Preppin’ For Leatherwood Mule Days

Bernie Harberts trims his mule Polly's mane with scissors.
Caaaarefuuuuullll with those scissors. Polly waits patiently as I trim her forelock for Leatherwood Mule Days. From her calm eye, you can tell she knows there’s a head rub waiting when the job is done.

I sharpened the scissors. I caught mule Polly.  Then I trimmed her mane and tail and took a swipe at her toes.
Man, she’s as spiffed up as mule can be for Leatherwood Mule Days. I’m already thinking Coon Jump, pasture camping and starlight dancing.

I hope you can join us and here’s how you can do it.

Continue reading “Preppin’ For Leatherwood Mule Days”

Lost Sea Expedition Review by The Long Riders’ Guild

Extraordinary Film Documents Wagon Journey from Canada to Mexico

The 4-part Lost Sea Expedition premiers on Rocky Mountain PBS

Review published June 28, 2017 by

Original link:

Saint Augustine is supposed to have said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.”

Few people have heeded Saint Augustine’s advice with as much devotion as American Long Rider Bernie Harberts, for he has read the world and delivered a tale such as few have done.

After sailing around the world alone, Bernie rode “ocean to ocean” across the United States. Then he set out on a remarkable journey in search of the “lost sea” that once covered America’s Great Plains. What he found was a nation awash with contradictory beliefs, a people longing for emotional stability, and an environment facing catastrophic changes.

Plenty of people make trips which result in the creation of DDD, ‘dreary daily diaries,’ written by people who travel far but have say little of value to say afterwards. Bernie Harberts isn’t one of those and the documentary film he made is worthy of attention for a wide variety of reasons.

It’s certainly true that the film relates how Bernie travelled 2,500 miles alone in a tiny wagon from Neptune, Saskatchewan to Fort Hancock, Texas. But this story is about a lot more than a man, a mule and a wagon.

Hollywood typically depicts the “Old West” as being populated by buffalo and long horn cattle. Yet Bernie met various people, including a paleontologist, a rancher and a Native American who showed him dinosaur fossils they had discovered in different states where the Lost Sea had once been.

On a superficial level it’s easy to sit back, watch the pretty landscape, enjoy seeing the antics of Polly the mule, wonder at the colourful people Bernie meets and take in the sights second hand.

What sets this story apart from the vast majority of equestrian travel tales is its maturity. This is a documentary film that is different because there are important emotional, social, cultural, religious, political and spiritual threads interwoven into the tale.

The American states Bernie travelled through have traditionally been associated with hardy pioneers, resilient ranchers and enduring farmers. Yet Bernie discovered that large portions of the interior of the USA are becoming increasingly depopulated.

He filmed a house buried by tumbleweeds. He witnessed small towns dying. He spoke to lonely survivors. And he documented how the country’s most vital water supply, the Ogallala Aquifer, is being emptied by aggressive industrial-sized agricultural practices that are draining away the nation’s underground water at an alarming rate.

The editor of a small Kansas newspaper asked Bernie, “Will the water run out before the population runs out?”

The landscape may still be magnificent but what this film also shows is the shocking de-population of the interior of America.

During an in-depth Question & Answer interview with the Guild, Bernie discussed his journey, the film he made single-handed, and the unexpected discoveries he made along the way.

What is revealed is the story of a man who represents the ideals that once defined America around the world: principles not profits, integrity not ego, truth not deception, personal courage not ethical cowardice.

Bernie Harberts may be an American Long Rider but his story has a global message and this documentary presents an authentic view of the country – culturally, spiritually and environmentally.

More about equine travel and exploration at

Polly Portrait

"Mule Polly" by animal painter Julia Carpenter (acrylic on board)
“Mule Polly” by animal painter Julia Carpenter (acrylic on board)

Recently, mule had her portrait painted by animal artist Julia Carpenter – aka The Bestiaryst. Julia did a great job capturing Polly’s expression, especially her eyes. It’s like Polly is saying, “hey, haven’t I pulled this wagon far enough? Wouldn’t this be a good time for a bite of grain?”

For some of Julia’s thoughts behind the painting, check out her article “An Awfully Good, One of a Kind, Un-proud Mule” at her site

Thanks Julia!

Mule Polly looks at the camera in Laka Alma, Saskatchewan.
The photo that served as the basis of Polly’s portrait. The structure in the back ground is a grain elevator. No wonder Polly looks so enthusiastic.  (Lake Alma, Saskatchewan)


The Last Wagon Journal Entry

Bernie's Optimus Ranger 8R stove in the Texas desert.
The last night on the road. The flame in the foreground is the Optimus Ranger 8R gasoline stove. I used the the ancient, $35 stove, to cook almost all my meals on the entire Canada to Mexico journey.  The tripod used to to film the Lost Sea Expedition is next to water jug I used to carry water in to the desert. Look closely behind the wagon and you can spot a bale of alfalfa hay. The water jug and hay make an appearance later that night in my journal. (Sierra Blanca, Texas)

March 9 marks the anniversary of my last day on my wagon voyage across America – the journey that became the Lost Sea Expedition series.

Most nights in my wagon, I wrote in my journal. Tonight, reading back over those entries here in my cabin in Western North Carolina, those notes seems like a missive from another era. Continue reading “The Last Wagon Journal Entry”

After Snowflake, all horses were easy

Bernie bucks his pony Snowflake
My first pony Snowflake. I taught her to buck just in time for the 1974 Christmas postcard. Not a smart move for a kid who struggled to stay on. This is a card I created for the community art site Wilkes County, NC (Karen Cantor photo)

My friend Julia started the community art project The gig is simple. Folks send in a photo of a beloved dead pet and a 6 word description.

I submitted Snowflake, the pony who still makes me duck every time I see a low peach branch. Continue reading “After Snowflake, all horses were easy”

Time Lapse Cattle Guard Crossing

Time lapse of mule Polly and I crossing a cattle guard in the New Mexican desert. The cattle guard is made of railroad ties spaced about 9″ apart. That means Polly’s hooves would have fallen between gaps – the reason I had to unhook her and lead her around.  For a while there, she had me pulling the wagon a spell on our voyage across America. Smart mule!

Skip’s Honey Map

One of the main reasons it took 14 months to travel across my mule Polly is that I relied on word of mouth –  not technology – to find my way from Canada to Mexico.

Bernie and Polly take a break on the road
Bernie: “Which way is it to Mexico, Polly?” Polly: “Just keep walking……” Outside Beach, ND

I didn’t have a smartphone, GPS, wifi connection, digital maps or sat phone. Instead, I wanted to interact with people. That’s how I ended up on the receiving end of a sketch map and the giving end of three jars of honey.

Continue reading “Skip’s Honey Map”