Residents of Ulster County saw something traveling down Route 209 on December 21 that might have made them think they have traveled back in time: a covered wagon pulled by three mighty draft horses.
It was Lee The Horselogger, who starting out from East Glacier, Montana on August 9, 2006, with only $75 and two weeks' worth of food, on a cross county quest to visit his childhood sweetheart, living life to the fullest along the way. Lee lives out of the wagon he built and depends a great deal on the kindness of people he encounters along the way.
The Ellenville Journal's Joe Bevilacqua found him, his wagon, three horses and two Great Pyrenees dogs, camped out in the parking lot of Minnewaska Motors in Kerhonkson, and had the following conversation:
How did you end up at Minnewaska Motors? I was sitting up at Adams Fair Acres Farms in Kingston and this lady stopped by and we started talking. I had to use the facilities and she watched my horses for me. I asked, 'Do you know anyone down the road?' The following day [Minnewaska Motors owner] Dennis [Ballentine] shows up and says I have a place for you to stay. That is the way trip arrangements are made. I don't make anything. One thing leads to another. I might ask Dennis, 'Do you know somebody down the road?' and he'll probably know somebody about twelve miles away.
How do you decide to do this? Poverty. Poverty is a wonderful thing. Sometimes you have no choice. If you want to go visit you have to hitch the horse up and go. I'm a horse logger by trade. The only way I can come and visit my childhood sweetheart was to hitch my horses up and go and that's what I did.
Where does your old sweetheart live? In the Bronx. We visited each other and had a good summer. And now it is time for me to keep going and doing other things.
Starting point? East Glacier, Montana, actually south and west just a little bit. Two Medicine River. It is the east side of Glacier National Park. There are long stretches that are just grassland. The mountains are coming down, and on the east side the mountains are fairly high. You are in some steep terrain but on the other side where it is just vertical. Pretty country. I was on the Black Foot Indian Reservation when I left there. We were on a few little adventures and I discovered that I needed a different wagon. The wagon that I had, I traded with a Blackfoot family. This is actually my fourth wagon on this trip. We had some other issues, some health issues to deal with, just being sick.
What did you do for a living before? I am a horse logger by trade. I am a Montanan. I am kind of the last of a breed of people who go out into the woods and make a living off of the woods, not raping it but definitely making a living off of it. I am forty-six years old and I have never paid an electric bill because as an adult I never had it. I have never had indoor heat. I just put propane heat in my wagon. I have never had it, I always had wood heat. Outdoor toilet, pack water with buckets. Live up in the mountains. Camp while you are logging. Spend time outside. That's just what I do.
Tell us about your wagon. I built the whole thing myself. I took a light weight steel frame. I bought a pioneer running gear, which is the ties and the axles. I put plywood and insulation, concrete blankets for insulating concrete slabs in the winter. Cow panels, that are wire panels and tarps and I batten them all down.
Why is there a pillow in the window? That's to block the view, I haven't finished the interior. That's the bed up there. A couple of chairs because I visit with folks. The wagon is seven by eleven (feet). I have a wood stove I haven't hooked up yet. This is the chair I came across the country in. Unfortunately one of the horses decided it didn't need both arms on it. Propane furnace. T-shirts I sell, clothing upstairs, bed upstairs. Horse feed, a little bit of propane, three or four hundred pounds of oats.
How much does the wagon weigh? About 4,500 pounds. We [Lee and his horses] came across Montana with six thousand pounds. Horses like to be doing something useful. They really do like to be out and about and having fun. Yes, like people they can get tired of working too much and you have to let them rest, that sort of thing. All in all horses are bred to work. They like to work.
How many miles have you travelled? You can't count it. I have been doing a lot of back roads. No interstate. I am not going the quickest distance between two points. I am going to see the country. Sometimes I wonder a little bit. Ball-parkish - three thousand plus miles. What significance does it make how much mileage we have done? The only time I care about it is I can point out to people, we have done this much mileage, my horses look good... Beyond that I don't really care.
How many horses do you have? Three right now. We will be building up to six: two full size wagons and a small wagon when I am done. Right now I have a full size wagon and a small wagon.
Tell us about the people you've met. I have met hundreds of thousands of people, literally. They come to the wagon and I'll interact with them. Sometimes very briefly, sometimes I'll talk with them for hours. Sometimes, they will be a repeat and stay for days and help things going down, especially when I am not feeling well. You just meet so many fascinating people and some become very close friends. Some I am keeping in touch with in Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, all along the way. Just about every state except Indiana. Indiana was a tough state to get through, it was a bad time of the year and I was trying to get through it as quick as I could.
The weather? The thing we hate is heat. We can handle heat as long as there is no humidity. We came across New York and the heat was miserable, 95 degrees with 95% humidity. That's hard on horses. That's a horse killer. We were going Route 20 across central New York, up down, up down. Yeah we hit the weather, that's just normal for us too.
Snow? We love snow. We were in Minnesota last in January and February, 30 below zero, no big deal, just another day.
What kinds of provisions do you have in the wagon? For the horses. I eat out of restaurants, convenience stores, which is not a good thing to do. But a lot of food shows up too.
Where are you going next? Twelve miles down the road, past Ellenville.
When do you normally leave your camp? 10 a.m. or noon. There is no hurry. I've got a green horse so we don't do a lot of mileage quickly. We need to condition her and take care of her. They boys are chomping at the bit because they want to be moving out a little bit but they hold it off till she's in shape to keep up with them. She is doing quite well and the boys are having fun too.
What is the farthest north you've gone on the east coast? Boston.
Funny stories? Out in Montana, I lived right off of the Flat Head Indian Reservation, about two miles off and I tell them I am going to the Black Feet and they say that's terrible! They are going to steal from you and kill you and just terrorize you. So I get over there to the Blackfeet Reservation and I have problems and this Blackfeet family takes care of me and helps me get another wagon going and putting all the things together and helps me feeling a bit better. I tell them I am going to go across Route 2.
They say, “Oh my God, you are going to go across to that other reservation! They are going to steal from you and kill you and...” I hear the same story each time. At the last one, they ask where did I start and I tell them Blackfeet and they say, “Oh my God they are going to...” I learned that people are people. The other lesson there is if you choose to attract problems they will come to you guaranteed. If you choose to attract and give positive energy that will come too.
Has it been a good trip? The amazing thing is other that my health issues I really haven't had any problems on this trip. That is pretty amazing when I left Montana with seventy-five bucks to my name. I didn't sell the ranch, my family sold the ranch. They kept the money. I didn't get anything when the ranch sold. On a day like today people have been helping me all along. They stop and hand me a small cash donation and that is just wonderful, that is what keeps us going. I am slowly fixing things, trying to make them easier for myself, more comfortable and a little better for the animals. By the same token I spend a lot of time visiting with people. It is a two way visiting. They are sharing with me and I am sharing with them. Sometimes there are people who need a little guidance to look at the world a little differently, that have been so jaded, entrapped and entrenched in a bitter mental attitude. That is part of what this trip is about, to just touch them and say it's not all bad. In fact there is very little bad, only if you look for it.
What have you learned? Allow creation to guide you. What it will give you is so much more than you can possibly imagine. It is something our society misses. We are all here for a reason, to learn and share that learning with others, to guide each other and help each other. We have lost that. There is no concept of learning any more, of sharing.
When you lose the concept of sharing you lose the concept of connection and you lose the concept of love and you lose the concept of faith. It is just a snowball down the mountain until you have nothing. Nothing is a wonderful thing to have provided you let go of all the other crap you have too. To be able to look at the world and say I have nothing and to have nothing I have everything. That is one thing I am reluctant to try and explain to people but it is one of those things that when you have all of these ideas you get caught in the ideas. Eventually you just have to say [forget] it, they are not worth carrying around any more. So what is important? To be loved. So if I have nothing I really have everything because then I can love. Then I can connect but if I get stuck with my opinions... politics amaze me.
Why would any mature adult be interested in politics? They are afraid of being alone with themselves.
How do your persevere? The interesting thing on a trip like this one person a day shows up and provides me with enough connection to make it to tomorrow. Because when I loose that I can't keep this thing going. It is a tremendous amount of energy.
How much further? Oh, eight, seven thousand miles, depending on what I do.
Why do you do it? This is my crusade. I have no agenda, no desire to change anyone's political beliefs, convert you to my religion or show you the way. I do have the desire that if somebody connects to me to say welcome to our wonderful world and let me encourage you to keep walking in your world. That is all I got.
Lee the Horselogger made it to Wurtsboro late Sunday afternoon, December 23, in a downpour. He stayed in the parking lot of Giovanni's Inn and Restaurant. On Christmas day, Lee was almost to Port Jervis and expected to be in New Jersey before long.
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