Pack Saddle Temptation

Mule Polly never was intended to be a pack mule. The mule that I drove from Canada to Mexico and across Newfoundland has made it clear she doesn’t count carrying a pack saddle among her duties. Last time she was doing the beast of burden thing, she ran away, crashed her packs into some trees and high-tailed it to camp. Ronald Hudson, Polly’s last owner, has me warned she was ticklish about the subject.

This weekend I could take it no more. I had to run away.

Originally, the plan had been to take her on a week-long wagon spin of the Uwharrie Forest. Like I’ve done many a time. But the last few weeks, I’ve been dealing with lots of tangled life matters. Not juicy stuff. Just garden variety stuff we all deal with – truck repairs, taking care of a parent, paying taxes, driving long distance. Booooooring… Yeah. the stuff all of us deal with. The same stuff every guy in traffic next to me is going through. I’m not special in that department.

And like that guy one car door over from me I got to thinking, “wouldn’t it be great to just run away?” I mean, not even in a wagon. Just with a mule and a bit of gear? Strip away life’s complications and set off with a little bit of nothing. Hmmmm….

Polly (L) in disguise as a pack mule. I’m sitting on Buddy. He could be Polly’s stunt double.

Friend and fellow mule traveler Ronald Hudson. Film crews walk by me all the time to talk to him because he’s so salty looking. Or maybe they think it’s Gerry Garcia. Ronald has owned Polly three times. Maybe four. It’s hard to tell. What’s clear are the great crash stories he has to tell. Like the time Polly and two other mules ran off with a wagon. Made a perfect loop of a fallow cotton field. Only to crash in to a phone pole. Yes, Ronald and I sat down and made some recordings of his rendition. Stay tuned for future audio.

This weekend it came to a head. I was visiting Ronald. In a fit of curiosity, we strapped a pack saddle on Polly’s back. Loaded her down with 100 pounds of salt blocks and…nothing. So I saddled her pasture mate Buddy. Lead the two long-ears around Ronald’s farm. And…nothing. Much.

Okay, so Buddy’s twitchy from not being ridden for over a year. And Polly trails behind with that “what the hell is this?” look on her face. But they worked out just fine.

Which makes me want to take off with them for a few days. Replace the salt blocks with a clean shirt, my string hammock and the old Primus gasoline cooker. Then point those long ears up the driveway. Turn left when I hit the asphalt. Hell, turn right. Who cares. Just go straight ‘til I come to a turn then make that decision when I get there. See what comes up.

I’ll let you know if I caved in to wanderlust. And how about you? What are your break-free notions? Damn it’s hard to resist once that worm burrows in to your brain, isn’t it?

Photos by Ronald Hudson

A few photos from our slap dash setup:

Scene of the preparations. While all this salt block loading and rigging was going on, Ronald was straightening the wheels on his one-horse field wagon. This is the same wagon Polly and I used on an earlier voyage through the nearby Uwharrie Forest.

Polly’s improvised pack rig. The saddle was just sitting in Ronald’s barn. The green bags are Army duffle sacks. The square contents are 50-lb salt blocks, one on each side.

The minimum picket. Nights on the road – or most any time she’s not working – I keep Polly picketed out. This can consist of a fancy leather hobble, swivel and chain. Or, with a road seasoned mule like Polly, just a length of heavy cotton rope. The bowline knot is best as it doesn’t tighten up on the pastern.

Wow, it wouldn’t take much to head this outfit up the drive and out on the open road…

Barbara Ellis
2013-08-07 11:26:23

Looks like you are having a good time. You need to take some time for yourself and take a little trip. All is well here on the home front so if the worm gets you….go for it and have fun!!!!! Barbara

Philip Kercher
2013-08-07 12:59:04

Thoroughly enjoyed your book “To Proud To Ride A Cow” and now I find myself enjoying your web site.
Keep it up and many thanks for the entertainment.
Very best,

Larry Riddle
2013-08-10 08:24:55

Bernie, not sure if you might remember me or not. I helped The Wagon teamster out some years back. I just read about the story of the people with the sail boat. I know some one that can help them, if they still need it. If you would contact me by phone at 828 635 5510. And no that is not a cell phone, but it does have caller I D on it. Can’t get a phone nowadays without. Heck,I still miss the crank on my phone, even though my wife tells me that when I call her, she has a crank on her phone. Do you think that is a dig? Anyway it sounds like you have gotten a case of itchy feet again. I say ‘Go For It’.

Take Care. ljr

2013-08-10 14:00:46

Howdy all. Great hearing from you Barbara, Philip and Larry. All’s well here on the road. Polly, Buddy and I ended up “running away” in to the Uwharrie Forest. Currently I’m in Eldorado catching up with friends at the Outpost. May put in some time looking for Sasquatch. Larry, thanks for the phone number. I’ll give you a call if I catch him. Barbara, tell dad I’ll soon be enjoying some Black Label with him. ‘til I get there, keep enjoying those summer fireplace fires (if the AC bill doesn’t upset you too much). Cheers amigos. Bernie


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