The road less traveled

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Providence is defined as "fate," or "God's will, as expressed though events on earth."

Bernice Ende experiences quite a bit of providence - she calls it "trail magic."

Ende, a long rider, is on 3,000-mile trek from Mojave Valley back to her home in Trego, Mont. She travels with her dog, Claire, and two horses - one for each of them.

"She did 7,000 miles walking, all by herself," Ende said of the 7-year-old "Montana original," (aka unknown breed). "I couldn't possibly ask her to do another one."

So, while Ende rides Honor, a 9-year-old thoroughbred mare, Claire perches on a custom-made saddle aboard Essie Pearl, a 6-year-old Norwegian Fjord.

Last week, Ende spent a few days in Rainbow Valley as a guest of the Justice family. A California friend of Michele Justice had recently e-mailed her a newspaper article about Ende. A couple weeks later, Justice came upon a woman with two horses and a dog about a mile from her Buckeye home.

"I couldn't believe it. I recognized that Fjord," Justice said, of Ende's pack horse. "I said, 'that's got to be her.'"

What are the odds Justice would happen upon Ende as she trotted down Tuthill Road - more than 200 miles from where the newspaper article originated?

"It's more than a coincidence. I don't know, ask Him," Justice said, pointing a finger to the sky.

Justice stopped and invited Ende to lunch. Afterwards, Ende continued on her way to Maricopa to visit an aunt. On the way back, she returned to the Justices' house to rest for a few days.

"She didn't even know it was Easter weekend," Justice said.

'Riding into smiles'
Ende said when she first began long riding, almost four years ago, she had no idea what people would make of her trotting up and asking for water, food or if she could camp on their property. The "fifty-something"-year-old said she is constantly surprised at the generosity of the thousands of people she has met.

"I thought people were going to laugh at me ... 'is she crazy?'" Ende said. "I never would have expected this."

People not only give Ende hay, supplies, even money ... they open up their homes and lend her their showers, washing machines, barns and corrals. Some meet her along her route, others ride out with her as she sets off on the next leg, and many host get-togethers with clubs, senior centers and schools so people can hear Ende's stories.

"It's moving, it's humbling, it's touching. What happens to me in a week is unbelievable," Ende said. "It has led me to believe ... this is something that is really dear to the hearts of people. It represents something that's at the core of our hearts as human beings - the horse and rider. The horse, the noble animal that it is ... people are drawn to this, they're taken by it - it's like riding into smiles."

An immediate life
Ende's current journey, which began Feb. 21, marks the fourth long ride Ende has taken since she retired as from a 25-year career as a ballet instructor in 2005 and took up riding across the U.S. She said this 3,000-mile trek will take about eight months.

"I'll be home in time to vote Nov. 7," she said.

The Long Riders Guild, an invitation-only organization of equestrian explorers from around the world, invited Ende to join after she completed her first ride of 2,000 miles.

"It's very important that I represent the long rider with integrity. I take this very seriously, I don't think I'm out for a joy ride," she said. "I think that the long rider represents a legacy - not just to our country but to many cultures ... the horse and rider is a romantic legend; it represents freedom, quality of time and the space that we're losing."

Ende travels with about 150 pounds of gear, including camp equipment, few clothing items, a couple days' worth of food and a notebook to journal in. While she does check e-mail via library and hosts' computers, she shuns carrying a cell phone.

"It would just disrupt the ride," she said. "Your ride is dictated by your season, temperature, water, terrain, that's how I ride. Your life is very immediate. Life is right now. This is it."

She pointed out gifts people had given her: a shirt and blanket from the Yakama Nation in Washington, a replica Pony Express patch from a man in Prescott and a Tucker saddle from Outfitter's Supply of Columbia Falls, Mont.

"These hides are donated too, I couldn't do this without people helping me, sharing their belief in it," she said. "You know - wanting me to ride."

Ende admits the perils of her chosen life, things that are a danger to her and the horses - traffic, trains, airplanes, all-terrain vehicles and rattlesnakes.

One of her scariest moments happened on a coastal highway in Oregon.

"I nearly bit the dust I don't know how many times by semis over there. Trucks going that close to me at 80 mph," she said while reaching her arm out to indicate about a foot between her and passing trucks.

Ende carries a .357 Magnum for protection. While she often will wear it when in isolated areas, she said she has never had to use it.

"I sleep with it many nights, because it's not safe," she said. "Many times I'm in a ditch at the side of the road."

Ende said she is not lonely on her rides.

"This is family," she said, as she patted Honor's silky gray neck.

'Submerged in the landscape'
The ride can challenge and daunt Ende as she maps routes to keep her near small towns and ranches, and works to keep the horses healthy and safe. However, Ende said the blessings come every day.

"The wildlife, mountain goats, big horn sheep, antelope, elk, grizzly bear, black bear, all of it - to see it this way, it's like being submerged in the landscape," she said. "It's like you touch it, you taste it, you feel it, you smell it, you're dirty by it, you're hot by it, you're cold by it."

And the moments that stop Ende in her tracks, the ones that take her breath away - she has dozens.

She closed her eyes as she recounted a particular trek though Colorado.

"Coming across Colorado, San Luis Peak, 1,300 feet and I'd come up this bowl. I was on the Continental Divide Trail and I come up this bowl and there was a ridge . . . I was zig-zagging my way up and I reached the top of that peak," Ende said. "And, it was like another ocean of mountains before me that I had to cross, but, I sat up there, with my horse and my dog, and - top of the world."

She paused, smiled and nodded with her eyes still closed.

"Touching heaven. Touching heaven."

Rebecca I. Allen can be reached by e-mail at

Keeping up with a long rider
Track Ende's progress and read periodic updates at Reach her via e-mail at, she answers e-mails from library computers along her journey. To see a slideshow of photos, visit
Rebecca I. Allen
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