Oregon woman’s horseback trek isn’t for a cause, but for a dream

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Kathleen Dodds isn’t riding her two Appaloosas across the United States for a political cause, a social movement or to bring attention to a common or uncommon medical phenomena.

If she’s riding for any cause, it’s to encourage people to follow their dreams.

“If I have a cause, it’s that this has been a dream all my life,” said Dodds, a professional horse trainer who began her cross-country horse trek May 14 in Sherwood, Ore., just south of Portland. “I’d like people to realize what their dreams are, no matter how crazy they are. This country was made great by people with crazy dreams, and we need to get back to that.”

Her destination? It was originally New Jersey, because it was a straight route in her itinerary, but she’ll likely divert to New York City, hopefully by Nov. 16 or just before Thanksgiving.

Her trip led her to Punxsutawney Tuesday, when, while seeking information at the post office about where she could keep her horses — mother Mystic and daughter Delightful, “whose name fits about half the time” that alternate riding and packing duties, depending on the day — overnight, she was led to meet Tom and Mary Lou Brown, who live just up the street on Woodland Avenue.

The Browns gave Dodds a place to rest and eat Tuesday and Wednesday, and housed her horses at their barn in Cloe.

Dodds plans to depart for the rest of her journey today.

She said she wanted to come to Punxsutawney and mapped it out on her itinerary. It also helped that the Weather Capital of the World is just south of Interstate 80, which she plans to follow throughout Pennsylvania.

“This is the only city in Pennsylvania I truly wanted to go to,” she said.

Given one week here or a week-and-a-half there, Dodds said there have been six weeks’ worth of sporadic delays. Sometimes, it depends on weather or needs of the horses: “They are my big priority on this trip,” she said.

Dodds said she has been working with horses for 38 years, beginning as a youngster and going professional when she turned 18.

While she does have a degree in psychology, she works as a horse trainer, a career that has taken a downward turn in the poor economy, since many of her clients are spending their money on other things.

“But that’s the deal,” she said. “I do something I love, and I take the chance.

“I’ve been unemployed this whole time,” Dodds added. “It’s the least stressful broke-ness I’ve been in my life.”

She said she’s dreamed about taking a cross-country horse trek across the United States since she was a child, but after a series of making plans and then not acting upon them, a serious medical condition made her realize that after she got back on her feet, the trip was a now-or-never endeavor.

Since leaving the West, she has traveled through three sets of mountains in Oregon, including the Rockies in Idaho, and the high desert in Wyoming via byways and scenic highways. Dodds said she seeks the straightest route on the trip, because it’s easiest on her horses.

She estimates that she’s covered about 3,000 miles, but said she doesn’t want to know until the exact mileage is done — but she acknowledged that she has about 250 miles to go to New York City.

“I know I’m almost done, and I really want to go home,” she said, adding that despite the downturn in her business, she wants to be back to work by Dec. 1.

Despite having some Internet access, Dodds said she hasn’t paid attention to TV or other media. She said she just realized the other day that Election Day was Tuesday, and that she hadn’t heard of the Tea Party movement until recently.

Brown said Dodds has witnessed people’s generosity throughout the trek, which Dodds described as “a complete kindness-of-strangers trip.”

She has been approached by people along the road, asking her if she needs food for herself or the horses, as well as places to rest. People have handed her cash, and a person even went as far to give her a laptop so she can keep up with friends at home.

She’s also using the laptop to work on a book about her experience: “Kind of day-by-day ... the good, the bad, the really embarrassing.”

Needless to say since being on her journey since May, the trip has been slow-going. One day, it took her eight hours to travel 24 miles, while she usually covers 15 to 25 miles over six to eight hours a day.

She may take strangers up on their generosity as her daily ride nears the end, but not once she’s already hit the road. Once the day’s journey ends, she looks for farms or other locations where she can house Mystic and Delightful for the night.

Dodds said she’s had to buy feed for Mystic and Delightful only twice — the rest of the time, strangers have picked up the bill. She celebrated her birthday with hosts who entertained her and housed her Oct. 28 in Butler.

Once she makes it to the Big Apple, Dodds said there will not be a horse-trekking trip on the way home: She’ll be taking a plane.

“My butt can’t take the rest of it,” she said.