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The American West On The Pony Express with Will Grant (feat Chicken Fry & Badger)


Outdoor adventure is ingrained in the soul of every listener of THE ROCK FIGHT. And it's our daily adventures that keep the dream of bigger outings alive.


Bigger outings like retracing THE PONY EXPRESS from Missouri to California on horseback as journalist Will Grant did in 2019; a journey he recounts in his new book: THE LAST RIDE OF THE PONY EXPRESS.


Today on THE ROCK FIGHT, Will stops by to talk about his trip, the American west, what's next and of course provide an update on the most important characters from his journey, the horses themselves, Chicken Fry & Badger.

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Chris DeMakes (00:37):

Fight, rock, bike, Rockside. Rock. Rock fight. Rockside. Here we go. Welcome to the Rock Bike where we speak our truth, stay sacred cows and sometimes agree to disagree. We talk about human power, outdoor activities, and big bikes about topics that we find interesting. Black, my Culture, music, the latest movie reviews, ideas that for the, this is where we speak our truth. This is where we speak our truth. Rock, bike. Rock, bike, rock, bike. The rat bag. Welcome to the

Colin (01:34):

Oh, thank you Chris DeMakes, and welcome to the Rock Fight where we speak our truth, slay sacred cows, and sometimes agree to disagree. I am Colin. True adventure and exploration is at the heart of everything we talk about on the show. We all caught the bug at some point that forces us outside to ride our bikes, to ski, kayak, whatever. And while the spectrum of adventure and the discovery of exploration may be a, a wide range, depending on the day how much time you have, it's always there anytime you step foot out your front door, which as you'll likely recall, is known to be a dangerous business. I'm sure everyone listening to this can recall that time that a planned hour long lunch bike ride turned into a four hour, half day epic, thanks to repeated flat tires or a blown up derailer, or the time that a small hike became a full-on expedition when you absent mindedly turned down an unmarked trail.

(02:38) If it weren't for the potential of these things, we'd just be the people at the gym running meaningless miles on the treadmill. And these everyday outings are there to help keep the promise of doing something bigger. For some that could be a long weekend outside, for others it could be six months on a long trail or biking across a continent. For today's guest will Grant, it meant riding on horseback from Missouri to California. Retracing the Trail of the Pony Express. Will is a journalist, a lifelong horseman, and a yeah, he's a real life cowboy. Seriously, A real life cowboy. And his recently released book, the Last Ride at the Pony Express documents, his and his horse's journey through the American West. And to be clear, want no doubt about this, Will's, horses, chicken Fry and Badger. Listen, they're the stars of the show here. And without spoiling it, this book is spectacular.

(03:30) I loved it. Any recount of a big adventure is likely to draw interest and eyes from the outdoor community. But I really believe that the best of these stories have more than just the adventuring itself. My all-time favorite adventure book is a Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. And the main reason is that beyond how funny the Fish Outta water experience is for Bryson and Cats, and it is very funny and entertaining. It's also though how much you get to learn about the Appalachian Trail, the history. And that knowledge then deepens your appreciation and understanding of the story you're reading. But it also informs us of why we love to go out tromping around in the woods ourselves. The Last Ride of The Pony Express offers this as well. If I asked you today having not read the book about the Pony Express, what could you tell me?

(04:18) Probably not much beyond that. It was a male service via horseback, you know, and across the American West in the 18 hundreds. And when you go with Will on his journey, you're not only invested in his goal of riding the entire trail, but you get to learn all about its history along the way. So today I sat down with Will to talk about his journey, the Pony Express and his love for the American West, and also what he's got cooking for the future. And of course you get a chicken fry and badger update if you've read the book. You know, that's very important. So this is the rock fight. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Will buy his book. Just buy it. Even if you don't listen to the rest of this podcast Buy Will's book, you will not regret it. And now my conversation with Will Grant. Alright, so we're joined today by Will Grant, author of The Last Ride of the Pony Express. And, uh, will, thanks so much for joining the show, man. Appreciate you coming on.

Will (05:14):

No, it's my pleasure, man. Happy to talk to you this morning.

Colin (05:17):

After we got this set up, I was doing some digging around and I was already mostly most of the way through your book, but then I found your article for outside called Calamity Calamity Every turn from 2017. And I think in, in that article you said you wrote about 350 miles of the Pony Express Trail through Wyoming. So clearly the Pony Express has been on your mind for some time. That was in 2017, your adventure you chronicle in the book was 2019, and now you're out promoting your book. I mean, what was the, just the general basis of your interest in the Pony Express that led to you even wanting to ride the whole thing?

Will (05:50):

Well, I first learned about the Pony Express through a TV series called The Young Riders, which aired when I was pretty young. And I've loved horses all my life. And when I saw, when I became aware of what the Pony Express was, it, it sunk its teeth right into me. You know, I never forgot about that. So the Pony Express is always sort of represented a really romantic aspect of the West for me as I, you know, pursued journalism and were looking for stories to write and ways to describe the American West and the people and the land. And then to combine that with horses, the Pony Express as an idea and as a, as a part of the landscape really emerged as a, a target for my efforts. So I, I followed that pretty sincerely with that, the outside story in 2017. And then I used that story as the basis for a book proposal, which then became the last Ride of the Pony Express.

Colin (07:00):

It does seem the, the American West is a big theme of the book, right? That was kind of something you seem to kind of constantly come back to is just like, you know, whether it was an observation, observation, uh, of what was happening at the time, the of the Pony Express. Um, but you definitely seem to have a very deep rooted love for the mountain west of this country. Is that, does that come from your upbringing? Is it just an being enamored with the history, the history of being on horses? Where does that, where does that originate from?

Will (07:24):

I'm not sure I can answer that. I grew up south of Denver, Colorado, and, um, I've been exposed to, I was exposed to horses and cowboys and western agriculture from a very young age. And it's always been something that's fascinated me. And the more I traveled, the more I left the West, the more I began to understand why the West is important to me. And, and what, what was it about the West that, uh, defined American character. And, and that's sort of a romantic perception that I've had. I, American identity is tied up in the idea of the frontier, the idea of these vast landscapes and, and what it took to, what it took and what it takes to, to sort of carve out civilization in this part of the country. And I think one thing I wanted to do in the book is sort of connect the dots between the mythology of the West, the mythology of how, of our history and how we perceive our history, and then what's on the landscape today and right. And how that, uh, like what you see when you drive in your car across the west today, you know, how is that different and how is it the same? What are the universal principles that, that connect the history and the modern landscape and, and what sort of, uh, inaccurate perceptions about it and everything.

Colin (08:57):

But as a lifelong horseman though, was riding the Pony Express, was that kind of your version of like a lifelong dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail or the P C T or the Continental Divide Trail? Was this, was this an equivalent of that after, especially after having that experience in 2017 when you did a chunk of it?

Will (09:13):

100%. 100%. For me, riding the Pony Express Trail was like, I'll just say one thing that, that was like the best summer of my life, 2019, you know, camping with my horses every night, living out of two duffle bags, basically is what the pan years were on the Pac Saddle. Right. Um, just like this was, this was like a, a childhood Dr. Dream come true for me. And so it was a, in a way, uh, my version of like a, uh, of a, of a fulfillment of a lifelong dream, you know? And, uh, what I really wanted was from it all, was not only a end-to-end perception of the West as we know it from the Missouri River to California, but also a cultural education, like a cultural exposure to who lived in the West, you know, who, who lives in the West today. And I really believe that as humans are, one of the best ways to interpret a landscape is through the people that live there. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, this is, this is how we can get meaning from the landscape, is by the people who live there, who maybe they only moved there a little bit ago, you know, they, they could be first generation in a place like Wyoming, but their perceptions of Wyoming, what they deal with, their successes, their failures, this allows us as fellow humans to understand that landscape in a way that's, uh, more intimate and more significant, I feel like.

Colin (10:59):

So what you didn't learn much from the, the night you spent with the ticks in Nebraska that didn't Uh,

Will (11:04):

Oh, I learned that. I, you know, I learned that, uh, that when things are bad, the best thing to do is keep moving. Yeah. Right. You know? Right. When, when you have a bad camp, best thing to do is go to sleep early and wake up early and get the heck out of there. And the ticks were tough and demoralizing, but, um, but no, no more so than maybe like mosquitoes in, in Minnesota or Alaska or something where the insects are driving you crazy, you know? Yeah. This is, yeah. Like, I'm not sure what's to be learned from that, but <laugh>, the best thing to do is to put it in the rear view mirror and, and get some mileage between you and that situation.

Colin (11:52):

You know, I, you just wrote a future episode of this podcast of like ticks versus mosquitoes gun to your head, which one do you choose? I don't know. Ticks are sneaky and like, and it's always that, you know, even the one like, oh, the dog brought one in the bed by accident in the middle of the night, you wake up with that tickle and like, there it is. You know, like that's, I think I'd almost like you'd rather see the mosquitoes coming, but, uh, but you're right, you're absolutely right. I think the, that is the hardest thing for people to do is to look past the bad times that you're in, and whether it's ticks or, you know, something happening in your life, it's like usually, you know, if you're having a low point, and even if they do come in threes or whatever people say about them, you know, like the good times are, it just means the good times are right around the corner. Right.

Will (12:32):

Like you're good times are right around the corner. Right. Exactly.

Colin (12:34):

Exactly. Yeah. That's a hard lesson to learn. Sometimes

Will (12:38):

It is a hard lesson to learn, but that's probably, uh, you know, it's like a, it's like the lesson of learning to endure something that sucks,

Colin (12:47):

You know? Yeah. Right.

Will (12:48):

And you have to like, sort of focus inward, maintain morale and direction and purpose and like just try to put one foot in front of the other, you know?

Colin (12:59):

I mean, isn't that why we do any of these, you know, outdoor pursuits and it really is like learning to deal with the pain or the inconvenience Yeah. Or the discomfort, even if it's light discomfort to like, to get to see or do something kind of amazing. Right. Yeah. Isn't that kind of ultimately like the type two fun thing is real, you know? Yeah. Yeah. That's right. And sometimes you stray in a type three fun, you're like, well, this fucking sucks. I don't wanna do this anymore. You know what I mean? But then, and type one fun almost feels like, ah, it's not really enough. But that kind of sweet spot of like, kind of hurt to get here, but man, I'm glad I'm here.

Will (13:31):

It's like, it's like coming out the other side Yeah. Is, has a real value and it is a sense of accomplishment and a sense of elation maybe. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, relief and elation and That's right. The type two fund. Like, we got through it and we're glad we did.

Colin (13:48):

Well, you mentioned it's kind of like a long trail initiative and, you know, one thing I was thinking about while reading the book was, you know, in the, in the long trail community, there are definitely purists who, see there's only one way to complete a big journey. And I was reminded, I mentioned this before we started recording of some blowback that Bill Bryson got on a walk in the woods, because in, uh, famously in that book, you know, he hiked just chunks of the, he did the first whatever, a few hundred miles in the south, and then he kind of section hopped. And by the end he kind of came to the conclusion, look, look, you know, I'm done. I hiked the at, I'm good. And there was definitely the, you know, some, our, our outdoorsy community I feel like sometimes can get a little high on their own supply.

(14:24) Right. And they just sort of, you know, are like, absolutely like, no, you did not, sir. You did not like the Appalachian Trail. Yeah. And I was at the place like, Hey, he's gotta be happy with his journey. If he's happy with his journey, then who are you to judge? Have you received you now? And as I was reading the book, you definitely had some sections you needed to skip around, just for safety reasons, if nothing else. 'cause you know, going through Salt Lake City, probably riding, you know, on two horses I've lived in Salt Lake. It's not a, the biggest city in the world, but it, it's bustling. You know, there's a lot going on in Salt Lake. Yeah. So have you received any blowback for that? Or when you skipped have sections of Highway 50?

Will (14:57):

I have not received any blowback from, I'm sure it's coming sooner or later, <laugh>. But, uh, and, and I thought about this, uh, and so I hauled the horses around Casper, Wyoming. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. I hired a, a, a, a guy to haul me around Casper around Salt Lake City and then portions of California. I didn't ride either. And so the, the way I sort of squared this is, uh, from the highest altitude perspective is that I never set out to prove anything from an endurance standpoint. Right. There was no physical goal that I needed to achieve.

Colin (15:39):

Wasn't, you didn't line up the a hundred horses or whatever you would've needed to replicate the ride of the pony express rider. Right? Yeah. You're like, no, I'm just gonna do the trail

Will (15:47):

<laugh>. I'm, I'm just gonna ride the trail. I'm, I just wanna ride across the west, you know? Right. And I want to do it in a way that's safe, you know? 'cause I, I, if I got hurt or something, it would certainly have changed the nature of the story. Right. You know, and I, and I felt for the safety of my horses, that was the big thing. And the to one part of this is that, uh, I feared blowback from people saying, well, you enlisted these horses to do this long walk, 2000 miles. That's a long way. These two horses had no say in this.

Colin (16:27):

Right. You

Will (16:28):

Know, have had you, have you overburdened them, have you, have you asked more than the horses are capable of doing? And if I, if I got into that territory of, say, a horse wore out on me, then I, I figured that the, the horse community in the US would just erupt be all over me. And I wanted to avoid that because as a personal standard, you know, I hold myself to high critique of horsemanship. And that maintaining the health and soundness and wellbeing of the horses was my ultimate priority. And so if I haul the horses around Salt Lake City, I'm frankly doing so in the best interest of the horses.

Colin (17:15):

Right.

Will (17:16):

And if anybody were to say to me, well, you didn't ride the whole thing, I would be like, well, it doesn't matter.

Colin (17:21):

You know? Yeah. Also, I don't think the trail, you can't go just find the trail. Like you can find the Appalachian trail. Right. I mean, I'm sure you mentioned there are sections where you could see kind of like the indentation left behind by wagon wheels and things like that. And that those moments especially must have been enthralling for you to be like, oh, I'm actually, this is, this is the legit trail. But how much was truly the trail that a Pony Express rider rode?

Will (17:43):

I mean, and so yeah. So I didn't see the actual, the actual ruts where you could see the depression from the trail in the, you know, the 1860s until I left Torrington, Wyoming. So that's still on the prairies of Wyoming, but that's right. When I got into public land mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that's when I started riding on d l m land. That's

Colin (18:11):

Nearly halfway right? Is that almost, is that over half? Half, yeah. Yeah.

Will (18:14):

Yeah. So all through Nebraska and Kansas, the trail has been covered up by county roads, by farming, by, you know, just the development of the Midwest. Yeah. And the, and the population density. And so when I began to see the trail in, in Wyoming and then through Utah and then through Nevada, that was really, uh, poignant for me. And that was very cool. And, uh, I could ride my horses right down the old trace of the trail.

Colin (18:49):

Right.

Will (18:50):

But I wasn't in it. I didn't wanna write about downtown Casper or downtown Salt Lake.

Colin (18:57):

Right.

Will (18:58):

This is, uh, this is not something I was interested in. Yeah. And for the sake of the horses, we were our happiest when we were out there in the open country. Yeah. It was, it was the best. And so if people are concerned that I didn't ride the whole trail, then they should, uh, that's sort of their own problem. And, and just to that, you know, I think that as we look at like adventure journalism or travel journalism or whatever you want to call it Yeah. I, I think we do ourselves a service or we could, from getting away from the idea of physical feats of accomplishment or endurance. You know, this isn't what I was after. Right. What was really the value was the, was the people and the culture and the landscape. Yeah. You know, and, and that's the adventure in adventure journalism should be material or content or people that sort of force you to abandon stereotypes or to reconsider stereotypes or to make you think in new ways and outside the box. Like this is exploratory journalism in its finest form. I think.

Colin (20:10):

I, I agree. I, uh, I think the, you know, the Pony Express, I was just in the Sierra a couple of weeks ago while I was finishing up your, your book, and I'm just looking, I was on the east side, I was in Bishop, and I'm just looking up these mountains picturing some poor son of a bitch riding across because like, you know, some rich guy in San Francisco wanted to send like a letter to his mistress in Chicago or something, you know, it's like, like what do you do in

Will (20:33):

The middle winner? I mean, how would they do it in the middle of, I don't know.

Colin (20:37):

Incredible.

Will (20:38):

I mean, we, how they, you know, one thing I've always wondered is how did they keep their feet and hands warm?

Colin (20:46):

Well, I think about this when you see the pictures of like George Mallory on Everest. Yeah. You know, and he's there and like, looking like he's ready to go out to a nice meal in his tweed jacket and Hobnail boots, <laugh>, you know, and it's like, you know, now you look like a freaking moonman up there and you, which you should. Right. You know, and these guys, whether you think he summited or not, he was pretty damn high on that mountain, you know? Well, so I do wanna, I have a couple of questions like I mentioned, and then sort of the human powered outdoor sports sports world, like gear and apparel are kind of everything. Uh, that's my background. I worked at brands for a long time and Yeah. You know, I spoke to a, an outdoor historian about this space for another podcast I produced.

(21:22) And she pointed out that things are sort of intri, uh, inextricably linked, going back to the days of tourists wearing buckskin suits to avoid looking like Greenhorns. They would buy a buckskin suit and then get on a train and travel west. So they'd get, get off looking like they're all hardcore, when in fact they were just coming from some big, you know, big city on the east coast. And then, uh, we also have this mentality of, you know, all adventures need to start at the gear shop. You know, I remember even coming up in the nineties getting into outdoor sports. It's like, Hey, I wanna go for a hike. Like, well, you can't do that until you go buy some kaline, you know, or whatever. Yes. And it really struck me, and again, not really being familiar with, with your world that you grew up in, you know, the kind of stereotypical cowboy kit, you know, that's what you had on, like you described, you had blue jeans, wool socks, leather boots, button down shirts.

(22:07) And that's not like you were trying to throw back to the days of the Pony Express. That's, that's the typical kit. It seems like that's the typical kit you saw on other cowboys along the way. So what, what's, what's the difference? Like, why, why are, and then one side, we are in the, you know, the synthetics, you know, insulation, weather protection and everything, and you're like, nah, it's cool. I'm gonna go ride across the west for five months in a, in a cotton shirt and jeans. You know, so what, what, what, is there a reason for this?

Will (22:34):

Those are like, jeans in a cotton shirt is most comfortable thing I can wear every day. I

Colin (22:41):

Agree.

Will (22:41):

You know, I have,

Colin (22:42):

I have episodes in this podcast in Defense of Cotton. I'm like, we are overlooking, there are very few scenarios where you really can't wear cotton, but we tend to think that there are, sorry to interrupt you, but Yeah, I agree with

Will (22:52):

You. Yeah, no, totally. And uh, I'll say another example of this is that I did a, uh, horse race across Mongolia in 2012. And everybody, there were like 35 or 37 riders that competed in this. And I was the only one wearing jeans in a cotton shirt. Everybody was like <laugh> wearing, you know, tight fitting synthetic pants and, and uh, you know, the latest in quick dry garments and all that. No kidding. I was like, whatever, you know, I'm pretty sure I can handle it. And, and I did. And I'll say that the Mongolian cowboys over there really appreciated that I was wearing jeans because they wear jeans. And, and it kind of had, there was some common ground there. Uh, but for the Pony Express, I was like, I have to wear what I'm most comfortable in, because sure, I'm gonna be living in this, in these clothes for the foreseeable future, you know. And, but I did have, you know, I had a new pair of Kaplan long underwear, and I had, uh, a base layer that there was, uh, Marino wool.

Colin (24:07):

Okay.

Will (24:08):

And I traveled with, uh, for insulation. I had a Patagonia down sweater, you know, the, the full zip. Uh, all

Colin (24:18):

Right. So you had, you had a puffy with you, you had a little something warm to wear.

Will (24:20):

Oh yeah. A puffy, yeah. And then a, uh, arc TerraX, hard shell rain jacket.

Colin (24:26):

Okay.

Will (24:27):

And so when it got cold, 'cause it did get cold a little bit, I would, I would wear like that base layer, then my pearl snap shirt, then the puffy, then a hooded sweatshirt, cotton hooded sweatshirt, <laugh>. You gotta have the hoodie. Like I, I wear a hoodie every day in the winter, you know, me too.

Colin (24:43):

<laugh>

Will (24:44):

And then the hard shell rain jacket. And basically that was enough to keep you, that's like three seasons of warmth right there. You know, you can't wear that in the winter, but you could get by with that. So I, and then also a big part of this was that I had like a thermal rest neo air pad. And so this is like almost three inches thick of insulation under me at night, you know, and this is a fairly sophisticated piece of gear. I was, didn't

Colin (25:14):

Pop, no cut, no holes in it.

Will (25:17):

I was, I had a patch kit. But those things you have to be so careful with. And I was definitely careful with it. <laugh>. And then I also had a Marmite, uh, zero degree, full down 850 fill sleeping bag.

Colin (25:32):

Okay. Were there any nights where it was just, well, I imagine there were probably few more cooler nights than even. 'cause even in the desert on Hot Days, it cools off at night. Right. But were there any nights where it was just the hot, the heat carried through the, through the night?

Will (25:47):

Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely. You know, the desert of Western Utah, so if you go west of Salt Lake, like this is getting into like Bonneville salt flat. Sure, yeah. Very austere environment, you know, and very hot. I was there like through August brutal. And so it would be, it would be, it would be really warm at night. Absolutely. And, uh, and that was almost more difficult to deal with when, than when it was cool. Because how do you cool off?

Colin (26:18):

Right.

Will (26:19):

Sleeping when you're hot for me is, is like hell,

Colin (26:23):

You know, I'm with you.

Will (26:24):

Yeah. So the heat was a lot more of an issue actually, than being cold.

Colin (26:29):

Yeah. I'm the guy who's like, can we just crank the AC to 64 at night? So I can have covers on. I like to have covers, you know?

Will (26:35):

Yeah, I do too. I'll sleep with the windows open in the winter.

Colin (26:38):

Me too. Yeah. Yeah, totally. No problem. Absolutely

Will (26:41):

<laugh>. No problem. Yeah. Yeah.

Colin (26:43):

Well, I imagine then the humidity. I did, I was curious. It's, it did, I did, maybe I'm a little sensitive because I'm an East coast native and then live in California now, but felt, I felt a little distaste for the East coast in California. And your writing, it seemed like you're, you're like, you know, you like, you like to be more in that. You, you have that wi that narrow strip in the west that you're like, this is my spot and everything else can go to hell. <laugh>,

Will (27:02):

<laugh>, I'm not gonna lie. You know, <laugh>. Yeah. Yep. I, I, that's right. Like every time I go back east, this isn't as true these days, but, uh, I always used to get car sick every time I got into a car. Uhhuh <affirmative> on the East coast, I would become car sick, you know,

Colin (27:21):

Just on the East Coast.

Will (27:22):

Just on the East Coast. <laugh>,

Colin (27:24):

What?

Will (27:25):

I don't know. The humidity on the East coast was like suffocating for me. Yeah. You know, they're animals that reflect the same thing. Like if you take one of our horses from New Mexico mm-hmm. <affirmative> and haul it out to Virginia or Pennsylvania in the dead of summer, you know, this poor animal. Yeah. The, yeah. The, the, uh, the climate adjustment period can be not without its discomforts.

Colin (27:49):

I found that fascinating when you mentioned that when you got to Missouri to start the trip, thinking about like, getting off of like, Hey, it's been a couple of days, you know, a couple days ago we were in the arid, you know, mountain desert air. Yeah. And now we're here in the, in the thick, uh, yeah. How are they gonna respond to this?

Will (28:04):

Yeah, that's right. Yeah. And horses are big animals, you know, they weigh a thousand pounds. Right. So like any kind of climatic change takes more time for a bigger animal than it does for like someone like us. Right. And they, uh, they don't always handle that well versus, you know, they can be pretty fragile animals. They can be extremely resilient and extremely durable, and they're, they're capable of, of, of, of things that you might not expect. They are like walking across the west for these two horses. Sure. But boy, they can be fragile if you feed them a different kind of hay. Suddenly one night after they've been used to a different kind of grass. It can have digestive consequences that can even kill the animal. So, you know, you gotta be sensitive to this stuff. Right. And, um, this is where, this is where some of my like past experience with horses kind of paid off for the, for the benefit of the animals, you know? Yeah. It

Colin (29:07):

Was the culmination of a lifetime of experiences is what it sounded like ultimately. A

Will (29:10):

Hundred percent. It, it felt like it for me, you know.

Colin (29:13):

Well, that's a good segue into, you know, like, you know, so it's been four years. I mean, I guess, you know, we're talking going on six years. If we include your, your, the the 2017 experience, you know, we've had one pandemic and you now you've had one book, <laugh> since finishing the Pony Express. I'm sure you have some new adventures on your mind. I I wanna talk about what's next, but first of all, I, and I'm remiss, uh, I should have asked first what's going on with Chicken Fry and Badger today? Because like, I'd honestly, I'd have to talk to them than you if I could, because like, they were the heroes of the book. Like I, everything you mentioned about being concerned, clear, your concern and knowledge came through. And if it's like, Hey, something bad was gonna happen, then, you know, we would stop and we would figure it out, and we weren't gonna continue to press on just so I could accomplish this goal. But the way you described their personalities, and it did feel that even though, you know, it was your voice that you were never lo, you were never not thinking about those two horses. It wa there were moments like, which one? I wonder which one he's on right now. <laugh> when he's describing this, you know, if, if you hadn't had said, you know. Yeah.

Will (30:12):

Um, so I mean, I would love to know what they thought about all that, but I could basically tell, you know, I could tell when they were content mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so there was a beginning, there was a breaking period. Like we all, the three of us had a breaking period, some soreness, some adjustments, and then by the time we got to Wyoming, we were like, live the dream.

Colin (30:35):

Right?

Will (30:36):

It was, I could tell that the horses were in really good shape, physically, I mean, extremely fit, extremely fit. And they were, they were fine. Like the work really agreed with them. And then as we progressed through Nevada Hot and Dry, I could see that there, we were like getting toward the bottom of the tank.

Colin (30:57):

Mm.

Will (30:58):

Yeah. I could, I could read it in their faces. This was difficult

Colin (31:01):

For me. Did did they seem motivated, even if they were like, Hey, you know, this is, when's this gonna be over? But were they still every day like, okay, it's time to go? Like, what was, was there any nuance to that? They were or they were?

Will (31:11):

Yeah. Badger is my bay horse. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So he's the brown horse with the Black mane and tail. And that horse is like riding a Ferrari, you know, he is like a race horse mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I couldn't believe the, I was so impressed that he could maintain this pace in this rhythm. And every morning I got on him, he felt fresh, like he was ready to go. That's great. And it was really great. It was, it was so impressive. And, uh, and I was like, I was really taken with that, you know? And I thought, these are amazing animals. And so chicken fry and Badger, they're still here. I still have them. Of course. Neither one of those horses is for sale.

Colin (31:52):

I was gonna say, there's no way you could ever sell. No way. Either one of them, they're, they're lifers, right? Yeah.

Will (31:57):

Lifers. Lifers. Yep. And, uh, and so I, you know, I would, I would love to know what an interview with them sounded like. You know, <laugh> and like

Colin (32:07):

This moron, we get on a car, next thing you know, we don't see home for six months. What the hell's going on? You know,

Will (32:13):

<laugh>. Yeah. What the hell are we doing? And when are we going home? <laugh> think, Hey,

Colin (32:19):

They're looking at each other like, you think it's today? You think this is it? Yeah.

Will (32:22):

You think we're almost done? I think we're almost

Colin (32:24):

Done.

Will (32:25):

And so to that, when I finally returned home to Santa Fe, you know, in late September and turned the horses out at pasture, I mean, it brought tears to my eyes. I was, they were so happy because, so joy, like elation is very difficult to see in a horse. Sure. Their, their, their expressions are not like a dog. You know, A lab will come up with his tongue out and tail wagging. Horses don't really do this, you know, you have to be sensitive to it. But boy, I saw it that day and, uh, it was very cool. You know, that was like a real moment of satisfaction for me. But, uh, chicken Fry and Badger are doing great. You know, we still ride 'em, we, uh, we, their workload is very easy,

Colin (33:08):

I would think.

Will (33:09):

And we still spoil 'em. Yep. We, we really,

Colin (33:13):

They get a little heavy little, uh, you know, no, a few too many apples and carrots or

Will (33:18):

After the trail, you know, that winter, I mean, I wanted them fat. I wanted them to go into the winter, like soft, you know? And, uh, I was like, I'm, you know, we just spoiled them rotten because of what they did and what they allowed me to do Right. By writing this book and sort of fulfilling my expectations and my dream, you know, you couldn't have asked for two better horses. And so <laugh>. So I think they're, uh, sometimes they were wondering, you know, that spring are like, are we going to do this again? Like, please tell me we're

Colin (33:52):

Not gonna the the following spring. This is this our new job, basically? Yeah.

Will (33:56):

Tell me we're not doing this again. <laugh>, and I'll tell you that, uh, one thing is, so that Christmas, um, we delivered packages of cookies to our neighbors here around this subdivision, you know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And, uh, I brought out the pack saddle from the Pony Express and strapped it on chicken fry. And I just thought the horses must have been like, oh, no, <laugh> not. Here we go. <laugh>. It

Colin (34:23):

Was probably the pack saddle more than the riding saddle that probably would the

Will (34:26):

Pack saddle. They're like, what are you doing?

Colin (34:27):

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait,

Will (34:28):

Wait, wait, wait, wait. Let's, uh,

Colin (34:30):

<laugh>.

Will (34:32):

But it's really a testament to the animals of how willing they are. Yeah. You know, that they, that it's unbelievable that these animals allow us to ride them. That they're compliant, that they're agreeable. I mean, really impressive, you

Colin (34:46):

Know? Yeah. Do they get excited when you go out to ride? Are they like they ready to go, or are they are Okay. Oh, yeah,

Will (34:51):

Yeah. Oh yeah. They're ready to go. Like the, the P T S D is sort of like more,

Colin (34:56):

It's gone away now. Yeah.

Will (34:57):

Yeah. It's sort of gone away <laugh>. And so they're always, they're, they're eager, you know? Right. And, uh, yeah. They, I don't, like you would think that it would be hard to catch them, like when you go out to get them, they would be standing at the other end of the pasture <laugh>, like, not me, don't take me. Yeah. But that's not the case, you know? That's right. They, and it's, and I, it's because I also like looked after them, you know? They never got too skinny. They were never Yeah. Put out too bad. So

Colin (35:25):

Is there a next, like, for someone who's born in, you know, the American West clearly love it so dearly. Is there something that seems remotely interesting after this adventure?

Will (35:35):

Yeah, there is. And, uh, I want to travel on the old Silk Road across Central Asia.

Colin (35:44):

Wow.

Will (35:46):

And so this is where horses were first domesticated. This is where they survived the last ice age. So 10,000 years ago, the only place on the planet you could find horses were on the Eurasian step. And that included Europe, Southern Europe, and then all through Ukraine and Kazakhstan, all the way to China. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so this is like the cradle of horsemanship. This is where it all began, back, where it all began. And so I would like to travel on the old Silk Road from through Uzbekistan and through Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to the mountains of China.

Colin (36:25):

How long is that? How long of a journey is that <laugh>?

Will (36:28):

So the Silk Road is a term for a network of trade routes. It, uh, isn't just one trail like the Pony Express Trail or the at or the Organ Trail. It's really a network of trails. And, uh, I can make it however long or short I want, you know, and I have to feel out what would be a reasonable, uh, section of country for me to cover. You know, I don't think it's possible for me to, because the Silk Road linked the Mediterranean communities with the communities in Far East, like the or. And so it's not really plausible for me to try to ride through Iran today.

Colin (37:11):

You know, probably not a great idea.

Will (37:13):

Not a great idea, you know, not a great idea. And so, what I have thought I would like to ride from the Errol Sea in Uzbekistan to the mountains of China.

Colin (37:26):

So are you in the, in the kind of the fun part right now of imagining what this is gonna look like? And, you know, this is the Exactly, this is the best part of any adventure, right? When anything seems possible and

Will (37:36):

You hit the nail on the head, the best part of any adventure is dreaming about it at home. 'cause nothing's gone wrong. Yeah. You know, it's, yeah. It's all like this lofty idea in your head. And, uh, it's great. I read about it all the time. I look at maps all the time. I'm planning a trip to Uzbekistan, uh, either this fall or next spring to, to sort this out and to establish the contacts. All right. And I have contacts over there in Kyrgyzstan and, uh, Kazakhstan. And so right now it's really fun to think about it and to think how it's all gonna go. But my idea is to stage a sort of Marco Polo type caravan with camels and sheep and horses and interpreters and guides and cooks and women and children and, you know, all this amazing, and to travel in this very old way, through this ancient landscape, and try to understand how these people interpret their history and how that affects the modern landscape. And, and for me it's really like a pursuit of the, the ground zero of the horse and human relationship, because this is where it all started. And so what does it look like today? And what value does that provide, what sense of identity for those people today?

Colin (38:57):

That sounds incredible. Uh, I really am excited now. I'm, I'm, I'm pumped to hear how this is all gonna shake out and can't wait to hear this goes is what an incredible adventure you're planning.

Will (39:06):

Well, hopefully we keep the adventure to a minimum and it's just a, a well planned out trip with everything that goes exactly as foreseen here at home. <laugh>.

Colin (39:18):

All right, man. Well, hey, listen, I appreciate you spending some time with me today. Congratulations on the ride. Congratulations on the book. Good luck planning the next adventure. We'll be keeping tabs on you can't wait to hopefully have you on and short amount of time talking about, uh, the Silk Road. That'll be fun.

Will (39:33):

Absolutely man. And uh, it's been my pleasure, Colin, great to talk to you. Really fun to hash some of this stuff out and uh, great to catch up. For sure.

Colin (39:43):

Alright, brother, appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Will (39:45):

No worries, Colin. Thank you.

Colin (39:49):

Alright, that's our show for today. A big thank you to my guest Will Grant. And like I said, go buy his book. It's available pretty much wherever you get books. So whether you're a team Bezos, Barnes and Noble prefer independent booksellers, it shouldn't be hard to find. I'm putting out the call right now though, for your favorite adventure book. Recommendations for a Future mailbag episode, send your recommendations for outdoor adventure books to my rock fight@gmail.com. One more episode this week, coming to you this Thursday, so be sure to come back for that. Our theme song, the Rock Fight Fight Song, was composed by Krista Makes. I'm Colin Charu. Thanks for listening. The Rock Fight is a production of Rock Fight L l C,

Chris DeMakes (40:33):

Fight, fight, fight, fight.

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