Pony Express relives, shares history
It’s 1860 and a young courier hops atop the fastest horse available and sets out across an arid landscape of prairie grass and sagebrush with his letters stowed safety in a leather saddle pouch called a “mochila.”
He rides a certain distance to a relay station, where another young rider waits. The mochila is transferred to the new rider and he continues the journey across the Pony Express, between St. Joseph, Mo., and Sacramento, Calif.
More than 200 years later, the National Pony Express Association recreates the 1,966-mile ride along what’s now the Pony Express National Historic Trail, a nonstop event for 10-days, each June switching direction from east to west each year.
This year, the re-ride departed from St. Joseph , Mo. June 5 and passed through Genoa mid-day Wednesday heading to Sacramento.
“It’s so neat to relive and share this piece of history,” said Kim Harris, secretary of the Pony Express Nevada Division.
At least 600 riders from the National Pony Express Association’s eight State Divisions carried commemorative letters and personal mail by horse and rider relays through Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California.
“It’s real mail, getting to a destination on time as before,” said Harris. “Like before there were run-ins and complications.”
Harris said there were fewer riders this year than there have been in the past.
“That’s why it’s so important to have riders with well-conditioned horses,” she said. “Many of the riders had to ride several sections.”
The route is divided into sections of 2-10 miles across each state, much like it was in 1860 to transfer the mochila to a new rider, said Harris.
The riders endure harsh conditions such as weather, craggy roads and more along the journey.
“One rider hit snow outside of Ely, some encountered mud and just riding at night has its disadvantages,” she said. “There’s the natural conditions they face, but then there’s new challenges like traffic and barb wire fences that are often hard to see, especially at night.”
First-year rider and Carson City resident Rene Williamson said she hit some rutted areas along her journey from Cold Springs to Genoa. She said she rode four sections in two days.
“It was fantastic and so much fun,” she said. “My horse did great too, he came in breathing heavy, but he did great.”
She said riding at night was a challenge.
“It was definitely a new experience for both of us. I haven’t done much night riding and it is something I’m going to do more of,” she said.
For first-time rider Karen Gardella, of Doyle, Calif., the journey was a little less coarse for her two section ride through Dayton and from Genoa to Kingsbury Grade.
“It was a little challenging, but a fun experience,” said Gardella. “It’s amazing that we can recreate history and keep it going.”
For both riders it was an experience they will never forget. Each learned something new about themselves and their horses which they will incorporate into their conditioning. They also plan to ride the trail again in years to come.
The last rider was expected in Sacramento by late afternoon Thursday.
For more information visit nationalponyexpress.org.