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Well, I went ahead and typed the article just because I could. Excuse any typos I might have made. Hopefully it will help someone who otherwise might have trouble reading the scanned pages. I got a hell of a lump in my throat as I was typing the last few paragraphs. I think the author understood a little about who Russ really is.

Also, I see that the article was the first of what appears to be a series of articles following Russ' journey. Is there more?

Anyway, here's the article:

The King of The Road

By Don Dickinson as published in The Western Horse magazine

We’ve all suffered from it. The great American get-away-from-it-all syndrome, the stress induced malady which causes us to kick the dog, rail at our bosses and wish we could just chuck it all and disappear into the wilderness somewhere. Most of us will moan and dream and get up the next morning resigned to continue on with our lives. One in a thousand will actually act on it. I happen to know one of those people.

His name is Russ Austin and as I write this he is somewhere in the wilderness between Gallup and Albuquerque, New Mex. He has no phone, no car, no boss. He does have a dog, which he doesn’t kick, and two horses, which he sometimes does. He is riding from Long Beach, Calif. to Boston, Mass. He has gotten away from it all. He has cured the malady.

A former resident of Covina, Calif., Russ finally tired of wishing and dreaming. He woke up one morning with a head full of ideas and started making plans. He head books, asked questions, bought or built equipment, wrangled with the BLM for two mustangs, gave away or sold almost everything he owned, loaded what was left into two hand-made panniers and rode off into the sunrise.

By the time Russ reached Two Guns, Ariz., he’d been riding over six weeks and traveled over 600 miles. The dream had become a reality. The maniac had actually beaten the great American stuck-in-a-rut syndrome. I for one, consider this on par with the discovery of the hot bath, and drove down from Cheyenne, Wyo. To find out what Russ knew that the rest of us didn’t.

I found him camped in Canyon Diablo, about 30 miles east of Flagstaff. A warm southern wind was attacking his campsite, putting sand in places one wouldn’t expect and threatening to uproot his tent. Russ was comfortably cross-legged inside, more than happy to talk while he brewed coffee.

When I asked him why he chose a transcontinental horseback trip, he stalled me by bumming a cigarette and scrounging through his tent for matches. I handed him my lighter, which he used and then stuffed into the pocket of his weathered Wrangler jeans. Squinting against the smoke and grinning his life’s-so-cool-grin, he gave me an answer I didn’t expect: “Because I can.”

A student of discipline and detail, Russ bought or borrowed every book he could find concerning horses, especially books dealing with packing and endurance riding. He read “Horseback Honeymoon” and “The History of the Horse in the Military.” He read packing manuals and the “Official U.S. Cavalry Manual of Rules and Regulation.” He studied old photos and drawings of every type of saddle, learned the names of different styles of bits. He bought and tried equipment, modified it to suit his needs or discarded it. He met horse owners by the score and picked their brains for information, the way a parrot picks the meat from a sunflower seed. All the while, he conditioned himself and his horses, riding a few miles at night after work, 20 mile trips on the weekends, testing rack and camping equipment, gearing everything to ruggedness and weight.

These trial runs were also a test for Sabrina, his sleek Arabian mare. She was afflicted with the nervousness common to Arabians. “She nuts up too easily,” was Russ’ typically colloquial description. In the end, he discarded Sabrina too. “She didn’t have the stamina that I needed,” he says. “I was looking for stout horses with long strides, endurance animals that can cover distances day after day”.

He found his animals through the Bureau of Land Management, who supplied him with two mustangs from their mustang adoption program. One was a green-broke gelding named “Spooky”, and the second was a mare named “Cinnamon.” Both are very solid animals with strong legs and good feet. “Feet are the big thing,” says Russ.

Finally Russ realized he was ready as he’d ever be. A mental perfectionist and detailed organizer, he was not completely happy with all of his equipment, and yet he realized he could experiment forever. The original starting date of early February had long since come and gone, he had already quit his job and so was spending non-replaceable funds, and if he started too late he would not reach his New England destination until well into the snow season. He called together his rather large contingent of family and friends, and on Saturday in March they swarmed over his house like locusts and picked his possessions clean. What few belongings were left he boxed up and sent to this parents house in La Puente. Having burned his bridges, he started out.

Due to local “codes” and various forms of bureaucratic red-tape, Russ was denied permission to actually ride his horses into the surf at Santa Monica, the western termination of Route 66. Figuring it was easier to get forgiveness than it was to get permission, he simply trailered his horses to the ocean’s edge in Long Beach, California. With the help of a conspirator, he ponied the animals down to the beach and into the surf, snapped a few quick pictures and retreated again before the local life guards could gather their wits. Then it was on to Pico Rivera, and the beginning of a ride which will eventually produce similar photographs taken in the cold Atlantic surf.

The first week’s travel found him with a lame horse, thundershowers which kept everything he owned soaked for days, an encounter with quicksand, and an alarming weight loss in Spooky. This proved to be a problem, because Russ had planned to alternate his horses, riding one and packing the other, but the weight loss in Spooky prevented the riding saddle from fitting properly. The pack saddle, due to its more flexible design, still rode without creating sores. Having no recourse, he saddled Cinnamon, packed Spooky, and continued along old route 66 through Cajon Pass, cold, wet, tired, but determined. Russ sometimes rode along railroad embankment, these usually being level, straight and clear of obstacles. Both his horses were accustomed to trains, so he was taken completely by surprise when Spooky suddenly bolted one morning as a train passed. Spooky’s panic tripped a wire in Cinnamon, who immediately threw Russ and charged after Spook.

“It was a real rodeo,” Russ told me later. “I was sitting on the ground, watching both my horses racing along with the train, the panniers loose and all my gear scattered along the tracks. When they disappeared around a bend, still running, I had no choice but to start walking. I felt sure I would find them both killed by the train.”

Russ walked about two miles collecting his gear as he went, before he came upon his horses calmly grazing. He eventually got gear and animals collected, but the rodeo cost him a day’s travel and his K-bar knife, which he never found.

Somewhere along this stretch a small roadwise dog of indeterminate origin decided that trotting along with Russ all day was a better life than the one she had been leading. Despite her size, she gamely kept up with the long stride of the horses, so Russ was forced to adopt her as a permanent member of the expedition. He began sharing his food with her (or sometimes, she shared hers with him) and he named her Speedbump, based on her penchant for traveling down the white line of the highway and being absolutely fearless in the face of oncoming traffic.

Russ rested a few days in Barstow, steeling himself for a week’s worth of hard riding across the forbidding California desert with no water, no shade, and no grazing for the horses. The first week had been rough, working the bugs out of his gear, learning the hard way about packing and pushing himself and his horses, but this next stretch would be serious business. As he approached Barstow, he realized that this would be a turning point. If he continued on through Barstow, there would be no turning back until Needles, 140 miles away, If he could make it that far.

After crossed the Colorado River at Needles, Russ followed 66 through Oatman to Kingman, and then northeast to Peach Springs on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. There he was befriended by two brothers, who showed him a place to camp and then spread the word of his arrival, so that by evening Russ was inundated with people tossing him flakes of hay for his horses and bringing him water. A few days of rest, and he was on the trail again, down through Seligman and Ash Fork and into Williams, where he became an instant celebrity.

Stopping in town to resupply, he collected a crowd of tourists like cows at a water hole, asking him questions, taking his picture, touching his horses as if they were some holy icons. It was here that he first began to think about exactly what position he had gotten himself into. For Russ Austin, the thoughts and feelings started to run a little deeper. What had begun as a mere “why not” type of idea slowly crystallized into something more, something along the lines of, “Now that I’m here, why”.

A week later, after fighting barb wire fences and un-gated cattle guards, Russ was in Two Guns, ruminating on the state of his life and his philosophy as his tent was being battered by southern winds howling up Canyon Diablo.

“You know,” he said in his deliberate, quiet way, “I’ve learned to appreciate certain things now. Obviously, I appreciate a hot shower, but I see my family in a different light, too. I didn’t always appreciate the things they did. But I was surprised at how they all pulled together for me on this trip. They all pitched in, offered whatever help I needed. It made me realize that they didn’t care what I was doing or not doing with my life, but that they cared more about my happiness. When they found I was serious about this, they were all right there.” He pulled his sleeping bag up around his shoulders. “Some people see this as a great adventure, and they’re a little jealous. I hear people say, ‘I wish I could do this’ but they don’t realize that they can. It just takes work and determination, and a willingness to sacrifice.” The wind picked up, snapping his tent fly like a main sail. “I’m not doing this for money, or to prove something. Hell, it’s been done before. I’m not the first. Anybody could do it. The difference is, for me it’s just a personal thing. I was thirty-odd years old and didn’t like where I was or what I was doing. So I thought about what I’d like to be doing, then went ahead and did it. I have no idea what I’m going to do when it’s over. All I know is, I gave up a lot to do this, and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. I don’t regret anything. And now that I’ve started, I’ll finish it. It’s all I have at the moment.” He lit a cigarette. “it’s not always fun, but it’s my life.”

Three days later, I left him camped on Clear Creek, six miles east of Winslow, Ariz. Spooky and Cinnamon were staked out beyond the wire, feed bags over their noses. Speedbump had dug herself a hole in the shade. The bright orange tent tilted crazily under pressure of a strong southern wind. It looked very out of place there in the desert, like finding a gum drop in your oatmeal. We said our goodbyes, made arrangements to meet up in New Mexico, I gave him the rest of my cigarettes and drove away. Suddenly I felt almost like a parent abandoning a child to an orphanage. I was his last contact with civilization, at least for a few days, and he, with all his life stacked around him in the desert, seemed very small and forlorn, a speck in the sand as the sun went down and the wind turned cold. I remember thinking how helpless he would be if an emergency arose.

All these thoughts raced through my mind faster than it takes to read them, and something he said hit me like a kick from a horse; “This is my life”.

I realized then that he was far from helpless. Of all of us, Russ is now better equipped to handle the vagrant whims and devastating roadblocks of life than we could ever be. He chose this life. If I was to lose my water supply, my 20[SUP]th[/SUP] century transportation, my well stocked refrigerator, I would survive. Surviving, however is not the same as living.

Russ Austin, on the other hand, is living, and on his own terms. He wouldn’t be a nearly put out as I would be. He would smile that life’s-so-cool smile, light a cigarette with my confiscated lighter and say, “What’s the matter, don’t you like to have fun no more?” Then he’d do what he had to do and go on, living life, as he said, “Because I can”.
 

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Thank you George!

As any Cali rider here can tell you, once you get past Barstow, it is a mean desolate place. Years ago, Barstow was one of those places where you saw signs saying "Last stop, no gas for xxx miles". It's so hot sometimes you can't even hardly breath.
 
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Thank you George!

As any Cali rider here can tell you, once you get past Barstow, it is a mean desolate place. Years ago, Barstow was one of those places where you saw signs saying "Last stop, no gas for xxx miles". It's so hot sometimes you can't even hardly breath.
I've run that stretch between Needles and Barstow in my hot rod (no AC) a few times. The one temp I can remember was 113F and the other times it felt about the same....and desolate. As I was reading about Russ' adventure I could picture him, two horses, and a dog plugging away through there. Lots of time to reflect on things...
 

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I've always loved that part of the world, I was born in Porterville in the San Joaquin valley, I always said I grew up on route 66. We traveled from California to Arkansas once or twice a year, it took one tough rascal to make that trip by horse.
 

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Reading the story about Russ, there is a part in there where he is reflecting on his family which states:

"But I was surprised at how they all pulled together for me on this trip. They all pitched in, offered whatever help I needed. It made me realize that they didn’t care what I was doing or not doing with my life, but that they cared more about my happiness. When they found I was serious about this, they were all right there."

I can't help but wonder what he thinks about his TW family trying to be right there for him now...
 
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Got a call from Ronnydog, he says Russ probably won't make it a whole lot longer. Gina isn't sure if he will make it to Christmas. Thank you for the prayers everybody!
 

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That horse story is mind blowing! I can't wait to hear more of it! When Russ and I met up near Hesperia he mentioned something about riding (his TW) across the Mohave Trail on about a 200 mile run and I remember wondering if he was serious but now I see he was !!!
 

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I can't wait to hear more about that story too. What a guy! I think it was the Mohave trail that inspired him to use the TW and that was the starting point for Russ and TW's.

That horse story is mind blowing! I can't wait to hear more of it! When Russ and I met up near Hesperia he mentioned something about riding (his TW) across the Mohave Trail on about a 200 mile run and I remember wondering if he was serious but now I see he was !!!
 

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I can't wait to hear more about that story too. What a guy! I think it was the Mohave trail that inspired him to use the TW and that was the starting point for Russ and TW's.
... and we are richer because of it
 

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I love reading these stories about Lizrdbrth! Thanks for posting it up!
 

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Wow, I am overcome this morning after being away from the forum for about 2 weeks with such news. I have had a lump in my throat since first reading. I've never had the pleasure to make Lizrdbrth's acquaintance but none the less still feel like I've lost a grand opportunity to enrichen my life. Having read every post written about that's active in the forum at the moment goes to show that it isn't what you own but how you make others around you feel that's important. My thoughts and prayers go out to Russ, his family and friends. Your continued presence on this forum is already sorely missed.

Sincerely,
Pete
 

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I love reading these stories about Lizrdbrth! Thanks for posting it up!

Thank you all so very much for your loving gifts, prayers and thoughts. I saw him yesterday along with Jimbo and Don and he was medicated and comfortable but may not make it through Christmas. Gina is managing him, family, friends, and the farm along with the pain of loss and this forum has given her strength!

From right to left Russ, Jimbo, Gina, Don and Ronnydog

Thanks again

Ronnydog
 

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Thank you Ronnydog for the update.
 

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Another great Lizrdbrth ride report!
 

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Amazing guy that Russ. He's an incredible adventurer and technician. A profoundly patient listener and talker. Not one to poke fun at ignorance but rather use an every day situation as a learning experience. He is truly spartan tough but also a thoughtful and caring man as well.

Short story to share on the Mojave Road road trip a few years ago. The trip was a big bucket list item for me. Almost 20 years I'd lived in Southern California and I'd always thought/hoped I'd do the Mojave Road as a guest with (maybe) a full on gear head Jeep tour until I got bitten by the bug and found out that a TW is much more fun and far cheaper! For me, with work, family and a limited amount of time off to ride, that trip was sort of like climbing Mount Everest. I felt prepared but still kind of freaked out and nervous when it came time to actually start out.

By then I had either met and/or rode with Russ, Gina, Jeff, Ronny, Jimbo, and a few other TW forum riders but had yet to do a serious off road tour like we were doing. Russ took the trip seriously but I still got the sense that it was all pretty much super familiar to him and very low stress if taken one step at a time. For Russ it was all about a positive attitude and patience rather than conquest and speed. I really admire those qualities and try to absorb them as best I can.

My family has also been fixing up a cabin out in the desert and Russ has been by several times to hang out and help with hanging doors and installing windows. Same great attitude as a builder.

To get to build stuff or go adventure riding with someone you trust is a very high form of living in my book. Russ knows how much I appreciate him but I wanted to share this with you all.

I'm lucky to have him as a friend. All the love put out there on this forum for Russ and his family are truly well deserved.
 

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Man do I envy that trip, the Mojave road has always been on my list. One of these days I hope to follow your tracks, though I don't think I'll have as good of comapny as you did.
 
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