Friday, July 22, 2011

XP Conclusion - On the Pony Express Trail - July 18 - Virginia City and Placerville California


July 18 2011 – XP Conclusion – Virginia City Nevada and Placerville California – We awoke early and I readied the horses for one last walk on the Pony Express trail.  Both Frank and Whiskey traveled the trail and both horses deserved a walk down the main street of Virginia City.  Yesterday was Frank's day so today I saddled Whiskey and ponied Frank.  We began our walk out of camp and up to the main streets of Virginia City.  It was early on a Monday morning.

When traveling with horses, you need a veterinary health certificate and the health certificate requires the street address of a destination.  For my destination, I used the address of a famous landmark in Virginia City, the Delta Saloon, 18 C Street, so that is where we walked.  Frank and Whiskey were seasoned travelers and were little concerned with the early morning traffic of the streets of Virginia City.

After the tour, we gathered with the others for breakfast and conclusion to the trip.  Dave Nicholson, the trip leader talked about the personal nature of the journey and our personal goals.  Dave recognized that many of us achieved our personal goals although many of us had to modify our goals when the magnitude of the trek became apparent.  Like the pioneers, we relied on each other, we compromised, and we improvised.  Some decided that the trip was too much and left while the others pushed on westward.  We recognized Karen Chaton and her horse Granite Chief for their amazing accomplishment.  Karen was the only one to ride every mile of the trail, and Granite Chief is Karen's main horse.  Karen used a combination of excellent horse care, experience, a dedicated crew, two very fine horses, and a measure of luck in crossing the west.  For myself, I realized my goal of riding every day, getting my crew, both horses, my dog, and myself safely to Virginia City with the ability to go on if necessary, and riding over one thousand miles of trail.  The two horses had each gone over six hundred miles of trail.  Those are the tangible goals.  The intangible goals were to see the US like very few others, relive a period of history in a personal way, meet interesting people, and experience magic along the way.  The tangible goals are quantified but the intangible goals will change my life.

The very ending of the breakfast was special.  Dave half joked noted that these trips often end in a divorce due to the hardships.  In fact, I heard rumors that the sheriff did arrive in camp in one town with divorce papers for someone on the 2011 XP, but I do not know if the story is true.  One couple, Gary and Janus, decided to get married at the end of the trail and Dave performed the ceremony with all of the XP riders serving as witnesses.  Gary and Janus decided that if they can survive 2,000 miles of trail, they have the fortitude to face a normal life together.  The ceremony was short and a fitting conclusion to the 2011 XP.

For us, the journey wasn't over.  Like the Pony Express horses 150 years ago, Frank and Whiskey started from the bank of the Missouri River back in Elwood Kansas and we wanted them to go to the western terminus of the trail.  Like the Pony Express riders 150 years ago, we started from the Patee House in St Joseph and we wanted to go to the western terminus too.  We loaded the van and set off for Sacramento California.

The Pony Express trail from Western Nevada to Sacramento has been completely replaced by Highway 50 and Highway 50 is very busy.  There would be no ponies and there would be no riding.  The highway goes over two major summits and we headed west in the van, overloaded with the two horses.  The summits were difficult and we crawled up the grades in first gear for some of the miles.  The traffic was unlike anything that we had seen on the dirt roads and back roads of America.  By the west side of Echo Summit, we were anxious, we were weary, and we were stressed.  After the long descent, we decided to exit at Placerville, look for the Pony Express Station, and decide what to do from there.

We exited Highway 50 in Placerville, wound our way through the narrow streets of the town in the traffic, and I looked for the XP station marker, but there was nothing that I could see along the main street.  We were tired and stressed and I saw a parking lot next to a fire station where we could stop and rest the horses.  We parked, watered the horses, and I walked to the fire station to ask directions to the Pony Express marker, but no one knew where to find the marker so I walked back out to the trailer.

We were resting with the horses discussing what to do when the captain came out to talk with us.  We chatted and he pointed to a monument, just a few feet behind the trailer.  By the winds of fate, we had arrived at the exact site of the Placerville Pony Express Station.  One hundred and fifty years ago, in early July 1861, the western terminus of the pony Express was moved to Placerville when the telegraph line reached the town.  Had we ridden the trail 150 years ago, Placerville would have been our destination and the end of the trail.

For us, the 2011 XP was over.  We, and the two horses, Frank and Whiskey, had traveled from the western bank of the Missouri River to California. As the mountain man said to Cindy in Wyoming, "Tom is a man of good medicine" and it was good medicine that helped us on our journey all the way across the Western US and it was the same good medicine that directed us to this very spot in the old town of Placerville.  It then that I felt the emotion of the trip and I knew that traveling the Pony Express across the Western US was like nothing I had ever done before.

Best Regards,

Tom N


  1. Nice Job Tom, Whiskey and Frank! It was fun following your trip and posting the updates - I looked forward to them each day! Have a safe trip home, and we'll see you back in Idaho. I guess you still have the Oregon Trail and Lewis-Clark Trail to go! :-) Hah!

  2. Awesome. I felt my emotions whelm up again as yours did at the end of the trail. I was blessed to ride the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada in 2009. (Some of mine can be read at So much of what you experienced I did as well. Congratulations on your accomplishment and to your entire crew. Blessings, Janice Raddatz

  3. Fascinating! I'd love to invite Mr. Noll to be a speaker for a group I belong to. How is it best to contact him?

    Many thanks.