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

UNC-TV to Feature "Too Proud to Ride a Cow" Book
July 31, 2008

“Too Proud to Ride a Cow”
By Mule Across America

Often, the story behind a book’s creation is as interesting as the final creation. Join UNC-TV host DG Martin and Bernie for a televised discussion of the Bernie’s Atlantic to Pacific mule voyage – and how the “Too Proud to Ride a Cow” book came into being.

Rick Pariseau: Rat Rancher
Lexington, Oklahoma

While bunking with rat ranchers and a lady wood poacher was adventurous, writing about it in “Too Proud” was even more challenging. That’s where the wool sweater, straight-back chair and sailor’s knot came in…


Then tune into UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Bookwatch” for the full story. Here are the dates and times:

Friday, Aug 29 9:30 PM
Sunday, Aug 31 5:00 PM

To read previews or order a copy of “Too Proud to Ride a Cow”, click her to go to the RiverEarth General Store.

To learn more about UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Bookwatch”, click here.

Posted Thursday July 31, 2008 by Bernie
Pedal Billionaire Reverend Hans
April 11, 2007

Nothing gets the point of wealth across like being a billionaire. But who says it has to be measured in dollars? I mean really, it’s just a measure, right? Well, this week I met a billionaire – in a generally overlooked currency.

Meet Reverend Hans.

I spotted him pedaling North on US 1, outside Southern Pines, NC, and just had to pull over for a chat.

The Reverend’s rig
Southern Pines, NC

The first thing that struck me about him were the tan lines on his face.

Unlike the ski set that jets to Taos and returns sporting tan lines that make them look like raccoons, Hans’ tan line strangely resembled a chin strap.

Which is precisely what created the white-on-tan effect.

Then there was the dark spot on the back of each of his hands.

“Oh, yeah,” he replied when I commented on the odd tan mark, “kids tell there parents ‘Look! That man has spots on his hands”.

This set of tan lines came from an opening in his gloves.

Immediately, I felt wimpy, pasty, the way blades of grass get when they’re covered with a board. I was, after all, the guy who rode a mule across America wearing two bandanas, long-sleeved cotton shirts, gloves, sunglasses, and, where, horrors, the sun might touch my skin, SPF 30 sunblock.

Parked on the side of US 1, the good Reverend explained how he’d earned his unusual pigmentation.

It was largely a story of stick-to-it-ness. A meticulous record keeper, as of 2007, he’d pedaled 168,000 miles, replaced 315 inner tubes, and crossed the United States 14 times – once with a hamster named Schroeder.

But the Reverend was chasing more than just big numbers.

He traveled by bicycle to spread word of his cycling ministry “Pedal Prayers”. “Pedal Prayers is a hands on mission,” he explained. “I want to show people that the best sermon is an example. That the best way to preach is to do.” To back up his philosophy, he has pedaled to natural disasters, including the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, to offer physical and spiritual assistance.

Other sermons in action include helping build, “over sixty homes for Habitat for Humanity.”

It was sinking in that I was speaking to an adventurer who was the perfect complement, yet perfect opposite, to me. I explained that I too, had once traveled across America by mule, slipping in that the feat had consumed almost 13 months – a good pace, I reckoned, because I stopped along the way to help folks from time to time.

So how long did it take him to ride coast-to-coast on his metal steed?

“61 pedaling days.” he replied.


I never bothered mentioning that I planned to travel by mule wagon from Canada to Mexico. Or the fact that I planned to measure the mileage in mule steps instead of miles. There was no way I could compete.

How I travel these days
Smith Creek Bridge
Oriental, NC

Then he hit me with the Big Number. As of April 2007, the Reverend has completed 1,055,928,402 wheel revolutions, which, yes, in my traveling book, earns him the honor of a bicycling billionaire.

With that, he remounted his bike and disappeared up US 1.

Reverend Hans, I wish you well on your second billion – give or take another sixty Habitat Houses.

Bernie Harberts
Millionaire (in mule steps)

Posted Wednesday April 11, 2007 by Bernie
Preview "Woody and Maggie" Children's Book
August 14, 2006

Hi there. Welcome to the world-first preview of “Woody and Maggie Walk Across America”. Here, let me show you around.

Woody and Bernie
Oriental, NC
(Melinda Penkava photo)

“Woody and Maggie” is a children’s book that features something unusual about each state I visited in my 12-month cross-country ride. I wrote half of it – and Woody and Maggie handled the rest. If young readers don’t remember Arizona for the saguaro cactus, they’ll remember it for the naked green giants that can’t get their shoes back on.

Arizona: What Bernie saw (L) and what Woody and Maggie saw ®

So it’s an entertaining read. But it’s a geography book at heart and meant to teach children about the United States. Exercises at the end of the book help young readers identify each state by shape, location and characteristic.

Pages of exercises help young readers navigate the United States

“Woody and Maggie” is big (8 1/2” X 11”), bold (lots of primary colors) and all the pictures and maps are hand-drawn. It’s engineered extra-tough for the young crowd. I had the book printed on heavy paper (100-lb stock), saddle-stitch-bound with an extra-thick cover (120 point board) and wrapped with a dust jacket. This is one expedition-grade piece of literature.

The 40-page, full color, hard-back would be perfect for any 5 to 10-year-old reader on your gift list. Remember, Christmas is only a few months away. Or you could buy it for yourself. Lots of evenings I just leaf through it and loose myself in the America of windmills and sand dunes.

“Woody and Maggie” Back Cover

But “Woody and Maggie” isn’t just another mass-produced book sold through a mega-sized book store where you’ll never meet the author.

Nope. “Woody and Maggie” is an extension of the 12-month journey that unfolded with you at RiverEarth.com. You’ve been across the Rockies in winter with us. You’ve felt the Pacific Ocean rise up your legs after 3,500 miles on the trail. So you’re already part of the journey.

Which is why mule Woody wants to sign your copy.

That’s right. Woody wants to “hoof” (autograph) every copy of the book that’s ordered before September 16, 2006. That’s right, you’ll get your book signed by the first-ever mule to stand at the Official Center of the World.

The hoof that’ll sign your book
The Official Center of the World – Felicity, CA

So that’s what “Woody and Maggie” is all about.

I sure hope you’ve enjoyed your tour and decide to order a copy of “Woody and Maggie”. Remember, book sales help support the next journey coming to RiverEarth.com – the “Lost Sea” expedition.

“Okay, we’re ready to sign your book now…”
Southern Pines, NC – August 14, 2007

Woody and Maggie are standing by. Come on over to the General Store and order a historic piece of the RiverEarth adventure…

Posted Monday August 14, 2006 by Bernie
How Big is Your Escape Pod?
July 15, 2006

Folks are curious about how big an “escape pod” they need – an escape pod being anything that’ll take them on their dream journey. They often ask me “How long a boat do you recommend for ocean sailing?” or “How big (or many) a horse(s) do I need to go on a long distance ride?”

The answer, these days, seems to be “REALY BIG”. The average length of a new cruising sailboat has stretched to 40-something feet, up 10 feet from 25 years ago. I have to leap a little harder to hurdle onto the average horse these days and it’s not because the springs in my legs are rusting.

Here’s the danger in over-sizing, though. The bigger your escape pod, the less likely it’ll take you anywhere.

Then there’s Craig Philipson.

Craig’s boat Sea Cow – Darwin, Australia – 2002

I met Craig of Townsville, Australia, in Darwin, Australia as I was preparing Sea Bird to sail across the Indian Ocean. He was traveling aboard Sea Cow, a Hood 23. The Hood’s a small cruiser, that, technically, is a week-ender sailer. It was never designed for sailing thousands of miles across oceans.

But it’s what Craig had. He bought her because he figured it was better to see the world in his twenties, in a small boat, then wait another 40 years to see it in one that was 20 feet longer.

Because she was so small, she was easily repaired. When he had to replace the centerboard in Darwin, he just cut a new one out of plate steel and bolted it into place.

Then he put back to sea.

Craig and Sea Cow Cape Town bound

Craig and I left Australia in our respective boats and headed across the Indian Ocean for Africa. We caught up on the island of Rodrigues.

I was impressed by his mettle – how, when his GPS failed, he taught himself celestial navigation – on passage – with no manual. It was as though Sea Cow’s frailty and small size endowed him with an energy never found in Big-Boat sailors.

In Cape Town, we caught up again. He’d sailed non-stop around the Cape of Good Hope – the only person I’d met to do so. Most folks port-hopped around that tip of ill repute.

Then I crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Cape Town, South Africa to St. Thomas, USVI – 65 days. “Good” I gloated, “Craig won’t match that. I’m sure he’ll have to stop in St. Helena for supplies.”

Later I got a message from him to the effect of “Ha ha, Bernie. Beat you by two days…!” Craig had taken 67 days to sail across the South Atlantic Ocean in his 23-footer. From the reports, he’d had a whopping good time.

Up the mast

Craig’s back in Australia now. We still communicate regularly. Recently, I sent him a copy of my “65 Days Alone at Sea” DVD and he had this to say:

… when people ask me what it is like to be out at sea for such a long time I play them the DVD. From becalmings to the majesty of the watery universe this DVD will show you just why we do it.

His reply reminded me of how we need to consider the size of our escape pod. I can’t tell you what size boat or horse to buy. Just remember that going smaller plunges you into living, much, much sooner.

Thanks Craig, for the reminder!

To see a video clip of why Craig and I put to sea, and to remember what kind of escape pod you’re working toward, click here to watch some amazing footage…


Posted Saturday July 15, 2006 by Bernie
July 9, 2006

Bob Sundown with mule Woody – Deming, New Mexico

I met Bob Sundown in Deming, New Mexico when I rode Woody and Maggie across America. It was December 2004. The weather was icy, the days nearing their shortest.

Bob lived in a tarp-coverd sheepherders wagon, more yurt than prairie schooner. Summers, his donkeys pulled his wagon north. Winters, he returned to southern New Mexico where it was warmer.

Bob didn’t have much. But he had a lamp.

A real, honest to god screw-in light bulb light that scared away the light as only direct current can.

At the time, I was living out of a tipi my pack pony Maggie carried on her back. I used a small flashlight for illumination, and when the batteries died, I would build a fire in my tiny wood stove and prop the door open.

Just enough light escaped from the door that I could write in my journal.

Bob sitting under his light

But Bob was way ahead of me in the light department. Ok, his light was a clobbered-together afffair that hung from the ridge pole – a piece of wood that ran the length of his wagon. It was more alligator clips and frayed wire than lumens.

But it worked.

He ran the tiny bulb off an automotive battery tossed into the corner of his wagon. When the glow failed, he carried the battery to Steve’s house. Steve owned the small plot of land Bob occupied outside Deming.

Close-up of the light in Bob’s sheepherder wagon

When it came time to rig the Lost Sea wagon with a reading light, I figured I’d outdo Bob. I dashed out, bought a small lamp and a car battery. I wired it all into place in the Lost Sea wagon – no alligator clips.

Then it dawned on me. Bob’s neighbor Steve put the amps back into Bob’s battery when they trickled out.

But for me, that was out. The Lost Sea wagon would travel for days on end, from one town to the next.

So just how was I going to keep that battery charged?


Posted Sunday July 9, 2006 by Bernie

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