SALEM, Ohio – Sixty-nine days into a 2,000-mile journey, four Oklahoma cowboys are fulfilling a spiritual calling that announced itself the day New York’s twin towers came tumbling down.
As the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and aftermath were unfolding, cowboy Tim Myers sat in his office and looked up at a picture of Pawnee Bill, a Wild West showman. Pawnee Bill was the inspiration who whispered to Myers that he needed to fulfill a journey – and fulfill it on horseback.
Tim Myers, Gary Conger, Sonny Malone and Fred Bell set off on this journey April 19, the anniversary of the Alfred P. Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City, and are scheduled to arrive at Ground Zero on the first anniversary of the attacks.
Due to an emergency at home, Bell returned to Oklahoma and Jason Summers took his place on the trip.
This journey is now known as Ride 4 America and recently stopped in Salineville, Ohio, for an overnight visit at Jenkins Feed and Supply.
Symbolism. Each of the four cowboys represents a terrorist attack: the Oklahoma City bombing, flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, flight 77 that hit the Pentagon, and flights 11 and 175 that destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
A riderless horse leads the troop. The horse represents the nation’s great loss of life due to terrorism, Myers said. The horse wears a saddle decorated with a flag, firefighter’s hard hat, police and firefighters’ badges, reminders of those lost in the attacks, and a pair of firefighter boots in the stirrups.
Along the way they are raising money to establish scholarship funds for children whose parents were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing and the Sept. 11 attacks.
“God within us and our horses beneath us, we’re going to make it,” Myers said.
Rounding up riders. Myers, a cemetery caretaker, had the idea for the journey, however, he needed other riders to join him.
“I was at a carnival [and saw Conger],” Myers said. “I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to New York City,’ and he said, ‘Well, shoot, I’m going with you.'”
Conger, a firefighter and real estate agent, had not been on a horse in 23 years. However, “the vision was so strong, it overrode everything. Wild horses couldn’t have kept me away,” he said.
After rounding up two other riders, they began planning their journey – starting by getting sponsors.
Getting the cash. Although Conger said people have been generous donating food and help, he is “distraught” over the lack of major sponsorship. Before leaving Oklahoma, he said several large companies had agreed to help sponsor the trip but then pulled out at the last minute.
This means the cowboys aren’t raising as much money as they had hoped.
Talking with businesses was a “real wake-up call,” Conger said. Many of the people he talked with about sponsorship said they already spent enough money on New York relief, he said.
First, the money raised goes to their journey – food and taking care of the horses. The remainder then goes to the scholarship funds.
“It’s a minimum of $5,000 per month for us to stay on the road,” Conger said. The horses alone get 100 pounds of food each day.
They are fulfilling only their most basic needs so they can give as much money as possible to the scholarships, but they haven’t raised much so far, Conger said.
Difficulties. In addition to not having everyday modern conveniences, the riders also face the challenges of Mother Nature.
For the first 40 days of the trip, it rained 80 percent of the time. They ate in the rain, rode in the rain and slept in the rain, Conger said.
Myers and Conger agree that the hardest part of the trip is the emotional aspect. They miss their families.
Although Conger hasn’t seen his wife and two children since April, they are planning to meet him in Gettysburg, Pa.
Myers’ wife, three children and new grandchild are also coming to spend a week with him so they can see what he is experiencing.
Despite the difficulties, Conger doesn’t want to forget a moment of this trip. He has started a daily journal where he details the people he meets, the towns he visits and every moment he doesn’t want to forget.
Myers also has his release. He has an old, tattered notebook where he keeps his thoughts, plans, schedules and, most importantly, his poems.
Throughout the trip, Myers is busy writing poems, detailing this spiritual journey.
The drive. “People from the heartland keep us going,” Conger said.
It’s not only the generosity that keep them on the journey, but it’s also their smiling faces, said Malone, a rancher and leather craftsman.
“When you’re going four miles an hour, you get to see the country,” he said. “[The beauty is] meeting nice folks and having time to stop and get to know them. It’s meeting friends up the road I haven’t met yet.”
This trip has also reaffirmed Malone’s faith in people.
“You see how much they care, how patriotic they are,” he said. “I’m honored to be one of the people who get to see it.”
One of his favorite memories is that of a 4-year-old girl standing on the porch with her grandfather. She was waving an American flag and her grandpa was wearing a Veterans of Foreign Wars hat.
Malone, whose Indian name is Wahtsakonlah, said it’s an amazing experience and it’s hard to be downhearted about anything when he sees the public’s support.
“Indians aren’t supposed to cry, but I’ve shed a lot of tears on this trip,” Malone said
Company. This foursome isn’t traveling alone. In addition to a cook and transportation coordinator, they are traveling with VisionQuest, a group that sponsors horseback trips throughout the United States for troubled children as an alternative to incarceration. It is also an early intervention program.
The group focuses on treatment, education, military influence, rigorous outdoor activity and heritage as ways to rehabilitate these children.
Watching the children make a turn for the better also keeps Conger and Myers going, they agreed.
Long days, nights. The group is awake by 6 a.m., saddling their horses at 7 a.m. and on the road again an hour later. They travel 15-20 miles each day.
Seven hours a day on a horse makes for a long day, Conger said.
But, “sometimes you just gotta rough it,” Myers said.
And every night they put out their “colors,” Malone said.
The group flies an American flag, an Oklahoma flag, a flag from each state they travel through, a Cherokee National flag, a Commanche National Flag and an Osage National Flag.
Destination. With 77 days left, there is still one major worry: There are so many buildings in New York City; where will they go when they actually arrive? And what about the horses?
“Is there land like this there?” Myers asks Conger while pointing out the vast land around them.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, partner,” Conger replies.
For donation information call 918-381-1975 or visit www.ride4america.com.
(You can contact Kristy Alger at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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