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.

Lessons Learned and Gear Improved

Not a month went by on my 2017 ride that I didn’t change some aspect of what I was carrying and how I packed or attached it to the saddle.  Even in the last few days on the road, I was still stripping off unnecessary bits of fabric, examining the effect of how the packs were riding on Apollo’s back, and - most importantly - making notes on what to improve or fix during the winter break.

Here’s some things I learned and a few changes I’m planning to make when I get back at it in April.

Never trust plastic clips or Velcro 

I think I’ve replaced all of the plastic with metal by now, because they break under heavy use and weathering of the material. Velcro seems like a great idea for certain items, but in the end it just gets filled up with horse hair and dirt so it no longer secures well.  Better to switch out Velcro for other kinds of fasteners.

Always carry artificial sinew and a hooked awl

I actually carry a sandwich bag worth of repair items, but these are the most essential.  I’ve used them to fix everything from saddle D-rings to the cat carrier, and basically made Apollo’s second set of ankle bells myself by combining two “ingredients” into one with lots and lots of sinew.

Cats should ride on top

In 2017, Hermes rode in a cat carrier hanging on the left side of the saddle.  That worked okay, but it was hard to keep the weight balanced with the right side.  Also, there was always a risk that he would get smooshed if Apollo spooked sideways into something.  Luckily Apollo doesn’t typically spook, but he’s a horse so the risk is always there.  On top, Hermes will be safer (and can have a more roomy carrier) and Apollo should be more comfortable.  This also gives me even more incentive to cut back on my total packs (and thus weight) because Hermes will be riding where one of my large saddle bags used to go.

Water proof everything.  Sometimes twice.

Whether from rain or sweat, things get wet.  Most items I protect with a simple zip-top bag (sometimes more precious than gold to me), because they are easy to replace in case of damage or when there’s just too much horse dirt to clean.  More water sensitive items get fancy water proof bags. Electronics are double bagged.  Additional benefit of all these bags: it’s quick and easy to pack and unpack every day, because it’s all compartmentalized.

Help and an electrical outlet are never far away.

Many items that I started out carrying in 2017 I didn’t end up needing.  A high line or a ground picket (there was always some kind of fence available, even if that fence was - for one night - a chain-link enclosed basketball court). Basic first aid for Apollo (and myself) are important to carry, but we never were farther than a vet could easily drive to.  I never needed my solar charger, but it was a good idea to carry an external battery for the rare night without an outlet to recharge.

There is never enough energy left to cook dinner.  

Like Sam Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings, I carried my cooking gear nearly to the end.  I used it twice in 10 months of travel.  And both of those times could have been avoided with different, ready to eat foods in my pack.  This year I’m finally ditching the cooking gear.  Yes, it’s super lightweight backpacking stuff. But not carrying it is even lighter. With a little luck, I’ll find lots of friendly people who want to offer me a hot meal. Otherwise, protein bars and other convenience foods, and the occasional meal out,  will suffice. (And when this ride is over, I will never ever touch a protein bar again.)

Slow and steady wins the... whatever it is I’m doing.

My last modification isn’t for gear.  It’s for logistical planning. It’s not like I ran Apollo - ever - during 2017.  The fastest he went the whole time was an extended trot, either because he was nervous or because he was feeling really good. Even that was only a handful of times. But even at a walk, we were often both more tired than was necessary or enjoyable.  Mostly this pace was due to the logistics of where I could arrange a stop, and for how long.  But this year I will try extra hard to make our days shorter, and our rest days more frequent.

So a few more changes and another month of rest, and we’ll be back on the road and headed across the heartland of America! It’s been an interesting ride so far, that’s for sure.

I’ll be sharing more insights and stories from my first year on the road with Apollo and Hermes on Monday, March 12, from 5 to 6:30 pm at the Madelyn Helling library’s community room in Nevada City CA.   It’s free! Hope to see you there. 


  1. Hi, I see your endorsement of TW Saddlery - is that your saddle? Or do you have more than one type?

    It's really fun to read your blog and see what hardcore tack use is about - that velcro isn't really long-term/hardcore, for example.

    1. Doh, I should have clicked the TW link before commenting. The reason I asked is I thought you were riding in a Specialized (what I use) and now I see TW and Specialized are the same company. OK then: )

  2. Look forward to meeting up with you in IA. Do keep me posted. I am totally amazed that you are traveling with a cat! Wish I'd invented zip-locks! :-)


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