Since my father was told to walk the Trail of Tears, our family has traveled 14,000 recorded miles through 24 states by foot and by horse. This journey started when my dad wanted to understand being American Indian (or Native American, as said today) and talking with my great-grandfather who said pointing out his door in Cherokee North Carolina, walk the Trail of Tears and then you will know somewhat what it is like to be Indian.
Leaving with myself (9 months old in a kid's carrier backpack), my mom and our horse, Prince Hussein, a retired Thoroughbred race horse packed with our minimal goods, we started the walk, which took 14 months helped and inspired by the good will of the people. Whenever we needed food or anything, dad would offer to do a work exchange and, since he was multi skilled laborer, there was always work to be had.
This trip started a 20 year odyssey of travel by horse. Over the years, we acquired three more kids, more horses, and a couple of wagons. Our first upgrade was a loaner of a couple of mules and a wagon, which we used for about a year. Than we got a two-wheeled buggy (our chariot) that was pulled by Prince, which had Amish wooden wheels with a metal band around them and we made a cover using bent willow branches and canvas. We used that for quite a few years until we got our Cadillac wagon.
This is a 4 rubber tired wagon, which is made using the straight rear axles from a Cadillac. Such a smooth ride, though we did get the occasional flat. We pulled the old, two-wheeled buggy behind with our supplies in it. Going by horse has its disadvantages: averaging 5 miles an hour or under 30 miles a day, although our record is 76 miles on a cold upper state NY winter day when Prince just wanted to run all day; and advantages: no cost grass powered.
Sung to the clippy clopping of the cadence of the horses hooves:
The bull was looking through the fence,
He says; I seem to have lost my sense of sight,
I think I see a wagon, coming down along the road,
Sure looks like they have an easy load.
Ol’ Prince is clippy clopping
And ol’ Smokey just ain’t stopping
And we thank you Lord for an easy load
I also put together this kids ditty was I was super young and remember it for some reason:
Popcorn popcorn road, Popcorn popcorn road, I like the popcorn road
Zoom zoom road, Zoom zoom road, who likes the Zoom zoom road?
Not the Destination but the Trip
I have heard many people say and lately have read many memes that have some version of: It is not the destination, It is the trip.
This is definitely how we went. Although we mostly went back to Alabama, or Tennessee, or once to Israel in the winter to rest up and not travel in the cold weather, we also did travel through Connecticut and New York in the winter. One Christmas, we camped out on the green in New Haven Connecticut and we created a real life nativity scene next to the normal one. That was fun as I had lots of kids to play with.
I remember once on my birthday in January, we were snowed in somewhere in our buggy and I was crying; this my birthday and I have stuck in this little 5 foot square with nothing to do all day. Somehow in the midst of the windy snowstorm, someone saw our tiny 5-foot-square buggy with our horse hunkered down nearby and knocked on the canvas. I don’t know if it was when dad went out to check on and feed Prince or not, I just remember being invited to a stranger’s house for what turned into my birthday party.
Up to that day I had not liked carrot cake but when they provided me a carrot cake with candles my joy overwhelmed my dislike and I like carrot cake to this day some 30 years later. Reflecting on this miracle, I am truly amazed by the kindness of strangers.
We usually didn’t have a problem finding a place to camp, whether is was just the side of the road or in a church lot. When we wanted to rest up or stay in an area for longer than a few days we carried with us the Directory of Intentional Communities and Alternative Schools. These people always seemed up to doing work exchange for us to stay for a week while we looked for more permanent work.
When we hunkered down for the winter in Tennessee, we had a truck for hauling wood but mostly for hire. We would haul, transport, drive to work in it and go to town once a month to buy food and do laundry. I got my first full-time job “baby sitting” or being basically a servant to an eldery man and used the truck to get to work. My first real part-time job ( I was making minimum wage of 3.25) helping Bob, a great handicapped man, with his house and raised bed garden. Since that was only 3 miles away I rode my bicycle there.
In Tennessee, we were near a bicycle factory that made low quality department store bicycles and since many people in the area worked at the factory there were tons of these bicycles around. I got highly skilled at repairing them, using only the tools I had, which were a screw driver and an adjustable wrench, as they were such low quality they constantly had to be repaired.
Years later, this skill came in handy when I become a manager of the Bike Surgeon bicycle shop where I was the Bike Doctor ( I make house calls) and later when I started my first full time business Alternative Transportation and Energy. Who knew that the hassle of constantly repairing low-quality bicycles would lead there? Now living in a smaller University town I find it easier and faster to get somewhere on a bicycle especially if you have to find parking. In the winter when I ride or walk to gym I always find it funny to see my neighbors who drove to the gym.
Breaking from Car Culture
We and our society are very car dependent. I got my first car, a ’64 Plymouth Valiant, when I was 14, which I loved to drive around our farm and I fixed up to sell. Growing up in rural Tennessee I was driving tractor, raking hay when I was 8. The hard thing is to try to break free from our dependence on the car to try to realize it is just a tool, not a lifestyle or whatever is marketed to us.
I “love” my Subaru and at least once every 3 months (used to be every month) I love going on a high speed jaunt. I do tend to not use my car in town but rather walk or bicycle which is why I bought a small 300 square foot house downtown. I bought a house in town when I found myself driving to town 2 or 3 times a day almost every day for work or meetings. How can I be Living Off Grid, Really?!?! with solar for my electricity but be fuel dependent and waste all that time ( 2 or 3 hours a day) driving?
I am trying to reset my mind that the car is to be used only for travel outside of town or for on a rare occasion hauling a bunch of bulk goods. This is how I grew up but after 10 years of becoming addicted to the car it is difficult to break the addiction. My dream is to live somewhere with a lifestyle that doesn’t need the cost and hassle of a car! The challenge, joy and speed of riding a bicycle around town is becoming as addicting.
I look forward everyday to the interactions I have on my Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page and hope you will join the discussion there.
Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page, and read all of Aur's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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