One woman. One horse. 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.






Where’s Hermes?


As many of you have noticed, Hermes’ carrier is no longer hanging on the side of Apollo’s saddle.

But first, for those of you who are new to following my journey....  who the heck is Hermes?


Almost exactly a year ago now, I was camped in the backyard of a nice family in Burley, Idaho.  They had recently found a tiny orphaned kitten, and were looking for a new home for him.  He was living under their back deck in the meanwhile, and when he saw me he instantly adopted me.  I was “mom,” and every time I appeared out of the house or the tent, he would try to suckle my bare toes or insist on napping on my lap.  How could I not take him when I left?

So I devised a system to carry and care for a kitten while traveling by horse.  He rode in a soft carrier that hung on the saddle, and would let me know when he needed a break to drink or potty.  When we stopped for the day, he would come out of his carrier for dinner, playtime, second dinner, and then bedtime.


He even got to travel as my carry-on item on the plane ride home in the fall.  He was so used to riding in his carrier that he napped or watched me quietly the whole way, and the lady in front of me whose seat he was under didn’t even realize he was there until we all started getting up to deplane!

Over the winter he continued to grow, as kittens do.  By the time I was preparing to start this year’s ride, he had reached his first birthday and a grownup kitty size of 12 pounds.  Not only did he weigh too much to ask Apollo to continue to carry in addition to the standard gear (and of course me), he no longer fit in his carrier.


I thus made the hard decision to leave him with my family and their cat, Ben.  Hermes had settled into his new routine during the winter of eating, following Ben around, eating, napping, eating, chasing toy mice, eating, and napping.

He was a happy kitty, and had a huge yard to play in as well as all the food and toys he could want inside.  But sadly, one evening he did not come home.  Ben waited all night at the door for his new friend.  I contacted the microchip company where he’s registered, the neighbors, and the shelter, but it has been several weeks now without a sign of my adventure cat.

This is not the happy ending that I had been planning to write when I first started drafting this blog post earlier this year. Since so many of you have asked, I knew I’d need to answer the question “where’s Hermes?” But now I’m the one who is asking, too. 

A Fond Farewell to Nebraska


First, a confession.  During the winter when I was working on my plans for this year, I was not looking forward to riding through the midwest. Booooorrrrinng, I said.  I figured it would be one long flat trudge through cornfields. 


I am happy to admit that I was wrong.  The midwest is a great place.  There are more nice people here, the scenery is not actually boring (or flat - so far has been a lot of rolling hills), and while yes there is a lot of corn, it's very pretty corn.  And there is plenty more to see and experience than cornfields. 


Apollo and I entered the cornhusker state in Omaha, over the new pedestrian bridge.  The state is divided from Iowa by the Missouri River, which I already crossed once to get to Missouri from Kansas, and had to cross a third time to leave Nebraska into South Dakota. This is a seriously big river, crossed by really big bridges.  I felt very lucky to have the option of this motorized vehicle-free bridge to Omaha.


We were met on the Nebraska side of the bridge by several news crews, and this began what has been the most publicized section of the 'Ride so far.  Every big and small town that I rode through or near, if it was big enough to have a newspaper or TV news station then they sent out reporters.  News coverage is a great way to talk about domestic violence to a huge audience, so I was glad to give so many interviews. 


Another bit of good fortune for this state, I was actually able to be a tourist! It's not often that I get to see anything that would make it in a guidebook, because I don't do detours for sightseeing.  But when I was taking a break near Omaha, my lovely host and I spent a day at the Omaha Zoo.  It's ranked one of the top zoos in the world, and I had a fun time walking around and seeing all the critters.


The zoo wasn't the only place for exotic animals.  Near Fort Calhoun, Apollo and I went past a camel grazing in a pasture by the road! Apollo was not nearly as thrilled with this big girl as I was.


It was fair season as I rode through the state, and I was able to stop and spend a day at two of the local county fairs as I traveled through. I just love going to the fair, seeing all the creative and talented entries in arts and crafts, looking at the 4H farm animals, and watching the different competitions.  As is befitting to the cornhusker state, there are more categories for corn here than I've seen at any other region's fair!


Naturally, I have also been sampling the local cuisine, such that it is.  Many towns that I stopped in didn't have much in the way of dining options, but I did find an excellent donut in Blair, hot out of the oven cinnamon rolls in Tekamah, and a few good restaurants too.


My food commentary would not be complete without mentioning the best coffee shop in northeast Nebraska, the newly openned "Gotta Get Some Coffee" in Tekamah. Not only were the owners super nice (they stopped me the day before I got to town, invited me to stop by and even hand-wrote me a drink coupon on a piece of scrap paper!), but the coffee was really excellent.


Speaking of super nice people, this state is full of them.  It's been easier to find helpful hosts than at any time last year, and what great hosts they are! One of them even baked me chocolate chip cookies, setting a new standard for awesomeness in hospitality. I've had several people ride along with me for part of a day, too, which is unusual but lots of fun.

Here are a few parting photos of some pretty places we've been in our 17th state. 






The Myth of Simplicity


“Oh, how nice it must be to live the simple life!”

These are words that plague me along the road from passing strangers.  We modern Americans love stories of the simple past when our ancestors lived off the land, free of the burden of Facebook privacy issues, cell phone addiction, and microwaves with too many options.

But how simple was that life? Probably not very.  More to the point (of this blog post, anyway).  How simple is it to leave “modern life” behind and travel the old fashioned way, by horse and foot?

The leaving part was not hard.  As my departure approached leading up to January 1, 2017, I was counting the days until I could give up my desk job days and Netflix nights.

It’s what followed that is not as simple as it may look.

I would say that the biggest difference between my ‘Ride and the “simple past” style of horse travel is technology.  In many respects, being able to network for whatever assistance I may require (place to stay, the option to call for help if needed, looking for supplies without going in person to a store to inquire, etc) at any time on my cell phone and social media does actually make this easier than the old fashioned way of traveling by horse.

However, those who see me traveling by horse and call it simple tend to believe that I am “unplugged.” In fact, I am more connected both in the saddle and at the end of the day than I was back home.  I may no longer watch any shows or listen to music (unless my hosting helpers have turned something on), but I am on my phone and tablet so much more than before.  There are so many calls to make and answer, social media that needs updated, photos to be taken and shared, blog posts and newsletters to write, a website to maintain, Google Maps to consult... the list goes on.  I am not complaining, this sort of thing is usually enjoyable, but it is not by any means simple.

Nor is it simple to live life in the saddle.  Sure, I have a routine that makes it easier to some degree, as all routines do.  I don’t have to think too hard about when to set my alarm, nor do I need to ponder what I’m going to do with the hours in my day.  But the actual routine itself is not easy nor simple.  The simple act of saddling is complicated by the many bags I carry.  Every trip to the store is complicated by the extreme limitations of what I can carry in those bags (both so it fits, doesn’t weigh too much, and doesn’t melt or otherwise get damaged by heat/cold/bouncing/squashing). I don’t have to pay rent or mortgage, but I do have to sleep in a different place each night with its unique sounds, smells, comfort, temperature, etc, not to mention the huge challenges of finding somewhere safe (and hopefully comfortable) to sleep again the next night, and the night after that, and the night after that.

And let’s consider the very matter traveling by horse on modern roads.  Even when I find a quiet road or multi-use path, there are many challenges that riders of old never had to face, particularly semi-trucks, packs of cyclists, and other very fast and dangerous traffic.  It only takes one bad driver on the most perfect country lane to cause injury or even death to me or Apollo.  Not to sound over dramatic, because it’s not over dramatic.  It’s a fact of modern horse travel, and something I have to be aware of at every moment of every day that I’m traveling.

So if you see me traveling down your road, please think twice about how simple of a life I’m living.  I love what I’m doing, don’t get me wrong.  But traveling by horse in the 21st century is simply not simple!

Iowa, Our Sweet 16th


Iowa was definitely a sweet spot in our ‘Ride so far, so it is only fitting that it was our 16th state.  Not only was it pretty (but so have been most states so far), and had perfect summer weather (probably more a matter of luck than state quality), I had the easiest time by far in finding helpful locals along my route to help with places to stay, trailer support where needed, water for Apollo along the road, and so forth.

We entered the state near Clarinda, which was a very quiet, friendly town full of well-kept beautiful old buildings.  As I came to see, at least in the part of Iowa that I rode through, this is just how it’s done here.


Each small town had its own character and charm, but the constant between them was clearly a love of neighbors and home.  Perhaps my favorite small town was Malvern, where this tiny dot on the map supported several eateries and other businesses, featured an abundance of local art like this beautiful tree sculpture, and had a well-attended concert and market every week in the summer.


Malvern was also home to one of the best bakeries so far, Moreau’s Backerei and Pizzeria, where I stocked up on a few days worth of pastries for the road, including this unbelievably fabulous pecan roll.


Southwest Iowa is a very scenic place that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being a nice place to visit.  I rode through the Loess hills, where the soil is ideal for crops, and the rolling landscape is covered in picturesque farms, trees, and rivers.


It is also a great place to be a cyclist.  Their Wabash Trace, a flat, shady rails-to-trails multi-use path, runs 62 miles from Coucil Bluffs to the Missouri border.  Unfortunately, this is the only place where I found some unfriendly people - I had been warned that the cyclists on this path tend to be “possessive” and found this to be the case.  Although a few tried to make me feel unwelcome and as though I was breaking the rules by bringing a horse on the trail, most were as friendly as the rest of the Iowans I met. I hope that the folks who manage this great trail can get it together to clarify for its users whether (and where) each type of user can go, and disseminate this to those users to prevent future conflict and hurt feelings.


Nine days in Iowa was not nearly enough.  If the rest of the Midwest treats us so well, it will be smooth sailing for the rest of the year!


America at 3mph, or how I plan my route


One of the questions I’m asked nearly every day is how I plan my route.  In fact, this is the most complicated and (to an observer) confusing part of the whole ‘Ride.

If you’ve spent any time on this website, you’ve probably noticed the “Route and Schedule” page.   This is my most up-to-date map of my entire route.  This route was the best way I could think of to visit all 48 states in the least number of miles and (theoretically, at least) with the best weather - ie going north in summer and south in winter, for more rideable months each year.


However, this route can change - and has changed, sometimes drastically - as I go, depending on a multitude of factors such as weather, wildfires, better ideas, and where I can find helpful hosts. And the actual daily route depends almost entirely on this ability to find safe places to stay each night.

To oversimplify a bit, my route planning process goes something like this:

*Step 1* Which general direction am I headed on the overall route map?  “Towards X city” or “north” are typically how I look at it.  This step gives me a picture of where I’m going over the next one to three weeks, which is to say the next 60 to 200 miles.

*Step 2* In this direction, are there any problem areas I should avoid, or important places I should visit?  These might include finding a safe bridge over a major river, staying out of places I couldn’t find water for Apollo (such as avoiding the harshest or least populated of deserts last year), only crossing through a town or city if the mileage is rideable in one day (and otherwise planning to go around), detouring to towns where there is a domestic violence center that has invited us to visit, etc.

*Step 3* Now that I have a basic picture, I start asking people that I meet or posting on Facebook for help in finding places to stay.  If I ask enough people, I am able to find a stop every 10 to 15 miles (typically).  These stops are almost never in a direct line towards what I determined was my regional goal in Step 1.  However, they will be “close enough” that I can meander my way in that direction, and am not backtracking.  For example, if I’m going north, this may involve days where I go west or east instead, but certainly NOT south.

This results in a mapped route that looks and feels like a game of Connect The Dots, as the most important thing is to have a place to stay that is not too far from the previous night, and the second most important is to go in the “right” direction.

Often I cannot complete this planning step until the night before I actually ride it, because it is so difficult to network ahead.  But this step is crucial - I cannot actually decide which roads to take or sometimes even to which towns I’m riding until I know where I can stop at the end of the next day.

*Step 4* Once I have my following night’s stop arranged, I can actually plan what roads I will take.  When possible, I take the smaller roads and avoid the highways and major streets.  If no smaller roads are available, or if getting to them involves too many extra miles of detour, then I will take the busier roads.  I also take bike paths, rail-to-trail multi use trails, and other such non-trafficked options when I can get them (which is not often).  I use Google Maps to compute all of this (using the “walking” and “biking” options, never the standard “driving” option), and occassionally ask the help of locals to determine the better roads for riding.

*Step 5* The final bit of route “planning” is actually doing it.  As I ride (or walk) along, I am constantly reassessing the day’s route, and may decide to try a different road than the one I had planned on taking. Occassionally I find a shortcut, but more often I decide that the road I hoped would be quiet just isn’t and that detouring is a better option.

Seeing America at 3mph is wonderful, but the slow pace requires that I be very efficient and careful about selecting my route.  And the most important part of the plan is you!  I can’t fully plan my route until I know where I’m going, and that requires having a safe place to stop every 10 to 15 miles.... for all 10,000 miles that this ‘Ride will take us.  


We’ll miss you, Missouri!


Apollo and I spent almost two weeks riding through the northwest corner of Missouri, our 15th state.  It is a beautiful state, with rolling hills covered in farmland and thick clumps of trees.


We entered the state from Atchison KS, crossing the Missouri River on a big, busy bridge and with our first police escort.  The Missouri River is of course not as big as some rivers in the US, but it’s certainly way bigger than nearly anything I’ve crossed so far, with the exception perhaps of the Columbia.


The biggest city in this part of the state is Saint Joseph, or “Saint Joe” as the locals call it, apparently being on familiar terms with the guy.  In the mid to late 1800’s it was even bigger, and was the launching point for many who traveled the Oregon Trail (and other westward migration trails), one of top five stockyards in the country, a major shipping and industrial center, and the birthplace of Cherry Mash. I did my best to support the local industry by eating several of these candies while I was there.


Saint Joe is also the place where the Pony Express riders set out on their epic rides to Sacramento to deliver mail to the West.  As several people so helpfully pointed out, I did the route backwards (as well as twice as far, and 20 times as long).


These days, its beautiful old red brick buildings still cover the city, and I was fortunate to be able to stop at one of them which houses the YWCA to meet with both shelter staff and residents (including a flock of children who were ushered out to pet Apollo).


From Saint Joe, I rode north through more farmland and small towns.


Also, we saw lots of corn.


In Maryville, I stopped for the best food I had in the state: a shaved ice turtle sundae. This was shaved ice with pecan, chocolate and caramel syrups, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle.


Maryville, being the county seat, featured a gorgeous clock tower courthouse building in its town square.  This town also had many other lovely old buildings, but none held a candle to this one.


I had the great opportunity to be in Maryville at the same time that the Methodist church was dedicating their Sunday service to the issue of domestic violence.  Several members of the community helped to get me in touch with the pastor, who was quick to organize an addition to their program so that I could also speak to the congregation.


After a few more days of riding through farmland and tiny towns, I made my way out of Missouri on the northern border.  I should have liked to see more of the state, especially the Ozarks which I heard so much about from the locals.  I’ll just have to come back some day and explore some more!


How to be a hosting helper


As you might imagine, having been on the road for over a year now means that Apollo and I have met a lot of people.  And we could not have gotten as far as we have so far without the help of those of us who have hosted us for a night (or sometimes longer).

I depend on these hosting helpers for a safe place to sleep, and for Apollo to also rest, eat, and get ready for the next day.  Since Apollo and I only go about 10 to 15 miles most days, that’s a lot of stops needed around the country! So far, we’ve never been without a place to stay, and have only been in one campground - the rest of the nights have been at a private home, boarding stable, fairground, church, or equestrian center thanks to the help of whoever’s home or business it is.

It can be a challenge finding somewhere to stay, and the biggest help you can give us is to help me find one of these hosts (or be one yourself!).  Apollo and I don’t require much... but if you think you can help or know someone who might, here’s the lowdown on how it works:


* All I really need is a fence.  A full one - not just three sides of a square!  Wood, metal, chain link, wire, plastic, electric horse fence (but not the nearly-invisible single hot wire kind, please), picket, pallets.... whatever. Stalls are okay too, as are arenas and round pens.  Apollo is fine with them all, so long as he has room to turn around and lie down, but not wander off down the road.  I cannot tie him overnight (I don’t carry the extra gear, since I have to pack minimal stuff), so a fence is a must.

It is okay if he shares a paddock or pasture with other species (goats, sheep, cows, llamas, alpacas, chickens, pigs, etc).  However, to prevent injuries I prefer if he does not go in the same fenced area as other horses.  It IS okay if he shares a fence line with other horses though, and in fact he will rest better if he can socialize over a fence.  He’s also okay being the only horse around.


* Apollo and I really appreciate it if he can get a good square meal, or rather two (in the evening, and the next morning before I saddle up).  For his nutritional needs on this ride, that means pasture and/or hay (grass of any kind, alfalfa, or mixed, or cubes).  I don’t pack hay, it’s too heavy and bulky for the available pack space. If you have a fence but no lawn/pasture or hay, that’s okay! There are solutions I can work out with you, so please don’t think this means you can’t help host.

If you can help with grain too, that’s extra awesome (and if not, that’s ok - I do carry an emergency one-day supply of grain).  Any type is fine, Apollo isn’t very picky.

* I also do not carry a free-standing bucket for Apollo’s water or grain, so I will ask to borrow two suitable containers if where he is staying for the night doesn’t already have them.

*I like to have somewhere secure from pets, wildlife, and weather to store my saddle and gear when possible.

 

* For my own sleeping arrangements, I can either set up my tent in your yard, roll out my sleeping bag in your barn, or I am always happy to accept accommodations on a couch or in a guest room or trailer (it saves me a lot of packing time in the morning so I can get back on the road faster if I don’t have to deal with my tent!).  I also am okay with Apollo and I sleeping at different addresses if that’s how it works out best, so long as I can get back to feed and saddle him early enough the next morning.  If it’s extra hot, cold, or wet out, I am especially grateful for indoor accommodations!

*I will need access to a toilet.

* I don’t expect you to feed me, but love if you do.  However, you should know in advance that I am vegetarian.  I do not eat fish, chicken, or other meat.  I DO eat eggs and cheese, as well as other non-meat items such as pasta, bread, ice cream, and of course vegetables.  I am very good at working with whatever you were already planning - for example, making a veggie sandwich out of burger toppings, or having a veggie taco by leaving out the beef.  You do not need to run to the store to buy special vegetarian food! If you want more information on what I can and cannot eat as a vegetarian, read this blog post.


*Occassionally I may ask for help with trailering a few miles, particularly if there’s a bad storm rolling in, a major heat wave, or other potentially dangerous weather, or if the only road to get to you is particularly treacherous.  If you are aware of some local hazard or road condition that I may not know about, please share it and help me plan a safe way through or around if possible!

*At some stops, we may have extra needs.  Every four to five days Apollo and I need to take two full days off to rest.  Every three or so days I need to do laundry. Occassionally I may need a ride to town for supplies, to mail a letter or package, etc. WiFi access is always helpful, too.

* I do not expect you to act as my local tour guide, take time from your normal routine for me, or even be home when I get there.  I do not typically like to “preview” my next day’s route by driving it ahead of time, unless there’s a particularly unsafe area you think I should see, because that takes some of the fun out of riding it. If you’d like to show me around your town though, I always enjoy seeing the local sights.

Interested in hosting us?  You’ll find my contact information by clicking here.

Have you already hosted Apollo and I? Leave a comment below so everyone else can read what it was like to be our host! 

Apollo, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore


Our journey through Kansas was long and sometimes complicated.  It began last October, included a longer than expected winter break, and finally concluded a few days ago when we finally crossed the Missouri River on the eastern border of Kansas. We’re now in Missouri, our 15th state!


Waaaay back on October 18, 2017, Apollo, Hermes and I left the Oklahoma panhandle and stopped for the night at our first Kansas stop, the fairgrounds in Elkhart.  Called the cornerstone of Kansas, this little town was my first taste of big Kansas hospitality.


When most people outside the state think of Kansas, the first word that pops to mind (whether they’ve been there or not) is usually “flat”. And indeed, the western part of the state is very flat.  For the first few weeks of riding through Kansas, I could see my destination as soon as I started my day’s ride - not because it was close, but because there was nothing but flat prairie in between.  I could tell where every home within a 10 mile radius was because there were trees there, and where a town was because there were both trees and a grain elevator.


This vast flat expanse can get very windy, to say the least.  It is an ideal place for wind farms, such as this one near Dodge City that we went through.  This was the windiest day that I have experienced in my whole life.  It was too windy to be perched in a saddle, and I spent the day hunkering behind Apollo as he partially shielded me from the unrelenting wind while we walked.  It was so strong that it literally would push into my lungs, making it hard to breathe normally.


But the pancake-flat prairie could be beautiful at times. My favorite sunrise so far was in western Kansas.  The colors that bloomed over that vast expanse of prairie was simply spectacular.


As I came to learn, Kansas was not simply a flat, empty bit of land where nothing happened (except wind of course.  Wind happened a lot.).


First of all, it’s not all flat.  Many parts of the state are rolling and sometimes very hilly.  The eastern part also has many more trees, towns, rivers, etc.  These parts of the state are very pretty.  (Did you notice those horse ears are the wrong color? This was taken on Apollo’s day off near Wichita, when I went for a fun ride around a local state park on an awesome gelding named Brat).


More importantly than the varied terrain, the state has a rich and fascinating history.  In Dodge City, I visited Boot Hill and explored their museum and carefully recreated Main Street.


In Wichita, I saw the Keeper of the Plains in his Ring of Fire.


In Topeka, I learned about the border war when Kansas became a state, which was a prelude to the American Civil War.  The choice to become a free state instead of a slaveholder state like neighboring Missouri was of huge importance both locally and nationally as our country became divided.


Apollo, Hermes and I ended our 2017 ride near Wichita, with a celebration breakfast on the last day of riding of funfetti pancakes (yes, I shared.  Everyone agreed they were a great way to celebrate). Then I trailered Apollo to a boarding stable not far from Lawrence, where I had arranged for what seemed like an ideal winter home for him to rest.


After an unexpected delay, we got back on the road at the end of June (Hermes stayed home, more on this in a future post).  It was still snowing a little when I visited Apollo in April, but only 9 weeks later the area was in the midst of unseasonably hot weather.


Luckily, as I mentioned, eastern Kansas has a lot of trees, so we could take shade breaks often. The area also has a lot of nice gravel roads for riding.


Naturally, ice cream was also a necessity in that kind of weather.  And the best ice cream in Kansas was on my route through Lawrence, at Silas and Maddy’s downtown.


There was fun to be had in the evenings and on my days off too.  One night we stayed at a cowboy church, where they were holding a team roping competition.  I certainly did not participate (I am sure Apollo wouldn’t have known what to do, since all we ever do is walk!) but I did enjoy watching.


I also got to explore the capital building, including a memorable climb to the top of the dome up this crazy suspended staircase.  It was a personal challenge of my fear of heights, but the view (and sense of accomplishment!) was worth it.


Finally, we reached the border town of Atchison.  I visited the Amelia Earhart birthplace, not far from the bridge to Missouri. And in the spirit of this great lady, we then did not refuse the offer of further adventures that awaited in the next state.