Posted 8/04/15 (Tue)
By John D. Taylor
Folklore says unusual things happen “once in a blue moon,” and that was certainly the case across Burke and Divide County as July’s second full moon rose over Noonan Thursday evening and Bernice Ende walked into Bootleggers Bar.
Ende, 61, is an unusual person.
This retired ballet teacher is on a solo 2.5-year horseback ride that will take her from sea to shining sea across the U.S. and Canada.
She has traveled from her home near Kalispell, Mont., to the Atlantic Ocean – she wintered in Maine – during 2014 and 2015; and was heading west, returning to Kalispell, when she passed through Burke and Divide counties.
She “holed up” in an old barn during the storm that blew near-hurricane force winds across western North Dakota during the middle of last week, visiting both Noonan and Crosby.
After reaching Kalispell again, Ende intends to go on to the Pacific Ocean, then ride back to Kalispell next year.
This is not the first time she’s made long-distance horseback rides. She’s tallied some 26,000 miles in the saddle riding across the continent since 2005.
Ende completed her first long ride in 2005, a 2,000 mile trek from her home in Trego, Mont., to Edgewood, N.M.
“I rode on a wave of ignorance. I cried the day I left and cried for weeks until fatigue finally broke the fear into tiny digestible pieces. I eventually found a life that tantalized and called to me, a life that suited me. I remember thinking ‘how will I ever return to a normal life?’ Well I guess I never did,” she wrote of this first ride.
She doubled her 2005 distance in 2006 and 2007 traveling from Montana to Oregon and the Pacific Ocean, then south through California, Arizona and New Mexico, then returning north through Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota and back to Trego.
She did 3,000 miles in 2008; doubled this between 2009 and 2011, then rode another 600 miles in 2011; did a 2,000-mile Canadian ride in 2012; and a 1,500 mile ride in 2013.
Ende is a member of the Long Rider Guild, a group that nurtures non-competitive equestrian travel, so each rider can make use of their own skills and achieve personal excellence.
Her sole traveling companions are two trusted Norwegian Fjord horses, 13-year-old Elsie Pearl, and 7-year-old Montana Spirit, who has some Percheron blood. She rides one horse and uses the other as a pack horse, alternating from time to time as each needs a rest.
She had to leave her dog, Claire Dog, behind on her current trip, because the dog was getting up in age and Ende felt the trip and eastern traffic might be too much for her.
Ende grew up on a small Minnesota dairy farm and she dedicates all of her rides to her mother, who instilled a sense of curiosity and a desire to look beyond limitations in her.
She taught classical ballet for 21 years, spending time in San Francisco, Portland and Minneapolis.
She rides, she says, not for any particular purpose or cause, but just because she loves to ride.
“I don’t know why I do this,” she said, noting that she is basically alone in life, with no family or parents to take care of.
“The reason for swinging into the saddle in 2005 for my first ride is very different from the reasons that I continue to ride today,” Ende writes in her blog. “How could I have ever imagined such a life and how well it would suit me? I continue to be lured by the elusive horizon.”
“Riding,” she said, is the best way to experience the countryside. “It’s marvelous! I’m always thinking of Willa Cather (on the Great Plains).”
Along the way, Ende shares her travels through talks and presentations at local schools, 4-H clubs, youth groups, business meetings and to the many horse-lovers she encounters.
For Ende, riding is no longer a hobby, but a way of life, her occupation. She sells a DVD about her experiences to help pay taxes on her home in Trego, Mont.
“I find the life challenging in every way. It has deepened my sense of gratitude for friends, community and strangers that quickly become friends. My appreciation for the country I live in and for the animals that willingly travel with me has infinitely deepened,” she writes on her blog.
Her daily schedule, especially when it’s hot, is to rise before dawn, be in the saddle by 4:30 a.m., then ride until about 10 a.m. She rests her horses during the afternoon, rubs them down, curry combs them, cleans up the sheep’s wool saddle blankets, and prepares for the evening ride. She’s back up in the saddle by about 6 p.m.
“We do about 30 miles per day this way; 15 to 20 miles in the morning, that much again in evening,” she said.
Her gear is very “stripped down” she said. She used to pack a lot more – including a cell phone, but that has been left behind as well. Now, she relies on local public libraries to communicate with people and share her experiences on her blog.
She spends a lot of time foraging food, her dinners are rice, beans and native greens like dandelions.
Her horses also rely on forage, she packs no hay or other horse food.
And Ende has spent many years – since 2008 – living in a tent, sleeping on the ground, essentially living with her horses, which gives her an appreciation for the soft padding of the bar stools in Bootleggers, the comfort of a regular bed when she gets to use one on occasion.
She recalled spending time in New York during the winter, sleeping in her tent in the barn with her horses.
Border crossings, she said are all about “money and paperwork,” which she has prepared to make it easier for her.
What has Ende learned from her years in the saddle?
“I learned about empathy for the human spirit,” she said. “We’re all in this together. That and the goodness of people. I wish I could take everyone with me on my rides, so they could see this land.
“I don’t have a message, except about hope and the freedoms we enjoy here in the U.S. I’d also like to encourage women to overcome fear and be more adventurous, do things on their own.”