Chuck and Mary Reagan aren’t in any hurry to get to California.
So they’ve been on the road in their 100-year-old covered wagon with their two horses, two mules, two dogs and last two dollars for more than two years.
The Reagans made a stopover in Payson Monday, resting their flock at Payson Feed before continuing on to Prescott, the Grand Canyon and eventually the coast of California.
Traveling at the top three-miles-an-hour speed of a cockroach, it has taken the couple a few more years than they planned to reach their end goal. They told one reporter in early 2010 they planned to travel from their home base in Crab Orchard, Ky. to Butte County, Calif. by November 2010. Now Chuck said he hopes to make it there by November — of this year, a tidy two years behind schedule.
On the road, a few hiccups slowed the couple’s progress, including a broken axle and a switchover from wooden wagon wheels to modern tires.
But more than mechanical issues, the journey became more important to the couple than reaching their destination.
“I decided I wasn’t in that big of a hurry,” Chuck said.
You see the world differently from the wooden seat of a covered wagon when you only cover 15 to 20 miles a day. Time and distance take on a different texture and priorities
Everything in the Reagans’ lives has literally slowed to the speed at which pioneers ambled across the country.
Like the pioneers, the Reagans are seeking a better life.
The title of their Web site — “America Found: Best of the Free Life” — has become their motto for living and the message they hope to spread — get off your cell phone, get off the interstate, let go of your to-do list and wander a bit on the back roads.
“The idea is not to get there quicker, but to take our time and really see this great country that so many of us take for granted and know so little about,” Chuck wrote on his blog. “As a child, I was fortunate enough to travel back and forth across America before the interstate system was completed and bypassed a very large portion and very important part of our country, that being Small Town America.”
A summer road trip with his dad in 1969 really inspired his journey 40 years later.
As Chuck and his father passed through southern Arizona in a Jeepster Commando to go gold mining in the Sierras, Chuck spotted a group of men driving a covered wagon from Tennessee to California. The men were selling postcards for 25 cents to make ends meet.
Chuck said he bought one of those postcards and told his father he wanted to do the same thing some day.
He tucked the idea away as a love of travel and adventure led him around the world.
Chuck says he went around the globe 2.5 times during his 10-year service with the Navy and during his private travels.
When he met his now-wife Mary in 2001 in New Port Richey, Fla., the couple toyed with the idea of sailing the seas in their sailboat. But Mary found she didn’t like sailing and so sank the idea.
When Chuck proposed traveling across the country in a covered wagon, Mary surprised him. “Sure, sounds like a good idea,” she said.
Chuck bought the 1910 wagon and draft mules Pearle and Pauline from a man named “Tennessee.”
The wagon originally wobbled along the hard pavement on wooden wheels until Chuck bought modern tires in New Mexico. Nearly everything else on the wagon is of the period, including the tongue that connects the front axle with the mules.
Like the pioneers, the Reagans cook their meals over a campfire, use a bucket for a shower and have few amenities. But the Reagans admit travel is a lot easier on modern roads and help is always just a short distance away.
The couple and their crew travel three days and stop to rest for several more. Chuck said he treats his animals like his children and never pushes them too hard.
A testament of this care is evident. All of the Reagans’ animals are well fed, injury free and happy. Their two dogs, Pete and Junior, cling to Chuck’s every move.
The family unit is never more than a few feet from each other. After two years, the horses and mules have adjusted to Mary’s early-rising and neigh for food as soon as she stirs. Chuck ignores the braying and sleeps in on the couple’s Serta mattress — their one luxury item in the wagon.
The Reagans do not ride on Sundays and avoid interstates like the plague. Instead, they clop along the back roads, pulling over frequently to let vehicles pass.
Surprisingly, they have had no accidents and only 18 middle-finger salutes from irate motorists.
Most police officers are more curious than upset that they are blocking traffic.
“There are a lot of good people out there and we have been meeting them,” Chuck said.
Strangers have proven remarkably generous, he added.
When they need a place to stay, someone stops to offer their home or yard. When they need supplies, someone donates.
When they got to Payson, Chuck inadvertently broke both of the couple’s chairs. Two strangers offered up two camp chairs.
The couple was not planning to stop in Payson, but needed to get their mail.
As they rolled into Star Valley, they stopped at the Spur Bar for a barbecue sandwich.
As they waited outside, Vic Agnes, owner of Payson Feed, stopped and offered to let them stay out front of his business where he has a small corral set up.
“Every day, someone invites us to stay,” Chuck said.
They never turn anyone down and that has extended the trip.
Weeks earlier, as they pulled into Overgaard, an employee at Bison Ranch invited them to set up camp at their corrals.
The next day when they left, Chuck noticed the mules needed new shoes.
“Here we were no money and needing shoes,” he wrote on his blog. “A lady gave us $40 to help out. About a mile down the road, we were stopped by a lady who asked if there was any thing she could do for us. I asked if she knew a farrier and in no time at all we had a number for Buck Peterson and another $40 for the cause.”
“We barely got rolling when we were stopped again by a gentleman who had stopped us a few days before and he had an 80-pound bag of pellets for the gang and a pineapple for Mary and me.”
Such random acts of kindness occur daily.
Chuck, who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident years ago, said something about the wagon attracts goodwill.
“If I was standing out here hitchhiking, I guarantee people would pass by in the other lane. But because I am in a wagon, people will give me their children to take on a ride, give us food and invite us into their home.”
Like his inspiration 43 years ago, the Reagans sell postcards to fund their journey. Any money left over will go toward opening an equine rescue facility after the trip.
Chuck, 54, also plans to write a series of children’s books based on their travels.
While Mary admits she wishes they were back home some days, Chuck says he can’t imagine “normal” life.
“In the past few years, I have caught myself, like so many others, becoming jaded and in too much of a hurry to just stop and help a stranger or to trust anyone,” he wrote. “It’s a good feeling to be getting away from that attitude and just slowing down to see more of life.”
Chuck offered this advice: “Do you and your families a favor and give them something that will stay with them their entire lives. Get off the interstates, out of the theme parks and into America.”
For more information, visit www.americafoundbestofthefreelife.com.