ITHACA, N.Y. – It’s a sunny autumn day in Slaterville – Chris MacLuckie sits at a table in the sun at the Dandy Mini Mart with two slices of pepperoni pizza and some coffee. It’s his second day of rest after a long trek from Skaneateles on horseback. His companion, a purebred Morgan named Roxy, is a few miles down the road enjoying a mouthful of clover in a pasture at Quickland Stables.
MacLuckie and Roxy have been on the road for over a month, on a trip that will take them from Rockingham, Ontario to Iztapa, Guatemala. Though the two have already been traveling since Labor Day, it will be a long journey to their final destination – MacLuckie said that while he doesn’t want to jinx himself this early on in the trip, the earliest the two will make it to Guatemala will be by October of next year.
MacLuckie, who grew up in Ontario, is somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades. He’s worked as a bike messenger in Canada, began homesteading and organic vegetable farming, and wrote a gardening book last winter. A few years ago, he said, he found himself in Alberta working as a dog handler, training and racing sled dogs. He said training sled dogs has helped him navigate parts of this trip, both mentally and physically.
“I always heard this when I was working with sled dogs: ‘when you start a ride, you have to finish it’,” MacLuckie said. “We have to make sure to take days off as we should, that’s the most important thing – that’s another thing I’ve learned from sled dog racing. We never go five days straight, usually its 2 or 3 days straight and then a day off.”
MacLuckie said he and Roxy, on average, travel 15 miles a day and are traveling about 20 days out of the 30 days of the month. If they get on the road by 8:30, 15 miles usually brings them to around 2:30 in the afternoon, around 7 hours per day of travel, depending on whether or not the two have luck finding a place to stay for the night.
The trip began after MacLuckie was inspired to return to Guatemala, which he had first visited for a bike race.
“I was farming at the time, and saw that these people were farming all over the place, they were farming everywhere,” he said. “I decided I had to get back down there, but I said, ‘let’s take a slow way’.”
MacLuckie began visiting Guatemala regularly in the winters while he was working on his farm and eventually began a job in Canada with Maya Pedal, a Guatemalan company which designs tools like grain mills, washing machines, generators, and blenders out of recycled bikes. He even designed a ‘wheel hoe’ which was a pedal-powered tool used for weeding crops on small farms.
The planning for his return on horseback began months ago, which is also doubling as a fundraiser for Maya Pedal. MacLuckie began contacting people at border patrol, got his paperwork in order, began getting rid of his possessions and tied up all his loose ends at home. Then, training began for his horse.
MacLuckie bought Roxy, who is 9 years old, two and a half years ago. He describes her as ‘forward’, but basically, she is just an animal with a lot of energy.
“Before I put the weight on her, all Roxy wanted to do was canter and gallop – a hard trot, maybe, but walking? Forget walking,” he said. “She would just never get tired. In the spring, I said if I was going to do this trip with one horse, I had to train her to relax.” so I put the pack bags on the saddle and we rode up and down really steep hills. basically training her all summer,
MacLuckie said to train, he would put pack bags on the saddle and ride up and down steep hills over the summer. He would get off afterward and walk her home.
“I lost 12 pounds doing that,” he said. “But more importantly, it also allowed her to learn what it means to just be easygoing.”
A lot of the time, he said, he is walking next to her instead of riding her.
“I love hiking, and I love walking so it’s easy that way – honestly, I don’t think I would have done this trip with two horses and if I would have been riding all the time, I would have been too sore,” he said. “I get to see all these beautiful scenes in slow motion.”
The ride from Skaneateles to Ithaca, MacLuckie said, was hillier than any terrain they’ve covered yet, which meant a lot of walking for him – and he only expects it to get hillier. While they have a good place to stay in Brooktondale, he said he’s decided to stay an extra day, as Roxy’s right rear ankle has been looking inflamed.
“You’re always looking at the horse thinking ‘what does she need’?” he said. “I’m thinking about that all day.”
While the two have come across their fair share of challenges during their journey the past month, finding places to sleep at night has been one of the most difficult challenges of the trip, according to MacLuckie. After 15 miles, he will begin looking for good places to stop and rest, often asking around town if there are any stables or farms nearby. While MacLuckie tries to keep her stomach full on grass throughout the day to avoid colic, she still needs feed and water at the end of the day.
“I’ve always been able to find a place, but its just a matter of time – sometimes it’s the first place I come across, or sometimes we’ll have to keep on going down the road to find the right spot,” he said. “It has to be a good place for the horse – for me, it can be anywhere, I have my hammock, I can sleep in a barn, people invite me into their houses, but I have to be thinking ‘is this a good place for Roxy tonight’?”
After the pair makes it through New York, they will travel through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alamaba, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas. From there, they will have to cross the border with a truck and trailer into Monterrey, where MacLuckie hopes to ride through the mountains and get into cooler climates, away from the coast with less traffic.
Hoping to reach Guatemala by this time next year, MacLuckie said that will not be the end of the trip. While it will be the end of his fundraising period for Maya Pedal, he hopes to continue his ride throughout the country to see Maya Pedal machines being used on farms.
“The mental part is getting yourself feeling resilient enough to not give up. A lot of people start rides like this and it turns out to be way harder than they thought or not as fun as they thought – unless one, or both of us gets really injured, we’re not going to stop,” he said. “I just think it would be really cool if I made it there with my horse, and finished the trip with both of us in good health… that’s my goal.”