|Randy Boehmer has found the meaning of life|
Randy Boehmer may not know each day where his travels may take him, but he definitely knows where he’s going.
"I’m on a journey, not a trip," he explained. "A trip ends. A journey goes on forever."
Randy knows some people may criticize him for his lifestyle and what they may perceive as just wander-lust, but Randy has had so much support the small number of naysayers don’t really bother him.
The Arizona man spent much of November and December plodding along Alabama’s highways and byways at an average speed of four miles per hour. Four draft mules—each weighing more than 1,300 pounds—pulling his living-quarters-covered wagon and a smaller storage wagon hooked on behind.
So what is his real story? Has he lost his mind? Or is he just a left-over hippie from the ‘60s and ‘70s?
"The roots go back a while," he explained. "In the fall of 1990 I met Lee Young. He was traveling from Florida to California in a covered wagon pulled by three pony mules. I bought him his lunch and we talked. He told me the only thing he had to worry about each day was making sure he could find water for his mules every night."
Although Randy continued working as a taxidermist, his career for more than 40 years, he couldn’t help but think Young had stumbled across a wonderful lifestyle.
When Randy’s mom died in 1991 and his father was placed in a hospital, to never return home, he really began to see the futility of his life.
"My brother Mike and I had the job of cleaning out their house. Our sister said that whatever we didn’t want, to just take to the dump. That hit me hard."
"Here were the tools my dad had, other things he had worked his entire life for, and now they were worth nothing."
Then Randy’s own wife died in 1998 after battling cancer.
"She told me right before she died, ‘Life here on Earth is short compared to eternity’."
"That’s when I really saw the futility of chasing things in this world. That’s when I began seriously reading my Bible. I saw that ‘things’ just didn’t matter."
So he began making plans and tidying up the loose ends in his life.
Another turning point came as he was looking for mules to buy. He’d seen an ad in a magazine for a pair of mules for sale several months before and took a chance they might still be available. When he learned they were sold or given away, he stored much of his own possessions, except what he’d need on his journey, and traveled north to get them.
In September of 2007, he drove his Geo Metro from Arizona to Bedford, Ind. carrying his few belongings and his dogs, Shep and Proverb.
He bought Frank and Jesse, his original draft mules (and soon two additional mules). The seller graciously offered Randy to stay at his place while he trained as a mule skinner, learning how to properly take care and drive his giant beasts.
He also worked seven months with an Amish farrier to learn to shoe the mules himself knowing he might be away from needed help as he made his way throughout the United States on his journey.
He bought a farm wagon and built a covering over it, much like the Conestoga wagons which traveled across the west in the 1800s.
But Randy’s living quarters include a small wood-burning stove and a small solar panel to power lights, TV, DVD player and more. A smaller wagon pulled behind hauls grain and hay for the mules and other necessary items including the fence posts, fencing ribbon and charger for the electric fence he erects around his campsites so the mules can graze and enjoy their rests each night.
He waited until the weather was beginning to clear and left Bedford on April 1 with Acts 16:31 painted prominently on one wagon’s side.
He carries a cell phone for emergencies, but doesn’t leave it on when he’s driving his team.
Randy isn’t "preachy" and he doesn’t stop and talk at gatherings. He prefers his witness to be one-on-one with the people who see him camped along the roadsides and simply stop to chat.
He traveled south on U.S. Hwy 231 from Huntsville (after being featured on three of that city’s four TV stations in November), camped in the Blountsville area of Blount County, and then a couple of days later, made camp about five miles south of Oneonta.
He invites anyone to stop by and visit if they see him along Alabama’s roadways, as long as they do it before dark! He’s usually up and getting his team ready by 4 a.m.
In Huntsville, a Boy Scout troop gave him a refurbished laptop computer and he hopes when he reaches a warmer climate for the winter, he’ll have time to develop a website so folks can keep up with his travels. In the meantime, folks can write Randy Boehmer, P.O. Box 826, Ashfork, AZ 86320, and someone there forwards him his mail about once per month.
Randy’s mules eat about 75 lbs of grain each day and he supplements that with hay. In November he was still finding enough greenery for them to graze.
He always asks permission before camping and folks are generally so intrigued they welcome him. And once he leaves a campsite, there is NO SIGN anyone or anything has ever been there!
Randy isn’t sure where his journey will take him but he plans to travel with his wagons and his mules for the rest of his life.
"I just want people to stop and think when they see me," Randy simply said. "Maybe I’ll remind them that THINGS in this life just don’t matter."
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County.