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Stories from Bernie's current trip - a mule voyage from Canada to Mexico

Winter Quarters (and a bit of wrotten luck at the end...) - Southern Pines, NC
January 25, 2006

Back in the early nineties I had this madcap dream.

I was going to become a steeplechase jockey!

Well, I moved back to Southern Pines, dieted from 165 to 125 pounds and lived out that crazy notion.


Win Number One circa 1992 (Hobby Field, Southern Pines, NC)

But the weight loss came hard so to keep my mind off food, I built a sailboat.

At the time I was galloping horses for my friend Mel Wyatt. “Hey Mel.” I asked her one day as we were walking a set of race horses we’d just galloped, “Can I use your garage for a bit of a project.”

“Sure!” she said, not knowing.

And that winter, I built a sailboat in her garage.


How it all started…


The Garage Sail. The boat that came out of that pile of plywood
(Georgian Bay, Canada)


I kept at my steeplechasing a few seasons until I bunged up my leg and decided that now I had a sailboat, I could run away to sea. So I sailed down the Hudson River, continued down the East Coast and ended up in the Bahamas. (But that’s another story… See “The East Coast in an Eighteen Footer” at RiverEarth.com).

Ok. Now flash forward to the present.

It’s Sunday morning. The sides and roof are bolted onto my wagon and it’s raining outside. Mel Wyatt and I are doing the crossword at her kitchen counter. “Hey Mel.” I ask “Can I use you garage to finish” and she knew what was coming and replied “Sure!” almost before I could add “my wagon.”.

This time I measured though.

When I built the aptly named Garage Sail in Mel’s garage, I’d forgotten to measure the distance from the floor to the bottom of the garage door. So when the time came to pull the hull out, well, it wouldn’t fit…

So I threw a Bojangles biscut party and after everyone had eaten announced that.. well… there was this boat I was building in Mel’s garage that needed moving… And since were were all here already we might as well work off those biscuits by…. you know… getting that boat out…

We finally extracated the Garage Sail. On its side.

So this time, with the wagon, I wasn’t about to repeat the mistake.

I measured, and sure enough, there was an inch to spare under the garage door.

So with the help of Mel and another friend, we put a bunch of steel pipes under the wagon body and rolled it into her garage.


The wagon in the same spot occupied by Garage Sail all those years ago

And this time I didn’t have to spring for a party.

Bernie
RiverEarth.com

PS Thanks, again, Mel, for letting me use your garage and tools. I owe you a few rides…!

PPS Mel broke her hip this week so I’ll be taking a break from wagon building for a few days to help out on her farm… Mel, I sure hope you get well soon. Bernie

PPPS Today a dog Mel’s had for ten years attacked Boots, the barn cat she’s had for fifteen years. It appeared one of the lungs had been punctured so we took it to the vet.

PPPPS. The vet said the damage was terminal and had to put Boots to sleep. Not a good day to work on the wagon.

PPPPPS While I was burying Boots behind the barn, Zoro, Mel’s other barn cat, wandered up with a gash on his shoulder. I put the shovel down to look closer at the wound and saw the muscles in his shoulders through the hole in his skin. He definitely needed stitches.

My last visit to the vet hadn’t gone well so I stitched him up in the tackroom with Susan and Melissa. I don’t know if I got the dose of horse painkiller right but I reckon I’ll soon find out…

I’m definitely taking the rest of the day off.

Bernie

Posted Wednesday January 25, 2006 by Bernie
Bolting it all Together - Southern Pines, NC
January 18, 2006

I know, I know! You’re sick of Technical Drawing Number One. Just remember, it’s all I have in the way of blueprints, the only thing I have to go by as I build the wagon that, so far, has only resided in my brain.


Technical Drawing Number One

For months now I have been building the body parts to what look like an enormous slab sided monster. The yellow side walls, flank-like and stiff. The wooden ribs, bowed like they might fit around a giant heart. The steel frame, the green carcass to a mysteriously square beast.

But mostly I wondered this.

Was all this stuff going to fit like it should? Should I have spent more than five minutes drawing up my Technical Drawing Number One.

Well, here’s the big news.

I finally got it all bolted together!

Like birth when it comes, it went really quickly.


The bare frame waiting for the walls


The walls go up (Susan Edwards photo)


The roof beams are bolted in place


This is the last time you’ll see blue sky between those beams



And finally we have a roof!

So yes, we’re making progress. Just remember, this is where where we started out…


Wagon wreckage

But now it’s getting wintry outside.

‘time to bring this project inside.

Bernie

Posted Wednesday January 18, 2006 by Bernie
Recapturing the Mule Nation - Southern Pines, NC
January 18, 2006

“Oh man, I’m so sunk!” I thought as I turned away from the open gate and thought of Craig.


Craig aboard his boat before she was lost at sea
(Rodrigues Island, Indian Ocean)

Craig was a mad keen Australian I’d sailed with aboard Sea Bird. He’d bought a small twenty-three foot sailboat in Australia, sailed her from there around Africa’s stormy Cape of Good Hope, then up to Cuba and on to Newfoundland.

From there, he planned to cross the Atlantic to Ireland and then back down to Cape Horn and return home to the Big Down Under.

Only the tail end of a hurricane caught him at sea hundreds of miles offshore, rolled his boat over and he was plucked from his swamped vessel by a passing freighter. He showed up in London with little more than his name.

As I turned from the empty gate I got that same sinking feeling. Dang! One moment I had mules under me. The next I was the owner of an empty field.

I gathered up my empty halters, climbed back into my pickup and started driving down May Street.

Now unlike a good shipwreck, where you have floating clues like life preservers and oil slicks to pursue, mule hunting is trickier. As I drove down May Street toward Southern Pines, my eyes combed the long leaf pines and horse pasture for clues.

Nothing. No tracks, no skid marks. Zero.

The first person I came across was Mike Plumb.

Now you have to know, Mike’s been a member of the Olympic Three-day event team five times. Three-day event. That’s where horses first have to perform a series of patterns in what’s called Dressage and then they jump their guts out for the rest of the competition.

Mule driving is the polar opposite of Three-day eventing.

Anyway, I figured it was worth a shot.

Mike was schooling one of his horses. I ambled up. “‘lost my mules. Have you seen any around here?” I asked.

“Lost, as in died?” he wanted to know. “Does this happen a lot with you?”

I explained that no, it was acually rare for me to loose my mounts in such spectacular fashion and yes, I still held out hope they were alive.

Still, I cursed myself. Between Woody and Maggie, I’d just put in a combined 7000 miles of cross country riding from North Carolina to California. Never had a spot of trouble. Now, in my own back yard, I’d left their gate open and they’d just wandered off.

I excused myself, drove another stretch down May Street and there they were.

I spotted Maggie first, her black and white hide standing out against the dead grass like an ink stain on my favorite white shirt. Aha!

Then Woody, Jack and Bill came into view, all standing very contently in a very borrowed pasture. Someone had caught them in the night (I later learned it was 3:00 AM), put them up into their field and assumed what ever idiot had lost them would eventually claim them.

They were right. Now that idiot just had to figure out how to get them home.

I’d long ago discovered that Maggie was the ringleader of the group. The mules were smitten with her so I just put on her halter, rigged the lead rope into reins and jumped on her back. The rest of the Mule Nation just followed her home as happily as they’d undoubtedly followed her off the farm.


Return of the Mule Nation

Now I’m not much of an emotional person. But as soon as I had my mounts turned loose in their pasture I walked over and gave each on a hug.

Suddenly it didn’t matter that I drove an old truck and my mules wore second hand harness that belonged in the charity league. The glorius fact remained I had close friends, a trusty Dodge, a team of mules and a pony that stirred the pot just to make things exciting.

Then, having given thanks, I went back and shut the gate.



And tied it…

Tomorrow I must call Craig.

Bernie
RiverEarth.com

(Thanks Mel, Beth, Peter and Suzie and everyone else who helped me re-capture my mules. Thanks also to Susan Edwards for the superb photos – Bernie)

Posted Wednesday January 18, 2006 by Bernie
Gone! - Southern Pines, NC
January 13, 2006

Friday the 13th…

The phone rang this morning and before I could answer it, Mel left the frantic message on my machine.

“Bernie, your mules are gone!”

Gone? Gone! No! Oh god, that was bad way to start the 13th. Or a mule expedition for that matter…

I called her right back, still in my pajamas, and she repeated the news. “Bernie! You’re mules are gone. We’re over here at Buckin Field and can’t find them. “

She didn’t have to say “Get over here quick.” before I was into my jeans and truck.

I raced out to the farm but Mel was right.

The gate to their pasture was wide open.


Gone…

Maggie, Woody, Jack and Bill were gone.

The engines to “Captain Bernie’s Dry Dock Expedition” had just vanished.

Bernie
RiverEarth.com

Posted Friday January 13, 2006 by Bernie
Danger Yellow Versus the Grim Reaper - Southern Pines, NC
January 7, 2006

My biggest fear about hitting the open road in my new wagon is getting rear-ended by a car and waking up with the Grim Reaper saying “Hey, that joker that hit you told the cops he couldn’t see you. Said you just looked like some desert scrub out there in that tan wagon.”


The Grim Reaper (well, actually, it’s Bernie deciding that those tan walls need some yellow paint rolled onto them.)

So I marched down to the hardward store and got a gallon of Danger Yellow, the bright stuff, like they put on schoolbuses.


Walls laid out for painting.

I decided that instead of bolting the walls onto the wagon and then painting them like that, I’d lay them all out on the lawn and roll the paint to them while it was still easy. Ok, so then the wind started blowing and the last maple leaf on the farm got stuck in the paint job. But who cares? This is a gypsy wagon, not a Pimp my Ride graduate. Actually, the odd skid mark lends the paint job an authentic flavor.


Can you see me now? The side walls bolted in place.

Then of course I had to bolt two sides into place just to see how they looked.

Perfect!

I sure hope my Peril Yellow paint job keeps Mr. Grim at bay.

Bernie
RiverEarth.com

Posted Saturday January 7, 2006 by Bernie


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