"The Ride of Her Life" | Reviewed by Joan Kletzker
Readers will love “The Ride of Her Life,” by Elizabeth Letts. It’s a true-life tale that’s fun, inspirational and full of joy and optimism.
The year is 1954, a turning point in the middle of the 20th century. Annie Wilkins, a 63-year-old Maine farmer, decides to ride a horse across the country to California, a trip of more than 4,000 miles.
Wilkins wants to see the Pacific Ocean. She has no ties to anyone—no children, her last surviving relative has died. Wilkins has hardly any money. Her farm is gone and her doctor has given her 2 to 4 years to live, encouraging her to move into the county charity home.
Instead, Wilkins buys a horse named Tarzan, and with her dog, Depeche Toi, sets off, trusting in America’s kindness to strangers. She has no map and no idea what to expect. Wilkins is determined, practical, has tons of common sense and becomes the “last of the saddle tramps.”
In 1954, America is on the move. The interstate highway system is being built and people are buying cars so they can travel. Annie is a novelty, to say the least. As she rides on the sides of the highways, she, her horse and dog adapt themselves to fast moving semis and cars.
Along the way, the author of this amazing story presents a picture of an America vastly different from today. People help Wilkins. They board her horse, give her places to stay and encourage her. Wilkins has little fear of knocking on someone’s door to ask for help. Overwhelmingly, people help without question.
Fate is kind to her. Somehow Wilkins meets a doctor or a vet when she needs one. As she progresses, news of her trip precedes her. Wilkins is in wonder at how fast news can travel.
Towns are prepared for her. Sheriffs usually meet her at state or county lines and escort her. She is quite comfortable staying in the jail cells; usually, however, the town puts her up in hotel or she stays in someone’s home. Someone is always willing to board her horses. (Along the way, she buys another horse.) Wilkins and her animals have a rapport with each other, their connection will make your heart sing.
Wilkins develops a correspondence with a variety of people she meets. One lady made cards for her to autograph and sell. She and her animals cope with floods, blizzards, rivers and mountains. Wilkins doesn’t take the most direct route because she does not have a map of the States. Instead she gets her maps in the local towns and gas stations.
As Wilkins travels piecemeal, she has no time frame and really doesn’t have to be anywhere at any certain time. On her journey she meets Artist Andrew Wyeth and winds up on the Art Linkletter show. Annie treats everyone the same and is not impressed with celebrity. She is offered a permanent home at a riding stable in New Jersey, a job at a gas station and gets a marriage proposal in Wyoming. She politely declines all the offers.
Wilkins is kind to everyone and full of hope and joy. She would have been a wonderful woman to know. In 1980, Wilkins passed away—26 years after her doctor gave her two years to live.