The author and his wife, newlyweds in their 50s, undertake a cross-country journey by mule-drawn cart in this memoir.
As in the old Simon & Garfunkel song, Kenny (From This Side of the Road, 2003) and his wife, Patricia, went looking for America. What they found was a lot more encouraging than one might imagine. Yes, there was a churlish, self-important security guard at one point and some boundary-testing teens, bad weather, and killer chiggers. But at the book’s core is an overwhelming sense of how nice most Americans are. They offer the Kennys places to stay, free meals, and even laundry service. And when things do go awry, people want to help—whether they’re members of an Amish enclave in Ohio or undocumented Mexicans working in an apple orchard in upstate New York. The author, who crossed the United States with a pack pony and a dog in the 1970s, decided to repeat the experience in 2001. Only this time, he took along the missus and a Belgian mule named Della, who pulled the couple’s ingeniously designed cart. Powered by solar energy (and Della), the contraption converted into a traveling theater (Kenny performs and sells his own poems), a home office, and even a makeshift kitchen. The couple (plus Della) began their adventure in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and ended it in 2006 on the coast of Maine. It took them as long as it did because they mostly traveled in the spring, summer, and early fall; winters would be spent wherever they were welcome—in the aforementioned orchard or while working for a horse-drawn carriage company catering to tourists in the charming town of Madison, Indiana (which was also a favorite of Charles Kuralt). Kenny writes in such a conversational, in-the-moment tone that it’s a little jarring to realize that his and his wife’s journey happened more than a decade ago. Still, as he admits, he has a touch of the “traveling medicine show” in him: “But instead of pushing potions and pills, we’d pass the hat and peddle my self-published poetry books.” Readers may start off resisting this memoir; after all, far more accomplished writers, from Mark Twain to John Steinbeck, have shared their own cross-country travel tales. Yet somehow the Kennys’ stories grow on you—as does Della’s, as she’s easily one of the most engaging equine personalities this side of Mister Ed. Simply put, they’re good company.
A slight but appealing account of a long walk (with mule) from Arkansas to Maine.