When the temperature dropped to 15 below zero the other night, I got to thinking about Emile and his mules. I don’t know Emile Brager, who hails from Avignon, France. I heard about him a couple of weeks ago from farm friends in eastern Montana. They opened their home and barn to this serious traveler.
“We have ourselves a Frenchman at the farm tonight,” my Montana friend Shele Seyl-Christoffersen posted on Facebook. “We fed him some stroganoff and let him take a shower. Then he was off to the hayloft to sleep near his mules.”
You don’t see that kind of post on Facebook every day.
Brager, some research revealed, is making an extended loop in the U.S. and Canada by mule — three mules, actually — a trip that might require two years to complete. He’s done this kind of thing before, always traveling by mule or horseback.
He happened upon the Christoffersens’ farm late one December afternoon. He couldn’t have been luckier. The Christoffersens are the same wonderful folks who allowed some total strangers from Duluth to camp in their hay yard several years ago. We’ve been camping there every September since on our sharp-tailed grouse hunting trips.
So, it was no surprise the Christoffersens invited Brager and his steeds to spend the night recently.
Brager, a retired physical education teacher, makes a trip like this every few years, according to a story in the Idaho County Free Press in Grangeville, Idaho. I spoke with David Rauzi, editor of the paper. He had written that Brager bought his mules for this trip in a nearby Idaho community before his adventure.
In the days since, I thought about Brager and wondered how his trip was going. When the weather turned cold this past week in Duluth, I wondered where he and his mules were sleeping. I hoped they were tucked in someplace warm.
It’s inspiring to come across someone like Brager who seems to be pushing the limits of both imagination and physical endurance. We have folks in our neck of the woods who have done much the same — polar adventurers and wilderness paddlers, long-distance backpackers and mountain bikers. You read their stories or follow their expeditions, and you get to thinking about stretching your limits. Or, at least, some of us do.
Most of us will never want to pour ourselves into a North Pole expedition or attempt to climb Denali in winter, but we might be inspired to try winter camping or maybe paddling a wild river to Hudson Bay.
After leaving the Christoffersens’ farm, Brager was headed north, toward Saskatchewan. The Christoffersens put out the word that Brager and his mules were bound in that direction, and neighbors up the road in Medicine Lake, Mont., made sure Brager and his steeds had a place to stay the next night.
I liked Brager’s realistic approach to his journey. Yes, he planned to make this a two-year trip, but he knew that unplanned events could change things.
“That is the proposal,” he told the Idaho County Free Press, “but what will happen will happen. That’s important; we do what we can. I will try to do the best I can, and if I cannot, I will do a little bit less, which is fine.”
Sounds like a guy I’d like to have come to dinner.