“Man and His Mules Cross America on Path Set by Dental Floss” Douglas Budget (Wy) Newspaper Article

Here’s some Sunday reading for you. It’s a story that Mike Moore of the Douglas Budget wrote about our current mule voyage. Thanks for the great article Mike (links to article below).

  • By Mike Moore Glenrock Independent Via Wyoming News Exchange
  • Aug 31, 2019

GLENROCK — A sizeable chunk of Bernie Harberts’ year was determined solely by – what else – a single strand of dental floss.

North Carolina long rider Bernie Harberts receives a playful gesture from his mule, Cracker, as the two enjoy a day of rest in Douglas Aug. 26. Harberts and his team of two mules are currently traveling from his home in North Carolina to Hailey, Idaho.(Photo by Mike Moore, Glenrock Independent)

When planning his next venture into the wild unknown on the back of his trusty mule across North America, he grabbed an old globe from his home in Lenoir, North Carolina, and his dental floss dispenser. One end of the floss was placed at his home and the opposite end landed on Hailey, Idaho.

“I’m crossing the North Platte here, because that is where the dental floss said I should,” Harberts explains simply as he makes his way from one end of Converse County to the other. From that, the man and his two mules set out, attempting to stick as close to the path of the floss as possible while making his way across the country.

Tuesday morning was supposed to be his departure date for Glenrock, as he rolled into Douglas last Friday to take a few days to rest his livestock and recharge his own energy before setting back out.

At just past 6 a.m. Tuesday, Harberts, 51, looks over to a sizeable pile of items he has to pack down into two bags before hitting the road. It’s a routine he’s been accustomed to for more than four continuous months on the road, yet he is still amazed everything still fits in the small bags he’s labeled for equipment and food.

Considering it takes the better part of two hours to load up his mules, Brick (7 years old) and Cracker (11), he rolls out of bed and gets to work.

The man departed his hometown on April 6, traveling 1,600 miles, he estimates, to wind up on the bank of the North Platte River. He has until mid-October to arrive in Hailey if he wants to beat the inevitable winter snow.

Gestures of kindness have made the man’s journey a unique adventure not only here, but across the country.

“The way I wound up here underneath this tree is kind of an example of how this whole trip has worked,” Harberts says as he rests at the fairgrounds Monday. “I rode into Douglas Friday afternoon . . . I didn’t know anybody, but I knew two things – I needed a place for my mules and I needed to drink a beer.”

Citing the care for his mules being the most important issue to address, it wasn’t long before he bumped into two ladies who took interest in Harberts’ travels. They offered up the name of someone who might be willing to help the weary traveler find a place to rest for a handful of days.

“They made a call and put me in touch with Mark Maue, the (state fair) grounds supervisor,” he recalls. “He said to just come on down.”

That wasn’t all. Maue later pulled up with two bales of hay to help feed the man’s mules.

Harberts’ extended layover gave him time to walk the streets and chat with folks around town. He mentioned meeting Wyoming Pioneer Museum Superintendent Mel Glover. After introductions, the two proceeded to visit for two hours.

“I never even saw the museum, he was just so fascinating,” Harberts points out. “He brought us down some peaches from Colorado. The welcome has been just amazing in Douglas.”

With that, he notes most all places he’s passed through have echoed a similar response Douglas has given him.

“I think traveling with a horse or mule and being kind of vulnerable where you don’t have everything . . . that kind of hits something in people,” he muses.

His encounters also included meeting a Douglas woman living out of her car. She asked about the care of the horses and what they ate, before giving him 10 $1 bills to help him with grain expenses.

Not his first long ride by any stretch of the imagination, Harberts is no stranger to living months on the road.

“It’s like a tattoo, once you feel the pain of one, you want to feel the pain of the next.”

He’s taken a small wagon pulled by a mule from Canada to Mexico, which became a Rocky Mountain PBS documentary entitled, “The Lost Sea Expedition.” Another trip produced two books about a trip from North Carolina to California. More recently, he took a ride from North Carolina to Virginia and back with companion Julia Carpenter joining his side. In essence, things went well on the trip.

“I decided I needed to marry that woman . . . thanks to you, Brick,” he says, glancing over his shoulder to the mule grazing beside him, who he also rode on that trip.

He and Julia married Feb. 23 of this year, just over a month before Harberts headed out for his next journey. It was his first marriage. Leaving Julia at home to care for their 12-year-old lab and huskie mix, Snookie, has been hard on his wife, he admits.

“I think it was a bigger deal for her, because the person heading out with the dream is focused on the dream,” he notes. “The person that stays behind looks at the hole where that other person was.”

They speak every night, as long as cell service is available, and Julia flew out to Hyannis, Nebraska, to see him recently.

Life at just under 2 mph doesn’t get tiresome or boring for Harberts, even after months traveling along roadways and dirt paths. Although he admits occasionally “zoning out,” the traveler keeps his mind busy, scanning the earth below him for patterns. With any roadside in America comes trash, and litter has engulfed his thoughts.

“What really stands out to me is how the roadside trash reflects on our states and our society,” he philosophizes.

Interestingly enough, he’s caught on to a few trends in trash from state to state. In Indiana, it was banana skins. Nebraska consisted primarily of dead birds and bags. So far in Wyoming – it’s spit bottles.

“It’s the Cowboy State, so maybe that’s why the spit bottles,” he chuckles with a shrug.

Patterns found and photographed often are subjects for various blog posts he posts online to keep followers apprised of his continuous adventure.

He laughs when recalling an idea to do a series on the mounds of Nebraska – featuring prairie dog mounds, ant mounds, gopher mounds and Mounds candy bar wrappers.

As the early sun paints the row of trees running along the muddy banks of the North Platte, Harberts loads his saddles and magically fits everything back into their respective bags Tuesday morning.

He expects the day’s ride to be shorter than usual, as his route up HWY 93 and onto Tank Farm Road will put him just outside Glenrock before the day’s end.

“I’ll head for Independence Rock and then angle to Muddy Gap and Lander and then to Dubois,” he says, hinting at the route influenced by his dental floss.

Life on the road can be daunting and unpredictable, especially when you’re a stranger in a new land. With one mule making the man feel uneasy about setting out for the day, he turns around at the West Yellowstone Highway Bridge and returns to the fairgrounds to determine the issue.

He says after traveling like this for so long, he has learned to listen to his mules and act accordingly. His plans to depart Douglas and venture to Glenrock could be delayed to next Monday, but that is just a part of his cross-country venture. It may screw up his plans for his next stop, but Harberts isn’t worried.

“After 140 days, I’ve found a place to stay every night,” he says. “I didn’t have to hide in a cornfield or sleep on the side of the road. It says a lot about the American people.”

Note: This article originally ran in the Douglas Budget newspaper. Link to original article as posted in the Gillette News Record: https://www.gillettenewsrecord.com/news/wyoming/article_7b18d563-0fc8-566f-91c0-541dad2bf64a.html


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Lori Lowell
Lori Lowell
4 years ago

I just think he is amazing. How cool, just to take off with a mule, just like the old days before there were cars. I should have been born in the late 1800’s. Because I love the western days. So glad you made it safe. Safe and happy trails for your next journey.

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