PRIEST RIVER – There is a man passing through the Inland Northwest right now who can tell you for a fact you are moving too fast.
He’s traveled 7,000 miles in a covered wagon with a team of horses for the past three years, relying on the kindnesses of strangers and a few friends to keep him going.
His speed: 3 mph.
He and his animals have endured torturous heat and biting cold and were nearly knocked to pieces in Nebraska by a commercial truck carrying a steel tower.
Lee Crafton keeps going, he said, because the journey has become his life. He will tell you he’s on his way to Alaska by way of Seattle and San Francisco, but there’s no real destination.
“I’m just going across America to visit with people,” he said Wednesday after spending the night in a vacant lot along U.S. Highway 2 in Priest River.
He and his team should reach Mead on Friday afternoon. He plans to continue moving west from Spokane on U.S. 2, crossing the Cascades at Stevens Pass.
“I’m not here to raise money,” he said. “I’m not here to raise your social consciousness.”
The journey began in 2006 when Crafton left a life of horse logging and ranching near Flathead Lake, Mont., with almost nothing to show for 27 years of work, he said.
He had been diagnosed with lymphoma, but didn’t want to endure conventional medical treatment. He wanted to see America.
He hitched his Suffolk Punch draft horses to a homemade wagon on tire wheels and set out for the East Coast. His initial goal was to visit a childhood sweetheart in New England.
Along the way, he’s gained friends, a lot of publicity and a steady stream of donations to keep going. He moves with an innate trust. “The bottom line is this is a trip of faith.”
The horses – Max, Tom, Fey and Baby – come from a breed known for its willingness to work. They are “incredibly quiet and mellow,” he said. The horses are not shod, but instead wear a type of horse boot.
Crafton averages 100 miles a week.
The horses have been spooked twice: once when encountering a buffalo statue in New York and another time by a dinosaur sculpture in Montana.
His covered wagon is equipped with a battery for power. He sleeps in a loft and has a wood stove for heat. His dog, Katie, keeps him company. He stays in touch by cell phone, laptop computer and Web site.
Crafton, 48, prefers to be known as Lee the Horselogger as the sign on his rear wagon shows. He can be found online at www.leehorselogger.com.
Living life at a horse’s pace has its own satisfaction, Crafton said.
“In this age of communication, we do not know how to communicate, and that’s what this trip is about. … This country is huge, and we move way too fast,” he said. “You have no idea what you are missing.”