Rodger Howell is 80% disabled. His exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam has now taken its toll. He suffers from both heart and kidney problems and was told by doctors last July that he had five weeks to live.
Pan forward 11 months and Rodger Howell is parked in front of the Havana Subway having breakfast with his companion, Debbie McCoy. He’s traveling in two wagons, pulled by two horses, and accompanied by one dog. He’s defying the odds.
Howell, a master farrier and former police chief of Erin, TN is heading to Tampa from Belleville, Michigan. He’s been on the road since last August.
“I’m not going to sit on the front porch,” he said. “We’re all going to go one day. I’m going out in style.”
Howell, who has six grandchildren and 43 foster children, will visit family in the Tampa area and then head up the east coast to Niagara Falls.
Howell doesn’t dwell on his fate. “My self-pity and anger were gone in about the first 60 miles of my trip,” he said. “I have met thousands and thousands of good people and only three or four I could do without.”
McCoy, an old high school friend of Howell’s from 40 years ago, recently joined him on the trip but said after about 10 days she’s heading back to Michigan, probably from the Tallahassee airport.
“The experience has been amazing,” she said. “It gets you out of your comfort zone.” She especially mentioned the lack of air conditioning. But she’s not through. “I’ll probably join him from time to time on his trip up the east coast,” she said.
They both joked about her moving his things around in the jam-packed wagons. “She messes with my things,” Howell said. “I can’t find anything.”
Howell said many people, especially children, take things for granted these days and spend too much time playing video games and less time enjoying life. “I’m an example that you don’t need all those things,” he said. “With two horses, two buggies and necessities, you can survive and have a great
Howell said on a good day and “flat ground” he can cover about 50 miles. In hilly terrain maybe 25. His goal from Havana was only seven miles. He and McCoy planned to camp that night near Lake Jackson.
Howell’s four-legged companions include his two horses, Sonny and Dancer, and his dog, Banjo. For them he packs 200 pounds of horse feed, 100 pounds of peanuts, 30 gallons of water, eight bales of hay and 50 pounds of dog food. He resupplies at Tractor Supply stores along the way.
“I’ve met people of all nationalities and religions,” said Howell, who describes himself as a religious man but not a ‘bible thumper.’ We all have the same wants and needs.”
Howell says when his trip is done he will have traveled 8,000 miles “if the dear Lord sees fit. When He says quit, I’ll quit. I’d rather they find me in this wagon than in a house somewhere.”
Good luck, Rodger Howell, on the rest of your journey.