Jesse "Alex" McNeil pets his mare Pepper, on Hampton Beach Saturday afternoon. (LISA MARTINEAU)
HAMPTON - Jesse "Alex" McNeil crossed the Hampton Bridge with his mare Pepper, a gray Tennessee Walker, right on schedule.
His journey, which started in Brookings, Ore., at the Pacific Ocean, ended at Hampton Beach Saturday afternoon with a hoof-print touching the Atlantic Ocean. It was an eight-month journey that carried them 3,800 miles through 14 states.
Why did he do it?
"Life is ephemeral. It's best to enjoy what's in front of us. When I thought about traveling by horse, I decided, 'Charge!' I enjoy the back-country and long-distance traveling. On this journey, it became more about the people I met along the way." The cross-country "Sea to Sea" trek was often challenging. At one point, the 5-year-old Pepper found herself mired chest-deep in a bog, but her resourceful and free-spirited rider managed to get them out of that pickle.
There were also thunderstorms and snow, fog, highways to cross and the kindness of strangers to help them along the way.
The Warner native is now home for the Thanksgiving holiday. His journey, which was chronicled on Facebook, follows him through the weather, across bridges and into the homes of strangers he encountered.
But mostly, it was just a man and his horse, and a horse with whom he had not been previously acquainted. But Jesse went to Bozeman, Mont., where he trained with Pepper before he left on his journey.
Before this, Jesse had little experience with horses. He simply had a vision to cross the country - from "Sea to Shining Sea" - and he succeeded with only what he could carry in the leather sacks that Pepper carried - minimal clothing, camping equipment, an iPad and little else.
His mother, Sara, described her 37-old-son as a free-spirit who always had adventure on his mind. She also said he is in constant motion - he once crossed the Australian outback - and has traveled cross-country more than once; flying a plane on one occasion and driving a moped on another.
His plans while home for only a week include reroofing his mother's house.
At the end of the journey, he opened a bottle of champagne and celebrated his accomplishment. And Pepper? She got down in the sand, rolled around on her back, feet up in the air, and wiggled around in the cool sand before getting up again, the same way she did in Oregon when they left.
Pepper celebrates the end of her journey
On Sat., Nov. 30 at 11 a.m., Jesse will be holding an open house at 25 Old Main Rd., Warner to share his experiences from the road. There will be refreshments and children are invited to come and ride Pepper and visit with her. He also plans to write a book about his journey.