The Almanac -

Issue date: April 01, 1998

Cross-country cowboy

Ray Piecuch rides into Woodside after what he says is a first: one man and one horse crossing the country in one year. He's promptly jailed.


Ray Piecuch won't say a negative word against the good citizens of Woodside, despite the fact that on March 23 his horse was confiscated and he was tossed in jail hours after he rode into town, close to completing a journey by horse that started at the Atlantic Ocean in New Hampshire almost a year ago.

"It's the first time I've ever been put into jail on this trip," the 41-year-old weather-beaten traveler says. Nonetheless, he says, "I'm not looking in a sour way at your town."

Mr. Piecuch says he and his horse, Bo, who is "named after John Wayne's horse in True Grit," began their trip on April 18, 1997 and hope to end it by riding from Woodside to the Golden Gate Bridge within the next few weeks.

Crossing the country by "one man and one horse in one year," Mr. Piecuch says, has "never been done." He knows because he looked it up along the way in the "brand new Guinness (Book of World Records)."

Mr. Piecuch says his brush with the law came soon after he parked his horse and cart at Woodside's Pioneer Saloon and traded tales of his journey for "a few shots" at the bar. Someone who was worried about the condition of the horse, whom Piecuch admits appeared a little trail weary, called the Peninsula Humane Society. They called the Sheriff's Office, he says, and "next thing you know there's police officers there."

Mr. Piecuch says he was hauled in for public intoxication and his horse taken to the stable of a nearby resident. When he was released at 3:30 a.m., after he'd sobered up, he walked back to Woodside, he says, and waited until he could contact the humane society about his horse and his cart, which contained all his belongings.

Things started looking up for Mr. Piecuch when he got in touch with Woodside entrepreneur Keith Simon, who had earlier seen him riding up El Camino Real on his way from San Jose to Redwood City. Mr. Simon scribbled his home phone number on one of his company's mattress brochures and told Mr. Piecuch how to get to Woodside.

After they met again, Mr. Simon helped Mr. Piecuch retrieve his cart, regain custody of Bo after a veterinarian's exam and find a temporary stable. He also gave him a place to spread his sleeping bag and share his tales while Bo rests up for the final leg of the trip.

Mr. Simon is just the most recent of a string of people who have befriended Bo and Mr. Piecuch since they began their trip near his hometown of Epping, New Hampshire, with less than $200, 20 pounds of grain and some spare horseshoes.

He met people such as the 61-year-old widow in Warren, Pennsylvania, who put him up for five days, fed him sourdough pancakes and rhubarb pie, and told him he looks just like her late husband.

In Nevada, a 6-year-old girl taught him to count to 10 in the Navaho language.

"People have been awesome to us," Mr. Piecuch says. "People have been unbelievable."

He figures that he and Bo were offered lodging by strangers at least two of every three nights of the journey. The remaining nights they camped out.

He picked up cash along the way by working at odd jobs, mending fences, painting houses, cleaning barns, doing plumbing and chopping firewood.

Plus, he says, "people just wanted to hand me money."

Mr. Piecuch looks likes an authentic cowboy, with a deep tan, neatly trimmed graying beard, brown felt cowboy hat, and neatly mended jeans and workshirt. Around his neck he wears wooden beads he whittled himself.

But although he's worked with many horses over the years, Bo, he says, is only the second horse he's ever owned. The first was a wild Mustang he gentled to ride. He says he spent a few years as an Army paratrooper and has worked as a painter and a plumber. He plays guitar and writes poetry and is divorced, with a 26-year-old daughter and two grandsons back in New Hampshire.

Mr. Piecuch began the trip in the saddle, but picked up a pony cart in Hiawatha, Kansas, which he re-rigged for Bo and has been using ever since. He is having his saddle shipped to Woodside so he can end the trip as he began it.

He traveled light. The cart contains "a good sleeping bag," a 4-by-6-foot dome tent, a quilt, two 6-gallon water containers, a hammer and rasp and horseshoe nails, a hoof pick, pliers, two spare sets of clothing, a horse blanket, Army poncho, a cooler containing bread, canned sardines and soup, a small propane burner, boot polish, a sewing repair kit, lighter fluid and a Mickey Mouse baby fork given to him by his grandson Cody.

There are also a few keepsakes he picked up along the way, such as a Mormon Bible, a Navaho rattle, and a signed book by Cao Young, a Tibetan Buddhist artist who pulled over and talked to Mr. Piecuch when he saw him riding through eastern California.

A zippered plastic bag stuffed full of business cards, notes, letters, and newspaper clippings testifies to the friends Mr. Piecuch has made along the way. The bag also contains his birth certificate, the bill of sale for Bo, a 9-year-old standard bred gelding whose "mite sissified" real name is Jean's Skipper Loo, and the horse's bill of clean health.

"When I left, there was just me and Bo," Mr. Piecuch says. "Since then we've carried the dreams of hundreds of people. But that's OK. Dreams aren't heavy."

The bag also holds a letter from the Epping, N.H., chief of police proclaiming Mr. Piecuch as "a peaceful individual who keeps to himself and loves the outdoors." "He should pose no threat to anyone," the letter says.

Bo and Mr. Piecuch traveled 25 to 30 miles a day, stopping for a few days at a time when Bo needed to rest. They made no advance plans, just deciding where the next day's destination would be.

The two arrived in California on Feb. 20 in Benton, he says, and passed through towns such as Lone Pine, Independence, Lake Isabella, Glenville, Woody, Terra Bella, Hanford, Tranquillity and Los Banos before arriving in Gilroy. They spent nights in a field behind a school in San Jose and at the Stanford Equestrian Center at the Red Barn before arriving in Woodside.

What comes after this trip is completed with the final ride to the Golden Gate Bridge?

He and Bo are going home by truck, he says.

"I've got to go back home for my daughter and my grandsons," Mr. Piecuch says.

Besides, he says, the stories he has to tell about the trip should keep him in free beers for at least two months.

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