‘Ol Captain Peanut Lips had swung by in in his fine vessel the “Dulci Mer”.

‘Ol Peanut Lips sailin’ tall

Now you have to understand, ‘Ol Peanut Lips (he and I are both captains so we drop the nicities) is a Lost Sea fan from way back when. Yeah, he even named his vessel after the sea that disappeared tens of millions of years ago. “Dulci Mer” means “sweet sea” in Captain-speak.

Why they call him ‘Ol Peanut Lips

Now sure, it was a nice surprise to sea the ‘Ol Cap’n. But I had a voyage to kick off. Hell, I didn’t have time to chew the pipe with some old hoary sea captain from the Plains whose last accomplishment was falling from the sky.

Now understand, the Ol’ Cap’n has a few vices like smoking a pipe (he’s a Dr. Grabow man) and sailing alone without a harness. He also likes to give advice. Which he did.

“Don’t leave today, mate.” he told me. “Heavy goin’ out there. Nothin’ but headwinds and growlers…” he warned. “A good day to hole up and talk about dragging drogues around Cape Stiff…”

But really, who was he to talk – the guy who sailed the snowy Plains in his 2-foot “Dulci Mer”. 2 feet! That was 10 feet shorter than my Lost Sea vessel.

So I harnessed Polly and hit the road. It was The Day I Was Supposed to Leave.

Hittin’ the road

Then it happened. Before we cleared the Borderlands Ranch’s driveway, snow and ice packed Polly’s hoofs into platform shoes worthy of Gene Simmons’ from “Kiss” (it was Gene that wore those honkin’ risers wasn’t it?).

I don’t know what they’re called in English but in Swiss German we used to call them “Stolla” – those balls of compressed snow that stick to the bottom of a mule or horse’s foot. They making forward motion pretty much impossible.

Polly’s “Stolla”

Within a hundred yards, Polly was stumbling along in her best sawhorse imitation. The only way for her to proceed was for me to clamber out of the wagon and knock the “stolla“s off her feet with my boots.

Stolla removal

I decided it was a better day for taking pictures than making progress.

A day for photos, not progress

Okay, so the whole We’re-Leaving-May-27-Come-Hell-or-Snow thing didn’t pan out. Still, I figured Polly deserved a good feed so after our false start I put her back out in the Borderlands corral with a bucket of grain.

Not so final supper

When I returned to my wagon, the ‘Ol Cap’n was there in his rockin’ vessel, pipe fired up, bag of Lost Sea shag at his feet. Yep, tonight we’re holing up in the Lost Sea wagon for a gam. And one blistering day up the road, after the old salt’s gone, I’ll tell you more about the Captain and his honkin’ yacht “Dulci Mer”.

The Proud Cap’n

Stay cool, shipmates!

Posted Tuesday May 27, 2008 by Bernie
The Prairie is Not Forgiving
May 25, 2008

Lone Ponderosa
South of Rochford, SD

“The prairie is not forgiving. Anything that is shallow – the easy optimism of the homesteaders… the trees whose roots don’t reach ground water – will dry up and blow away.”

Kathleen Norris, “Dakota”

Posted Sunday May 25, 2008 by Bernie
Hair Care for a 21 Square Foot Home
May 25, 2008

From big bottle to little bottle
Lost Sea Mule wagon
South of Rochford, SD

It’s Memorial Day weekend. Polly and I should be grilling hot dogs (for me) and orange peels (for her). Instead, we’re going to recant shampoo.

You see, for the next months, as I travel across the Great Plains in my mule wagon, I’ll be living in 21 square feet of heated area. Yep, the Lost Sea mule wagon boasts 0.6% of the average 3,500 square foot home. (That’s right. 0.6%. I did the math – twice. Just because it seemed so absurdly small).

Mule Polly and my 21-square foot home
South of Rochford, SD

This isn’t as bad as it sounds. Really. In 2007, mule Polly pulled this tiny rolling home from Saskatchewan, Canada to Hill City, South Dakota. It took six months. Now we’re just going to do some more of the same.

Inside the Lost Sea mule wagon

The trick to traveling thoroughly in cozy quarters (note the code words: “cozy” instead of“small”, and “thoroughly”, instead of “slowly”), is how much, and what kind of, stuff you bring.

Take, for instance, shampoo.

Back in Southern Pines, where I reveled in quarters considerably larger than 21 square feet, I showered daily. Featuring prominently in the shower, just below the nozzle, was a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s shampoo. Yep, the one with the tiny print and quirky name drops.

Haircare spanning Mao to Thomas Paine

Dr Bronner’s the only person I know who’s made label-mates of Einstein, Nazis, God, Mao, Jesus, Communism, Mohammed, Halley’s comet, spacebombs, Adam and Eve, Moses, Buddha, Spinoza, swallows, Paine, Mark Spitz, Karl Marx and Abraham.

Yes, it’s Magic Soap alright, just like it says on the label.

Evenings, before heading out with friends, I’d lather up in the good Doctor’s soap, reveling in the immediate smell of those wholesome creamy bubbles and the laughter that would follow.

Flash forward to today. I’m sitting alone inside the Lost Sea mule wagon outside Hill City, South Dakota. Mule Polly and I are at 6,000 feet. The wind’s blowing like stink out of a grey sky that looks like May snow on tap.

South of Rochford, SD

And nope, there’s not room in here for a 16 oz bottle of shampoo.

There is room for one of those travel size bottles of shampoo, though.

So this afternoon, while the winds bounced the wagon on its springs, I filled an empty travel-size bottle of shampoo with the stuff I use at home.

Here’s what’s neat about what’ll happen to that new 2 oz bottle of shampoo.

From prior experience I know this. In the first weeks of travel, as I lather up with my shampoo, the peppermint smell will remind me of all my friends back home. Of how we’d catch up for drinks at The Jefferson Inn in Southern Pines, NC. Of how I’d regale them of my upcoming my wagon journey. Of how I insisted I wouldn’t be alone once out of their sight.

Of course most of that was just bluff. The first weeks of any overland mule journey are lonely. You’re a stranger traveler passing through an empty land. You’re homesick.

But smells, even one as simple as your shampoo, take you home to friends.

As the weeks pass and Polly I acclimate to these wind swept plains, we’ll pick up the routine as before. I’ll sweat. I’ll take bucket baths. And as I travel ever-farther across the Plains, the level of shampoo on my tiny bottle falls.

Then, as always, an interesting shift occurs.

As I travel, I’m often invited to spend the night with ranchers. They see my tiny wagon, one spouse asks, “You sleep in THAT?”, and often as not, the other spouse will invite me to stay the night with them.

Even mule Polly wonders
“You sleep in THAT…?”
North of Ekalaka, MT

After feeding me supper they’ll offer me a shower. I take them up on the offer, and, while I’m scrubbing off the day’s prairie dust, I refill my shampoo bottle with their shampoo.

The new shampoo sits on top of the old stuff I’ve carried from home. Gradually my shampoo starts smelling more and more like the people I’ve stayed, and showered, with.

Gradually the shift occurs. Evenings, when I’m rinsing off the prairie grim with precious soap and water, I start smelling all those folks that are helping Polly and me travel to Mexico. The Pert-using cattle rancher who loaded me down with so much extra-wide beef jerky I considered using the stuff for postcards. The Pantene-using farmer who snuck me into his cellar to sample his strawberry moonshine.

Ahhhh, that’s the smell of adventure! The smell of prairie air, North winds and companionship that perfume designers never crammed into a 16 oz bottle of shampoo.

So yes there’ll be plenty of nights in my 21 foot abode when I’ll miss a 3,500 square foot home, a fixed address and a shower-full of 16 oz bottles of shampoo.

But, nights alone on the prairie, when loneliness strikes, there’s a remedy that’s never failed me. You’d never find it in a $20.00 bottle of boutique shampoo.

I reach for my tiny bottle of stolen shampoo and prepare to journey back to my old friends at home and my new friends of the road.

I twist off the cap, take a whiff and smell laughter.

Can you smell the laughter?

Happy Memorial day!

(PS: Note to all ranchers inviting me in for a stay. In exchange for your shampoo, Polly will fertilize your pasture.
PPS: A great big 3,500 square foot “Thank You” to Linda Kramer of Borderlands Ranch outside Hill City, SD for putting Polly and me up a few days. Fear not Linda, I won’t be nicking the shampoo…)

Posted Sunday May 25, 2008 by Bernie
"65 Days Alone" DVD Released!
May 9, 2008

Day 37 – Stuck in the Atlantic Doldrums

After months of work, three-time Emmy Award winner Bob Collins and I have released my “65 Days Alone at Sea” DVD.

65 Days Alone at Sea

This film answers the question I get most about sailig solo around the world – “So Bernie, what’s it like to be alone on the ocean for months at a time.”

Well, here’s your chance to find out.

“65 Days Alone at Sea” is about a two-month non-stop sail I made from South Africa to the Virgin Islands. In particular, it’s about how your body changes at sea (ever hear of Skin Navigation?), how your mind adjusts (there’s that thing about the jester sliding off the church roof…) and the unexpected things you run across at sea (the abandoned boat in the Bermuda Triangle – the one with the tied up manequin aboard…).

Fanged mystery skipper – Bermuda Triangle, North Atlantic Ocean

As we sail from Cape Town to the Virgin Islands aboard Sea Bird, we’ll live for two months off rain water and tuna caught on hand-lines.

A bucket of rain – South Atlantic squall

Tuna before

Tuna after

We’ll go from bowsprit to mast in all weather conditions, and when the wind dies, I’ll take you for a dinghy ride in the middle of the Doldrums.

So… if you’re the kind of person that looks at the blue on the world map and thinks, “Hmmmmm, wonder what it’s like out there?”, this would be the perfect DVD for you.

Or than again, if you pass your idle time in rush hour playing the steering wheel like the main sheet thinking “Man, I’m running away to sea…”. Or you always thought “I could never do something like that alone…” .

Ok, you get the drift. This would be just the DVD for you, too.

If you’d like a copy, I’d love to send you one. Just send me your name and shipping address and $15.00 per DVD and you’ll be off on your own 6500 mile ocean journey.

Once I get the store up and running, I’ll take credit cards. But for now, just print out and complete the order form below, get it back to me and we’ll get underway.

YES! I’d like a copy of “65 Days Alone at Sea”

Please ship to:
City, State, Zip:
Phone 1:
Phone 2:

Number of DVDs:
Cost Per DVD ($15.00):
Shipping and handling: $2.50

Please return cash, check or money order (made payable to RiverEarth) to:
Bernie Harberts
PO Box 245
Southern Pines, NC



Posted Friday May 9, 2008 by Bernie
Shark Tooth Ventilation
May 1, 2008

Last week I reported that mule Polly and I were about to hit the road for South Dakota. Once there, I was going to hitch her to my wagon and spend the rest of 2008 heading to Mexico at the speed of mule.

Well, that was the plan.

This morning I got a message from my buddy Tim who lives in Hill City, South Dakota. “Thursday it’s gonna snow butt-deep to a tall Indian” it began. It ended, “by Friday the high is ‘sposed to be 21. (Yep….Farenheit)”.

Tim was right. Tall Indians are having a chilly week in Hill City.

What South Dakota looks like after a May snow storm

Suddenly, I remembered those final touches I needed to do on the Lost Sea wagon. Like ventilation for my blue shirts. So this week the tools have come back out: the jig saw, the sandpaper and the shark’s tooth.

Shark’s tooth?

C Megalodon Tooth

Yep, shark’s tooth. Instead of just sawing round holes into the bottom of the shelf I use for clothes storage, I’ve decided to make shark’s tooth-shaped ones. The delta-shaped holes will allow air flow.

Sure, they’ll keep my shirts fresh. More important, later this summer, when it hits 100 degrees on the Plains, they’ll remind me of snow.

Posted Thursday May 1, 2008 by Bernie

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