In a Vermont parking lot on Lake Champlain, I stood astride my touring bicycle waiting for the ferry.
In the corner of the parking lot, a buckboard wagon stood silently in the shade. It featured a shortened harness on the front, along with a blue and white cotton surrey top. Pots and pans hung from the sides along with a fold-out table and bench.
It sported four heavy rubber-covered large spoked wheels. A series of plastic covered news clips were tacked to the sides of the frame. The most curious aspect of this contraption wasn’t evident until I rode closer. A gold-trimmed black coffin comprised the main compartment of the wagon.
Off to the side stood a man in his late fifties. Long silver hair flowed from under his cap and he sported a goatee.
This guy had traveled through 85 countries on five continents. They called him “The Coffin Man.”
I grabbed my camera for a shot.
“Hold it, sonny,” he said. “Please read my sign before you take a picture.”
“What sign?” I asked.
“Right here,” he said, pointing.
I moved closer to the rear of the wagon. It read, “If you are going to take a photograph, I ask that you donate $1.00 and I will stand in the picture with you. This is the way I make a living for my travels.”
“Sounds fair enough to me,” I said, handing him a buck.
After the shot, I asked him how long and why he had been traveling with his buckboard.
“It’s been twenty years this coming May,” he said, stroking his goatee. “It dawned on me when I was forty-five that my life was passing me by. I had the travel bug. I figured I wanted to see every place on this planet. That’s when I thought up this idea to make money while I traveled. It’s the cheapest way to go, and I make a decent buck along the way.”
“Where’s the horse?” I asked.
“You’re looking at him,” he said, slapping his sinewy thighs.
“You pull that wagon?!” I gasped. “How do you get it up the mountains?”
“I’ve cut out any extra weight, so it’s pretty light,” he said. “Here, you can pick up a corner to see how light it is. You’ll be surprised.”
I laid my bike down and picked up a corner of the wagon. It weighed about 225 pounds, maybe more, but I could see that a strong person could pull it up a mountain grade.
“So where do you sleep?” I asked.
“Sonny, it don’t take an Einstein to figure that one out,” he said.
I looked up at the wagon.
“No,” I said.
“Yes,” he said.
I asked the Coffin Man what was one of his favorite adventures in his travels.
“It’s hard to pick out one favorite moment out of hundreds,” he said. “But once, I was caught in a monsoon rain on a muddy road in India. I had given up hope of getting out of there for the rest of the day. As luck would have it, three guys rode by on their own modes of transportation.
“What was that?” I asked.
“Elephants,” he said. “They hitched up one of those beasts with a rope to my wagon, and then motioned me to hop on board with them. Hell, I didn’t know how to get up on one of those things, so they motioned me to the front of the beast. I stood there when the elephant got up close to me and rolled out its tusk in front of my foot. I stepped into his curled snout, and that elephant hoisted me up to his back. It was the most exciting elevator ride to the second floor of any building I’ve ever taken.”
In all my bicycle adventures, the Coffin Man showed me that anyone can live their dreams.
Read more posts by Frosty Wooldridge here. Frosty is a blogger for JenningsWire.