One woman. One horse. One goal: 48 states for Domestic Violence Awareness

Check back often for the latest updates and stories from Meredith and Apollo as they journey 10,000 miles on a four year ride around the USA.

Gotta Go, Idaho!

We have spent more riding days in Idaho than any other state so far, and what a time we had!

We entered the state in Fruitland, rode to Nevada and Montana, and finally finished the state near Alpine Wyoming, a total of approximately 900 miles within the state borders.

Most of the time spent in Idaho was along the Snake River valley.  I have lost track of the number of times we've crossed this river.  Always scenic, but changing in character as it crosses the state, it is sometimes a friendly backyard boating spot, and other times at the bottom of a deep canyon.

And sometimes a roaring waterfall, such as here in Idaho Falls (a perfect setting for an Apollo photobomb!)

The route also followed the Oregon Trail for many weeks.  This is a picture of a former stagecoach stop that was built on the Oregon trail.

It's been a very hot month, and I tried to schedule each day's ride to start at dawn and end by lunch.  I really enjoyed watching the beautiful sunrises from horseback.

Idaho has quite a variety of landscapes.  From the sagebrush of the high desert...

... to interesting geology and mountains, such as Balanced Rock park...

... to farmland as far as the eye can see...

... including potatoes, of course!

The Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot is at the potato capital of the world

I enjoyed eating Idaho potatoes at every opportunity.  And the Idahoan potato necessity - fry sauce!

Potatoes can be found in many unique forms here.  Even in donuts! Spudnuts, as they are called due to the use of potato flour in the batter, are wonderfully delicious.

Another food favorite in eastern Idaho is snow cones. I've never seen so many snow cone shops as I have in this part of the state! They're as numerous here as coffee spots are in Washington.

Idaho has had the best roads for riding on.  And it also has the most confusing street naming systems.

We spent Fourth of July in Jerome, near Twin Falls.  I couldn't resist dressing Apollo up for the holiday!

We made it to Idaho Falls in time for a big air show, featuring the famous Blue Angels.  I was so excited to be able to see them perform!

We stopped to talk to several domestic violence groups across the state, including the DVSAC of Idaho Falls, whose staff and volunteers gave us a particularly warm welcome.

Apollo and I gave our own welcome to our new travel companion Hermes, who met us in Buckley and joined us a few days later in Pocatello. 

Hermes the Centauride Saddle Cat

Apollo and I are excited to introduce our new travel companion, Hermes!

Hermes was named with the help of our Facebook fans, who were given a choice between that and Mercury (the Roman name for the same god).  Hermes is the name of the Greek god of (among other things) travelers, who was also the younger brother of the god Apollo.  As an infant, Hermes was mischievous and played a prank on his older brother. 

Hermes joined us in July after he adopted me in Burley, Idaho.  He was a tiny orphan stray, barely of weaning age.  I wasn't sure I could safely include a cat in the Centauride entourage, but after a week of shopping and testing, I had arranged a stable and comfortable method of carrying him. He enjoys watching the world go by and also napping as he sways along. 

In time, I think he will also learn to sit atop the packs or on my shoulder while I ride. For now, he's practicing by riding on my shoulder or arm while I walk with Apollo.

He has already gotten used to the routine of travel.  Nap while Apollo walks, then when the swaying stops it's time to get out and play! When Apollo grazes along the road, Hermes gets food and water breaks, and then spends the rest of the time chasing Apollo's lead rope or playing in the grass.

Then when it's time to unsaddle Apollo, it's also time for him to come out and meet his new friends for the day! In some places we stay, his new friends are kids who are thrilled to play with him for hours, and in other places, he tumbles with other kittens until they all need a nap.

 And though he doesn't know it, Hermes is the first cat in recorded history to go on a long ride!

A Quick Hello to Montana

Apollo and I recently greeted state number six - Montana! 

It's kind of funny that for the fourth biggest state in the country we rode in it the least possible amount.  We entered and exited the state at Targhee Pass, near the town of West Yellowstone.

The mountains in northeastern Idaho and southern Montana are gorgeous, and it was so much fun to ride in forests and meadows full of wildflowers after a month of riding through the flat farmland and high desert of the Snake river valley. And it was a wonderful change to be able to ride along trails instead of on the roadside!

Here's my favorite pictures from Montana and the surrounding area.


Short Rider, Tall Horse

When I was horse shopping three years ago, I knew I wanted a big horse that would be capable of carrying both myself and my packs.  At 130 lbs, plus 70 lbs of gear and 25 lb of saddle and accessories, I needed a horse that was at least 1150 lbs to be able to comfortably support that weight day after day.

The moment I saw Apollo, I knew he would be able to handle the weight.  He towered over my 5'2" self.  He stands 15h3, which for you non-horsey people is 5'3" at the highest part of his shoulder.  When I have my boots on, my head just reaches the top of his shoulder, and if I stand on my toes I can see over his back.

I've never really given a second thought to riding tall horses, because most horses are tall compared to me.  It hurts just as much to fall off a 14h2 horse, especially when landing on pavement.  But Apollo is a little taller than the average saddle horse.  And I'd always ridden in an arena, or on trails with plenty of rocks and logs for mounting blocks.  Plus, I'd never had to load a tall horse with heavy packs (when I took Packing And Outfitting in college, there were bigger people to do that for me).

On the Centauride, there are rarely mounting blocks, rocks, logs, benches, picnic tables, retaining walls and good sized ditches when I want them.  In Star, Idaho I found this whole lot-full of great mounting rocks!

On the road, I have to mount up from the ground more often than not.  And I have to lift my saddle and my two 30 lb packs over my head every morning and night.

By the time I realized my error, I was months away from departure.  Since he's otherwise a great horse, I figured I would just make due.  And I have...

But with some funny results.  If I am photographed leading him on the other side from the cameraperson, it looks like he's taking himself for a walk.

Every few weeks, I get stopped by some concerned neighbor who saw my horse walk past without a rider.  They hear the bells, look out the window, and (since I walk on the traffic-side of the road) only see Apollo.  Then they jump in the car and drive out to catch the horse, with a resulting conversation like this:

Driver "OH!..... Is this your horse?"

Me "Yes"

Driver "Oh... um... I called the sheriff.  Guess I better call him back."

I'm glad that such people are concerned about Apollo, but it makes me chuckle every time. 

And That Was Nevada...

Apollo and I crossed into the 5th state of our ride on July 3, for a quick visit to Nevada. 

We rode from the border of Idaho into the town of Jackpot, and then turned around and headed back to Idaho to continue along our way.

The border town of Jackpot has several casinos, a market, and not much else.  As much as I like to enjoy the local attractions as I ride through, I didn't play a single slot machine while I was there...

Although I did ride through a few casino parking lots on my one-mile tour of the state!


Lessons from Bicycles

When I was planning this ride, one thing I heard from several long riders was "stay out of the cities."  Indeed, whether it's in a city or on a rural highway or a small side road, the biggest danger Apollo and I face every day is from vehicles.  Cities are only worse because there are more cars.  But in some ways, cities are better because in most cities there is a bicycle culture.

Why does this matter? As much as city drivers and cyclists tend to loathe each other, the drivers are at least used to watching out for cyclists.  Also, cities usually have bike lanes and bike paths to provide a safe and direct thoroughfare in highly trafficked areas.  When choosing a safe route for horse travel, I like the same sort of places as cyclists do - out of traffic, flat, and as short a distance as possible. 

There are many things that can be learned and adapted from bicycle safety when it comes to preparing a horse for road travel.  For both, visibility is perhaps the most important aspect.  If a car doesn't see you, you're toast.  And while you might think that a half-ton, 6-plus foot tall animal on the road would be hard to miss, you'd be surprised how many people either don't notice or ignore us as they drive by in their isolated metal bubbles.

Visible Clothing
As many cyclists do (or road construction guys), I wear bright yellow with reflective tape.  Apollo also has reflective tape and bright colors on the back of his packs.  Though I try not to ride in the dark, on overcast or rainy days the reflective tape does its work well.
I have heard horror stories of people who ride their horses at night while wearing black.  Bad idea.
On the same note, it also helps to have a light colored horse.  Apollo is about as close to Safety Yellow as they come! 

Another key to visibility is bicycle tail lights.  Like bicycles, horses are supposed to ride "with traffic" (on the right side of the road), as they are considered a vehicle too.  Red lights on the back of his packs (no, not on his tail) help alert drivers that we're there.  Flashing lights are best, because they're more visible and because they work like hazard lights in a car, signaling drivers to my "vehicle" being a slow moving obstacle on the road.

Some cyclists put bells on their bikes, so they can alert pedestrians and others as they approach.  Apollo wears bells on his front legs for the same reason.  Though he clip-clops loudly, the bells are more noticeable.  They also alert wildlife to our approach so they can move away without being startled.

I wear a bicycle helmet rearview mirror on my helmet.  Just as for cyclists, it allows me to see cars coming up from behind, without having to turn around in the saddle every time I hear one.  This way, I can watch our backs and judge if the car is going to "pass wide" as my vest sign requests, and if the vehicle is one that may scare Apollo I can tell in advance so I can be ready.  Though I still look back over my shoulder before "merging" (for shoulder-less areas and bridges), it saves me a back ache for normal road conditions.

The first rule of bicycle safety is always wear your helmet.  Same for horses.  And especially on the road.  While I don't feel comfortable riding without a helmet, ever, I would never ride on a road without one.  There are too many things that can go wrong and result in your head hitting the ground. And road pavement-ground is way more hard than arena sand-ground!  

Just A Couple of Vegetarians

Apollo and I share at least one thing in common: we're both vegetarian. 

Don't worry, I'm not about to try to convert you or soliloquize on gross things like kale and radishes... it's safe to keep reading!

I've been vegetarian for over a decade, and it's so normal to me that I often forget to mention it when I'm invited to join my hosts for dinner.  Often this results in a mild panic attack for my host (apologies to everyone this applies to).  Sometimes it results in questions, some of them worth discussing here, others just funny ("what will you do when you get to Texas?!").  And it has caused many a host to scratch their head and say "well, I can make a salad."

So just to clear up a few questions and misconceptions about vegetarians and the challenges of not eating meat while long riding, here's how it works for me.

Yes, I eat salad.

No, I don't ONLY eat salad. I eat basically the same things everyone else eats, but with the meat left out.  I eat pasta, pizza, bread, dairy, eggs, fruit, nuts (including donuts), and occasionally tofu. 

No, tofu is not that bad, nor is it my favorite thing (my favorite thing is donuts - but not the bacon-maple kind).

No, I don't like kale.  Or radish. If you serve this to me, I'll eat it to be polite.  Because unfortunately for me, I can't hide it in a napkin to give to Apollo because he doesn't like them either (I've tried).

Yes, you can eat meat in front of me. I will not puke on you. I will not be offended.  I will not tell you why it's great to be vegetarian (unless you ask).

Yes, I can eat what you planned for dinner... usually.  Unless it's a meaty one pot meal, there's probably more than one dish on the table, at chances are the side dishes are vegetarian.  If you're having steak, I'm totally okay with a meal of baked potato, salad and beer - or whatever it is you're having with the steak.  And if necessary, I can always cook up some of the oatmeal I carry for emergencies.  Also, dessert is nearly always vegetarian (just saying).

Yes, I get enough protein.  Even with my high protein needs from all this exercise.  Most of my diet (when I'm not being invited to share a meal) is protein bars of various kinds.  Also donuts have a few grams of protein.


Reading for the road in the Pacific Northwest

I am a total bookworm.  Though my packs have to be as light as possible, I cannot possibly travel without a book.  That is just one of my necessities.  When I finish the one book I'm carrying, it becomes a Big Deal for me to find a replacement.  I went three near-panicked days in January without a book. While I will occasionally read e-books on my phone, its' not as nice as a paper copy (and hard on my battery - there's no phone charger on my saddle!)

As I ride through each state, I try to find books that are about that state, or fictional works that are set in that state.  Here's what I read for Washington and Oregon:

The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck
     Perhaps my favorite of the list, and the most applicable to my own travels.  A few years ago, Rinker and his brother Nick hitched three mules to an authentic restored covered wagon and retraced the historic Oregon trail.  Unlike other modern trail reenactments, they did it without a support crew or caravan of trucks, for an authentic, harrowing and entertaining journey from Missouri to Oregon.  The book is full of equine wisdom, trail history, and good fun.

The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant
   When I first started reading this, I thought I might not bother with it.  Too boring, I thought (and this from someone who likes nonfiction and classics above most "bestsellers").  But I stuck it out for a few chapters, and am I glad I did.  This is a fascinating book, and so chock full of information about the Pacific Northwest that I almost feel like an expert just for having read it.  Though the book is "about" the ill-fated Golden Spruce off the Canadian coast, it is even more about the history of the PNW, from precolonial times to the modern state of the logging industry and its impacts on the land and its people.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
   Another non-fiction work, about the crew of young men from University of Washington who fought the odds to win the Olympic gold medal for 8-man rowing in 1936 Berlin.  A very thorough account of not just their lives, but also the social and political events that shaped them and the world as they knew it, as well as delving into the history of pre-war Nazi Germany.  Even if you don't care about rowing (I certainly didn't), you'll go away with a deep appreciation and understanding of this sport.

The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer
    Feeling like I was one of the few people left in the world who hadn't read or seen Twilight, I figured that it was high time to see what all the fuss was about.  It is set in coastal Washington, on the Olympic peninsula.  I can't say I like these books, though I read the whole saga of four.  They were entertaining enough, but the plot twists were all obvious and the relationship drama obnoxious.  It actually made me sad while reading this that so many people find the relationships in here romantic; the "romance" is so deeply flawed that at times it borders on abusive, and in real life such relationships (looking past the vampire aspect) are unlikely to have the books' happy ending.

The 50 Shades of Gray trilogy by E.L. James
    50 Shades was written as a fan fiction for Twilight, removing the vampire-and-werewolf element and adding a BDSM twist.  Also set in Washington, but this time in Vancouver and then Seattle.  Although I read the whole trilogy, it was because I kept hoping against hope that it would get better.  It didn't.  The best I can say is that it was interesting, from a writer's viewpoint, to see how James incorporated story arcs, plot devices and character development from Twilight into her otherwise completely different book. 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
    One of the most famous fictional stories to be set in Oregon, this was one modern classic which I somehow missed out on reading in school.  At the end of the first chapter, I was pretty sure I wouldn't bother finishing it.  But the more I read, the more I liked it.  Some of the dream and delirium sequences are tedious, but otherwise a very thought provoking read.