Happy National Mule Appreciation Day! What does the Blonde Coyote have to do with mules, you might ask? Well, mules are playing an unexpectedly large role in my life these days!
In my 20’s, my goal was to hike in all fifty states before I turned 30, and I did.
In my 30’s, my goal was to learn how to ski big mountains, and I did.
So far, I’ve spent my 40’s hiking Rim to Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon, learning to take off, fly and land a small airplane, forging a new adventure partnership and devoting myself to the age old art of mule packing.
Yes, I mean mule packing literally: packing supplies and equipment on the sturdy back of the greatest hybrid species humans have ever cultivated.
As a young girl, I was in love with horses before anything else, and owned two. But after having my heart broken by my pony and my back broken by my horse, I said I’d never have a horse again. And now I’ve discovered mules. Mules are a cross between a horse mom and a donkey dad and the hybrid offspring are the best of both parents, with methodical minds and exceptionally strong bodies.
My newfound love is thanks to my other newfound love, a muleman, paraglider pilot, and professional chef named AJ. Two years ago, burned out on long-distance paragliding, and looking for his next project, AJ devoted himself to donkeys. One miniature donkey turned into two saddle donkeys, another mini donkey and then two mules; both crosses between quarter horse mare mothers and mammoth jack donkey fathers.
After AJ and I crossed paths in the desert, I spent the next few weeks riding his two sweet saddle donkeys with only a bareback pad (he only had one saddle). I loved the view between those long-ears so much that 28 days later, I bought my very own mule saddle and my very own mule: an 8 year old palomino quarter horse mule I named Zoroaster Rockytop aka Zorro because I want to ride him from the bottom of the Grand Canyon (where Zoroaster Granite is one of the basement rocks) to the tops of the Rockies.
Now, my muleman (cowboy doesn’t fit; he doesn’t know anything about cows and mule skinner is a bit too evocative) and I are living in a 100 year old cabin on the edges of two of the most spectacular wilderness zones in the western US, in the best possible place to learn how to explore the mountains on the backs of, and in the company of, these exceedingly capable equines.
Friends who’ve followed my travels for awhile—or even just the past year and a half, which I’ve spent living mostly in my Dodge Grand Caravan—might wonder if I’m settling down, having committed to at least a year in this cabin, not to mention the large equine that can live 40 years. As a geology writer, I don’t mind the word settle, in terms of my easing into a more centered place. I’ve been craving a home base, a haven, a place to park a few things for awhile; while also feeling ready for a new adventure partner; somebody who will push me to go farther than I go solo (and I go pretty fucking far on my own); lessons learned last frigid winter spent solo in an off grid school bus.
But I don’t see settling here in this 14’er-fed river canyon as a stationary chapter. On the wall of our cabin we’ve hung maps of our wildernesses. After months of riding and hiking every day, and highlighting our routes, we’ve added a few squiggles of marker to the map. My goal for my 40’s is now to hike or ride every passable route on these maps, to see the view from the top of every mountain and to drink from every creek in every canyon on this map. I figure it’ll take me at least five years, maybe longer, mule-willing.
I don’t update this blog very often anymore, but if you’re interested in following the mule adventures of the Blonde Coyote, find me on Instagram @theblondecoyote.