By: John Egenes
Publisher: Delta Vee
Publication Date: August 2017
Reviewed by: Skyler Boudreau
In 1974, John Egenes decided to embark on a months-long mission to travel across the country on horseback, from California to Virginia Beach, accompanied only by his horse and best friend, Gizmo. Passing through eleven states, they experienced numerous hardships and trials and witness some of the wildest natural places in the United States. Man & Horse: The Long Ride Across America is a tale of the stunning transformation of a man and his horse on an immeasurably difficult journey from their home, to the other side of the country.
Man & Horse is told through a mix of Egenes’ first person point-of-view accounts, photographs, and old logbook entries. Each piece of the format blends together perfectly and adds a unique element to the story that allows the reader to digest the events in different ways. Egenes’ writing style also makes use of all five senses, immersing the reader in every aspect of his and Gizmo’s journey. The reader feels like they are walking alongside the two of them during their story.
Egenes chooses to begin their journey on the West Coast rather than the East Coast. He writes, “...because we are traveling west to east and crossing great deserts first, we will become hardened to the trail, rough and feral, and adopt the attitude ‘it’s us against the world.’” (pg. 24) This proves to be the right decision, as “...the eastern part of America is fenced and tame. There is no open country, no place to spend days and weeks by yourself.” (pg. 24) He goes on to explain that had they begun in the reverse, they would not have achieved the complete isolation they did until much later in their journey and would have emerged from the challenge far different than they did.
It’s difficult to imagine a feat like this being accomplished today. While Egenes faced many challenges in 1974, like being bitten by a black widow spider in the middle of the desert far from civilization and the needed antidote, there are new challenges in 2019 that would make his journey just as difficult. In one line of this book, Egenes says, “I’m reminded daily how fragile this existence of ours is.” (pg. 76) One mistake could be the end of them. From the expansion of cities to the popularization of social media, today’s travelers would be unable to achieve the same level of near-total isolation that Egenes and Gizmo experienced in the 70’s.
One powerful lesson readers can take from Man & Horse: The Long Ride Across America is the virtue of taking life at a slow pace. Egenes must find ways to fill long stretches of empty time on his long journey, away from the easy distractions of everyday civilization. He says, “It’s best not to look ahead to see how much time you must fill. The real trick is to simply live in the moment (I know, a bit cliché, but it’s true nonetheless) and allow yourself to focus on what’s in front of you without worrying about how long it will take you to do something or how much time you have before sunset.” (pgs. 122-123)
Quill says: Man & Horse is more than a horse book or a survivalist book. It is an illustration of a great part of a man’s life and shows its audience that if they really want to do something, even something that seems wild, impossible, or unattainable, they can still achieve it with an iron will to succeed.