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Archive for Saturday, June 29, 2013

Horsewoman stops in Lawrence on a journey across the state

June 29, 2013

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For each of the past six days, Valentina Vella has experienced the same sequence of emotions.

She wakes up in her tent, the air around her still cool in the early morning, and begins her journey on horseback with a pleasant sense of optimism.

Then the anxiety creeps in, edging out that giddy, adventurous feeling that comes with a journey west. Instead, her mind turns to survival: “Will I find water? A place to set up camp? Will the horse be OK?” she wonders. That concern only dissipates once her day’s ride is over, when she has found a place to set up camp and work on her writing, a place where the horse can graze.

Packing up her bedroll, Valentina Vella, 34, a student at Columbia College in Chicago, is on a different kind of summer vacation. She's riding a Mustang horse across the Midwest by herself, getting a feel for what things were like crossing the Plains in pioneer days. Vella stopped Friday night at Bismarck Gardens north of Lawrence, where she accepted the hospitality of Pat and Mary Ross.

Packing up her bedroll, Valentina Vella, 34, a student at Columbia College in Chicago, is on a different kind of summer vacation. She's riding a Mustang horse across the Midwest by herself, getting a feel for what things were like crossing the Plains in pioneer days. Vella stopped Friday night at Bismarck Gardens north of Lawrence, where she accepted the hospitality of Pat and Mary Ross.

To see where Vella goes next and to read a personal account of her experiences, visit her blog.

“There’s this wonderful moment of comfort and happiness and home,” Vella said. “But then at night, I’m worried again.”

Vella, a master’s student at Columbia College in Chicago, is on a one-woman journey along the American Discovery trail, a system of recreational trails and roads that collectively form a hiking and biking path across the U.S.

She has been planning the trip for the past year as an opportunity to write and take video footage in order to create a documentary, an art project.

“I’m really interested in what happens to your brain when you lead a simple lifestyle, when the things you have to worry about are food and shelter,” Vella said. “I make work a lot about solitude.”

On Monday, June 24, the day after celebrating her 34th birthday, Vella departed from Kansas City, Kan., on Ariel, a gray Mustang whom she recently purchased from a farm in Missouri. For the trip she packed her documentary equipment, a tent and other basic supplies.

The ending point for Vella’s journey is somewhere in Colorado, but she does not yet know exactly where. Her classes start at the beginning of September, so she will give herself until the end of August to get as far as she can go. Now, Vella is averaging 10 miles of travel per day.

As the end of each day Vella finds a camping spot, on the lawn of a residence along the route.

“I just look at a map or Google Earth, and say, ‘Oh, that looks fine,’” Vella said. “There’s a lot of relying on the kindness of strangers.”

On Friday evening, those strangers were Patrick and Mary Ross. On her way home around 5 p.m., Mary spotted a woman in riding pants, boots and a straw hat trotting by her home north of Lawrence. A conversation between the two women led to invitations to dinner and a campsite. Vella had found her “home” for the night.

“She’s very brave,” Ross said as she watched Vella gather her things to leave Saturday morning.

Going west

There were two factors that led Vella onto the trail: her art and her grand vision of migrating west, like so many others have before.

Vella moved to the United States from Rome in 2009. She lived in Philadelphia and New York City before moving to Chicago.

“As an Italian, that myth of the West is almost stronger than for people here, because they take it for granted,” Vella said. “For me, it’s really like I have been going west like the pioneers.”

Though she has faced some challenges — sleeping on a horse mat, finding water and grazing time for her horse, finding routes and places to sleep — Vella has had luck with many of the people she’s met along the way.

“Everybody keeps telling me how crazy I am for attempting this,” Vella said. “They say people are crazy, people are mean, this is America. But in reality, I’ve only met incredible people.”

On Saturday, she traveled through Lawrence. She wanted to meet some local artists before heading south out of town, into the country again.

Though she does not have an exact route mapped out and prefers to take it one day at a time, she was tentatively planning to travel along U.S. Highway 59 to Ottawa.

And then, well, she will see where the journey leads.

Comments

bearded_gnome 1 year, 2 months ago

Google Earth? that's sooo pioneer.

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bearded_gnome 1 year, 2 months ago

On Monday, June 24, the day after celebrating her 34th birthday, Vella departed from Kansas City, Kan., on Ariel, a gray Mustang whom she recently purchased from a farm in Missouri. For the trip she packed her documentary equipment, a tent and other basic supplies.

---horses ar not interchangeable. she'd have had a better experience with a horse known to her already, preferably well loved and ridden.

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bearded_gnome 1 year, 2 months ago

A gray 1965 Mustang would have been fun too!

---ooooooooooo! you got that right!

or, a Ford Fairlane with a nice huge back seat!

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Leslie Swearingen 1 year, 2 months ago

I saw her and the horse on Kentucky Street just across from Vermont Towers. Then she was going down 11th. I wish her well. I thought at the time that she was probably doing something like that. When I saw her she was walking and leading the horse.

Dear brave girl, she has a ways to go to get to Colorado and across Western Kansas during the heat, with long stretches of nothing. I will pray for her that she and the horse end the journey well and that she finds success, whatever that may mean for her.

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Alpenglow 1 year, 2 months ago

Not a single picture of the horse!?!? Waaaaaaa.....

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eotw33 1 year, 2 months ago

Its cool what she is doing but how do you only make it 10 miles a day?

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bearded_gnome 1 year, 2 months ago

Its cool what she is doing but how do you only make it 10 miles a day?

---obviously her goal isn't to cover mileage. apparently she takes time each day to observe/video or something.

indeed on horseback, without a spare mount, she certainly could cover more mileage daily. I also suspect there's time each day lost looking for where to stop.

if planned ahead, that could have been covered befor starting.

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parrothead8 1 year, 2 months ago

I applaud Ms. Vella for doing something few people would have the guts to try. At the same time, the facts that she wonders where she will get water and where she will camp on a nightly basis lead me to wonder what, exactly, she spent the last year planning.

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Fred Mertz 1 year, 2 months ago

It does seem kind of cruel to make the animal pack her and the gear without making sure it has adequate water.

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Leslie Swearingen 1 year, 2 months ago

This kind of endeavor would be best with a group. The settlers who went west to start a new life hired guides to lead them across. I am not sure the land is anymore hospitable now with all the highways and such. She is going to have long solitary treks with nothing in sight. Seriously, the more I think about this, the more wrong I think it is. I now hope someone stops her and talks some sense to her. If she is going back to college, where is she going to put the horse?

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HoofnIt03 1 year, 2 months ago

Valentina, you are doing what so many of us wish we could do or would have done when we were younger. Whether it be a journey by horseback across the Midwest or something else...you are living a dream! The kindness of those along the way are also getting to live a piece of this journey with you. What a gift you are sharing with others!

For those of you who are worrying about Ariel (her horse has a name) packing her and her gear, check out her blog. She has spent a lot of time walking, she has downsized, and the welfare of her horse is constantly in her mind.

I believe you can plan all you want from far away...but once you get started the reality of what the journey really entails will stare you in the face. It can be a positive learning experience with some "Oh crap!" moments in the mix, or you can wish you would have rode the bus with all the other 'stick to the plan' kind of folks. I am the type who will be waving to the bus as it goes by...so I get it.

Be safe Valentina and Ariel!

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