Mark Ryan and his horse rode across the West.
2,000 miles in the saddle: 'It's part of life'
SEATTLE - More than halfway through his 2,000-mile horseback journey across the West, Mark Ryan stopped at Zeb Bell's ranch outside a tiny town in southern Idaho.
"He just showed up at my back door - all of a sudden, there he was," recalled Bell, a pro rodeo announcer. "He introduced himself, and asked to just stay here for the night. It's not the first time we've had someone like him."
Bell, 61, described Ryan as a long rider - someone riding horseback for hundreds or thousands of miles - who echoes an era long gone.
For Ryan, riding across the West on his horse Mister Doodles to visit a friend was a chance to see the country in a way not many other people do.
"It's part of life. You just kind of get an urge to do something before you get too old," said Ryan, 46. "There's nothing like traveling 2 miles an hour."
He also left an impression on the people he met as he rode through seven states, from Oklahoma to Washington.
Ryan reckons he camped at dozens of different places, he stayed with more than 60 people, and his horse and mule wore down almost 10 sets of shoes. He took with him only maps - no global positioning system or even a cell phone.
At some places, Ryan said, he rode on highways where cars were an arm's-length away from his horse. His border collie, Halfway, accompanied him to Kansas, where she blistered her feet on hot pavement and had to be picked up by Ryan's wife, Eva.
In Wyoming, the prairie was full of rattlesnakes. At one point in the Idaho backcountry, Ryan got lost for a full day.
"It didn't seem like a big deal at first, but it was a lot of work," Ryan said. "Some of them mountains, boy, it got cold. Frost on the tent, rainy days, and a lot of hot days. All we carried was 60 pounds of gear, at times 50 pounds of feed."
He left his hometown of Kingfisher, Okla., on June 2 and didn't reach Ferndale, Wash., a small town about 20 miles south of the Canadian border, until mid-October, almost five months on the road.
"You can't believe he actually did it," said April Smith, one of the friends Ryan was visiting. "It's kind of a John Wayne story."
She and her husband didn't believe Ryan when he said he would ride his horse to Washington.
While the Smiths waited for him, Ryan was meeting all sorts of people. There was a county sheriff and the rodeo announcer in Idaho, a widow in Kansas, and many others. He kept the names and addresses of all of them.
In Laramie, Wyo., residents called animal control after seeing Mister Doodles and the mule - named Festus - resting at a park in town. Animal-control worker Terese Bingham found Ryan reading his Bible and the animals in fine condition.
"It takes a lot to pull off a trip like that. Not many people can pull off being alone like that," Bingham said.
Outside Brush, Colo., Floyd Pickett helped Ryan get new shoes for Mister Doodles and Festus.
"I had a lot of admiration because he had the guts to go do it," said Pickett, a retired ranch foreman. "I'm 67 years old, and I always wanted to do it."
Ryan stayed with the Smiths for a few weeks, but because the weather was getting cold he decided not to ride his horse back to Oklahoma. He looked for rides, but ended up buying an old truck, with a horse trailer for Mister Doodles and Festus, his wife said.
But the truck broke down in Oregon.
"He doesn't have the money to buy another or fix the engine," Eva Ryan said. "He's waiting there for a ride. If he wants to ride back, he'll have to wait till spring, wait until at least May."