Winding Down the Mules West Ramble

April 6, 2019, mules Brick and Cracker and I rode out our front gate and headed west from North Carolina. This week, 181 days and 10 states later, we arrived in Idaho. Crossing Wolverine Gap, east of Blackfoot, we ran in to snow for the second time in 3 days. The Rocky Mountain winter is coming. It is time to wrap up the Mules West ramble.

Snow slog (Wolverine, Idaho)
The Mules West ramble route to date – Lenoir, NC to Blackfoot, ID (Google maps)
Cracker to Brick:” It’s warmer in Wyoming then here in Idaho.”
Brick to Cracker: “It’s warmer in North Carolina than here in Idaho.”
(Wolverine, Idaho)

The snow that hit us wasn’t the dashing-through-the-snow Currier and Ives stuff. No, it was the mashed potato type worthless for snow cream but great for soaking you to the spare socks. Enough to freeze you but not enough to ski on.

There’s a saddle in there somewhere. just like…
…there’s a mule in there somewhere. Here, Brick patiently putting up with more snow than her North Carolina upbringing has exposed her to.

The Rocky Mountain winter is bearing down on us and I’m standing in the way. It’s time to go home. Once I reach Hailey, Idaho, I’ll call it mission accomplished and turn my thoughts and mules home to Carolina.

What a terrific ramble it’s been.

The Rambling Spirit

The lovely thing about this ramble was it was unburdened by a destination, cause or schedule. It was a ramble, not an “Expedition to the Pacific” or a “Journey Across America”.

This was intentional by design.

We live in the Era of the Definable. It’s the age of ABC lists, Higher Priorities, Big Rocks and Little Rocks and Franklin Covey time management seminars. They’ve worked for me. If it weren’t for those time management skills, I wouldn’t have been able to put my life in order enough to run away from it with mules Brick and Cracker.

Even a mule rambler has to have a plan for the life he rides away from.

The mail needs to be collected. Bills need to be paid. Oh, and who’s going to cut the grass and look after the place while I’m gone? For that, I thank my wife Julia, brother Christian and friends Ken, Abby, W.R., Pete, Andrew and Rusty. Oh, and Sam, James, Ronnie and Charles.

Without all those folks holding my back while I’m away, I couldn’t have set off on my present ramble.

But back to not having an agenda.

The Plan is no Plan

Rambling west with my mules – without a rigid goal of where I was going and how I was getting there – was liberating. Freed of an agenda, I could take time to chronicle the random things that caught my eye: the Road Kill Tiger Tails of Tennessee or the Dead Animals of Kentucky.

Bernie Harberts, tiger tail, butterfly, tiger tail butterfly
Road Kill Tiger Tails of Tennessee
Bernie Harberts, mule, trail ride, road kill, dead animals of kentucky
Dead Animals of Kentucky

I had time a’plenty. If I wanted, I could fist pump the air to get trains to blow their whistles at me. Or I could talk with Patty down at the Post Office to learn what happened to the animals when the Missouri River floods.

This is backwards to how most trips are planned. Usually we set off on a trip with an idea of what we want an experience to look like. We have a Plan. A Blue Print for the Experience. We know what the Final Product will look like. We define the start, the finish and the steps it’ll take to get there.

Then we just connect the dots to get there.

Not so for the Mules West ramble. It was the other way around. I let the trip develop as it would. Only by looking back at my trip could I see how the experiences had piled up to give the experience its shape, texture and flavor.

Hell, I was even vague on where I was heading.

Toward vs To

When people ask me where I’m headed with the mules, I say, “toward Hailey, Idaho.” I say “toward” instead of “to” because it lets me get up the road by whatever route I chose.

More important, that word “toward” would let me end the trip at any time. For any reason. I never said I was going “to” somewhere. This might seem like a semantic trick but on this ramble, I wanted the freedom to load up and go home whenever I chose.

Why Hailey? Hailey is home to my brother-in-law Nick Parker and his wife Carolyn. I was so honored that they traveled all the way from Hailey to Oriental, North Carolina to attend Julia’s and my wedding that I decided I would visit them in return – by mule.

Nick leading Julia to the alter town dock where we were married. (Oriental, NC)
Of course I whisked the bride away in a mule cart!

But why end in Hailey? Sure, I would have loved to have ridden the final miles to the Pacific Ocean. I mean hell, on my map, it’s only a few more inches from Hailey. In a car, I could be there in a day.

But that wouldn’t be a mule ramble any more.

And I’ve done the math, both geographic and thermal. To travel the 600-odd miles from Hailey to Seattle by mule would take at least another 2 months. And that’s not accounting for winter weather headed our way. Those next 600 miles across Rocky Mountain passes could become a blizzard-laced ordeal that could easily stretch in to 2020. Then once I reached my destination, I’d still need to get the mules home.

Every one of my posts would start, “It was so cold last night Brick and Cracker crawled in to my tent, doused stove gas on us and stuck a match to stay warm.” Okay. One of my posts would start that way. The next would be about thawing out in the emergency room with my mules.

That’s not my idea of a ramble. That’s my idea of conquering the useless taken to the extreme. If there was a reason to subject myself and the mules to such hardship, fine.

But there isn’t.

Reasons to go Home

There are wonderful reasons to wind up the ramble and head home to western North Carolina. Julia, my wife, is chief among them. So are our neighbors Pete, Sheree and Sam and Snookie the dog and the Pickle Raft that spins on the tiny pond behind the barn where the mules live.

Julia with her Haflinger Pickle

Home is the cabin where the mules mow the lawn and the dog snoozes in my lap as the pot of beans simmers on the wood stove.

Home: It’s December 2019 Mules Polly and Brick are picketed outside our cabin working on their picketing skills. A short time later…
…winter takes hold. The perfect time..;
…for Snookie and I to work on our napping skills. It’s a good thing…
…the beans on the wood stove don’t need supervision.

A wife, a dog and wood stove beans. That sounds like a better way to spend the winter than shivering alone in a tent as two mules plot how to gain entry.

But fear not. The ramble ain’t over yet.

What’s Next

From here in Blackfoot, Idaho, where I’m writing you, the mules and I head across the desert toward Atomic City and Arco, then dip south toward Craters of the Moon National Park. From there, we’ll pass through Picabo, Bellevue and head toward our final destination, Hailey, Idaho.

Yes, I’ll keep posting along the way.

Post Script: Seeking Ride East for Man and Mules

This warrants a separate post but I’m going to mention it to you anyway.

Do you know anyone that could trailer my mules Brick and Cracker from Idaho back to North Carolina? They’ve walked 2,000 miles to get here and don’t want to walk back.

Cracker and Brick spent 6 months walking from North Carolina to Idaho.

Right now (October 11) the mules and I are in Blackfoot, Idaho. We plan to be in Hailey, Idaho around October 25, I’d be looking for a trailer ride home to North Carolina from Hailey.

Details:

  • Where to Where: Hailey, Idaho (east of Boise) to Lenoir, North Carolina (1 1/2 hour from Asheville)
  • When: leaving Idaho for North Carolina between late October or early November 2019

Even part of the way would be a good start (ex: Idaho to Kentucky). I could make the trip in stages.

I’d be glad to pitch in for gas/expense/junk food, etc and do a share of the driving. In the parlance of the personal ads, I’m a MWGNSLDTDCOTTM (Married White Guy Non-Smoker Light Drinker That Doesn’t Cuss or Talk Too Much). Brick and Cracker are easy going shippers. They handle, load and ride with minimum fuss.

Soooo…got any ideas? Know anybody heading from Idaho toward North Carolina way with 2 open spots in their trailer? Got a friend heading East with an empty horse trailer to pick up a load of horses to bring West?

If so, just leave me a comment in the Comment Section (below) or drop me an email. Even if you don’t have a ride for us, you can still help by spreading the word to your friends.

Please be patient hearing back from me, though. The mules and I will be away from wifi the next few days but will get back up with you when we have internet again.

Thanks!

2 Responses to Winding Down the Mules West Ramble

  • Back flip…shaking my pom poms wildly, “Sis boom ba!.My Baby’s coming back to me!!! Ya hoo!!!!” Somebody please help him catch a ride for all of them. Imagine the happy Christmas that awaits us. Best gift in the world is togetherness.

    Might I also say how proud of the mules and man I am. I have so much respect for them all an amazing feat to ride Brick across a single town let alone many towns and many scary things. In the beginning of Cracker’s life with us he was scared of passing a rock near our house. It took Bernie hours of work to make him do it. Now look where he is. Crazy good to be that courageous. And as for the mules what good, compliant, hardworking companions. They shall now get a little spoiling this winter from me. Good Speed B. Can’t wait to have you back!

    • Togetherness. Yes, truly the best gift there ie, Your pom poms are shaking and my tail is wagging. Such a wonderful reunion to look forward to. Still a fair stretch of desert separating me from my final destination but what a smile on my face as I travel! Love. Bernie

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