Whenever I'm out bicycle riding, I always keep an eye open for passing bicycle travelers who might need some directions or some company. It's how I return the favor to the countless people who have helped me over the years.
I met up with Mark on Friday as I was enjoying an early fall bike ride on the John Wayne Pioneer Trail in the Cascades. Although he wasn't on a bike, I knew he had an interesting story to tell.
Mark was trotting along on his horse and held a rope attached to a mule that carried saddlebags crammed with gear with a load of hay lashed on top. I could tell he'd been in the saddle for a while, the same way you can tell when a bicyclist is on a long tour.
He was happy for the company and we rode along at a brisk pace together for quite a while.
Mark and his two companions, Festus, the mule, and Mister Doodles, the horse, had been on the road since June 2 when they left Kingfisher, Oklahoma. He was traveling to see an old friend in Ferndale, so he was nearing the end of his journey.
They had stumbled onto the trail in the Iron Horse State Park in Ellensburg by accident. They had logged most of their past 2,000 miles alongside roads and even some interstates.
Most people had been courteous, but Mark said he'd run into a couple of angry motorists in eastern Washington who honked and cursed at him. That's another reason why he was so happy to be riding along the Trail.
Earlier that morning the three had completed a skittish ride through the two-mile Snoqualmie Tunnel. The old railroad tunnel isn't lit, although it's dead-straight so you can see a pinpoint of light at the other end. It's the high point on the trail that runs for more than 100 miles from Cedar Falls to the Columbia River.
On average, Mark and his animals cover about 20 miles a day. They've needed to hitch a ride in a trailer about four times; once in the desert and a couple of times over bridges and a high mountain pass.
As we rode along side by side, I felt like I was swapping stories with a fellow bicyclist. He told about how readily people helped and offered lodging. They also did some free camping; the only time they were run off was, ironically, at a rodeo grounds.
He also noted the similarities in touring by horse and bicycle. They're both slow, and you get to soak up the countryside, learn the local lore, and meet a lot of people. It's like traveling in an older time.
Unfortunately, commitments and schedules were looming and I had to break away. I had to travel in the present time, but it was good to travel in another time for a while.