Manes & Trails: The California Mission Ride

Cameras flash as riders arrive in San Diego and reach the end of their California Mission Ride. Photos/Deb Hurley
Cameras flash as riders arrive in San Diego and reach the end of their California Mission Ride. Photos/Deb Hurley
Rope and Spurs

By Karen Carlson

It took more than two years to complete. The logistics and planning took quite a bit of time. The northern leg covered about 450 miles. The southern leg covered another 450 miles, give or take.

The reality of riders on horseback making an estimated 900-mile journey through California was a huge undertaking and may even sound like something done in the distant past, but they finished here in San Diego just weeks ago.

Arriving in San Diego, The California Mission Ride (CMR) is an amazing feat pulled off by a small group of riders and support crew that visited each of California’s 21 Spanish and Native American missions. The Super Seven, as I’ve decided to call them, saddled up, geared up, gathered a support crew and hit the trail heading south.

A friend told me about this ride and since I had little to go by at first, and intrigued by the idea of such a ride, I checked out their web page. Their story began like this:

“California’s 21 missions were founded by Franciscan missionaries and built by Indians of highly diverse tribes during the Spanish colonial era. Dotting the coastline from Sonoma to the Mexican border, these missions form the state’s first and most significant historic backbone. We asked ourselves what would happen if we rode from mission to mission on horseback. Could it even be done today? We decided to find out, and to make an educational documentary film about the journey.”

Their journey began in the north at the Mission San Francisco Solano and headed south to the Mission San Diego de Alcalá, stopping at each of the California missions, film crew in tow. The group plans to share information and a film about their trip to local schools.

The fourth grade curriculum in California schools includes California history and the Missions of California.

My interest was piqued for two reasons: First, because some were riding mustangs, one named Noble, who is related to Ramona’s Original Horse Herd. Having been involved with wild horses for as many years as I have with Cricket in my life, there was a connection on a couple of levels. I saw this ride as an additional, amazing connection to our equine past in California and specifically in San Diego.

The second thing that piqued my interest was that it is possible to ride a horse across Southern California, I mean really possible! The trail advocate in me swooned.

As I learned more about this trek, I became more inspired and curious. I rode vicariously through friends as they met up with the crew of CMR and had dinner, listened to the tales of their journey and sat in awe of all they were accomplishing. On the Southern California leg of the journey, there were a few folks sending me details, pictures and video. Their comments were, “This is incredible! I sat listening and babbling out questions, I may have even been annoying in my excitement!” Another friend said, "These people are so lively, living history, I swear,” which made me long to be there even more.

This ride hadn’t been done via horseback in about 100 years. There are those who have done it by car and even bicycle, at least most of the way, but the trails on horseback had to be planned carefully since the California trail system is still a work in progress.

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Ramona resident Joe Solazzo, left, rides in with Domingo Sumonte, who lives in Chile. Photo/Deb Hurley

The mission docents and staff geared up for additional visitors and to mark this historic event as the riders got closer to each mission.

Communication was spotty since riding the backcountry rarely provides cell phone service or Internet connections of any sort. The riders had laptops and phones with them but were limited in their use.

Their crew hauling equipment and feed met with them at designated locations, including the missions to feed the horses and the humans, repair worn or missing horseshoes and make certain all were well. Most long riders try to cover 20 miles a day, so it’s not a wonder that this group had to break up the 900ish miles over time.

Different trail and equine groups held arrival parties, small gatherings and potluck dinners along the way to support the riders and hear about the journey.

Dressed in 1860s period clothing for the most part, the riders told tales — and some may have been spun, according to audience members I know, but that was the fun of it all. What an incredible journey.

I am inspired by their heart to have ridden so far and also because it is indeed possible and trails do exist across California. Maybe someday sooner rather than later, those trails will be better connected and then used by more non-motorized trail users.

The Original Horses of Ramona will be seen through Noble, the one ridden during this feat of travel by more people than I can imagine through news media and the film CMR is putting together. I think they’ve accomplished more than even they may be aware of by making this expedition, at least in my eyes.

I can’t wait to see the film and learn more about the years of planning and then the ride, The California Mission Ride.

For more information, visit www.thecaliforniamissionride.org.

   
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