Wagon Journey Subject of New Book
"A vagabond poet, a businesswoman and a mule walk into a bar together." Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right?
It's actually one of the many true adventures that middle-aged newlyweds Bud and Patricia Kenny had with their mule Della on their two-and-a-half-year walk across America. In the spring of 2001 the trio left Hot Springs, headed for the coast of Maine. Both the Clay County Democrat and Piggott Times interviewed them in mid-August, 2001 as they passed through this area.
Now Bud Kenny has written a book about their trek and is offering it for free. On Sept. 9 and 10 Kindle users will be able to download "Footloose In America - Dixie To New England" from Amazon.com at no charge. The paperback edition is also for sale by visiting either Amazon.com or www.budkennybooks.com
Della, an 1,800 pound Belgian mule, pulled a pack cart that produced electricity from the rotation of its wheels and a solar panel on the top. This provided the couple power for lights and fans in their tent, as well as lights and a sound system for their shows. The back of the cart folded down as a stage, and in the spirit of the old traveling medicine shows, they stopped and entertained folks along the way. But instead of pushing pills and potions, Bud performed and peddled his poetry. The cart also had a computer and printer on board, which they used to publish his poetry books as they traveled. Although he notes, Footloose In America is not a poetry book--it's the story of their journey.
They traveled mostly during the summer and fall each year, then stop and find a place to spend the winter. They spent their first winter in Madison, Ind., where Bud and Della got a job giving tours of the historic district with a Cinderella Carriage. Prior to this journey, Bud owned and operated "The Mule Line" in Hot Springs. For seven years he gave tours of the city and national park with twenty-passenger trolleys pulled by teams of mules. So he had the experience to do the job in Indiana.
The second winter found them living and working with Mexican immigrants on an apple farm at Albion, N.Y. It's in the snow belt, halfway between Buffalo and Rochester, and that's where Della became a sleigh-mule. Bud found a small cutter in a trash pile and restored it. "Della loved pulling it," he said. "She'd throw a fit and paw the snow whenever Patricia and I took off on our cross country skis without her. Della always wanted to go."
Woven into the fabric of Footloose In America is a fascinating array of characters that they encountered along America's byways. They range from the Amish in Ohio, to illegal immigrants in New York to a bigoted slum-lord in Indiana. Because they had no set agenda or schedule to keep, the Kennys could take the time to engage the interesting people they met. "Most folks who saw us figured we were walking for a cause like cancer, or Jesus or something like that," Bud said. "Nope, I just wanted to slow down and take the time to explore a part of America that I hadn't seen before."
According to Bud, the hardest part of writing Footloose In America was deciding which stories to put in the book and which to leave out. Fortunately, some of the stories about their passing through this area made it through the editing process. Bud said, "The book is 365 pages. It could easily have been well over a hundred pages longer."
This was not the first time Bud traveled across America on foot with an equine. In the mid-1970s-- with a pack pony and dog--he walked from eastern Pennsylvania to the northern Oregon coast, down the west coast to San Francisco then east to Arkansas. It was an 8,000 mile journey which lasted three and a half years. "On that trip I spent my first winter living in a cave in Wisconsin," he said. "That's when I decided one day I would find a woman crazy enough to do something like this with me."
Twenty-five years later, he met Patricia. They married on New Year's Eve 2000 in Hot Springs and hit the road the following June.
Originally, they planned to travel America for a few years, then transport themselves, Della and the cart overseas and tour other parts of the world. After a couple of years living on the Maine coast, they hit the road again and wandered around New England for more than a year. Their route took them into the heart of the Bronx and Manhattan where they had hoped to make connections for crossing over to the British Isles. However, circumstances arose that required them to return to their home in Hot Springs in 2008.
But that didn't mean Della was done being on the road. In the spring of 2009 she and Bud went to work for Hot Springs Carriage Company showing folks around the city and national park. "Della soon got bored with that," Bud noted. They retired this past spring.
Bud is currently working on a memoir of his 1970s trek and a humorous novel. Information about those future books can be found at www.budkennybooks.com
More information and photos about the Kenny and Della's trek from Arkansas to Maine can be found at www.usonfoot.com