Horse and rider see America close up
Who has not wanted to take a trip across the US by horseback? Alex McNeil has been doing so in order to raise awareness on Land Conservation. Alex’s horse, Pepper, is a Tennessee Walker who looks as sweet as can be. His website and Facebook page go over what care he has taken before and during his journey. ~ HfH
By: George Barnes
FITCHBURG — Taking a break on Kimball Street, Pepper enjoyed some oats and then lay down for a much deserved rest.
“Don’t roll! Don’t roll,” her owner Alex McNeil called out, worried the horse would roll on its side and crush his possessions stored in her saddle bags.
Mr. McNeil, 37, formerly of New Hampshire and lately of Montana, and Pepper, a 5½-year-old horse he has owned for a year, took a little time off in Fitchburg from what has been an eight-month journey from the Pacific coast in Oregon to Fitchburg with a final destination of Hampton Beach, N.H. They hope to arrive there Saturday.
Lately they have been following Route 2A, but the trip has taken them across deserts and prairies, over mountains, through cornfields. Often Mr. McNeil was on cart paths or off road, relying on a Garmin GPS he had with him and paper and Google maps.
Mr. McNeil’s reason for the trip is simple. He is a carpenter by trade but he has an adventurous spirit. He also worked as an outdoors guide for river and hiking expeditions, but has just been a traveler the past eight months.
“Life’s ephemeral,” he said. “I’m always up for a challenge. I always like to try something different.”
The idea that life is short and his willingness to seek challenges set him off on his adventure with Pepper. It is also not he first adventure in his life. Born in Pennsylvania, he grew up in Warner, N.H. before traveling out west. He said he has crossed the country many times, mostly in cars, but also using five less traditional modes of transportation. Along with the current horse trip, he has also biked, ridden a moped, a motorcycle and an airplane across the United State or Canada.
“Ironically, the moped was the cheapest and the fastest,” he said.
The moped cost him just $52 in gasoline. It putted along at 20-miles per hour, but was still faster than flying a Cessna 150. It took 27 days versus the airplane, which was 34 days. The reason the airplane was slower was weather. On the moped he kept putting along regardless of rain, snow, sleet or hail. Flying the airplane, he was grounded for a long time in Ohio because of the weather.
The idea to ride the horse across the country came to him two years ago while riding a bicycle more than 4,000 miles across Canada. He saw a horse in a field along the way and decided it would be his next transportation. It was a bit of a learning curve.
“This is my first horse,” he admitted as he spread out a bag of feed for Pepper.
In preparing for the ride, he learned about horses and the horse learned about him. When he bought Pepper, she was what he calls green broken. She could be ridden but he had to teach her the commands needed to bring her up to the level where she would follow his commands, including not to roll.
As Mr. McNeil and Pepper made their way through Fitchburg, they approached the 3,800-mile mark for the trip, but that does not count the 1,000 miles they traveled by truck from Montana to Brookings, Ore., to start the trip in March.
The journey has been interesting, but not always easy.
In Brookings, Mr. McNeil said, he had to deal with cold weather and snow. That was the coldest weather they encountered, but they faced other challenges along the way.
“I’ve really enjoyed this, but it hasn’t always been easy,” he said. “There have been many weeks in a row with few rations and little water.”
In the deserts of eastern Oregon, they struggled to find enough water, but it was worse in Montana.
“In Montana there was 550 miles of sagebrush,” he said. “That’s the gnarly bit.”
There were also clouds of buffalo gnats in Idaho so thick he had to spray bug spray on Pepper and get into his tent as quickly as possible.
But there was a lot to like about the trip as well, he said. He said the upper plains in Nebraska were beautiful and he met many nice and interesting people as he traveled through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming Montana, Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and, of course, Massachusetts.
“People have been really good all along the way,” he said. “What you see on television is just cheap drama. What I’ve seen is friendliness and giving all along the way.”
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