by Tori Hamby

Recent college graduates Tyler Smith and Luke Nowlin aren’t taking your typical post-graduation road trip.

The young men are traveling more than 3,300 miles on horseback, equipped with about four outfits each and some horse supplies and feed. Their journey began in Emerald Isle and will stretch to just past Redwood National Park in California, and included a stop in Huntersville on the 12th day of their journey. They travel about 25 miles a day, relying on the kindness of strangers along the way.

“For me, it’s about the people we meet and the relationships we form,” said Nowlin, who graduated from the University of Tulsa in May. “Just 12 days in, we have 12 new friends and 12 new stories to tell.”

The pair, who are from Grove, Okla., stayed with Mary and Michael Stapleton, of Huntersville, while taking a short break from riding Tuesday, June 21. Latta Equestrian Center also provided free boarding for their three horses. They use the third horse as  a pack horse.

“We met Mary’s brother at a feed store in Sanford and told him about what we were doing,” Nowlin said. “He gave us Mary’s phone number, and we called her before we got to Huntersville. They’ve just been wonderful to us.”

According to Nowlin, the goal behind the journey is to experience the U.S. and its people on a much deeper, more personal level.

“When you go to the mall, you can see hundreds of people in a short span of time but not think twice about their stories or where they come from,” Nowlin said. “Now, we have to be outgoing, we have to be invested in other people lives, or we’re sleeping in a ditch at night.”

So far, the two adventurers have stayed with a hog farmer, a 74-year-old bachelor, a hotel owner and various other families. They have only had to sleep outside in a tent three times and have only missed a shower once.

“One night, we were wrapping up the day and were kind of getting worried because we still hadn’t found a place to sleep,” said Smith, who graduated from Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kan., in May. “A car pulled up, asked us what we were doing. They said that they had horses, too, and provided for us in the blink of an eye.”

The two met about a year ago at a Bible study back in Oklahoma. Nowlin, who has been riding horses for more than six years, grew up listening to his father tell stories about a similar journey he made on horseback from Oklahoma City, Okla., to Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1973 and decided to embark on the even longer trip last November. Smith agreed to accompany Nowlin, despite never having ridden horseback before.

“I thought it was a great opportunity, a chance to learn to adapt and see things that I would otherwise never get to see,” Smith said.