John and I have always loved traveling. Like most inquisitive people our age, we want to see the far corners of this beautiful planet. However, I find it difficult to justify the time and expense required of world travel, having never seen more than a few small pieces of my own country. The United States is a massive country, diverse in climate, culture, and ecology. There is so much to experience and learn right here. We have realized and quickly grown to love that by traveling at home in the US, we don’t have to leave the dogs behind – we can reach everything (except Hawaii) by car.
Shortly after our graduation from Ohio University in the spring of 2009, we decided to take a road trip across the United States, with the goal of visiting a good friend who had moved to San Francisco. That August we left Pennsylvania with our dogs in tow, picked up our good friend Amber in Ohio, and embarked on a two-week road trip to San Francisco and back. We had an amazing adventure – an entry about this journey to come soon – but by the time we returned, we knew that we had only just started to explore our country.
As I continue to dream about a walk across the US after my first cross-country road trip, I find myself remembering a thought from Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He wrote,
“In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”
Although he is talking about a motorcycle and I my feet, the concept is the same. The road trip was a powerful experience, but it was fleeting and somehow left me detached from our surroundings. I have a deep want for that sense of presence; of real-ness and connectedness to the place I am in.
But how does one credibly see the country on foot? It’s such a romanticized, bohemian notion – “Yeah man, we’re just gonna, you know, walk to San Francisco with our dogs, man. It’ll be grooooovy.” So we let the idea sit on the back burner as a pipe dream – something to do someday when we have more time and more money than we know what to do with. Ah, to be young and delusional.
Then, in October of 2010, less than a month after John and I were married, we received some unexpected visitors. We were living on a 460-acre horse and cattle farm in the heart of the Laurel Highlands in Southwest Pennsylvania. We were managing the horse side of the farm, developing educational programs and trying to move the business forward. On October 4th, we received a call from a friend, Jerry, who had received a call from a friend, who had received a call from a friend, etc. The phone chain led us back to a man named Stephen in L.A. His step-daughter, Linny Kenney, was riding her horse, Sojourner, from Los Angeles, California, to her childhood home in Bath, New Hampshire. Linny’s friend of 11 years, Walter, was driving her support vehicle full of horse feed and camping gear. Riding a horse across the country was her childhood dream, and she was over 3,00o miles into it by the time she reached Pennsylvania. Since their threesome left LA on March 1st, Stephen had been their on-call coordinator, of sorts. He would call ahead as she and Walter planned their route and help arrange places for them to safely pass through and stay. And thus, his call filtered down to John and I at Horizon View Farms. We were overcome with the desire to help these young pilgrims on their journey, and somehow we knew that our brief encounter with them had affected something powerful within our hearts and minds.
Though it is no surprise that I was deeply impacted by their journey, I am still working through my intense and complex emotional response to being so close to it. I was on my way home from picking up medication for one of our horses at the vet and pulled in the farm driveway moments after they arrived. Linny was barely out of the saddle and John was already by their truck talking to Walter. I was so overcome – these three beautiful and weary travelers had come so far – already over 3,000 miles – and there they were, in the flesh, at our home. I burst into tears still in my car, parked in the driveway, and had to take a few minutes to pull myself together before I could come out and say hello. Even after all the months and distance they had covered, they were all joy and smiles, just happy to Be.
Like hundreds of families before us, we opened up our home, barns, and pastures to these incredible travelers and became a small part of their story. We had a dinner of grass fed beef burgers from the farm, and an evening of good conversation. We were joined by friends who had heard her story and wanted to meet her as well; Jerry and his wife Harriet, and his son Jerry (referred to as “Rooster” in Linny’s entry about their stay with us). We talked late that night about life, relationships, their trip and experiences, the forthcoming apocalypse – so many things. We went to bed feeling…elated…and a bit self-conscious. Why weren’t John and I seizing our lives and our world like Linny and Walter? How could we accept simply being players in someone else’s vision, and not manifesting our own?
The next day, Rooster, John, and I took Linny and Walter for a wagon drive. She had never driven a team of horses and had always wanted to try her hand at it. The farm we lived on has a nice team of black Percherons that Rooster and I had been doing local events with all summer. It was a cool, overcast day, but we went out for an hour or so anyway. Here is a video from Linny’s blog from that afternoon and their visit to the Laurel Highlands and HV Farms. (PS, I made that Horizon View Farms sign in the video!)
Linny and Walter continued on their way early that cold, wet afternoon. We all hugged them goodbye and wished them the best. They were already so close to the end of their journey, I didn’t feel like there was anything that anyone else could have given them that hadn’t already been offered 100 times over. We were just grateful to have had a pasture for Sojourner and a warm bed for them for the night. I have always measured my own success in the world by my ability to share what I have with others. Being able to look after these three will always feel more like a gift to me, rather than the other way around.
As John and I stood by the barn and watched them shrink slowly up the road, I was again overwhelmed and lost myself in sobs. I wanted so desperately to go with them, as badly as I had ever wanted anything in my life. I was reminded of my love of traveling and walking with my dog. While talking the night before, I said to Linny, “I want to walk across the country with my dog!” and she told me to “Do it. It will be the most amazing thing you will ever do.” I wanted to walk until I was too tired to walk anymore. Then I wanted to get up the next morning and do it again.
Below are several links to Linny, Walter, and Soj about their ride across the country as well as their art and Linny’s music. Though we only spent a handful of hours with them, they may very well have changed the course of our lives.
Linny’s website: www.linnykenney.com
Linny’s Blog about her ride across the US with Walter and Sojourner: http://linnykenney.blogspot.com/
The entry about her visit with John and I on her way through PA on Oct. 6th and 7th: http://linnykenney.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2010-10-08T14%3A17%3A00-06%3A00&max-results=5
and the video made from that visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEWAh_scT00&feature=player_embedded
Linny’s Etsy shop, selling her beautiful hand made, hand painted leather creations: http://www.etsy.com/shop/linnykenney