RIDING INTO THE WIND
On Horseback out of Patagonia, a Life Journey
by Elly and Nathan Foote
A Review by Dale Leatherman
I’m not sure what I expected when "Riding Into the Wind: On Horseback out of Patagonia, a Life Journey", finally worked its way to the top of my “to-read” list. A travel writer by profession, I did not expect a travel story so real that I could almost feel the dust gritting between my teeth.. As a lifelong horsewoman and animal lover, I did not expect a story so moving I would be wiping tears from my eyes.
There are two kinds of travel stories: those that make you want to get on a plane and go experience it for yourself, and those that make you feel as if you have, through a visceral connection to the writer, already experienced it. Riding Into the Wind is one of the latter. I have no desire to follow in the Footes’ footsteps, but I am grateful to them for giving me one helluva ride.
If you’re a horse person and/or an adventurer and the first chapter doesn’t pull you in, check your pulse.
Okay, so what is this book that makes me sound like the Footes’ publicity agent? It’s 369 pages with a hardcover and end papers that make it look like a leather-bound journal of the type the Footes used to record their experiences. The book is illustrated with drawings by daughter Conchita Maria and photos.
The story is the saga of two independent young people who were destined, from birth, to be together. Elly grew up in Sweden with her mother, who moved from job to job. Elly moved from horse to horse. Nathan, the son of a minister was a star high school football player and comfortably carried a double major at Harvard until 1961, when he dropped out to go to Albert Schweitzer College in the Swiss Alps. Elly ended up in the same college.
Disillusioned by the Vietnam War and the assassinations of JFK and his brother Robert, the pair literally and figuratively burned their bridges to travel the world on horseback, squeezing the essence of life out of every single day. Their journey, often scribbled in journal pages by the light of a campfire, is not just a travel story; it is a poignant chronicle of life as seen through the eyes of two intelligent, introspective and socially conscious people very much in love with living and each other.
One reader called this a “Homeric” tale. I fervently agree. After working in the slums of Venezuela and living with gypsies in Spain, Elly and Nate set off from Patagonia with four Argentine Criollo horses and a dog named Chaco, aiming roughly for Alaska. Here a taste of the prose distilled from this journey:
From Chapter 5
"But the Patagonia never leaves you. It isn’t a place you understand. It is not a destination. You cannot conquer it. You can’t go there and take a tour for the experience."
"You want to do that, go to your closest IMAX theater and let them treat you to the current thrills and spills of vicarious living. It will be better than what any tour operator could offer you. Patagonia is about being out there without protection or guidance."
"You are alone in a landscape so vast that you go day after day and it does not change, and in that unchanging vastness you marvel how man found the spirit to live, facing the overwhelming evidence of his own smallness. Everything is drawn with such sparse strokes:"
"Plain, Sky, Wind."
"Day after day after day you ride, yearning for the moment when you reach the horizon where the plains end."
"And then, someday, when you are crowded in and suffocating, you close your eyes and you look into the never-ending horizon of the Patagonia and let the wind whip your face and the cold penetrate you and you let yourself imagine how it is to see a gaucho come towards you on the horizon and how it is to have the wind bring you the faint aroma of calafate burning and of ribs cooking and how it is to arrive to a shack tucked in a hollow and to know that you are welcome because you are human and there are so very few in this unforgiving land."
The Footes, who now live on a ranch in British Columbia, are working on a sequel.
Reviewer Dale Leatherman is a travel writer specializing in golf, adventure and the Caribbean. She is the former features editor for POLO magazine, former senior editor at SPUR and former content director of EquiSearch.com. She is an editorial adviser to EquiSearch and contributes occasional reviews and travel articles.