I think living out on a horse or mule was what I was made to do. I absolutely love being in a saddle all day in the grand outdoors. Nothing better in my opinion. When we went on our mule ramble this fall we used Bernie’s old faithful, cross-country mule Polly to pack our gear. We did not take very much other than a tent and cook gear.
We ate small meals, carried lentils and ramen noodles, and a whole grain cereal mix that we make and eat every day at home as well. We enhanced our meals with herbs that we found. Some times we were given vegetables from people's gardens. We asked for and sought water along the way. We only carried two small jugs of water on Polly. We each had a small canteen as well in our pommel bags. A few times we all went thirsty for a while.
Bernie and I each brought only enough clothes to fit into a gallon freezer baggie. That included everything- jacket, long johns (that were not worn), undies, one set shorts and one set clean pants. We wore one piece work suits with shorts and t-shirts underneath.
The sun was hot but it felt better to be fully rugged up from it with suits and gloves, hats and sunglasses. You can’t understand that kind of over exposure from the sun until you are out in it relentlessly like that.
Meals were rationed as we only had one small mess kit and limited gas and water with which to cook. .Most days we ate two or less energy bars (between the two of us), road apples and nuts between breakfast and diner as we rode along.
We each had a light sleeping bag. One of us slept on the horse blankets and the other on a small camping pad.
We were constantly in motion riding, setting up camp, breaking camp, caring for mules, saddling, unsaddling, and hunting for places to stay the night. Where to stay each night was a question that would begin to weigh on us every day as we would watch the sun sinking. It’s ok at first but grows more desperate as the sun gets lower in the sky as you ride further searching for the answer. Where can we put these good mules who have worked so hard and need to rest, drink and eat?
We had to find them places with enough forage and grass for them to eat and enough space so that their leg pickets would not get tangled. We stealth camped only twice on the whole trip. Kindness and generosity always came to our aid in the most magical and reliable way. We always got to settle down and sleep.
The thing about constant motion and rationed, good quality food is that it makes you feel bionic. I came home feeling better than I have felt in years. There’s something to that more feral form of living for both animals and humans. I hope to always remember this. Those raw feelings like being a bit cold, hungry and tired keeps your immunities up and your body healthy. There’s a certain sharpness that comes from not being comfortable all the time.
We as a society and as stewards of animals are in danger of forgetting the importance of not letting everything in our lives become too easy, too comfortable and too rich.
Maybe when my good old dog finally meets his end in a few more years I will lean in more to this life of a nomad. I could see staying out there a good while but I do also love a home and a hearth and a community of good old friends. The pull and push of life.
My New Years resolution is: to try to not always let myself eat till I am full, to embrace being a little too hot or cold sometimes, and to remember that comfort is not always your friend.
Happy New Year!