Vaya con Dios

Who wants to live in a world where you can’t ride your horse to Utah?

Patrick Schumacher shortly before his arrest.

I had a hard time sleeping last Monday night. I kept thinking about that cowboy, Patrick Schumacher, sitting in jail, no doubt worrying about his horse Dillon and his 12-year-old pug Bufford, who had been more or less arrested Sept. 10 along with the cowboy as the odd trio tried to make their way across Boulder.

The lightning and thunder were in rare form that night and only added to my growing melancholy. I felt a sense of loss, but I wasn’t sure exactly why.

For the longest time that night, I just stood and stared out my upstairs window through the blackness and torrential rain, only making out the shapes of the trees that run along the creek that splits the corn and wheat fields when the lightning would flash.

My dog seemed bewildered by the whole affair, but then again, he always looks like that when it thunders.

Later, Ellen asked me what I was thinking, and it all became clear as the words left my mouth. “I don’t want to live in a world where you can’t ride your horse to Utah.” It was exactly what I was feeling, and it had nothing to do with horses.

I first saw Schumacher on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 9. I was coming in from Glenwood Springs and passed him a ways outside of Golden as he was headed north, using the space between the barbed wire fences and Highway 93 as his trail. I told Ellen at the time that he looked like the real deal, an honest-to-God cowboy going cross-country alone, not some charity fundraiser for a horse-related cause with a support crew around every bend.

His backpack, bedroll, saddlebags and hat had all taken on the same dim coloring, like his skin. They all testified that he’d been sleeping out for quite a while.

Most times, my curiosity would have forced me to the side of the road to ask a few questions, but not that day. We’d been driving a long time and I just drove on past.

It was one of those moments that can either make you feel good or really disappointed, like when a fat trout gets off your line just before you reach down for it.

Driving by that cowboy felt like the one that got away, but I didn’t mind because I knew that letting it go meant that there would still be plenty of stories in my river to be caught another day.

And then Monday came and it turned out to be “another day.”

I was walking back from lunch to our building near Table Mesa and Broadway when I looked up to see that same cowboy riding past our office. I figured it must be a sign … whatever that means.

I trotted up behind Schumacher and struck up a conversation. He asked me for directions … to Utah, by way of Highway 40.

Now, while it’s never completely true that “you can’t get there from here,” getting from Boulder to Hwy. 40 on a horse is about as close as it gets.

I explained the narrowness and other dangers of Boulder Canyon, which he had chosen as his route. I looked at his gear and also warned him of the potential weather issues this time of year up Rollins Pass. I suggested he go back south and take several easier routes, but he said he wasn’t interested in covering the same ground twice. He told me he had been riding from Larkspur for more than a week and that backtracking wasn’t going to get him to Carbon County, Utah, in time for his brother’s wedding next week.

I did a quick calculation and informed my new friend that he was going to be at least two weeks late for his brother’s wedding, no matter which way he went on his horse.

He said he’d been thinking that was about right, but he didn’t have any choice at this point but to press on.

He told me he had $100 that he’d been offering to folks with horse trailers in hopes of catching a ride west to the back roads away from the Front Range, but no one had taken him up on it yet.

We chatted for a while more and I tried to tell him half a dozen ways to get around downtown Boulder. I told him if he kept going down Broadway he was going to get arrested. He asked why. I said they’d find a reason. He told me thanks, we shook hands and he said he’d stay off Broadway. He then proceeded out of sight, straight down Broadway, and an hour or so later I heard he had been arrested near the Hill by CU police. They charged him with drunken horseback riding, animal cruelty and prohibited use of weapons.

It seems that Schumacher had an old black-powder pistol and some empty beer cans in his saddlebags and someone supposedly claimed to have seen him hit his horse near Baseline and Broadway. Welcome to the new West.

Was he drunk? I don’t know. He says he wasn’t and he seemed fine when I was talking to him, just a fellow on a grand adventure, the magnitude of which he hadn’t given a second thought. He was just riding out to his brother’s wedding using the only transportation he had, his horse.

Schumacher claimed he didn’t hit his horse but was instead knocking flies off its head. Having watched the two interact, I don’t think he was cruelly beating his traveling companion. He was incredibly proud of Dillon and the fact that the horse was half wild mustang. He was constantly patting Dillon as we talked, and the horse seemed really gentle and well-behaved. They seemed to have a strong bond. Same with the pug.

Sometime on Monday night the cowboy bonded out, and the next morning he was reunited with his horse and the dog and continued on his journey across the new West. I should note that several amazing people from around the county offered help to get Schumacher and his animal friends to his brother’s in time for the wedding. And while that is great and generous and why I choose to live here, it can’t replace what’s been lost.

When I was 19, I took 30 cans of cheese soup (long story) and drove my horse, a ’72 Ford Pinto, as far as I could from Oklahoma until I ran out of gas and money to buy more. The Pinto came to a stop on a sandy road on the Gila River Indian Reservation outside Coolidge, Ariz. I lived where the car died for two months on that road, eating cheese soup and walking around the desert with the occasional thumbed ride into town to get water and, every so often, to work a shift as a temporary day laborer in an Army munitions plant. I eventually put together enough gas money to get back home, for a while, until the next time the West called, and the next.

The West was wide open for a kid with a thumb and an ample supply of curiosity. My wanderlust took me to the high camps with Basque sheepherders. It found me holed up in a line shack two days’ walk from the nearest road, trading stories with an 83-year-old man who as a child had helped his father bury the last few members of the Hole in the Wall Gang, who managed to die of old age. Who knew?

Sure, things sometimes went wrong. I can still remember eating crackers from a box I found on the side of the road in the empty high desert of Idaho after being stranded for days by a January snowstorm. Yes, hitchhiking across Idaho in January is a bad idea.

But no one ever arrested me for trying to see the world on my own terms, not back then, not out West where peculiarity is — or at least once was — a thing to be celebrated, not feared. But the West has changed. The rules meant to keep rats from killing each other in a maze of skyscrapers are being applied to the West, as if rules are progress and self-determination a crime.

As I stared into the blackness and rain on Monday night, I felt like that cowboy in his jail cell, trapped and out of place. Something has been lost, taken without permission, stolen.

I waited for a lightning flash that would show me some way forward, but it never came. The truth is, the old West is mostly gone, disappeared beneath a blanket of undisrupted cell phone coverage.

For a thousand reasons that I don’t expect many people to understand, it’s hard to live in a world where you can’t ride your horse to Utah anymore. But thank God somebody is still willing to try.

Good luck, Mr. Schumacher. Enjoy the ride, wherever it takes you from here. I’ll try to do the same.

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