Journey America

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For the past 803 days I have lived as a vagabond… a saddle tramp. Riding from ranch to ranch. Pitching my tent on top of mountains and in national parks. Carrying everything I own in my packsaddle. Bathing in cold rivers. Sharing meals with those who have nothing and those who have it all. I have felt the gut-wrenching fear of facing off against grizzly bears and drug cartels. I have slept on top of my saddle blankets hundreds of times – many nights thirsty and hungry. I have woken up drenched from heavy rains. Ridden through snow, sandstorms, and earthquakes… These past 803 days have been lived intensely. 

The boy who left Calgary 16,000 kilometers ago is not the Long Rider arriving in Espírito Santo do Pinhal today. After crossing ten countries with the help of my horses, I have finally come home, to my birthplace, a much stronger person.

Frenchie, Bruiser and Dude deserve to be known for the rest of time as heroes. Their feat was unimaginable. It seemed all but impossible to many people. Yet today these majestic animals show the world their power and resiliency. They have taken on some of the most difficult terrain in the Americas and succeeded. I am forever grateful to have met them and spent so much time by their side. We started out as four strangers with very different experiences, but today we are brothers.

As I rode into my hometown with more than 500 riders, I saw a large crowd of people waiting for our arrival. In the mob I saw faces I had not seen in many years. Childhood friends, family and loved ones clapped as we rode the final 200 meters. The mayor and several important politicians showered me with compliments and gifts. I’m not sure if I deserved it all, but I accepted it and thanked them.

Having arrived on the 13th of the month, the day of Nossa Sinhora da Rosa Mistica, a saint very close to my family’s heart, I carried her image to the church on Bruiser. As we made our way through the 40,000-person town, people waved and clapped from the sidewalks. My eyes filled with tears as I rediscovered my town after several years.

As I arrived at the church hundreds of people took photos and clapped for us. I stepped off Bruiser and carried the saint’s image to the front of the packed church. People sang and reached out to touch the image as I walked down the isle towards the altar. When I arrived the priest thanked me. And then it was time to continue on.

I jumped on Bruiser and told him we now had the final thirteen kilometers of the journey to go before he arrived at his ‘forever home.’ He quietly kept trekking like many times before. As we made our way out of town towards my family’s farm, I said goodbye to all of the riders who had accompanied me. A party was awaiting us in town so we made plans to meet there a few hours later.

As I rode through the coffee farms and rolling hills that line the road to my home, a sense of peace took over my body. I had envisioned this moment so many times in the course of my trip. During moments where the road seemed like it was about to swallow us whole, this would be my happy place. These green mountains would take over my thoughts and calm me down. When Frenchie was hit by a truck, when I saw a homicide attempt in Honduras, and when the Central American heat nearly made me faint, my mind was here.

To get to my farm, one has to climb a giant mountain that never seems to end. The road is full of loose rocks and is very steep, making it a hard climb for the most rugged of cars… but not for my ponies. They made their way up with so much grace and power it was unbelievable. It was almost as if they could understand me when I told them their home was at the top of the mountain.

I had to hold the three of them back as they tried to run to the top. As we got to the point where we could finally see the house and my family waiting, I let bruiser go and we galloped the final fifty meters to their brand new stalls. 

“Welcome home boys,” my dad said as I stepped down for the last time.

A month before our arrival my parents had three stalls built for these heroes. Made out of solid wood, they each have a beautiful plaque with their names engraved. It was a surprise to me, so when I saw it I got really emotional.

After more than two years going from ranch to ranch, sleeping tied to trees and in old corrals, my horses now have the most beautiful home they could ever ask for. I untacked the boys and put them in their stalls to eat some feed. After they finished I walked them to their brand new green pasture and said thank you to each horse.

“Frenchie, I know we didn’t get off to the best start but I want to thank you for teaching me so much these past two years. You are a tank and I will never forget what you have done for me. I love you so much!”

“My little Dude… I have never met such a rustic and strong horse as you and if you hadn’t joined our team in Texas I don’t think we would have made it. Thank you for being the best Mustang ever, I love you.”

“Bruiser, the most beautiful Quarter Horse who ever lived, thank you for being so sound and willing to please from day one. You helped Frenchie calm down and see that I was here to love him and not hurt you both. You were the heart of this team and I can’t thank you enough for that. I left on your back and I arrived the same way. I love you more than you will ever know. Thank you.”

After giving each a pat on the neck I released my kids into the pasture they shall grow old in – eating green grass and drinking fresh water. Not a worry in their minds. But I still had one more thing to do before I let them be.

When I was in Colorado Peter Lisker entrusted me with his sister Naomi’s ashes. A horse lover and adventurer, Naomi had passed away a few months earlier and Peter asked if I could take some of her ashes with me on one last ride. Of course I said yes. At the time I didn’t really know what to think of it, but today, after having brushed shoulders with doom so many times, I understand that it was destiny. Naomi had to come with us to protect me and my ponies along our Long Ride. And that she did.

As the ponies grazed quietly next to me I poured Naomi’s ashes in my hand, thanked her from the bottom of my heart for her protection, and told her to rest in peace. I then threw the ashes up and like a cloud of smoke the wind pushed it over the pasture until it finally disappeared.

Just like that, my life’s dream came to an end. After more than two years sleeping on saddle blankets and other people’s mattresses, I will finally sleep in my own bed tonight.

We did it. We are home.