The Best Laid Plans Of Mice And Men ...

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Ready for a big confession from someone who lives up here in the Rim Country?

Hold your breath ...

I have never ridden a horse in my life.

I have never even sat on a horse!

In fact, the closest I've ever been to a horse was one day while I was hiking in the Superstition Wilderness. A cowboy on horseback -- packing a six gun on his right hip no less! -- came down the trail going the other way. He passed by about four or five feet away and that was the closest I've ever been to a horse.

And yet, oddly enough, I think I know what it's like to mount a horse, turn its head toward the wilds, and spend a day away from our noisy, overcrowded world.

How can I say that? Well, for one thing there was a time in my life when I dreamt of nothing but horses, open country, and a solitary life spent in the wild. And at a time when I was still young enough to live that dream, a few things combined to fill my mind with little else.

One of them is so interesting, so different from what we see these days, that I know you'll thank me for telling you about it.

Ever hear of a man named Tschiffely? I doubt it. I only heard of him by accident, and though I've mentioned his name to hundreds of other people, all I've ever gotten was a blank stare.

It shouldn't be that way. Tschiffely was quite famous once, and deservedly so.

No, he didn't do any of the things that usually make people famous. He didn't invent anything. He didn't do anything dramatic during a war. He never served in office. And he isn't a screen star, a rocket scientist, or an astronaut.

All that A. F. Tschiffely did was mount a horse, start down the trail, and -- as the saying goes -- ride off into the sunset.What made him famous is that he kept on riding into that sunset -- for 10,000 miles, from Argentina to Washington D.C.

If you want to read a great book, one that isn't full of sex and nonsense, but is filled with what makes a horse lover a horse lover, read Tschiffely's Ride, written in 1933. In it, Tschiffely tells of two native Criollo horses, descended from stock brought to Argentina in 1535 by the conquistador Pedro de Mendoza, and how he rode 10,000 miles over lonely trails.

Tschiffely loved those two horses, and that love comes across in his book. As I read it, I formed an image in my mind of a man and his mount which has never faded. Named Mancha (Spot) and Gato (Cat), those two horses came alive for me. I began to love them as much in 1959 as Tschiffely did in 1925.

Oddly enough, I bought the book in a bookstore in Karachi, Pakistan. And, yes, in those days they had plenty of books in English there, and although I was Christian and American I was as welcome in town as a long-lost brother.

Someday I may talk about how that friendliness and respect for us changed over the years -- and why.

It happened that I had just come to Pakistan from Japan, where I had just seen the John Wayne film "Rio Bravo," also starring Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson and Walter Brennan.

The sound of Dean Martin quietly crooning "... my rifle, my pony, and me ..." really captured my imagination. Though I had never ridden a horse in my life, I made up my mind that when I got back home I was going to get a job, save up, buy a horse, learn to ride, ride the trails I had hiked on foot as a teenager, and then take off for the wilds, riding north through still existent old forest up to Maine.

Where I would have gone from there I don't know. It would not have been back to some city.

It never happened. Instead, my wife Lolly happened, and my first son, David.

So, although I have still never ridden a horse I feel I understand some of what a rider experiences along a quiet trail. I've done a lot of quiet, solitary hiking in my life, and I've ridden a bike along many country roads. In Japan, for a year or so, I rode the silent country roads, bouncing along all alone on fat balloon tires and seeing sights I never thought I would see.

During my four years in England I again rode a bike, this time a beautiful gold painted Raleigh with a three-speed rear hub, a bike I still have 40 years later. I didn't buy a 10-speed; I didn't think I needed one for the kind of quiet riding I planned.

Five days a week I rode 16 miles for exercise. And when the weekend came, if Lolly and I had no plans, I often rode as far as a hundred miles on that three-speed, sometimes taking both of my kids along with me. I loved it. So did they. And although Lolly had a Raleigh too, she most often sent us cheerfully along our way, choosing to stay home and do her crafts, and no doubt enjoying a break from having to feed the three of us.

Free-wheeling along a deserted road on my little Raleigh, in the humid, sun-warmed glow of the English countryside, amid fields gold with ripening hay or nodding heads of wheat, and listening to the quiet tic-tic-tic of the pawl in my rear hub, was one of the most battery-charging experiences of my life.

Surely, it must be akin to what a rider feels as he or she listens to the gentle clop-clop-clop of hooves along the trail.

Well, not everything we plan bears fruit, no matter how well, and how long, and how hard we plan it. So I never got to live my dream.

But I'll leave it up to you to guess whether I would trade what I've got for what I might have had.

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