“Free Range!!!” In early April, just north of Flora, MS on a crazy bad stretch of two-lane strewn with roadkill a big pickup truck came roaring by, four young men pumping their fists out the windows and yelling “Free Range!!!” And guess what? I wasn’t even annoyed. A bit shocked at first, but honestly? Just for a minute there I felt like a total rock star. 😉 And that was nothing on how I felt yesterday when I received an e-mail from CuChullaine O’Reilly of the Long Riders’ Guild with the news that I’ve been chosen to carry the Long Rider Flag for the rest of my Journey to Minot, Maine. I was reading through tears and hugging myself and misdialed twice trying to ‘phone home to tell my folks, trying to get my voice under control so they wouldn’t be worried. The flag will be coming to me from New Zealand where it was carried by Pete Langford as he completed the first modern ride across the length of New Zealand’s two islands. http://www.freewitheveryhorse.com
I’ve always thought of proud and humble as opposites but right now I’m feeling an amazing and rather heady mix of both. If you haven’t checked out the Long Riders’ Guild website yet then it’ll be harder for you to understand how incredibly honored I am feeling right now. I am not a joiner and I never have been. I’ve never walked across a stage to accept an award or diploma in my life. While the rest of my class was graduating from high school I was riding my horse 100 miles in 4 days from home up to camp for my summer job. These sorts of things have just never mattered much to me and have actually seemed sort of embarrassing. Becoming a member of the Long Riders’ Guild last summer Mattered to Me. These are my heroes. I sometimes joke that it’s the club for people who have the same disease that I do, wanting to ride horses across continents – but it’s so much more than that and I wanted in! I jumped through hoops and answered questions and probably even begged a little. I caught my breath every time I checked my e-mail and the Long Rider message was the first one I opened. And they finally said yes.
But I have to admit, I’ve kind of been feeling like the brash American rookie – bumbling “across the civilized American continent” on a shoestring and a prayer, struggling to keep my herd together, making errors in judgment and not even having A Cause. I mean, over 100 of the LRG members are also members of the Royal Geographical Society. British Long Rider Christina Dodwell was recently awarded Spain’s highest international exploration award and Lithuanian Long Rider Vaidotas Digaitis is home from a ride around the Baltic Sea to the Arctic Circle and back (he didn’t carry a gun either). Historically, I’m in the company of such characters as Oscar Wilde, Isabella Bird, Frederick Law Olmstead and England’s Queen Elizabeth the first. Are you starting to see the sorts of hoofprints I’m following? – it’s not just Mesannie Wilkins! Doug Preston and Walter Nelson followed Coronado’s trail, Bonnie Folkins crossed Kazakhstan with men who hunt wolves with eagles (and she took amazing photographs!) And you know what? This crew isn’t elitist! I’ve been welcomed in with open arms, given advice when I’ve asked for it, encouragement when I’ve needed it and treated as a peer – with my $1 pinto pony and my funny little fjord. And I am so incredibly proud to be granted the right to carry the Long Rider Flag – and fiercely determined to live up to the standards of the Guild. (Like my dad drilled into us growing up: “with privilege comes responsibility” – words of wisdom for All of us.)
OK – enough with the flag waving – now it is time for me to get some sleep. Tomorrow we ride. Yesterday on the way into town to visit the Post Office and pick up a few supplies I noticed that the already flooded Olentangy River was much higher than it had been a few days ago. This seemed odd because it hadn’t been raining -> where was the water coming from? Turns out we’re just downstream from Delaware Lake and the water had been let out of the reservoir in anticipation of the coming rains. I had thought to be back on the trail this morning, but plans were slightly rearranged because the new Renegade hoof boots hadn’t arrived yet. Mid-morning today I found myself exceeding glad for that delay when the skies opened up amidst great crashings of thunder and flashings of lightning. Sometimes it’s a very nice thing to be safe and dry inside, knowing that the ponies have a shelter of their own in which they can take cover if they so choose.