Waiting for the Tumbleweed Connection

“Did you ever hear back from the tumbleweeds you launched?” I get that question a lot, especially from folks that have watched the “Lost Sea Expedition”, the Public TV series about my mule voyage across America (which you can stream here on Amazon).

Mule Polly and me launching a tumbleweed from the Lost Sea Expedition wagon (outside Keyes, Oklahoma)

Okay, let me set this up for you a bit.

The Lost Sea Expedition

The “Lost Sea Expedition” is the 4-part documentary I filmed about my 14 month wagon journey from Canada to the border with Mexico. The goal of my journey was to film a documentary about the ancient sea that covered what is now the Great Plains. I filmed the entire journey with only the gear I carried in my wagon: two movie cameras, an audio recorder, tripods, and a laptop. All powered by a 100 watt panel bolted to the wagon’s roof.

Mule Polly assisting with some heavy weather camera work (Black Hills of South Dakota)

Clearing snow off the solar panels so I could charge my movie cameras (Black Hills of South Dakota)

Inside the wagon – all 21 square feet of it.

The route across America – Neptune, Saskatchewan to Fort Hancock, Texas

In the course of my journey, I wove in an out of the lives of hundreds of folks. I sat down with lots of them to record their thoughts on what it was like to live in a part of America that lots of people – including me – didn’t know much about. Then I piled my gear back in to my wagon, hitched my mule Polly to the shafts and walked out of whoever’s life I’d entered the day before.

Interviewing Art Morrison (Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota)

This went on for month after month, season after season. I started my journey in Neptune, Saskatchewan in May and, half a year later, was halted by the coming winter snows in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I sat out the winter and set out again the following spring. I traveled south all that summer and fall, interviewing folks along the way. Winter overtook me in Oklahoma. I decided to push on so I could document what it was like to travel the southern Great Plains in winter.

The Second Wagon Winter

I soon learned that winters on the Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas plains was a lot like winter most everywhere else on the Great Plains. Lots of cold, snow, sleet and frozen rain which, if you’re traveling with a mule and wagon, that means lots of icy water buckets, numb fingers and waking up to a mule with frozen-shut eye lashes.

I blanketed Polly in cold weather.

A snowy slog

But the cold wasn’t the hardest part. I could wear a wool hat to bed. I could crawl in to two sleeping bags. I could wriggle in to a set of quilted coveralls and set out again the next day, consoling myself that giving mule Polly double rations would keep her warm. What I missed more than warmth was human contact.

The Oklahoma panhandle is one of the emptiest parts of America and that winter, mule Polly walked across it one mile at a time. Much of my route was along gravel and dinky country roads. The reasons they’re that way is because there’s nobody out there. Sure, there’s ranch land and some farming. But in winter, the wind blows so cold and hard, most folks stay inside. The land, for the most part, is just a frozen gray expanse of wind blown grass. A fair number of ranches we stayed at, like I found across much of the Great Plains, were abandoned.

Pulling out of an abandoned homestead

Empty land

On windy days, especially when the wind blew from the north, the only movement across the land was tumbling spheres bouncing and spinning across the land – tumbleweeds. At first, while they were still a novelty, I enjoyed watching them stream my way. They swished against the wagon, bounded in to mule Polly and got stuck under the wagon, where they made a scratching sound until one of the wheels ran over them. A real treat was watching one get crushed against the cow catcher of a tractor trailer barreling up the highway at 65 miles per hour.


And then the novelty wore off. You just can’t admire each and every of the thousands of tumbleweeds that hurl by your wagon every day. And then I got sick of them. Mornings, after I camped in the wagon in some frozen field, I had to pull them out from under the wagon where they’d gotten jammed overnight. I drove past houses buried in tumbleweeds. I drove by fences pushed down by tumbleweeds. And through all this, I barely saw anyone. I felt more and more like a sailor voyaging alone across an ocean.

Buried in tumbleweeds

Message in a Tumbleweed

Surrounded by all these tumbleweeds, I got the idea to tie some notes to them and send them off across the empty expanse. The Great Plains equivalent of a sailor launching a message in a bottle. I snagged a few of the largest Kali tragus I encountered (also known as Russian thistles), spray painted them orange for visibility and taped a note inside each. Scrawled on each note was a plaintiff message to the tune of “Hi. I’m Bernie. I’m traveling across the land with my mule Polly. I’m lonely. Please write me back. Thanks. Bernie” To that I added my mailing address and, so the finder wouldn’t have to spring for the postage, a stamp in the top right corner.

Gathering tumbleweeds

Spraying them with orange spray paint

The note

Mule Polly checking for quality control

And then I launched the tumbleweeds from my wagon. The best place to do this was in an open field where the wind carried them off, jiggling and bouncing toward the frozen horizon. Some of the launches I filmed. Some I just savored. I launched a lot of tumbleweeds for I was mighty lonely. The night after every launch, hunkered down in my wagon, rocking back and forth by the winter winds, I wondered where the latest batch of tumbleweeds was bounding off to. And who might find them. A pretty woman? A crusty farmer? Or would they just splinter to bits as they rolled themselves to death.

A wagon full of tumbleweeds ready for launching

The launch

The send-off

Destination: Unknown

Which brings me back to the question folks often ask me. “Did you ever hear back from someone who found a note in your tumbleweed?

To which I answer “No.” And then I think back to all those beautiful tumbleweeds bounding across the land, each carrying my lonely note to someone on the other side. Someone who might also be feeling shut out from others. Someone who was going through a tough time out there on the empty plain. And I think how excited they’d be to reach in to a tumbleweed and unravel that note that had tumbled all those miles across the great wide open and in to their life. They’d peel off the duct tape, read the note and find out it was from someone else looking to make a connection. Then they’d head to the post office to mail it back to me.

I don’t want that image to die, of a tumbleweed bridging the gap between two lonely people. I’m home now. I’m married. I’m not lonely any more. And yet I cling to the memory. So I amend my answer about getting back one of my notes in a tumbleweed from “No.” to “Not yet”.

New Book Update

Work on the new book about my latest mule voyage from North Carolina to Idaho is going really well. This week I worked on passages on why you can’t jerk a mule across a bridge with a golf cart, the Frogman’s sandwich and deflating a Nebraska calf with a pocket knife. I hope to have the second draft completed early in the new year. If you want me to give you a shout when the book comes out, just sign up for my newsletter right here.

One hundred Sixty Seven Lost Sea Expedition Thanks

A great  big thanks to the 167 folks that have reviewed the “Lost Sea Expedition” series on Amazon Prime. The 4 part TV public TV series is about the voyage I took from Canada to Mexico with my mule Polly.

Right now we (my wife Julia, me, mule Polly and our critters) are spending most of our time holed up on our farm in western North Carolina waiting for the Coronavirus pandemic to ease. Our thoughts go out to everyone who is struggling with these strange times.

We’re passing the time in simple ways. Planting a garden. Fixing roads. And yes, keeping mule Polly, star of the Lost Sea Expedition, exercised.

Julia exercising Polly of her pony Pickle. Mule Polly things she’s done enough work and would really prefer….


…hanging out under her favorite willow tree with her buddies. That’s Polly in the foreground. The dark mules beside her are Brick and Cracker who I spent 195 days last year riding from our farm in North Carolina to Idaho. The buckskin at the far right is Pickle, Julia’s haflinger.

How Your Reviews Help

Reviews and word of mouth are the #1 way to spread word of the series. If you haven’t already, it would be great if you left a review. A few words and seconds is all it takes. You can do that right here.

If you’d like to stream the series, you can do so right here on Amazon.

Or if you just want to drop us a line, mule Polly and I always like hearing from folks. You can contact us right here.


Over 700,000 of Minutes Streamed

Mule Polly and I got to wondering. How often is the “Lost Sea Expedition” being streamed on Amazon? The series is about mule Polly and my solo wagon voyage across America. According to Amazon, it’s been viewed over 700,000 minutes in the last 3 months. That’s almost 12,000 hours. Wow!

Amazon’s stats: the series has been viewed over 700,000 minutes in the last 3 months. That’s over a year’s worth of streaming (493 days to be exact).

More important, the series has gotten over 80 reviews.

These reviews are vital. They show Amazon the series is engaging viewers. That means Amazon  (okay, Amazon’s algorithm) encourages folks to stream the series. That really helps word get out about this beautiful series.

If  you’ve reviewed the series, thanks. If you haven’t, a few words and a few seconds is all it takes. You can leave your review right here.

Thanks from mule Polly and me!
PS:  If you haven’t watched the series yet, you can stream the series right here.

EQUUS INTERNATIONAL Film Festival Selection

The “Lost Sea Expedition” is crankin’. A few weeks ago it won a Winnie Award at the EQUUS film festival in New York. This week, the film has been selected to appear at the EQUUS INTERNATIONAL film festival in Missoula, Montana.
This is very cool because Polly and my trip covered parts of Montana. No matter what the judges think, Polly scores a win with us. Brace yourself for a bonus ration of carrots my traveling friend!
You can stream the series on Amazon.
More about the EQUUS INTERNATIONAL film festival right here.

Thanks For Your Review

Friday afternoon mule ramble.

A huge thank you to everyone that left a review of the “Lost Sea Expedition” on Amazon. We got 17 new reviews this week which put us 6 over our goal of 50. To celebrate, Julia and I rode up the mountain. In the photo above, I’m riding Brick and leading Polly, star of the series. You can bet Polly got her carrot bonus!
If you’d like to review the series that would make a little mule very happy. You can leave your Amazon review right here.
Everyone have a great weekend.

Lost Sea Expedition wins Winnie Award at EQUUS Film Festival

The Winnie Award (EQUUS Film Festival photo)

Man walks across America with mule. Man makes movie. Movie goes to New York City and….wins shiny gold trophy.


Okay. Sorry. I got carried away.

It’s just that I’m so excited that the Lost Sea Expedition, the account of my mule voyage across America, just won a Winnie award at the EQUUS Film Festival in New York City. It won for  best Full Length Equestrian Film Travel Documentary.

What now? Well, mule Polly, star of the series, can’t eat a trophy so I have a better idea.

On our latest jaunt, a 6 week amble from North Carolina to Virginia and back, Polly developed a real love for little red apples. So red apples it is – a whole bag full if that’s what it takes.

In the meantime, here are 2 ways you can watch the award-winning Lost Sea Expedition!
-buy the DVD at the LostSeaExpedition store.

-stream the series on Amazon

Mule Polly served as pack mule on Julia and my trip from western North Carolina to Virginia and back. That’s Julia in the background riding Dusty. You can read more of the journey at my travel site RiverEarth.com and Julia’s blog Saddle Under the Stars.
A hat full of apples. The came from a road side tree in western North Carolina (Todd, NC)


“Lost Sea Expedition” Screens Friday, November 30 at EQUUS Film Festival (12p)

The EQUUS Film Festival runs Nov 29 – Dec 2, 2018 in Brooklyn, NY. The festival is dedicated to all things horse, mule and donkey and features movies from around the world.

News just in that the Lost Sea Expedition is scheduled to be the first movie to be screened at the 2018 EQUUS Film Festival in New York City. The movie about mule Polly’s wagon voyage joins other movies ranging from gypsy wagon life and Marwari cavalry horses to the California vaquero.  Festival bonus: this is the first time the Lost Sea Expedition, originally released as a series, will be shown as a feature length film.

Where: Wythe Hotel Cinema
N 11th St & Brewers Row & Wythe Avenue – Brooklyn, NY 11249
80 Wythe Avenue – Brooklyn, NY 11249

When: Friday, November 30, 2018

Time: 12pm

Click through for the entire schedule.

Continue reading ““Lost Sea Expedition” Screens Friday, November 30 at EQUUS Film Festival (12p)”

Horse Radio Network Interview

Big thanks to Glen and Jamie of the Horse Radio Network’s “Horses in the Morning” show. I had the pleasure and amusement of being a guest on their show this (Monday) morning. We had a great time discussing the Lost Sea Expedition series, messages in a tumbleweed and why anybody would set off across America in a wagon. Stream the interview, or any of the 6,000-plus interviews they’ve done, at www.horsesinthemorning.com .

A Quarter of a Million Minutes Streamed

A milestone: 1/4 million minutes of streaming in the last month.

Wow. A quarter of a million minutes. That’s how many minutes the Lost Sea Expedition, the TV series about my wagon voyage across America, has streamed on Amazon in the last 4 weeks. That translates in to 13,859 unique streams.

Sooo… a wagon-sized thanks to everyone that’s tuned in to the series. An even bigger thanks to everyone who’s left a review. You can read and leave reviews here. These REALLY help mule Polly and I get the word out.

If you haven’t already, you can stream the series right here on Amazon.