Luke Nowlin is home for the holidays after his six month journey "in search of America". He said his adventure was a success. He spent 180 days learning about people, learning trades and how things are done. He spent the day with firefighters, police and cattlemen. He learned about vineyards and wineries from farmers and vintners. He spent a day with the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, Ky. He says he sampled all kinds of American people - all colors, all classes of wealth.
"The reason for me that this trip was such a success is because I was able to sleep at people's houses, eat at their dinner tables and really experience a part of their lives and learn about the people," he said.
"I started at Emerald Dial, North Carolina on June 8, and finished in Fort Bragg, Calif. on December 7, that's exactly six months." Nowlin returned home to Grove on Sunday, Dec. 11. "I said I wanted six months but it worked out better than I though it would," he added.
In reference to Fort Bragg he said, "Also if you look at the map, theres a Fort Bragg right here," he said as he points on a map of the United States to Fort Bragg, N.C. "The Fort Bragg here (on the west coast) used to be a fort, now it's a city there is no actual base. There is a fort right here (pointing to Fort Bragg, N.C.). I rode right by the front gate, so I rode from Fort Bragg to Fort Bragg," he said.
The two Fort Braggs aren't quite coast to coast, but close. Fort Bragg, N.C. is approximately 20 miles from the east coast. Fort Bragg, Calif. is on the coastline.
"I got to keep Geno at the Ridgewood Ranch in Willits," he said. He was the first horse to stay in Seabiscuit's stall in over 50 years. Only three horses have ever been in there. Seabiscuit, Sea Soveriegn and Geno.
Why did Nowlin and Geno get the honor of being the third? "Because I just rode 3500 miles," he said with a smile. "Actually all together I think my trip was just a hair under 3800 miles. I know that if you just put it in Google maps, its not that far, but I didn't just go straight like that, you know?"
"The ranch was really beautiful. A really cool place," he said. Willits is a small rural community located on U.S. Highway 101 approximately 140 miles north of San Francisco and called the "Gateway to the Redwoods, Heart of Mendocino County".
According to the Ridgewood Ranch website, the ranch is where the little red racehorse that stirred the nation during the Great Depression made his home. Charles Howard was the owner Ridgewood Ranch then. The ranch is south of the town of Willits in northern California's Mendocino County. Seabiscuit lived there while recovering from injuries in 1939 and retired there in 1940, living in a specially-constructed stud barn until he died in 1947.
The homes of the other great race horses of Seabiscuit's era have been lost to development, leaving this beautiful ranch as perhaps the only place in the United States where you can get a glimpse into the era when one fast horse with a lot of heart could pull a whole nation together.
Another story from Northern California Nowlin shared when he was interviewed in Grove on Tuesday, was when he was between Willits and Fort Bragg. "Between Willits and Fort Bragg I rode on the Sherwood Road, which is an old logging trail. At one point on the trail, at 3500 feet, I could see the snow on the Sierras and the ocean about 25 - 30 miles away at the same time, at the same spot," he said.
"It's not a place you go in a car. You don't just drive on Sherwood Road," he explained when asked if others can go there as well.
"Generally, the people were really good to me in California and North Carolina. I met a lady in Flagstaff, Ariz. who is an officer in the California Draft Horse Association and I stayed with upwards of 20 members of their association in California. It made it easy to find a place to stay," he said.
Overall, Nowlin said he said about half the time he didn't have a place to stay, whether it be a barn or at someone's home or in a horse trailer.
Except in California where he always had a place to stay. "That's because I was mostly in the valley. Everyone there is from Oklahoma," he laughed. "That made California really easy."
Nowlin said it was really a coincidence meeting the lady in Flagstaff. "She got me hooked up with everybody in California," he said.
By the time Nowlin got to California he said he was anxious for the trip to be over. "But California was a lot of fun. I was glad I did California. I learned so much about agriculture and horses and draft horses. Yea, it was a lot of fun. Everything in California was a lot of fun," he said.
Nowlin and Geno have not all happy stories to share. At one point in Atwater, California he and Geno were attacked by five wild dogs. Geno killed three of them. "The dogs chased us for about two miles, running and barking, before they starting biting Geno. Then one bit my stirrup and Geno got mad," he said. Three dogs were killed, the other two ran away.
Whether he spoke most about California because it was the last place he went, or because the weather was nice, Nowlin said California and North Carolina were the friendliest and most hospitable states in he went to. He said of all the places he saw and visited on his journey, "scenery wise" if he could choose any place to live, he said "theres a lot of places. There's western North Carolina it is gorgeous and Sonoma (California), shot, gorgeous." He isn't sure he could actually live there, but they are beautiful places.
It's difficult to write all of Nowlin's adventures in one story. Plus Nowlin says he can't tell them all, then there wouldn't be anything to save for the book. When ask if he was in fact going to write a book, Nowlin said, "I don't know yet, but a lot of people have ask if I am going to."
Contributions to this story:
Willits Chamber of Commerce