Discovery Trail a challenge for lone rider
June 17, 2003
Matthew Parker spent two weeks following the American Discovery Trail from Sacramento into the Sierra. He faced a bear and mountain lions, one of which was intent on eating his horse, Smokey.
Within the next few days, Parker, a Michigan native, will follow the trail south of Highway 50. The area is remote and waterless.
Parker studied the scratches and nicks on Smokey, a Tennessee walker, in the safety of a Carson City corral Monday, some of them left by a night-time mountain lion attack.
“Smokey snapped his picket line like dental floss,” Parker said. “I had to chase him down in boxers and boots.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said of his ride. “It could be the hardest thing I’ll ever do, in my life.”
Snows near the summit, not the wildlife, that finally stopped Parker. He spent two weeks traveling northeast along American River to Squaw Valley, but was snowbound two miles east of Lake Tahoe and had to have Smokey trailered out.
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The two are recuperating in Carson City before the next leg of their journey across the Great Basin’s deserts.
“I’m nervous about it, but I know it’s possible,” he said. “I just can’t be stupid about it.”
Ask the 23-year-old college graduate why he’s taking the risk, and he’s ready with the answer. He calls himself a romantic who loves history. No one has completed this trip alone before on horseback. He’s on a quest.
He said, historically, this type of journey was a rite of passage, adding life in the United States has become too easy and less rewarding.
“Society has whittled down all the challenges in life until there are none,” Parker said. “The biggest rite of passage now is getting a driver’s license. Then kids move on to cigarettes, sex and drinking.”
Parker sold his car and guitar to make the trip. Selling the latter was the worst part.
He rode for 10 months to prepare for the journey and purchased the large, steady horse in Tennessee about eight months ago.
He’s taking about a month to get through Nevada, the most difficult area in terms of water and forage for his horse. He hopes to be in Michigan by September or October.
He wants to be home in Ann Arbor for Christmas.