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.






A Quick Ride Through Arizona


Here we are in Arizona, our 10th state! 

We travelled to the Arizona state line at Four Corners National Monument.  Although I was not allowed to ride him onto the monument - and thus could not put a hoof in each state at once - the park service allowed me to bring him into the park and ride him around the perimeter of the buildings. 

It took just under four minutes to ride through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah.  This was the first recorded instance of a long rider visiting the monument, and thus the fastest four-state travel time by horse.  Way to set a record, Apollo!



When God Is Turned Against You

I was raised on Sunday church, summers in Vacation Bible School, and dinner time grace, but these were more due to habit and culture than spirituality.  When I went away to college, these fell by the wayside.

As my EE (evil ex) became more abusive, he extended his control into my religious practices, or rather he decided to fill that void with various experiments in religious extremism.  As with all his abuse, it started off innocently enough - but would eventually become a rather strange form of abuse called "religious (or spiritual) abuse." 
 
My EE was raised Jewish but gave it up in college, and wanted to “return to his roots” and introduce me to that part of his life.  Sure, why not? Was my natural reply.  I’m no anti-Semite, I wouldn’t mind learning about a different religion than what I was raised on.

As time progressed, he became more and more radical.  He started hanging out with an extremely ultra-orthodox Jewish crowd, although we never went to temple. We started eating kosher, not too hard since we were already vegetarian.  He also started talking about needing to dress orthodox, myself included.  But then he had a falling out with his new best friend and gave that up before we implemented more lifestyle changes.

Apparently feeling an increased need to control this aspect of my life, he then decided we would be orthodox Catholic.  Many of my relatives are Catholic, and so I was somewhat familiar with it from attending mass when I went to visit them.  However, as could be expected, my EE’s version was twisted.  We never went to a church or met a priest or any “other Catholics.” In his mind, their ways of worship were wrong and he knew better.  He required that I learn by heart and sing a few particular Latin hymns several times a day, such as the Te Deum.   He also insisted on mandatory home bible study, so over the course of the few years that we were “Catholic,” I read the bible nearly cover to cover.  He would then selectively choose verses as examples of how to live righteously, but warp these lessons as reasons for a beating. 

He abruptly gave up Catholicism, and his interest moved to Buddhism.  I was made to read the works of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and then the Pali Canon.  However, even these lessons of peace and love could not escape being turned around and used against me.  He made me shave my head to “save” me from vanity, in the style of a Buddhist nun.  I could only wear his worn out clothes (far too big for me, as well as being ugly) for the same reason.  I was not even allowed to wear a bra anymore – not a comfortable thing when you have a double D cup chest - because of some lesson he twisted the meaning of. 

As with all previous religious studies, he twisted the words to tell me I needed to be meek, to not argue, to accept my life as he dictated it, and most of all to be punished whenever I did something “wrong.”  

Ironically, as I read the Buddha’s teachings (which he intended to use to control me further), my mind which had for so long been addled by fear and suffering began to clear.  I could now see that he was twisting the truth about everything, that I was not crazy, and that his violence was not my fault.  Only he could decide to raise his voice or his fist – I was not controlling his muscles.  And that I was in charge of controlling myself – it was my choice to react to his jabs.
 
As I learned to exercise greater control in my emotions, I could actually stand back in my mind and watch him unleash his fury upon me, as I did absolutely nothing.  There was now no doubt in my mind about whether the violence was my own fault – I knew I had done nothing to incite or deserve it, and it was all his own. 

The Many Colors of Colorado


Our stop in  Utah was not along my intended route, because from Vernal Utah to Grand Junction Colorado is made up of wide open desert.  To get safely back to our water-plenty route required another bit of trailering. 


But once in Colorado, with Apollo fully recovered from his respiratory infection, I was back in the saddle!


Colorado has a well deserved reputation for being a beautiful state, but it has more variety of landscapes than many people realize.  From mesas...


...to beautiful lakes,


vast empty deserts....


...to fertile corn fields.


And of course the famous Colorado Rockies! All this, just in the far western side of the state!


There's plenty to see apart from scenery here.  Old West buildings still stand amid the natural splendor.


Old barns add to the ambiance.


Traditional hogans are ready to be explored in the southwest.


Ridgway was my favorite historic downtown. 


...and home to an excellent brewpub.


We also stopped for wine tasting at Mesa Park Winery,


Sampled the famous peaches of Palisade,


Found the best donuts on the western slope,


And of course the best ice cream too!


Apollo was happy to be back on the road after his illness in Utah.


And Hermes was just a happy kitty, as usual.

Thanks, Utah


Utah is a really cool state to explore.  I did very little exploring with Apollo, though, because for him Utah was for convalescing.

We entered the state via truck and trailer, straight from the vet clinic in Wyoming.  Poor guy, I couldn't bring myself to make him pose for the official photo, so he got his half taken through the trailer siding.


The vet had sent us off with a week's worth of additional shots for his respiratory infection, which I got very good at giving to him.  Getting stabbed with a needle twice a day does not make for a happy horse, but he did feel all better by the end of the week.

To make sure that he was truly feeling in top form again, and that he was no longer contagious to whatever horses he would live to next, he got to stay in his own isolated pasture for an additional few weeks.

Meanwhile, I saw a few fun things in Utah.


Vernal, where we were staying, is near Dinosaur National Monument, and is home to the best dinosaur museum I've ever been in.


It's also home to one of the best breweries I've ever tasted, Vernal Brewing Co.


Apollo's time off gave me the opportunity to get started on writing my memoir...


...And for a quick trip home (here I am on one of the several Greyhound buses it took to get there)!

My story - why I stayed and how I left

WARNING! The following account may be disturbing to read. What follows is my true account of why at first I did not leave my abusive husband, and how I eventually did leave.

----

Escape. I thought about it for years. But I also tried so very hard to not think about it. Because thinking about leaving my Evil Ex (EE) made every insult, every slap or bite, every ritual morning fuck that much harder to bear up to while it was happening. Which made it so much more painful, so much more stressful than it already was. If I could numb myself, if I could not think about what was happening, I could get through.

For a few years, I frequently tried to escape. The abuse had become so much worse so quickly that at first I was confused and frightened more than anything. What had happened to my life? What was wrong with my husband for treating me this way, what could I do?

In the beginning of the escalation, he said he was to blame, that he was mentally ill, an undiagnosed schizophrenic, that I just needed to be patient and loving to him and he would get it under control. He distrusted doctors and refused to see a psychiatrist. If I loved him, I would help him get better.

So I stayed, foolishly thinking it was my role as wife to stick by him. For better or worse, right? He didn't mean to hurt me, he just was going through a hard time. I could understand he was sick.

But it didn't get better. Quite the opposite.

The first time I tried to run away it wasn't with a clear intent on escape. He had me pinned inside the car on our driveway, and his violence was so sudden and out of the blue that I only thought to protect myself. I struck back, got away, hid in a shed. We were living on a homestead in the middle of nowhere, it was the only place to hide – and thus a terrible hiding place. He found me within minutes.

But it was enough time, that time, for him to flip to his “nice” side and apologize and make empty promises. I was so relieved it was over that I accepted all he said.

A few months later we moved to the city, to live in his parents’ basement. By this time, he had changed his story to the abuse being my own fault, that I started all the fights, that I was crazy, that I needed him to hit me so that I could be restrained from hurting him or myself. He had figured out how to terrify me enough to start screaming or crying or shaking in fear, when he could “step in” and assault me. His parents turned a blind eye to everything, and accepted every word he said.

During this period, I began to run away frequently. The official statistics say that it takes an average of three attempts before a victim leaves her abuser. I don’t know how they get these statistics, but I’m pretty sure if they factored my data in, I’d personally bring up the national average. Every chance I got, every time I was unaccompanied, I would bolt for the door. Sometimes I’d make it a block away before he’d call or text, begging me to come back with empty promises. 

The pattern was always the same. I would refuse, he would apologize, I would demand he swear upon all things holy that he wouldn't do it again, he would promise, I’d believe him. Why did I believe him? I don’t know. I wanted to. I really wanted a return to happier times, I didn't understand what was going on, I didn't know what else to do. I was in such terror all the time that I couldn’t think clearly.

At a certain point though, I’d had enough. I wasn’t going to believe anything else, and I was leaving. I got as far as the lightrail station to the airport, where I planned on waiting until I could get a ticket to anywhere else, when the police stopped me. My EE had called the police (I had not thought to report it myself), and told them he needed help finding me. To this day, I don’t understand why the officer made me go back to him. I told her I was leaving my husband, but going to a safe place. But he had his parents backing him up that I was crazy and unwell, and needed returned to their care. Three against one, and me acting anxious and distraught probably didn't help my case.

From that day, I began to give up on escaping. If he could have the police return me, who are supposed to help the innocent, what was the point of hiding from him? I’d have to hide from him and an entire police force.

We moved back to the farmstead where he could keep a closer eye on me, and with only one vehicle and a good 20 miles to the nearest town (all in the open, nowhere to hide from searching cars) what chance did I have of getting away? I made one unsuccessful bid for freedom, but he called the local law enforcement and they found and returned me. Again.

I considered suicide the only method of escape left to me. But (obviously, since I’m writing this now) that didn't work out. The first suicide attempt was more of a contemplation than an attempt. I ran off to a secluded area where it took a good hour for him to find me. During that time, I thought deeply about how to kill myself right then, but had no weapons to use against myself. I carved RIP in a piece of wood and cried. But there was nowhere to go, and no one to help me, so I gave up and allowed myself to be found.

My only other attempt was to give myself alcohol poisoning one night while he slept. I crept out of bed and got in the liquor cabinet. I had read that if you drank enough, you would black out and suffocate in your own vomit. Sounded painless enough, and effective. So I drank and drank. Drank until I was dizzy, then drank some more. At that point, he realized I was not next to him in bed and came to find me. I vaguely remember him screaming and hitting me before I blacked out.  Apparently from my injuries and mess the next day, he kept at me for some time after but I was blessedly unconscious. But not dead. He left the puke and blood for me to clean up when I came to the next day.

This prompted him to lock up anything I could use to kill myself. But I was not going to try that again – it was too difficult. And just like any other failed escape, a failed suicide resulted in a bigger beating than normal.

I had another brilliant idea to escape. If I couldn't leave, and I couldn't kill myself, I would fight back. Either I’d win, or more likely it would aggravate the abuse and he’d kill me. But that also didn't work –no matter how much he bloodied me up, or threatened me with his gun, or put my hands in fire, he never did enough injury to permanently harm me. And cuts, bruises and burns could be healed at home, no need to have a hospital record of what he’d done.

In some respects, the fighting back backfired on my mental state. I sort of did lose my sanity, and became a hysterical madwoman. And then all those things he’d been saying about me, that I was crazy and needed protected from myself, actually did become true. So it was harder to think about leaving –not only could I not see a way out, maybe he was right all these years!

Then something big happened that helped me to see that I was not as crazy as I’d started to feel, and that I didn't need him controlling all aspects of my life. He got arrested. Not for domestic violence, unfortunately, but for brandishing a firearm at the neighbor over a property dispute. He was held at the jail overnight before his parents could post bail. And I had almost 24 hours to function like a normal person again.

No required scripture before bed (a part of spiritual abuse). No ritual morning fuck (a type of rape). No terror of saying the wrong thing or doing something to bring about a beating. No pain. I got the farm chores done in record time. I got everything done five times faster even though I was doing both of our work! I had never realized how much of my day was spent crying, cowering, or being “punished.” And I could see now that I was a capable, sane human, that I only acted crazy when he was terrorizing me.

I knew I needed out, but was running out of ideas. The only way I could escape was by car, but he had the keys. Although we went into the city once a week, he was especially careful to watch me at all moments so I couldn't leave. I spent the next four months brainstorming. Not just how I would initially make my getaway, but where I would go that the police wouldn’t return me again, how I could earn a living and have a roof over my head. I had several alternate plans in case I needed to change courses during the escape. I was ready, if I could just get the keys.

And then, miracle of miracles, he let me have them! Just for a little while, he said. It was after another beating and he was in the apology phase. He’d show me he trusted me to not be crazy by giving me the responsibility of holding the keys. And I knew this wouldn't last, that he would turn mean again soon and take them back. I had to act.

It was morning and I was going out to feed the chickens and sheep. Because of the high winds on the homestead, we kept the feeders inside a shelter so the animals could be comfortable and the hay wouldn't blow away. I went in the shed to feed, and he went behind our house to with a bag of seed for the garden. The truck was parked in front of the house, and the animal shelter was to the side. I quickly estimated the time it would take him to run back to the car when he realized I’d opened the door. He wouldn't wait for the engine to turn over before coming to grab me, he’d know what I was doing as soon as he heard the door open. When I’d tried to take the car years earlier, he’d run across the property on the shortest distance to the road and launched himself at the door to pull it open where I had to slow for a turn. I couldn't risk him being close enough for that either.

I decided this was the best opportunity I would have, but that I couldn't risk the time to grab any personal belongings. I walked calmly toward the house and therefore also the car. When I neared the car, I slowed down to make sure he was still out in the garden. Then I leapt into the car, turned it on and floored it down the driveway. No time to buckle up, and took the corner at the highest speed possible without flipping the vehicle. As I roared past the property line, I glanced in the mirror to see him running after me, but he was too late. I was gone.

The next part of the initial escape plan was to get out of the county. He would undoubtedly report me missing again, but the next county over had very few officers in the area I’d be driving through. And none of those officers had ever talked with my EE or I before, so there was a chance that if they did stop me they’d either not have gotten the memo or that I would not be taken back. This time, too, I was ready to use the word “abusive,” something I’d never thought to say before.

I made it over the county line and to the first rest stop on the highway, where I pulled over to make some calls. Since we only had one vehicle, I was sure I wasn't being followed. However, he would probably also call his parents to come help in the search and they lived only half an hour the other way from where I had parked. I needed to be in the city and off the highway before they passed me and recognized the vehicle.

My first call was to my parents. We had become fairly estranged because my EE monitored my calls. I could only say things to them that he wouldn't get angry about. And even if I said everything right, every call was followed by a debriefing where he’d analyze and criticize everything they said. Since making a call was such an ordeal, it was easier to not call at all.


They answered the phone and I told them I was leaving my home for good. Through many tears, we determined I would go to their house. However, it was half a country away, and I was terrified that if I went through an airport that TSA would stop me like the police always had.


My dad jumped on the next plane, met me near the airport, and flew back with me as my escort. Luckily no questions were asked at security. I left my cell phone in the car after sending a single text on where I’d left it, so that he wouldn't later accuse me of stealing the vehicle. 



I was free.
x

Recipe from the Road: Bear Claw Bread Pudding


One of my favorite aspects of the Centauride is that I have so many opportunities to try new foods.  Whether that is one chef's creative take on an old standard, some regional specialty, or simply a different type of donut, trying new things to eat feeds not just my body but also my not-so-secret foodie passion.  Plus, it's great to shake up my protein bar travel diet with real food!


At a little cafĂ© on the seaside cliffs of tiny Trinidad, California, I enjoyed a memorable breakfast of bear claw bread pudding.  I like bear claws, I like bread pudding, how could this not be wonderful?! Apollo also had a memorable breakfast of decorative bamboo, when I neglected to tie him on a short enough rope to keep him from reaching the landscaping.  Here we are in front of the bakery:


That was waaaaay back in January, and I still remember how delicious it was.  I've had lots of free time while Apollo's been resting these last few weeks, so what better opportunity to try to recreate that recipe? 

 

Bear Claw Bread Pudding


In a small saucepan, combine:
                2 cups milk
                2 Tbsp butter
                2 tsp vanilla
                ½ cup brown sugar
                Pinch of salt

Stir, over low heat, until the butter is melted.  Remove from heat and set aside.
Once it is cooled to room temperature, whisk it together with:
               4 eggs

Meanwhile, grease a 6 to 8 cup baking dish, and fill it with:
                6 cups bear claw pastries, cut to 2-inch pieces

Pour the custard mixture over the bear claws.  Set aside for one hour to soak.

Heat oven to 350F.  Bake 30 to 45 minutes, or until custard is set but slightly wobbly and edges of the bear claws have browned. 
Allow to cool slightly or to room temperature before serving.

Bye bye, Wyoming


Wyoming was full of surprises.  Mostly not the good kind. 


I had expected Wyoming would be a difficult state for this ride.  Having gone to school not far from the Wyoming border, I have driven quite a lot of the state both for fun and on my drives home for holiday vacations.  I knew going into the state this time how far it is between towns, and even between homes.  And how little water there is to be found in many places.  Or grass.  Or shade, on a sweltering August day. 
 

I rode into the state on the far side of the pass into Jackson Hole, in the Tetons. Maybe not technically in the Teton mountains, but within sight of them.  Maybe at the south edge of that lovely range.  I think.  If it had been clear, I'd know better.


Because that was the problem I actually had with Wyoming.  The smoke was so bad from fires to the north and to the west that I could barely even see the mountains I was standing next to as I went through Star Valley. 

The smoke had been worsening since we had reached Teton Valley, Idaho, a week before.  Every mile south brought worse visibility, and was making Apollo cough harder and more frequently.  By the time I got to the Wyoming border, I was no longer riding him so he didn't have to exercise so hard.  And I was stopping every other day to rest his lungs.  Since he was resting in the smoke though, it didn't seem to do much good.


In fact, only three days into the state, his health deteriorated overnight into a nasty respiratory infection.  I awoke that morning to masses of green goo coming out of his nose.  The closest vet was 10 miles south, so we proceeded to walk very slowly to see her (the pioneer house below was the only "point of interest" we saw in Wyoming)


Dr. Lisa looked him over, took some cultures, and gave him a few rounds of shots.  She kindly allowed us to stay there a couple of days while he got more shots and I worked on finding us a way out of the smoke.


So most of my time in Wyoming was spent giving Apollo around-the-clock care and attention, mostly with encouraging him to eat lots.  I hand-picked his favorite grasses and weeds, mixed up yummy high calorie snacks, and stood with him while he very slowly picked through it all.  Being sick is no fun for horses either.


Meanwhile, Hermes had the run of the hay barn.  He sure loves exploring all these new places!


In the end, I got an offer from a super-wonderful couple in Vernal, Utah to trailer me there.  I was sad to have to skip so much of Wyoming, which for all its expected hazards is a really pretty place (and I never did need to ride in a dry or grass-less area!).  But Apollo's health and safety comes first, and being able to get him south of the smoke zone on short notice was a minor miracle.

 

Announcing... my new book!

No, it's not about this ride (gotta get to Maine first!)

Before I began this grand adventure, I worked at an organic garden supply company, and before that I was a farmer.  This book is the sum of the knowledge and research accumulated during my "life before long riding" about one of my favorite garden plants: apple trees.

After several years of writing and editing, today my book has been officially released on Amazon.com! 

"Apple: The Complete Guide to Organic Success in Your Backyard" is available in paperback (click here!) and e-book (or click here!) formats. 


 

Training Tips for Road Riding


Apollo and I have been on the road now for over six months.  During this time, I've lost track of the number of people who have said they'd like to ride out with me for the day, but their horse wouldn't be safe to ride on the road.  This is a smart situation in which to use such extra caution, because road riding is not at all like arena riding (although of course the same cues and lessons apply), and hardly like trail riding either from the horse's perspective. 

But road riding is not an unattainable goal.  Being able to ride safely around traffic, bicycles, dogs (not barn-saavy dogs), wheelchairs, four wheelers, motorcycles, and even semi-trucks is possible, and opens up so many more options for where you can ride your horse. 

As a long rider, traveling along busy roads is unavoidable.  Even the Unbranded team, whose goal was to ride only in wilderness from Mexico to Canada, had a few sections of road including a frontage road along an interstate.  Apollo and I are at the other end of the route-spectrum: we avoid wilderness and stick to side roads where I can find them.  But there have been plenty of times I've had to ride along state highways, and even along interstate 101 in Oregon.

Start Slow

No matter how steady and quiet your horse is, if he has never seen a big rig barreling towards him at 75 mph, he will probably freak out if that's the first road experience he has.  Start with gravel roads or suburban neighborhoods where there are only slow-driving cars, or better yet use divided bike paths that run alongside a road.  Work up from there as your horse gets comfortable with the new sights.   The faster the speed limit, the bigger the risk if something scares your horse, so keep to slow zones to begin with.

Go Slow

Roads are full of danger, mostly in the form of vehicles.  Even a pro like Apollo occasionally spooks at something on the side of the road; if he was to jump sideways as a fast moving car was approaching, it could be disastrous. Sometimes cars seem to appear out of thin air, without a sound.  Quiet country lanes are no exception.  Walk your horse when on the road, so that you have a better chance of seeing and hearing approaching cars. If you want to ride for speed, stick to the arena or the trail. 

When In Doubt, Get Down and Walk

If you've ever been told that you must stay in the saddle or the horse wins, forget that idea right now.  Road riding is about safety first, training first and second.  If you are approaching or in a situation where your horse is likely to bolt or to shy into traffic, or where you risk getting seriously hurt if you were to fall off (such as on a bridge, or where the shoulder is narrow), get off your horse and lead him.  I spent the entire first week of the Centauride leading Apollo, so he could get used to all the new stuff before I put myself at risk by riding him. And it took months before I would ride him near semi-trucks.  There is no shame or "losing" when you walk with your horse, if it keeps you both safe and allows him to get confidence in being on the road.

Follow the Rules and Wear Bright Colors

Horses are considered vehicles in most traffic codes.  This means that you must ride with traffic (on the right), stop anywhere a car would, stay off the sidewalk, and otherwise respect the same traffic laws a vehicle would.  The big difference is that you have the right-of-way (but NEVER assume anyone will give it to you!).  And wear bright colors, reflective tape, flashing lights, etc. like cyclists, to help the distracted drivers notice you.  I have heard horror stories of really foolish people (and I'm being polite here) who got hit by a car when they rode in all black at dusk.  Don't be a ninja rider, stay alive.

Patience Patience Patience

It's asking a lot of your prey-animal friend to stay calm and collected along a busy road.  All those vehicles chasing him, and sometimes loose dogs too.  All those new sights to get used to (flags, mailboxes, weird lawn art).  People like to honk at horses, either to let the rider know they're approaching or just to say "hi!" - this too is a lot for a new road horse to handle.  Apollo is a fast learner, but it took a full six months of actual road travel (plus several months of less-frequent road training rides) before I really felt that he had seen it all and was trustworthy in all but the craziest situations.  Celebrate the small achievements.  Remember that getting safely to the end of the road is an achievement in itself, no matter how scared or naughty your horse was along the way.
 

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.