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Week 6: Indiana Mule River LIfe
May 19, 2019

Western visions pull the mules and me toward the setting sun: piñon canyons, cut throat trout and big horn sheep. This week I encountered a highway catfish, a gravel barge and a cooling casket. Indiana is proving as colorful as the land I’m riding toward. Here are a few photos from this week on the road, Week 6 of my Mules West ramble.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, ohio river, barge
Watchin’ the river go by: Cracker takes in a gravel barge as it heads up the Ohio River outside Brandenbury, Ky. He’s pretty chill but I’m not knowing that…..
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, ohio river, bridge
…I have to cross this bridge from Kentucky to Indiana.
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, ohio river, bridge
Heading out on to the Mather E Walsh bridge. Luckily, to keep traffic off my tail….
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, ohio river, bridge
…I had a police escort. Thanks to Brian Haag of the Brandenburg police department for escorting us across.
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, ohio river, bridge
Indiana! In a nod to Lincoln, I donned my top hat. I don’t think they’ll start adding my name the Indiana road signs.

The Ohio river leaves its mark on the land.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, catfish
It seemed odd to find a bag full of….fish?….on the side of the road. Closer inspection revealed…
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, catfish
…a sack full of catfish. Some one had filleted the fish and throw the remains on the side of the road.

Indiana marks a turning point in the landscape. We’re tipping from the lusher, eastern land to a dryer landscape. The land is dominated by ever-larger farms and ever-smaller tracts of timber.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, Brad and Lana Graham
Taking a morning trail ride on Brad and Lana Graham’s land. I spent the night at their farm and the next morning, followed this trail back to my back road route. Thanks Brad and Lana for putting us up (and feeding us roast beef and French toast!). (outside Corydon, IN).
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, Brad and Lana Graham
How the day started in Brad and Lana’s pasture. Cracker and Brick sure were happy to be free of their halters and pickets overnight.
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, tractor
Making hay. Indiana’s had an unusually wet spring. This week (May 19) the farmers got in their first hay cutting. Here, hay is being wind rowed before baling.

What hasn’t changed is folks’ generosity toward the mules and me.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, Danny Schnell
I met Danny Schnell in Schnellville – population 170. He was out riding his bike. He’s biked to 48 states. He gave me 10 bucks for the road saying, “buy yourself lunch in Jasper.” Much appreciate Danny, much appreciated. I’ll be sure to pass on the favor.
Bernie Harberts, latin cuba restaurant, Yasel Garcia Perez
Riding through Jasper, mule Brick lost one of her hoof boots in front of the Latin Cuba Restaurant. I tied the mules to the restaurant porch and the owner, Yasel Garcia Perez, offered me some ice water. That’s Yasel in the red shirt on the right. Before I knew it…..
Bernie Harberts, latin cuba restaurant, Yasel Garcia Perez, Rogelio Ramirez
…I was inside the restaurant enjoying a pork and beef dish. Here, cook Rogelio Ramirez and Yasel with the dish Rogelio prepared. This was hands down the best meal I’ve eaten on this trip. Danny, now you know where your $10 went…

So what do I miss the most out here?
My wife Julia. Being apart has been hard. Though we call each other often, it’s not the same as being together. We write each other letters. Unlike a phone converstation, I can carry these physical traces of her in my saddle bag. I treasure these letters. Recently she sent me a letter General Delivery in Brandenburg. I picked it up with the mules.

Bernie Harberts, cheryl harley, brandenburg
On the road with the mules, I receive mail via General Delivery. Here, Cheryl Harley of the Brandenbury post office with a letter Julia sent me.

Today, May 20, the mules and I depart Duane and Jane Buschkoetter’s. Thanks so much Duane and Jane for putting us up (and giving us a shower, meals and doing our laundry)

This morning we set off toward Petersburg and Vincennes. The Ohio River falls astern. We make our way a wee bit closer to the West.

Posted Sunday May 19, 2019 by Bernie
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Road Kill Tiger Tails
May 13, 2019

The speed of mule is the perfect pace to see what winds up on America the Beautiful’s highway shoulders. It’s ugly: thousands of Bud Light cans, Gatorade bottles, KFC boxes and MacDonald’s cups. Occasionally a love letter and a pink purse.

It’s loud, too. When you’re behind the wheel, you don’t hear what’s under the hood. You’re hushed travel capsule makes a hell of a racket as it’s barreling down the highway at 65 miles per hour.

Bernie Harberts,mule, adventure
Mules Cracker and Brick huddled on the side of the road. Some days, after 8 hours of road noise, I feel like joining them.

There are bright spots, though, like the butterflies. Smashed mid-flight against bumpers, windshields and grills, their bodies drift down in front of the mules as we plod across the land. On a recent stretch of Kentucky Highway 25, I came across 10 fallen butterflies in less than half an hour.

Bernie Harberts, mule, adventure, truck
Vehicles and butterflies just don’t mix. Here, one of the hundreds of trucks that pass us most days. On the right, one of the rocky passes Highway 25 passes through. I found a lot more dead butterflies in these gaps than in the open sections of land.
Bernie Harberts, butterfly, eastern tiger tail
There were dead butterflies in the grass and….
Bernie Harberts,butterfly, eastern tiger tail
…dead butterflies on the pavement. There were ….
Bernie Harberts, butterfly, eastern tiger tail
….dead butterflies on the gravel shoulder and….
Bernie Harberts, butterfly, eastern tiger tail
….at the mules’ feet and….
Bernie Harberts, butterfly, eastern tiger tail
….even under the mules’ feet.

After a long day of riding up the highway, I took all my dead butterfly photos and put them together. Laid museum-style on a black background, they made a bittersweet arrangement.

Bernie Harberts, tiger tail, butterfly, tiger tail butterfly
Beautiful wreckage: Eastern Tiger Tail bodies as found on Kentucky’s highway 25E between Middlesboro and Pineville. Rocky Face is where many of the butterflies came from.
Posted Monday May 13, 2019 by Bernie
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Mule Ramble Week 5 in Photos
May 12, 2019

It’s a misty Kentucky Sunday morning. The mules and I had planned to travel from Rineyville to Brandenburg, where we’ll cross the Ohio River in to Indiana. Not so with this damp weather. The rainy weather makes the mules’ heels soft. That means the hoof boots they wear can chafe their heels. Much better to set off tomorrow with dryer weather.

It is a good day to look at mule ramblin’ pictures, though.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, amish, flower
Kentucky morning mist. Brick and Cracker take a grazing break to hang out under a Bradford pear. (Rineyville, Ky)

Week 5 of my Mules West ramble saw Brick, Cracker and I ride from Kentucky coal country to Kentucky farm country. Here’s the week in scenes, signs and faces.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, road kill, dead animals of kentucky
A young Amish man unloads a horse drawn wagon full flowers. Helping him were 2 young women.They worked while I rested in the shade. In the half hour I stayed there, they brought in 2 wagon loads of flowers. All loaded and unloaded by hand. They had enough time left over to bring me an ice cream cone and Gatorade. Call it the overlap of new and old worlds – ancient work ethic and sports drinks.
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, road kill, dead animals of kentucky
Subtle signs of a more labor intensive lifestyle abound. Here, an old timey washer and wood fired heater on which to heat water for washing.
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, road kill, dead animals of kentucky
Look closely and you’ll see the marks left on the road by the Amish buggies. They’re the light bands in the pavement. (Pellyton, Ky)
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, road kill, dead animals of kentucky
The Amish farm a relatively small amount of surface area compared to conventional (read big and mechanized) ways. We’re definitely getting in to heavy duty farm county. Here, Ray Allen Mackie is driving his rig to work. Ray Allen let us spend the night at a cemetery he owns. (Larue County, Ky)
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, road kill, dead animals of kentucky
Corn planting time is here. Much of the agriculture is no till, meaning the seeds are drilled in to the ground without plowing the soil. Here, a farmer is planting seeds that will….
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, road kill, dead animals of kentucky
…sprout in to neat rows. Here, corn that’s up about 2 inches. (Outside Hodgenville, Ky)
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, road kill, dead animals of kentucky
There’s a reason the parking lot was empty when I passed…. (Hodgenville, KY)
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride
Close enough…. (Science Hill, Ky)

Folks have been incredibly generous putting up our mules. Here are a few of the people we stayed with.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, Terry Siming, Debora Simning
Debora and Terry Siming put us up three nights. A real luxury to let the mules rest their heels and fill their bellies for a few days. The Simnings helped fellow equine traveler Angela Wood get on the road. She’s crossing America in her wagon and you can follow her trip here on her blog
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, lily neal, melinda neal
Lily’s family arranged for me to spend a wonderful night on land they owned outside Elk Horn, Kentucky. Thanks for the apples Lily. Lily’s mom Melinda Neal teaches at the Taylor Primary school in nearby Campbellsville. Since the school was on our route…..
Bernie Harberts, mule, melinda neal, lily neal, taylor county primary
…Cracker, Brick and I dropped by for a visit. That’s Melinda on the right. Here, I’m thanking 2 young volunteers that helped me demonstrate how much weight Brick was carrying in her saddle bags. (Campbellsville, Ky)
Bernie Harberts, Tiffany Crawford, mule, trail ride, road kill, dead animals of kentucky
Tiffany Crawford hanging with Cracker at her farm in Somerset. Tiffany owns Cherokee Stables. She knows gated horses well and explained that Cracker was probably out of a Tennessee walking horse mare, not a saddle bred as I’d (incorrectly) guessed. (Somerset, Ky)
Posted Sunday May 12, 2019 by Bernie
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Sought: Mule Rambler Lodging
May 11, 2019

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, gas pump
Brandenburg, Kentucky: my destination for Sunday, May 12. Know anywhere there I could put up the mules for the night? A pasture is all it takes.

Want to host a mule traveler?
The mules and I are heading to Brandenburg, Kentucky on Sunday (May 11, 2019). If you – or someone you know – could put the mules and me up Sunday night that would be terrific. A grassy pasture is all it takes. No fence required. Bonus points if it’s close to the Post Office. I have to pick up a package there Monday morning.

Got a lead? Just drop me an email. I keep my phone off when I’m traveling (it’s that distracted rider thing) but will check my email as I get close to Brandenburg.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, gas pump
Be bold: you could host this entourage. (LaRue County Herald News photo)

Here’s a story that’ll make you smile about one of my mule Post Office runs.
A HUGE thank you to everyone that’s put the mules and me up on our Mules West ramble.

Posted Saturday May 11, 2019 by Bernie
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The Road to Speck
May 11, 2019

The mules and I are screwed up at the crossroads. Three roads. No signs.
Which way to Speck?
I flag down the muddy truck and ask the guy with the beard, “which road goes to Speck?”
His name is Sean Pendelton.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, shawn pendelton
Sean moments after I met him. He’s holding an ax. More on that shortly.

This flagging down cars for directions is part of mule travel in eastern Kentucky. I still travel with paper maps. Even when I use my phone for directions, in many cases, the directions aren’t much use. Often, the road signs are missing. Or the road signs go by completely different names than what’s on the smart phone screen. Someone changed the sign but didn’t update the phone’s navigational database.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, shawn pendelton
Misty morning road outside Pellyton, where I started the day.

Sean tries to tell me where I need to go. I’m dense. He’s not getting far. He turns off the engine. Here’s a man that knows everyone around and when they see him, they probably know his engine is shut off because he’s visiting. It’s okay. You can do this in these parts.
I show him my map. He studies it a while then says, “just follow me.”
He fires up his truck, rolls off and I catch up with him in front of a red barn.
He gets out and shows me a scar on his leg like a giant lamprey suck mark. That’s why he retired from mule logging. Now he buys old axes and makes new handles for them.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, shawn pendelton
Sean shows me one of his axes.
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, shawn pendelton
Sean bought the axe head at a sale. He replaced the handle and sharpened the blade. He says he might not sell this one because it’s so nice.

Sean steers me down a road too narrow to take seriously. It starts out looking like a driveway. Then it turns to gravel and threads its way through a hay pasture and drops over a steep ledge in to a deep cool valley. Though technically a state maintained road, it fords a clear stream. The perfect place to water the mules.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, shawn pendelton
Roads the way I like them – narrow, deserted and winding through hay fields.
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, shawn pendelton
The ford where I watered mules Brick and Cracker.

Half an hour he checks up on me again. “I’m just out ridin’” he says.
Even if I could navigate with a phone or GPS, I wouldn’t. I’d miss meeting the Seans of Kentucky.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, shawn pendelton
Human direction. Sean grew up in these parts and knows the land. Growing up, he road horses on the same roads the mules and I are traveling.
Thanks for showing us to Speck, Shawn.
Posted Saturday May 11, 2019 by Bernie
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7 Sleeps
May 8, 2019

Where will I spend the night? Out here traveling across Kentucky with my mules, I rarely know. About 3 hours before sundown I start knocking on doors, asking folks where the mules and I might lay over until the next day.

Bernie Harberts, general store
6 beds. 7 sleeps. I rarely know where I’ll spend the night. Could be a bed. Could be a bivy bag.

Though it’s nerve wracking looking for a place to spend the night with your mules, it’s fun looking back at where you slept. But there’s more to it than that. These places I’ve slept stand for way more than a good night’s rest.

Many people are afraid these days. Lots of folks I meet lock their doors, even when they’re home. Most lament the violence they see on the news. Some, more than I thought, keep a loaded gun close at hand: by the door, on the fridge, in the 4-wheeler.

But when I show up with my mules, many drop their apprehensions to help us out. This amazes me.

Imagine you’re mowing your lawn. You look over and there’s this dude with 2 mules riding up your driveway. He smiles and sticks out his hand and says, “Hi, I’m Bernie and these are my mules Brick and Cracker and I’m looking for a place to knock off for the night.”

Then he asks, “do you know where I can spend the night? Tie them out on some grass until tomorrow?”

That’s crazy, right?

Well, yeah, it is. But what’s even crazier is that so many folks ponder on what they’ve just encountered. Think it over. Then offer to put the mules and me up for the night.

I’ve thought a lot on this generosity. Of how me, a guy out here on a mule, can show it to you.

Finally, it dawned on me. I would show you the random places I’ve slept in the past week. These tents sites, beds and trailers are more than just places to sleep. They represent the generosity of people still willing to put up a man and his mules as they make their way across the land.

Remember you’re looking at 7 nights I stayed last week. I’ve spent well over 1,000 nights on the road in my mule voyages so this is only a tiny sampling of the hospitality I’ve received. (FYI: a series of beds I slept in appear in my “Lost Sea Expedition” Public TV series which you can stream here on Amazon.)

Okay, now those photos. Here’s a look at 6 places where I slept the last 7 nights on the road.

Bernie Harberts, mule travel, adventure, camping, trail ride
Tazewell, TN: The guest of Danny and Linda Coffey. I pitched my bivy bag in their barn. They fed me hot dog casserole and let me use their shower. The next morning, Brick and Cracker escaped. Ugghhh…..
Bernie Harberts, mule travel, adventure, camping, trail ride
Middlesboro, KY. Slept in the bivy under a tractor trailer next to the Tractor Supply. Thanks to William “Bill” Hayes for putting us up. I’ll say hi to Idaho for you.
Bernie Harberts, mule travel, adventure, camping, trail ride
Flat Lick, KY. I knew I was okay when I rode up the drive and Fred Hensley had a mule license plate on his truck. I didn’t know he and his wife Linda would put me up in the spare bedroom. The weather turned rainy. I spent 2 nights in that bed, showered and clean. Like I was floating in a cotton cloud.
Bernie Harberts, mule travel, adventure, camping, trail ride
Lily, Kentucky. I was out late in the day and still didn’t have a place to stay. Diana and Denise were trimming a climbing vine in the front yard when I rode in. Here’s a bit more about them and my stay at their place.
Bernie Harberts, mule travel, adventure, camping, trail ride
Corbin, Kentucky. Slept by the river that night next to a railroad bridge. A man came by and said, “that river’s real deep next to that bridge. A locomotive fell off that bridge and it’s still down there.”
Bernie Harberts, mule travel, adventure, camping, trail ride
London, Kentucky. Spent the night behind Cindy and Eddie Ricardson’s single wide home. The season’s first fireflies blinked away all night and the whippoorwills raised hell about dawn. Cindy and Eddie brought me a Mason jar full of coffee that used to hold Gatlinburg. moonshine. “One day,” Eddie said, “we’d like to have a double wide.
Bernie Harberts, mule travel, adventure, camping, trail ride
Somerset, Kentucky. Spent the night in Tiffany Crawford’s horse trailer. Tiffany stopped me earlier in the day on the side of the road. She said I could stay at her barn. I was cooking Rica-a-Roni in front of the tack room and she brought me a steak. It came from a cow that was always escaping. I ate the steak for supper and the rice the next day for breakfast.

A great big GIANT thank you to everyone who let me spend the night at their place. Your actions show the world their are still lots of trusting folks out there ready to step in to lend a hand.

Post Script: This post was written a week ago so now I have a whole new batch of photos of where I slept.

Posted Wednesday May 8, 2019 by Bernie
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The Colorist
May 7, 2019

He stepped out of a battered van and told me, “My first color was Play Boy Pink and we sold a 55 gallon drum of it to Hugh Heffner.”

He was a colorist. I’m a guy traveling with mules. People tell me all sorts of things. I just take them at their word. With all the words people pour in to my ears, making judgements is too much work.

Bernie Harberts, billboard, miner
Cracker and the colorist

The words poured out.

Him: “I also designed the gold color for Michelob Gold. And the orange for Black and Decker. And the white on the Budweiser can. And I did Coke red – the old Coke.”
Me: “Wow”.
Him: “The last year I worked for the company I worked for, they made 350 million dollars off my paint.”
Me: “Wow”.
Him: “I live in my van with my dog at a campground. I have a lady friend back in Minnesota.”
We were standing in Tennessee.
The spread between his remarkable career and his battered van was wide.
He wore a purple shirt and that’s my favorite color and I just let his words soak in.

Posted Tuesday May 7, 2019 by Bernie
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I Hope Their Legs Keep Working
May 6, 2019

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, Gray, Kentucky
Russ and Shannon

The mules were tied to the chain link fence on the side of the highway. They were eating away their hour-long lunch break.
I heard the putt putt of a 4-wheeler.
Many people I’ve met on this trip that ride 4-wheelers are out of shape. Big. Many look like they can’t use their legs any more. Not all. But many.
I turned. Expected what to see.
These 2 looked like their legs still worked.
“You’re in Gray,” they said.
Then they rode off.
I hope their legs keep working.

Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, Gray, Kentucky
Lunch break on the fence. Most days, I ride 3 hours in the morning then unsaddle Brick and Cracker for one hour. Let them graze. Then saddle them back up and ride another 3 hours. They need to eat as much grass on the hoof because grain is too heavy to carry and they’re working hard.
Posted Monday May 6, 2019 by Bernie
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Whose Lights are the Miners Keeping On?
May 5, 2019

Bernie Harberts, billboard, miner
Whose lights do miners keep on – the home owner’s or the funeral home’s? (Pineville, KY)

The mules and I are riding deep in to Kentucky coal mining territory. The billboards advertise line boring, hydraulic hoses and prep plants. Retired coal miners and their families talk to me of black lung, cancer and OCPD – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

When I saw this billboard, I had to wonder. Whose lights are the miners keeping on – America’s or the funeral home’s?

Posted Sunday May 5, 2019 by Bernie
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Keep Out Bang Bang
May 4, 2019

Bernie Harberts, general store
Keep Out: A Charles Manson-esque warning. These chilling words channel the famous “Death to Pigs” vibe as written in blood by the Manson family. (Lily, KY)

Traveling the land with my mules, I must have faith that I’ll encounter man’s better nature. Then I see a sign threatening as a revolver to the belly and it reminds me of man’s darker side. Of how thin the veneer is in some places. This sign I came across outside Lily, Kentucky, makes me appreciate all the good folks who have supported me in my mule journeys. Folks like Diana and Denise.

Bernie Harberts, general store
The wider view in case you still want to enter un-invited.(Lily, KY)
Posted Saturday May 4, 2019 by Bernie
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