Saddle sets her free: Stark County among stops for long riderTAYLOR — Bernice Ende makes light of the wrinkles across her tanned face, the worn boots on her feet and of the sometimes-dusty trails, but in the thousands of miles she has put on with her two trusty horses and canine sidekick Claire, she realizes these aren’t really the things that matter.
TAYLOR — Bernice Ende makes light of the wrinkles across her tanned face, the worn boots on her feet and of the sometimes-dusty trails, but in the thousands of miles she has put on with her two trusty horses and canine sidekick Claire, she realizes these aren’t really the things that matter.
What matters, she said on a break from her journey on a drizzly Monday morning at the Art Depot in Taylor, is paying attention.
The “old-as-dirt” long rider calls Trego, Mont. home. Well, not really. The ride is home.
She began a 6,000-mile journey from Trego in March 2009. The crew then headed to Washington and on to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota. Today, they are in Stark County and on the homeward stretch with 600 miles to get back to Trego.
“North Dakota has been a breeze,” she said. Nowhere have people been as interested in her ride and as hospitable as in North Dakota, though Texas compares, she said.
The speed of life at 4 mph is much different than what most people are used to, Ende said.
Even at 4 mph she’s tough to keep up with, said Faye Sanders, a New Salem resident and the secretary of the Old Red/Old Ten Scenic Byway who helped Ende get settled at the Morton County Fairgrounds Wednesday evening. She also introduced Ende to other long riders and to students at the school where Ende was a guest speaker.
“I’m envious,” said Sanders, who also rides but jokes only “short rides.” “I think it’s just incredible what she’s doing, for a single woman to travel where she’s traveled.”
Ende says the trip symbolizes history and what this country was founded on. It’s also about “slowing down.”
“I feel like I’ve gotten to taste something so rich,” she said, adding that richness includes a way of life that rarely can be found. “I realize I am creating that — freedom.”
Dozens of people stop her daily to ask what she’s doing and she stops to chat and talks to students and passers-by. She reminds them to pay attention in life — to the sights, the sounds, the people.
“And out of that you will have a life so rich and full,” Ende said.
She often eats and drinks what comes along her path including water from ditches, dandelions and berries. She carries a gun but no cell phone.
“She’s so resourceful, she knows what she needs and she’s able to find it,” Sanders said.
Ende was raised on a dairy farm in Minnesota, and later pursued a career in classical ballet and teaching dance.
But she “rode while in my mother’s belly and I came out riding” and one day she decided to ride to visit her sister in Albuquerque, N.M.
At first her travels made her miserable. “The first year I started out was dreadfully hard,” she said. “I cried and cried.”
But she was too far along and kept going. After about 1,000 miles it felt right, she said. Now, Ende has a hard time imagining getting off the trail.
Her rides include 2,000 miles in 2005, with a 5,000- and a 3,000-mile trek in later years.
“That takes a lot of guts,” said Beverly L. Haas, Art Depot owner, who visited with her Monday morning and had many questions to ask.
Ende’s ride is funded by sponsors, pass-the-hat talks and other donations.
Besides the Morton County Fairgrounds, in the past few nights she has slept at a campground outside of Glen Ullin and the next night, another location near there.
The team slept between Hebron and Richardton Saturday, and Sunday she had the Lions Club Shelter at the Horsefest grounds on the edge of Taylor to rest at.
Dickinson Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Terri Thiel was to trailer Ende, Claire, Essie Pearl (a Norwegian fjord who packs the gear) and Hart (a 14-year-old paint gelding) to her land near Dickinson Monday.
“That’s a long time in the saddle,” Sanders said of Ende’s trip.
Then Ende will be off, headed west. She shakes the hands of those she meets along the way. A firm grip, a look in the eye and her signature “happy trails.”