Meeting the Mules

By Kimberly Sherwood, San Clemente, CA

A few days after extending an offer to 3 Mules to drive them around the south corridor that has been closed to al except cyclists, or to give Little Girl shelter or feed during the storm, I had not heard anything from John. I wondered how they were faring and what success they had dealing with Cal Trans. John had requested a solution from them as they have not kept an open route for all to use, which is apparently required by state law.

I was in touch with Amanda Hicks and Bri Alvarez, who also wanted to offer assistance, and through messages I finally caught up to Amanda and was able to check in with John. First off, for all those concerned that Little Girl is suffering, she isn’t. She was resting under a tree while her owner picked up supplies. She nickered as he came back. Her weight is good, her hooves look good, she has a nice winter coat and looks healthy. Her packs are padded and balanced. She is absolutely not abused. 

John told me that he had obtained an escort who is allowed to walk him through Camp Pendleton so he can traverse the “closed to pedestrians and equestrians area”. It is wonderful to know that he can continue on his own terms. God bless the man who is escorting him. I asked John to call me if his escort falls through, as I can probably help him find another one, or offer him a ride. 

During our short conversation I learned that having a support base helps keep him safe in his journey. We spoke of the great lessons learned living outdoors with his equine companion. How it would be a great learning experience for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other groups to earn merit badges by making a trip through nature in this style. John used to hike and camp in BLM and park land, but now goes through more populated areas as well, showing that it is possible to create space everywhere to connect with nature and animals, and to live in greater harmony with others. I mentioned that he is inadvertently helping people like me. Equestrians who are rapidly losing trails and wilderness areas along with pastureland. 

He said he has learned that the key to success in finding a solution is putting forth energy. That if enough energy is put out by enough people in a positive way the solution will come. He is incredibly knowledgeable and forward thinking. Speaking to him allowed me to envision a lot in just a few short minutes. 

Godspeed John and Little Girl. I am sending positive energy your way and look forward to your return as it would be a great pleasure to join you for a few miles of your journey with a mustang. I believe in what you are doing. Thank you for sharing your life with the rest of us. 

My girls are wondering if after they grow up I am going to wander the state with mules or mustangs now. What I am wondering is what it would be like to create a place that teaches people to do pack trips and connect with nature and animals. Kind of like an exploration camp with equines.


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By Chris Dawson

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with the Mules. The Mules made me think of a metaphor with livestock (cows) ruminating. The John and I were sitting there ruminating on life. The word “neon” originally was a Greek word that meant something new. Made me think that the Mules see something new every day. Mule influenced me to write this poem this morning. The story of the brightness inside of him, his journey, like Odysseus heading to Ithaca, his stoney hand, and patina with nomad life. I wrote this poem called Neons. I stole a theme from Shakespeare, thus the first stanza. It’s a theme of what time takes away from us.


On the thieves of words, I borrow such.

That my neons live like rhapsodies of life.

In mind, though I have never seen Ithaca,
I love it’s great lands of creativity.

Greater than anyone can imagine.

The whole importance of being and
being whole.

I could make do with just with my mind,
my stoney hands, my eyes that carry
memories like a patina toolset.

But, I realize there is something more…
The essence of roaming free, that
moment of ruminating with you.

Thoughts, we can not nay, so steering
willfully, an interchange of mine.

That all things change into something
else, such whole breath and melody, that
hungry time’s idle tide will but have to
take away.

All away, except for the love, may she still
shine bright.

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Meeting the Mules – Perspective from an Animal Control Officer

By Shirley Zindler, Animal Control Officer, Sonoma County Animal Services

Lady and ACO Zindler

As an animal control officer I heard some reports about the mules by people concerned about their welfare but in each case they were gone when we arrived. A friend was following them on Facebook so I read up on them and found their journey fascinating.

On a Saturday afternoon I was working when a call came in of the mules walking alongside a nearby highway. The caller was concerned about it being too warm and the mules carrying packs that looked heavy. I was eager to find out for myself how the mules were. When I pulled up I could see them grazing happily beside the road. They appeared healthy and in good condition with excellent feet and they weren’t even sweating. I quickly introduced myself to their person and told him how glad I was to meet him. He said his name was John and answered my questions politely.

They weren’t far from my home and I asked John where he was staying that night. He said that he didn’t know and I offered my small fenced pasture. I have to admit that later when he had the mules unpacked and grazing in my field I checked them over pretty thoroughly. No sores or wounds from poorly fitting or over crowded packs. No swelling of the legs indicating overwork. The mules were in excellent lean and healthy condition.

I was amazed that the oldest mule, Lady, is 36 years old and that she and John have been traveling together for 31 of those years. I hugged Lady’s big long face and felt her warm breath on my skin and my heart swelled with love. She was in fabulous condition and way past the age that most equines live so John was obviously doing a good job caring for her and the other mules. I heard some criticism that she should have been retired but really the mules were living a more natural life than most. People would have been happy if the mules had been sitting in a small stall or paddock day after day but seemed bothered to see them on the move. The mules had good care, daily mental and physical stimulation, they had each other and they had John looking out for their every need.

That night as I was settling into my comfy bed in the house I thought of John and mules out there under the stars. I could hear the soft calls of an owl through the open window and I almost wished I was out there with them.

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Don’t Fence Me In

By Jeanie Greensfelder

I wrote this poem as a tribute to the 3 Mules after I saw them at the corner of Monterrey and California in San Luis Obispo in 2013. Mule and his journey stayed in my mind and the poem arrived.

Don’t Fence Me In

A man leads two mules on the sidewalk
past a café and an art gallery.
Cars stop. People stare.

I learned about Mule Man
when he came through town two years ago.

He moved into my mind, his way of living-
traveling the West twenty miles a day,
eating oats, rice, and canned green beans.

Some yards have invisible fences
and dogs wear collars that shock them
if they cross the property line.
People have fences too. My collar buzzes
when I stray too far. Some of us have
small yards and some have grand estates.
The Mule Man has the whole West.

I’m grateful he moved into my mind,
letting me settle by a creek, tend the mules,
fix a small fire, warm rice and beans,
and hold solitude. When solitude shifts
to loneliness, I talk with my mules,
with the wind that allows trees to speak,
with the sunset, darkness, moonlight,
and with the rock I sit on. And I thank
the mule man who brought me here.

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3 Mules in Chico for 4th of July

By The Dude,

I was sitting back having a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale(ChicoStyle), celebrating the 4th. I caught a glimpse out of the window of a man and 3 equines. I immediately knew it was him. I had come across the story of his amazing journey while web surfing a couple years ago. A man and his 3 Mules traveling the State of California. My recollection of why was murky, but that didn’t matter. Like “On The Road” by Jack Kerouac, it was more about the adventure than the destination.

I yelled out “3 Mules!, 3 Mules!” My wife and guests had no idea what I was talking about. He and the Mules were walking at a very brisk pace, there wasn’t a second to spare. I grabbed my camera and ran out the door. “Hey there, I saw you on the internet a couple years ago”. He was friendly and let me take pictures of the mules and him. With the temperature near 100 degrees I offered him some cold water, but he declined.

“What’s Your Message?”, I asked. “Freedom”, he said. This 4th of July just got real. “To travel freely” he says, as a police car drives by slowly for the third time in two minutes. Turns out, not everyone thinks his journey is so amazing. He has received citations and even been arrested for traveling the state with his Mules. To the credit of Chico Police, I believe he made it out of the city without any citations.

He likes to be called Mule. The 3 Mules names are Who-Dee-Doo (the newest member of the group), Lady (the oldest), and Little Girl (the lead mule). Like Kwai Chang Caine from the classic TV show Kung Fu. A man with a simple appearance, walking the land on a seemingly endless journey, but extraordinarily in tune with the “Natural World” and mystical forces.

His quest is to bring awareness to the ever shrinking free space by the”Mega- tropolis” and to establish a statewide network of paths and trails for Hikers, Cyclists, and Mules. It was getting late in the evening and I told him “I better let you get on your way” and with a nod, off he went.

He was gone as quick as he appeared. Reflecting on the encounter, I regretted not convincing him to have some cold water. I had carrots in the fridge, I had oats. If only I’d given him advice on where to get the Mules a drink, and where to spend the night.

Checking on him the next day on Facebook, he had posted this photo and message.

“Where we slept last night. Where we going now? Who knows? Great way to be.” – in Chico, CA

I realized that he had left the comfort of the world I live in (the “Man-Made” world) far behind, and that he was on another level altogether. A Master of the “Natural World”. One with it, protected by it.

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Man with Three Mules

I saw an article this morning (September 12 at 10am, Tokyo time) on the net, at The Atlantic magazine, that read: “There is a man wandering around California with three mules”. At that moment I knew I’d have to write a song. Fortunately, today I had the morning completely free. So I wrote the song, and recorded it, and now, here it is, four and a half hours from the original inspiration. I should note that I haven’t read the article yet, so my song shouldn’t be expected to have any of the actual details right. But the image I’m uploading for this song is a photo of the man himself.  Click on the play arrow below to listen. Hope you enjoy the song.

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3 Mules, A Monk, on a Mission

By Sean, The Outside Way


Holly molly!!, where is my camera? Was all I could think of when I stepped out of the trailer this morning and saw moving in almost slow motion, a sturdy weathered man, and his 3 mules meandering past our steps. Being a camp host, we see all sorts of different people pass through, mostly on foot or bicycle, but never fully loaded pack mules. By the time I was able to grab my camera he was no where to be seen. OMG! He must be some sort of magician I thought, then upon closer inspection I realized he was just hanging out by a tree about 50 yards out. I still can’t get over how a guy with 3 fully packed mules manages to move around so stealthy, it was quite incredible to watch him and his animals move from tree to tree so leisurely that you could barley notice their presence. They hung out just long enough for his mules to munch down some grass and drink some water, then they were gone as mysteriously as they had appeared.

All I could think all morning was, who is this guy? What adventure is he on? Luckily printed on the side of one of his cargo cases was his website explaining his mission: “We exercise the freedom to live outside and move freely in all directions, north, south, east and west, one step at a time all day every day as our ancestors have done along with the Grizzly Bear, Wolf, Elk, Deer, Lion, Salmon – long time companions that humans have lived with on earth for thousands of years. His real name is John Sears, but he prefers the name Mule. At the age of 65, he’s been living a semi nomadic life for the past 29 years, and full time outdoor living with his mules for 10.” ( His traveling family consists of: Little Girl (the white mule) has been with him for 23 years, Lady (the brown mule) 30 years, and Who-dee-doo since February 23, 2015.

He travels up and down California delivering his “Declaration of Emergency,” to city halls across the state. According to his website this is why?

“The Natural World that resides on this earth with all its inhabitants is being destroyed by a spreading, sprawling Megatropolis (man-made world) that shows no bounds and cares not for the consequences of its behavior. The Natural World that human beings must have to be and remain human is vanishing rapidly. The Human Race is truly in a state of emergency. We must curtail and redirect the energy of this Megatropolis going wild over the face of earth into a direction of seeking balance with earth and its Natural World not its destruction.” (

“The above being said a most first necessary step, an interstate trail system in this country going in all four directions (north, south, east and west) linking all states to all other states passed and funded by Congress with the same energy and effort that was applied to the building of the interstate freeway system.” (

I feel fortunate to have come across a man who is on such an honorable mission even though we never even spoke. I highly recommend visiting Mule’s website and learning more about his lifestyle and mission because what he is fighting for really does affect us all.


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Different Level of Nomad

By Ed@Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets

For those that have followed our blog, we are a married couple making plans for the full-time RV “nomadic” lifestyle. Although we been busy working the plan for our Great Escape in 2016, we are still living in a home that we rent, and we still have our small retail business.

As we have started blogging, we follow other blogs and simply read even more blogs, all with the common thread of people who have chosen to be “nomads”. Of course, in our online “travels”, it has become obvious that there are differing levels of the nomadic lifestyle based on individual resources. Some are traveling full-time in a van or pick-up truck with camper or a tent trailer or even just a tent, while others are doing the same thing in a high dollar rig like a Prevost. And then there is the bulk of the rest of us in 5th wheels and motorhomes, all of us nomads or nomad wanabees.

If you look up the definition of “nomad”, one definition is… “a member of a people having no permanent abode, and who travel from place to place…” Some synonyms for the word “nomad” include “travel”, wanderer” and “rover”.

So today, on my way to the office, driving down a country road, I come across this guy…

He was just walking along the edge of the road, leading his Mule Team. As I drove by, I commented to my wife that “I’ll bet THAT guy has a story to tell”. She said, “why don’t you drop me off at the shop and go back and find out?” So, I did.

In the 10-15 minutes that it took me to return, he had not gotten too far. So I pulled into an empty lot up ahead of him aways, and waited for him to approach. I asked if he had a few minutes to stop and talk with me. He said “Sure!”

His name is “Mule”. And he’s been on the road and living outdoors for decades. The other “mules” are “Lady” and “Little Girl”. Apparently, they have become fairly famous in the West, although I did not know that when we met.

We talked for most of an hour, just me and the three mules. After just a few moments, it became clear to me that “Mule” was not just a nomad. He is a road warrior. A man on a mission. But before getting into that, let me tell you that he has been on the road for 31 of his 67 years. And the other mules have been with him for most of that time. Apparently, mules live long lives. One was in her 20s and the other was 40 something.

Mule was born and raised in the San Francisco but during his life on the road, he has traveled throughout the west and as far east as Arkansas. I asked him if he ever rides the other mules. He said he used to have a third mule, “Pepper” but it came up lame, so he gave it to a good home. Now, he just walks. And walks, and walks. Generally, 15-20 miles per day.

As I alluded to earlier, Mule is a man on a mission. He travels the West calling attention to and otherwise alerting folks to out of control urban sprawl which he firmly believes is ruining “the beautiful earth”. Particularly stuck in his craw, is California Penal Code 647(e) which, among other things, makes lying down and sleeping pretty much ANYWHERE, an offense for disorderly conduct. Because that is exactly what he does nightly, he has been arrested in many, many jurisdictions throughout California. This has, in nearly every case, led to charges having been dropped, but often times not before he is arrested and his mules hauled off to Animal Control, for which he has to pay to retrieve them.

Mule, his real name is John Sears according to court documents, even has a website…

He firmly believes that what we have, what he and other nomadic lifestyle individuals treasure, will eventually disappear, the wide open and free Great Outdoors. He is convinced that the establishment is working to insure that this will happen in the name of “progress”. Maybe sooner than later.

Interestingly, at the end of our conversation he said “Can I ask YOU a question?” “Can you tell me where the local City Hall is?” I gave him directions and wondered if, being the activist that he is, he’d be sleeping outside City Hall tonight…or INSIDE next door at the police station.

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Why I Am Helping John Sears Appeal His Case Pro Bono

By Dan Kapelovitz

I was walking by the United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles, when I saw two mules standing on the courthouse steps.

I had to investigate what this was all about.

It turned out that the federal government was prosecuting a man for disobeying a “lawful order of a government employee” and for “camping outside designated areas” of a National Park.  In other words, John Sears and these two mules had been walking all day and needed rest.  Mr. Sears found a resting place with no one else around and fell asleep.  He had no notice that doing so was against the law, or that he was even in a federal park.  When the park rangers woke him and ordered him to leave, he refused because traveling through the darkness would have been unsafe.

I further learned that, at that very moment, this man was defending himself at trial against these federal charges.  I desperately wanted to watch this trial, but I needed to be at a hearing in another courtroom across town.

Instead, I gave my business card to one of the kind people watching the mules, and explained that I would be happy to provide free legal services to Mr. Sears if he ever needed my assistance.

I had just recently had my own dealings with the “Environmental Crimes Unit.”  I defended a man accused of the federal offense of walking a dog without a leash in a National Park.  In that case, I was fighting against the same Assistant U.S. Attorney who was prosecuting Mr. Sears and against the same park rangers who had arrested him.  So I had a pretty good idea what Mr. Sears was up against.

In the dog-leash case, my client was convicted and given a suspended sentence of two days in jail, a case I am currently appealing based on various violations of my client’s constitutional rights.  I had a feeling that the government was similarly violating Mr. Sears’s fundamental rights

I figured that I would never hear from Mr. Sears, but a couple of months later, I received a call informing me that he had just been arrested again, this time by Ventura County law enforcement.  I agreed to help, but, as it turned out, Mr. Sears didn’t need any help because the case was almost immediately dismissed.

Soon after, Mr. Sears himself called me.  After we spoke about his federal case, I told him that if he wished to appeal his convictions, I would be happy to represent him pro bono.

Instead of treating the Mules as criminals, the federal government should be hailing them as modern day examples of how to use and relate to our national parks.  I found the Mules and the way they must live on this earth to be the embodiment of the American Spirit moving freely with the natural flowing energy of this earth. All he wants is to be free – free to roam the great, yet ever-shrinking, American outdoors.  In its response to our appellant brief, the government wrote, “Allowing individuals to camp wherever they wish would create a free-for-all on public land” as if this were a bad thing.  But freedom for all is what we are fighting for, and freedom is what Mr. Sears’s journey represents.

Daniel I. Kapelovitz
7119 W. Sunset Boulevard #999
West Hollywood, CA 90046
mobile: (323) 839-6227

Little Girl and Lady in front of United States District Courthouse in Pasadena [Photo by Danny Roth]

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What the 3 Mules have taught me

By Carol Lingham

John Sears, Lady, Little Girl, and Pepper, also known as the 3 Mules, have touched the hearts of many people during their 31 years living outdoors and traveling together throughout the western United States. We don’t see too many mules on the roads these days, which has led me to wonder, why not? And why are the 3 Mules, so loved by some and so discriminated against by others? I felt drawn to learn more about mules in general and found great information on 

History of Mules in the United States

The first mule breeder in the United States was George Washington, who aside from being one of our most important founding fathers and first president of the United States of America, George was also an enlightened agriculturalist and visionary who from early on saw the true value of the mule and wanted one. The major obstacle George faced in obtaining a mule at the time was that the Spanish Government prohibited acquisition of the legendary Andalusian Donkey. Because the mule is a cross between a donkey and a horse, obtaining a mule was a problem for George Washington.

In 1785 King Charles III of Spain presented Washington with a gift of two jacks (2 male donkeys) and two jennies (2 female donkeys). Unfortunately during the voyage to the newly formed United States of America, one of the jacks died. The surviving jack, whose name was Royal Gift, lived on to sire an American dynasty that literally reshaped the landscape of our country.

By the early 1900’s, the mule population in the United States exploded to almost six million. With the advent of engine powered vehicles, the once critical role in agriculture and industry by mules was diminished.

By the late 1960’s, fewer than 10,000 mules existed in the United States. Many of these mules languished, unused, unnoticed, unappreciated, and in danger of fading from our culture altogether. A handful of mule and donkey lovers were determined to keep the extinction of mule from happening. In 1967, Paul and Betsy Hutchins founded The American Donkey and Mule Society, dedicated to the protection and understanding of the long ears. They publish The Brayer, a bi-monthly magazine with an international subscriber base.

Mules and donkeys resurged in popularity during the last 40 years with annual events like Bishop Mules Days in Bishop, California, which hosts more than 30,000 people and 700 mules. Mule stock shows, trade publications and television programs, such as Meredith Hodges’s Training Mules and Donkeys, foster interest in these amazing animals.

The 3 Mules

Mr. Sears and his beautiful mules add color and character when we see them walking throughout California’s populated and rural areas, passing steadily and surefootedly without blinking an eye. Most people who see the 3 Mules smile at first sight of them. The 3 Mules are patient and kind when approached by curious people who want to meet them. When some see written on the mule’s pack, immediate reaction is to go online and look up the website to learn more. Other people seem to be panicked or suspicious to see a man traveling with mules in our midst and report the unusual sight to law enforcement. The range of reasons why some think that the 3 Mules should not exist and cohabitate among us is astonishing. It seems that collectively as a society we have forgotten a lot. Educators used to take students on field trips to see various kinds of animals. What happened?

Protect and preserve our planet

The 3 Mules show us to step back and look at our situation and the damage our urban sprawl is creating. Instead of arresting, jailing and impounding or being afraid of these beautiful rugged steady slow travelers and their capable handler, our society should reflect how we can better serve ourselves and our planet. The 3 Mules are expressing the urgency that so many of us feel, that it is time to be proactive and do something to help our planet and all of us who depend on it for life.

Our society should embrace and celebrate these beautiful, strong, steady, smart animals and capable individuals like Mr. Sears, who knows how to handle and care for his mules, and who loves the planet where he and all of us were born. The 3 Mules are sharing their journey with us and what they have learned.

How many of us could live outdoors every day and night for 31 years? Mr. Sears is the only person I know. It is remarkable how organized, self-contained and simplified his life is.

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