BONNERS FERRY — So many of us travel through life wearing masks, a persona that we cultivate for work, for social life, a projection of who we want to be, or think people want us to be.
Meeting with Bernice Ende for the first time, one may immediately notice that she is different. A stripped down version. The mask is missing. More than 30,000 miles and 14 years of traveling cross country with only her horses and dog for company will transform a person. She exudes a quiet confident, lithe and strong in body and spirit.
“I don’t think that you will ever know yourself unless you are willing to go out there and be alone, and face the fears,” said Ende.
Ende has passed through Boundary County a few times on her numerous long rides throughout the years.
“It is one of my routes,” Ende explained. “There is not a lot of places to cross the mountains early in the winter.”
Ende is now embarking on a different sort of adventure. On Oct. 16, she visited Bonners Ferry as part of an eight month, 60 stop, ‘Lady Long Rider’ Book Tour Slideshow Presentation & Book Signing at the Boundary County Library.
Ende prefers to visit libraries for her presentations.
“I am highlighting libraries because we are getting a lot of fundings cut from the libraries, and I really am an advocate for libraries,” said Ende to the intimate crowd that gathered to hear her story and ask questions. “Libraries are really important on my rides.”
Ende has ridden horses all of her life. “Rode in my mom’s belly; came out riding,” she explained.
She also taught classical ballet for 30 years, as well as dressage, often considered to be the ballet of horsemanship. As she neared the end of her teaching career, Ende set out on a new adventure that she described as a life changing window of opportunity.
“It wasn’t like I always wanted to ride across the country,” she explained. “I never in my life ever thought that. It was an idea that came to me and it sat on my couch and screamed at me. And there I went.”
Ende then told somebody about her idea.
“It was too late to turn back then,” she said. “And I rode into a nightmare. I rode into a nightmare for a few years ... until I got better at it after about 10,000 miles.”
“You have no idea. I fancied myself a pretty competent horsewoman. But you go out there alone ... and I had one horse. You go out there alone with one horse and that horse is not interested in staying with you.”
Horses are, by nature, a herd animal. They feel the need to be with others of their own kind, and it was something that Ende discovered early into her first venture. The horse that she was riding was a training horse that belonged to the McCurry Ranch.
“I knew this horse pretty well. Man’o’man’o’man. I didn’t let go of that horse for two weeks,” said Ende. “I held onto those reins for two weeks. I rode, and moved, and kept moving, because he wouldn’t stand still. He wanted to go home, to go back to his herd.”
Ende said that first ride was a huge learning curve for her. She was 50 years old and fit from her years of ballet and horse riding, but it was not the same thing as the adventure she was doing. She was new to packing and outfitting.
“Sleeping on hard ground, and no sleep, the anxiety,” she explained. “I had enough food for maybe three days and my dog was walking with me.”
About 1,000 miles into the ride, Ende said that she crashed and hit the wall.
“I said I can’t do this, I’ve got to go back,” she explained. “A rancher picked me up and put me back in the saddle, and filled me with encouragement — and I finished that first ride.”
That ride took her approximately 2,000 miles, from Canada down to Albuquerque.
“By the time I finished that ride, I was changed,” said Ende. “As I say in my book, I felt like I crawled into my own skin for the first time. I felt like a duck who just discovered wings and could fly, and could swim.”
The ride that followed was even harder for Ende. She rode a Thoroughbred mare that used to be a race horse and had been discarded, on a 5,000 mile ride that took her two years to complete.
“She was nuts. Off the track and just nuts,” she said, but that did not slow her down.
As the rides ensued, Ende added more horses, including a Norwegian Fjord for her dog to ride. She improved her skills. She grew.
In 2014, when she reached the East Coast she said, “It wasn’t until then I felt like, ‘Yeah ... I know what I am doing now.’”
She ended up with an amazing team of horses, one of which was the foundation Norwegian Fjord that she nursed back to health after discovered severe hoof abscesses after she purchased the mare.
“I put her back together and she rode with me 21,000 miles,” said Ende. “My beautiful girl. A remarkable horse. Just being with her, and walking with her, I always knew I was riding and traveling with something from the past.”
“I will never have a team like that because it takes so long,” explained Ende. “They were just remarkable. As good as any police horses. I say that your horse is a ready for a long ride when I semi goes by it at 70 miles per hour, and you can touch that semi.”
As the years ticked by, accompanied by a rhythmic soundtrack of hoofbeats on pavement and earth, Ende’s knowledge and view of the country she traveled through grew and changed. She gained an appreciation for the country and the goodness that it holds, as well as the difficulties that it faces
“It just saddens me to see such disparity over the silliness of politics and religion,” said Ende. “I wish I could take everybody and show them what our country is made of. When it comes down to it, we are good people and we will help one another. To be divided like this is very, very sad — very troubling for all of us.”
“How many times have I ridden to somebody’s home that I may not agree with politically, religiously, environmentally, or all the other complicated issues that we have in our lives?” asked Ende. “When it gets down to it, we need each other.”
This is the message that she hopes to bring to people along the route of her book tour.
“It is the goodness in our country, and to encourage people to vote, to encourage female leadership and— of course— to discover, learn, and grow,” explained Ende.
Ende stressed the importance of the communities and how much she believes that we all need one another.
“Even though I am out there all alone, I am still tied and united with these communities, as we all are,” she explained. “We can’t just yell and yack at one another. We need one another. We must stand united. We must.”
“The secret to my success is unity. Not just the unity that I have to develop with me, my horses, and my dog. That has to be a unit, a team that really knows what they are doing. We have got to be together. We have to think the same,” she said.
“I can’t just be out there alone. I am riding from small town to small town, and I am united that way,” explained Ende.
Traveling by horse is a slow method. Ende often relied on the kindness of communities, and families, to supply her with food or supplies. She would travel 150 miles a week, 600 miles a month. For those not experienced with riding, it is tough work, especially for someone now in her 60s.
“I would get off my horse and I would crumple to the ground,” Ende said about her early rides. “I would have to take the stirrup and pull myself back up.”
Truly riding takes strength and muscle.
“You never just sit and relax. Your weight has got to be down and up and out of the way, or you will destroy your horse’s back,” Ende explained. “If I’m tired, I get off and walk, give the horse a break.”
For 14 consecutive years, Ende has traveled across the country.
“It is all I have done,” said Ende. “I have been living in a tent for 14 years. Sleeping on the ground; living with my horses, in the barn, all year long, living with the horses, for 14 years.”
“I came back home and I realize that I had been gone so long that I lost my community,” she said. “I had been so changed by this that I could not go home anymore.”
Ende found her strength, pushed to the limits out on the open road. But she has not done it entirely alone. Thousands of people have followed her rides through her blog, vicariously climbing into the saddle with her, and in doing so, many have found the strength to face their own challenges.
“I discovered this strength inside of me. I can’t believe that things that I have done, what I have faced out there,” said Ende. “I had no idea what I was made out of.”
Edde’s story is not over. She is only one book into her adventure. After the tour ends, she will again take to the saddle, and embark on the endless road, seeing the country framed by a pair of ears.
For now, though, she travels from library to library, talking with and inspiring so many of the people that she meets. As each person wandered through the door of the Boundary County Library on the evening of October 16, they were each greeted by Ende as if they were an old friend— or would someday become just that.
“It was an amazing opportunity. What an inspiration she is,” said Boundary County Library Director Craig Anderson, “her story, her message, and especially her ultimate message that America is actually a lot more unified, and a lot more positive, than some 24 hour news networks would let you think.”
For more information: www.endeofthetrail.com