My Ride up the Virginia Highland Horse Trail Ends but the Journey Continues

The other day, I accompanied my wife Julia to film one of her Trust Technique sessions. The husband and wife she was working with met us at their barn, and the husband gave me a confused look. “Hey, I’ve been following your mule ramble on your website,” he said. “I thought you were still on the trail.”

On the trail: my mule Brick following my saddle mule Cracker, who I’m riding, up the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail (outside Cripple Creek, Virginia)

He had good reason to look confused. From what he’d been reading online here on RiverEarth.com, he thought I was still out riding the Virginia Highland Horse Trail with my mules Brick and Cracker. In his mind, I was fording rivers and battling rain storms, my beard growing woolier by the post. And then, there I was, standing in his barn with a trimmed beard, crisp blue shirt, and a Go-Pro in my hand, ready to film Julia’s Trust Technique session.

The woolly version of me riding through the rain on the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail (outside Ivanhoe, Virginia)
Happily fording a creek with Cracker and Brick, who I’m riding (Grayson Highlands, Virginia)

It was a perfect example of the schizophrenic nature of our times. You read one thing on the internet, and then real life throws a totally different reality in your face.

I explained to the husband that I’d finished my mule ramble. That’s why I was standing in his barn instead of the forest. And I have to say I felt a twinge of dishonesty. I had projected one part of my life on my website when, at that very moment, I was living a totally different one.

So what led to the confusion?

How to be Two Places at Once

As you’ve read here on RiverEarth.com, I’ve been riding my mules the length of the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail. The trail runs 83 miles from Elk Garden, outside Damascus, Virginia, to Ivanhoe, on the New River. Most of the trail runs through remote areas, which means that, aside from a few places like the Scales Campground on top of Grayson Highlands, there’s no cell service.

Scales camp

To deal with this lack of connectivity, I photographed, filmed and sketched my trip as it unfolded. Then, on the occasional ridge top, when I got a few bars of cell service, I posted to my website. As soon as my updates and photos were uploaded, I dropped back out of cell service and continued my trip. Cell coverage was so spotty, and I moved so slowly that I went three to four days at a time without being able to call Julia or post to RiverEarth.com.

After two and a half weeks and 135 miles of happy rambling, I ran out of trail. The mules and I reached the New River, and it was time to go home. A very generous Leesa Lavigne, who I met in Cripple Creek at Bill and Nancy Sluy’s CCC ranch, offered to give me a ride back to my starting point. She loaded Brick and Cracker onto her horse trailer and brought us back to Damascus, Virginia, where I’d parked my truck and trail and started my ramble at the home of Mike and Cindy Johnson. From there, I hauled Brick and Cracker home to outside Lenoir, North Carolina, where Julia and I live.

Leesa and Cracker. Thanks, Leesa, for hauling Brick and Cracker back to our starting point.
Nancy Sluys holds her mule while Brother Moore (in foreground holding mule shoe) shapes a shoe (Cripple Creek, Virginia)

It was great to see Julia after half a month away from home. Brick and Cracker quickly blended back into their herd. They looked fit and toned from their journey and hadn’t lost any weight despite having carried me and my gear so far. I put my gear away, oiled my saddle and bridle and stowed my hoof boots. I made a list of all the gear I’d taken on my trip, so I’ll know exactly what to pack for my next mule trip. A few days after I got home, our friends Mike and Beth visited and we saddled Brick and Cracker, along with the rest of our critters, and went for a trail ride on our land. My mule ramble felt solidly behind me.

Brick and Cracker, and a very happy me, back at home
Cracker and Brick (foreground) saddled and ready to go on a trail ride.

There was only one thing I had left to do to make my trip feel complete. I had to do something with all the posts, videos, articles and sketches I hadn’t been able to post from the trail because I hadn’t gotten cell reception.

The Mule Ramble Continues

Just because I ran out of trail doesn’t mean I’ll keep posting about my trip. In the coming weeks, I’ll post updates from my journey up the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail. There’ll be back country horse and mule packing tips, from how to crossfire your girths to how the Renegade hoof boots I used on my trip held up. Plus, you’ll get a chance to ride Cracker across the second-oldest river in the world and steer him through a tunnel.

Brick carrying our gear across the New River (outside Ivanhoe, Virginia)

I sure have enjoyed having you along for Brick, Cracker, and my mule ramble up the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail. The trail may not go on forever, but there are still a few miles left in this trail tale.

Stay tuned for the next updates!

More About the Trust Technique

The Trust Technique is a method for strengthening the connection between animals and those who care for them. Julia is the first Trust Technique practitioner certified to work with equines on the East Coast. She provides in-person Trust Technique sessions in western North Carolina, as well as remote sessions via Zoom.

Julia sitting on her Haflinger pony Pie in our hay pasture
Julia and Shannon Hoffman disusing how the Trust Technique can help Shannon’s mule Malachi get over his “woodiness” when things scare him. Shannon organizes Mule Days at Leatherwood.

Contact Julia here. You can learn more about Julia and the Trust Technique at her blog, ConsideringAnimals.com.

Let me Give You a Heads-up When my New Book “Two Mules to Triumph” is Published

I’d love to give you a heads-up when my new book, Two Mules to Triumph, is published. It’s about riding Brick and Cracker 2,300 miles from North Carolina to Idaho. Just sign up for my newsletter, and I’ll let you know when it’s released. As a thank you, I’ll give you a link where you can download my free eBook, 19 Million Mule Steps.

19 million mule steps winnie award winner
19 Million Mule Steps is the award-winning new photo book about riding my mules Brick and Cracker 2,300 miles from North Carolina to Idaho.

19 Million Mule Steps contains over one hundred pages of photos, essays and sketches that didn’t fit into Two Mules to Triumph.



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