Photo by Kristen Smith While riding through Winthrop, Bernice Ende pauses before the painted Evergreen grocery store sign, which includes a woman who looks remarkably like Ende.

Photo by Kristen Smith

While riding through Winthrop, Bernice Ende pauses before the painted Evergreen grocery store sign, which includes a woman who looks remarkably like Ende.

Long-distance horseback rider Bernice Ende sees the landscape and its people up-close

By Ann McCreary

When she talks about her experience as a “long rider,” traveling 28,000 miles by horseback across North America, Bernice Ende seems incredulous about the life she has lived for the past 12 years.

“I never in my life thought I would ride this far  — put in this many miles in equestrian travel,” Ende says, shaking her head in amazement. “I don’t know how I get to do this.”

Ende, who lives in eastern Montana, began riding across the United States in 2005 and has continued a series of horseback trips, calling herself “Lady Long Rider.”

Her travels brought her through the Methow Valley in May as part of her current two-year, 8,000-mile trip that took her from Montana to Maine on the East Coast, and to Padilla Bay in Mount Vernon on the West Coast.

She rode through the valley in early May on her way to Padilla Bay, and came back to the valley last weekend on her return trip.

Ende, 62, travels with two horses, a Norwegian fjord named Essie Pearl and a Norwegian fjord/Percheron mix named Montana Spirit. She rides one horse while the other carries about 80 to 100 pounds in supplies including tent, camping gear, clothes and food.

Riding along highways and through towns, wearing her signature wide-brimmed hat and leading her pack horse, Ende attracts attention. She is generally happy to answer questions from people who ask her what she is doing, and how they might help her.

“I really like socializing, riding through small towns,” she said during an interview in Winthrop on Sunday (May 29).

Although she is befriended by many people along the way, and says she couldn’t do what she does without their help, Ende turns down offers of housing, insisting on sleeping in her tent close to her horses.

In the Methow

That held true during her stay in the Methow Valley, where she was provided corrals for her horses by Dan and Salley Kuperberg, owners of the Chewuch Inn and Cabins in Winthrop. Ende set up camp in a shed by the corrals. Local residents who had met her along the way dropped by to bring a bale of hay, apples and carrots for her horses, a bottle of wine and food for her.

Her arrival in the Methow on her westward journey didn’t go quite as planned, Ende said. Riding from Conconully, mostly on U.S. Forest Service roads, she had hoped to arrive in time for the ’49er Days celebration and parade on May 7  — but didn’t ride into town until the next day.

Disappointed that she’d missed the festivities, she was sitting alone at the Winthrop Barn wondering what to do when Judy and Aaron Lee Burkhardt, who own a Mazama outfitting company, pulled up in a truck.

“They had smiles on their faces and I thought, ‘Hope has arrived,’” Ende said. The Burkhardts had heard that she was in town, and helped her arrange accommodations for her horses and her tent at the Chewuch Inn.

Photo by Ann McCreary Bernice Ende gives a treat to Montana Spirit while the horse takes a well-deserved rest during a layover in Winthrop last weekend.

Photo by Ann McCreary

Bernice Ende gives a treat to Montana Spirit while the horse takes a well-deserved rest during a layover in Winthrop last weekend.

After a couple of days to rest, she set out over the North Cascades Highway toward Padilla Bay, with stops near Newhalem, Concrete and Sedro-Woolley .

“That pass is one of the most scenic, spectacular stretches of road I’ve ever, ever ridden,” Ende said. “Washington is the most horse-friendly state  뾲here are so many trails. It’s so green and luscious and water is everywhere.”

While in the Methow Valley, Ende held a slide show and talk for a standing-room-only crowd at the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink. She hosts talks throughout her travels, often arranged by local residents who meet her while she’s traveling through a community and ask her to share her story.

She sets her hat out for donations and sells a DVD describing her first 10,000 miles. The donations and sales help support her continued travels.

Profoundly changed

Ende’s first long ride was in 2005, when she decided to head from her home in Trego, Montana, to visit her sister in New Mexico. For reasons she still can’t explain, she decided to make the 2,000-mile trip on horseback.

“I bet there have been 1,000 people who have told me ‘I’ve always wanted to do that.’ I never wanted to do this,” Ende said.

She said her sister tried to talk her out of it, and she tried, unsuccessfully, to talk herself out of it. She made the trip on one horse, with minimal supplies, sleeping with a tarp over her.

“I cried the day I left, I cried for weeks,” she said. Finally, fatigue overtook her fear and “broke it into digestible pieces.” she said. “I finished because of ego.”

“By the time I’d finished my first ride I was profoundly changed. I’d finally climbed into my own skin,” she said.

Ende spends long periods of solitary riding. Some of her favorite landscapes are the vast empty spaces of Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. “Its very quiet. You can see everything,” she said. “I’m out there by myself. I love it.”

As she rides alone, she’s not daydreaming, but is focused on what is going on around her  — listening for the sounds of approaching vehicles when she’s on a road, listening to the sound of her horses’ hooves, watching their ears.

“I try not to think of anything but right now,” she said.

She plans her routes along back roads, Forest Service roads and rails-to-trails, but sometimes she has to ride along busy highways and even freeways to get to her destination. Her trip over the North Cascades Highway, for example, required crossing numerous bridges and riding through a narrow tunnel.

On busy roads she is hyper-vigilant. “I’m riding up in my saddle, completely turned” to see what is coming behind her, and keeps her pack horse snugged up close to her mount.

“Semis are going by me at 80 miles per hour. I could reach out and touch them,” Ende said.

Sometimes on sharp curves, when she is concerned about being squeezed by traffic, “we are at a run, to get out of there as fast as I can.”

Still, she feels like she’s got a good vantage point from the back of her horse to see what is coming. “I have a 360-degree view, and I’m 10 feet tall in the saddle,” she said.

Her horses are seemingly unflappable. She has traveled 21,000 miles with Essie Pearl, 14 years old, and 11,000 miles with Montana Spirit, who is 8 years old.

“I marvel at my horses  — their ability to stay composed in the midst of chaos,” she said.

Ende’s background makes her well suited to riding long distances.

Lifetime on horseback

She was raised on a Minnesota dairy farm and grew up on horseback.

“I began riding in my mother’s belly. I lived on a horse until I was 24. I rode wild as a kid” around the farm, she said.

She went on to study and teach classical ballet, and the physical demands and discipline of dance “have served me well,” Ende said. “It’s given me flexibility, discipline, balance and coordination.”

She said her farm upbringing also instilled a “can do” attitude. But she had to struggle to overcome fear and insecurity when she first started her travels. “The hardest part was that I was afraid people would laugh at me,” Ende said.

“Here I was, a 50-year-old woman and I was bald.” (An autoimmune disorder had caused her to lose her temporarily lose her hair).

“It was so hard to ask for help. It took years and years to overcome that,” she said.

She has learned to accept help now. Riding over the North Cascades Highway last week, Ende had run out of food. “I couldn’t even find any nettles or dandelions to cook,” she said.

A woman motorist, curious to know what Ende was doing, pulled over to talk. After chatting for a while, the woman asked if Ende needed anything. “I said, ‘Do you have any food?’” The woman gave her a sandwich.

Ende has ridden through rain, snow, heat and swarms of mosquitoes. She pitches her tent under the stars, or sleeps in abandoned barns and houses. When she doesn’t have a corral for her horses, she puts them on front-leg picket lines, and always sleeps nearby so she knows they are all right.

Support along the way

Ende has garnered support of numerous sponsors over the years. The sponsors provide her saddles, saddlebags, boots, saddle pads, hats, and nutrients for her horses.

Ende mails herself supplies along her route so that she doesn’t have to carry everything. When she pulled into Winthrop she rode to the post office to pick up her laptop computer, cell phone and other necessities.

Her care packages also include horseshoes custom made for her horses by a West Virginia blacksmith. The shoes are made for endurance riding and are coated with a surface that prevents slipping on pavement.

People are usually surprised to learn that she doesn’t carry a cell phone while she’s traveling.

“A cell phone is a real false sense of security,” Ende said. “If I can’t figure out how I’m going to get out of a situation, no phone is going to save me.”

As a single woman riding by herself, sometimes the attention she attracts is from men. Lean, with angular features, Ende laughs at the idea. “Can you believe it? I’m going for the Georgia O’Keefe look.”

Occasionally she has ridden up to a house in the country to ask questions or permission to camp, and encountered a single man “who thinks God has delivered him a woman.”

Ende’s current ride will end when she arrives at Chewelah. That was where her westward ride ended last year, and where she began in April to complete her 8,000-mile coast-to-coast journey. She planned to trailer her horses back to Montana.

She expects her next trip will be mostly around Montana in the fall, because she plans to retire Essie Pearl and train a new horse. Next year, she plans to ride around the East Coast again. “I’ve been asked to speak at Harvard,” she said.

Traveling alone like she does “is a trade-off,” said Ende, who is unmarried and does not have children. “I give up a lot  — community, friends, sitting down at a table with a family. I’m alone a lot.”

She’s tried twice to let other people ride with her, but one person lasted only 100 miles, and the other lasted 200 miles. “It’s me. It’s my way or get out of the way,” she said.

Asked why she continues her horseback journeys, Ende said she hopes “it reminds people of the freedom we have in this country, a country full of good people.

“I also ride to encourage female leadership,” Ende said. “I’m hoping women go beyond the fears that keep us from being leaders.”