HRL is excited to share another excerpt from Bernice Ende’s blog “Ende of The Trail”! A Long Riders Guild-recognized rider (with over 30,000 miles on horseback traveled and counting), author and activist, Bernice always brings a unique and lovely perspective on life to her readers. This piece asks the questions we’re all facing now as the pandemic slowly recedes: what have we learned in the last year-plus that can we bring into the ‘new normal’ days to come?
-Barb Godwin, Publisher, HRL
Be Devoted to Your Life
APRIL 12, 2021
In a time like this it is natural to ask one’s self, what is the purpose of my life?
This pandemic long ride has been a twister for all concerned. I could not imagine going out with the Covid restrictions, riding up to someone’s house like a bandit and asking for food or water. The pandemic has, like so many, stopped me. In my stillness I have discovered the blessings of reconnecting with family after all these years of riding alone. I’ve had to address health issues long ignored. I have once again found enjoyment in living in one place. I also find myself dipping into the lessons learned from long riding. This is a time for me of re-examining what is important in life.
As a long rider traveling the past 20years with horses and dog, three questions inevitably were asked, “How old are you?” “ Do you carry a gun?” and “Aren’t you afraid?”
My age reply had a 10 year variation. A gun? Yes. Fear? Yes! Some of the questions filling my anxious mind each evening at 4pm were How far will I go, what will happen, will I make it, where will I sleep, will I find water? Pandemic or not people will face a bombardment of questions whether your long ride is motherhood or being a teacher, a truck driver or student. Such thoughts were disastrous for me, at least I felt an erosion of myself with such thoughts.
Eventually I realized, “Hey look I am alive – this I know!” I have made it thus far and no one has not helped me. I would search my surroundings for something positive. I realized that if I did not find a way of getting clarity, of keeping my mind open to possibility, my journey would take my life. I breathed life into my journey by focusing meaning into my journey. I put devotion into each day and invested in the process of my ride thus eliminating the menacing doubts.
This process was essential when crossing lands like Eastern Montana, Wyoming or Kansas that sweep away thought and words before you can think or speak. I felt lost in the immensity of my surroundings. It was unnerving knowing how little I knew. A lone car or truck would slowly pull up beside me, a window rolled down and words were exchanged. As they drove away I realized I couldn’t remember anything we’d said. I was immersed in the world around me feeling like one very small unimportant creature on this earth.
Time is not ticking away – your life is ticking away. It’s important to know where you are going and why you are headed in that direction. But most importantly does what you are doing bring you a sense of purpose? These questions rise to the top if we are seeking a fully-fledged life. Three miles an hour is plenty fast as far as I am concerned. If you can, slow down, enjoy this time as a gift. Make this a time to discover, learn and know something new about yourself. If taking a fence apart is necessary to move forward – do it. But always respectfully put it back together. Don’t let fences, road blocks or any obstacles keep you from moving forward. Find opportunity, not problems in these challenging times. If you make life a race remember what the finish line holds.
On my second year out riding south through Iowa, still very much a novice with 3000 miles trailing behind me. I made camp near an abandoned farmstead. As I broke camp the next damp morning I could not find my boot. Claire Dog, beloved, loyal companion had taken my nearly new boot and I could not find it. After hours of combing the thick grass we’d bedded in, I gave up and rode out wearing one boot. When I finally worked up enough courage to stop at a home for water I stepped down from my high horse, (his name…Pride) wearing one boot. Asking humbly and with much embarrassment if they might have a pair of shoes they could give me. Until you are in the position of needing to ask for help, you can not realize just how hard asking is. It’s the tough one. It will make you think less of how great giving makes you feel. Watching the long lines of people waiting for food on TV reminds me of this.
On my ride across Texas in 2009 I remember thinking as I set up camp in a ditch with my horses tied to a dangerous barbed wire fence. I felt like a homeless woman, I felt sorry for myself. Eventually I came to believe that what ever problem thrown at me, I would create “possibility” from it. It was important remembering that nothing but change awaited me. Life does not always work out the way we want, it rarely does. This lesson was shoved down my throat every day. Don’t forget only the living have “issues.” Embracing the difficulties of living reminded me I was alive!
Perhaps it came from the many extreme situations, always alone, so little money and the many snowstorms I survived. I came to learn that happiness does not come from an outward experience. Happiness is an inward experience, an expression of ones own human nature. No person, no comfort, no animal is responsible for my happiness or joy, anger or sadness. I could no longer yo-yo back and forth at the whim of others who ridiculed me with laughter or generously showed me kindness. For nearly fifteen years I lived in a tent, in every kind of weather in every kind of terrain. Living in every season with only my dog and horses adding to my existence. Only by finding peace in the absence of so much did I discover what mattered.
I rode year after year, camping at the door steps of the poorest of poor, knocking on the doors of the well to do. Never looking down on anyone, never looking up to anyone. It was a cornucopia of experiences, a hugely enriching time in my life. I came to realize that life without fear was freedom. I finally came to know the quality of life is determined not by the clothes I wear, what kind of home I live in or what kind of vehicle I traveled with. My quality of life is determined essentially by paying attention to what is inside of me. It comes from making the conscious choice to live fully in joy and appreciation making my way ever so slowly down a simple beautiful path.
Too many lives have been lost from the Covid-19 virus. Hardships for those already pressed against a wall of inequality has been exaggerated. Nearly everyone has been affected in one way or another. I have followed the news reports watching the loss. Watching essential medical workers placed in peril. Watching a nation straining from incompetent leadership. It has been heart wrenching, all of it.
But this time is also a wake-up call. A time to ask yourself What is important? How can I take better care of myself? How much do I need? What kind of life have I been living? What kind of life do I want to live?
Questions each of us must sincerely answer as we move through this pandemic long ride. We cannot always control the situations life throws at us but we can consciously choose how we experience them – making a more pleasant ride for all concerned.
Bernice Ende best known as the Lady Long Rider was born into a Minnesota farm family. From her father she got the “can do spirit” from her mother she got the ability to search for the horizon. From the influence of three aunts who were suffragist she developed the independence that led her to saddling up at the age of fifty and riding 2000 miles away to visit her sister. One ride led to another and Bernice has ridden over 30,000 miles alone. Bernice encourages women to have a voice, be independent and remember the great women who struggled as suffragist for the rights of women who exist today. She continues her rides today although shorter than the rides she once rode. Bernice was a recent inductee into the 2020 Montana Hall of Fame. She continues to share her story at speaking engagements and speaks plainly about the trials and tribulations in her book “Lady Long Rider, Alone Across America on Horseback” available at www.endeofthetrail.com , Amazon and local bookstores.
The 2020 Documentary “Lady Long Rider,” produced by Wren Winfield at WE1 productions is also available. Bernice can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.