SEDRO-WOOLLEY — When Bernice Ende guided her two horses into the waters of Padilla Bay on Wednesday, it marked the completion of a coast-to-coast odyssey in which she relied on her wits, horsemanship and the hospitality of strangers.

The long trip was nothing new for the Trego, Montana, woman, who goes by the moniker Lady Long Rider. After all, over the past 12 years as a member of the Long Riders Guild, she’s logged 28,000 miles in the saddle and under her signature, wide-brimmed hat.

“You ride along 10 feet in the air with a 360-degree view,” the 61-year-old Ende said. “You can see and smell everything.”

Throughout her journey — it will cover 8,000 miles over 2 1/2 years by the time she reaches home — she has given presentations to numerous groups, from riding and Rotary clubs to schools.

Ende’s two companions on this trek are fjord mares named Essie Pearl and Montana Spirit.

The 14-year-old Essie Pearl has hoofed along with Ende for 21,000 miles, while 7-year-old Montana Spirit has traveled 11,000 miles.

“These horses are amazing,” she said. “They mean everything to me. They are simply beautiful to ride on the trail.”

Before Ende began her trek, the Long Riders Guild informed her no rider had ever rode back and forth across the country.

“So I am supposedly the first,” Ende said with a slight roll of her eyes. “So now I had to finish.”

When she’s on the road, Ende stays wherever she can. Sometimes that’s meant taking strangers up on their offers, and sometimes it’s meant something less extravagant.

“I’ve spent a lot of nights in ditches, particularly when I was riding through Texas,” she said.

Ende never frets about where she’ll next pitch her tent. It doesn’t matter to her as long as she’s close to her horses.

She’s been offered plenty of rooms — with actual beds — and her responses have been a consistent “thanks, but no thanks.”

Ende travels light — a 25-pound saddle and a 90-pound pack — so food is always welcome. She admits to eating light and doesn’t mind dining on what Mother Nature provides.

“Honestly, this country is a very good one,” she said. “It’s full of friendly people. Getting out like this really reminds one of the freedoms we enjoy. Folks are so hungry for the outdoors.”

Ende said she tries to clean up as best she can before heading into towns, so she doesn’t look quite “ride rough.”

She doesn’t carry a cellphone, explaining doing so would simply provide her with a false sense of security.

“If I had a phone, I would be like everyone else, and be constantly on it,” she said. “I have to be focused all the time. A phone, it would be a distraction.”

She has several sponsors, including a saddle company and a blacksmith shop in Virginia where she gets custom horseshoes.

Ende said she never planned to ride the number of miles she has. It just sort of happened.

Years ago, the retired ballet teacher of 30 years made plans to visit her sister in New Mexico. She decided she wouldn’t take a plane, train or automobile, but rather rely on the original horsepower — the “grass for gas” method, as she describes it.

“It’s iconic, riding across such a vast swath of country,” Ende said. “There is just something about it. It’s a feeling of independence, of freedom. But I still cried the day I left on that first trip. This Minnesota dairy farm girl rode and rode. That girl has never stopped.”

Ende started this current trip in April 2014 bound for the Atlantic Ocean. She reached the coast of Maine in December 2014.

“It was a decent ride east,” she said.

She then reversed course, venturing into Canada as she moseyed along.

“Coming back there was a strong, westerly wind,” Ende said. “Out on the plains, it was so windy. It was relentless and wind really compounds everything you do.”

She encountered dense smoke from wildfires and rode through scorched areas.

“It was like riding through hell,” Ende said of stretches such as the fire-ravaged Conconully area. “There was so much smoke. It was so eerie. Then there were areas that looked like the surface of the moon. There weren’t any birds. Water just cascaded from everywhere. There wasn’t any dirt, just ash.”

She made it as far as Chewelah, Washington, before wind, snow and the closure of Highway 20 — her preferred route west — stopped her in October 2015.

So Ende called it a season. She headed home and vowed to return to Chewelah this spring — and did so in April. She completed her coast-to-coast trek Wednesday with a waltz into Padilla Bay.

“This was a short leg,” Ende said. “But it was the most spectacular stretch of country. Washington state is an equestrian Garden of Eden. There is water and grass everywhere. This is definitely a horse-friendly state.”

All that remains for Ende is the return ride home to the northwest corner of Montana.

“This is my 12th year of riding these distances,” Ende. “It never gets old.”

Ende’s time at Padilla Bay was a short respite from an often harried and hectic schedule.

While she endures the highways, she relishes the back roads and trails she gets to travel with her thoughts and her trusty mares.

“Honestly, when I began this whole thing (12 years ago), I was really most unsuited,” Ende said. “I had never even camped with a horse before. But ever since, it got this choke hold on me.”

That despite her first trek being what she called “an absolute nightmare,” because her horse was not suited for the trip.

That’s all behind her now.

“I’m the luckiest girl in the world,” Ende said. “I’ve met so many good people, so many who have helped me. I’ve seen so much.

“But it’s not about me, it’s about all of us. It’s about a much bigger picture and a much bigger story. It’s truly humbling and I am truly lucky. It has been an amazing adventure.”

— Reporter Vince Richardson: 360-416-2181, vrichardson@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @Sports_SVH, Facebook.com/vincereports.

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