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The Ride of Her Life

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The Ride of Her Life

The True Story of a Woman, Her horse and the Last-Chance Journey Across America

By: Elizabeth Letts

Random House Publishing Group- Ballantine

Ballantine Books

History/Nonfiction (Adult)/outdoors and Nature

Publish Date 01 June 2021


100 Book ReviewsProfessional Reader

I would like to thank Kathleen Quinlan from Random House Publishing who recommended this book to me back in March of 2021.

Good Reads Synopsis:

The incredible true story of a woman who rode her horse across America in the 1950s, fulfilling her dying wish to see the Pacific Ocean, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Perfect Horse and The Eighty-Dollar Champion .

In 1954, Annie Wilkins, a sixty-three-year-old farmer from Maine, embarked on an impossible journey. She had no relatives left, she’d lost her family farm to back taxes, and her doctor had just given her two years to live–but only if she lived restfully. He offered her a spot in the county’s charity home. Instead, she decided she wanted to see the Pacific Ocean just once before she died. She bought a cast-off brown gelding named Tarzan, donned men’s dungarees, loaded up her horse, and headed out from Maine in mid-November, hoping to beat the snow. She had no map, no GPS, no phone. But she had her ex-racehorse, her faithful mutt, and her own unfailing belief that Americans would treat a stranger with kindness.

Between 1954 and 1956, Annie, Tarzan, and her dog, Depeche Toi, journeyed more than 4,000 miles, through America’s big cities and small towns, meeting ordinary people and celebrities–from Andrew Wyeth (who sketched Tarzan) to Art Linkletter and Groucho Marx. She received many offers–a permanent home at a riding stable in New Jersey, a job at a gas station in rural Kentucky, even a marriage proposal from a Wyoming rancher who loved animals as much as she did. As Annie trudged through blizzards, forded rivers, climbed mountains, and clung to the narrow shoulder as cars whipped by her at terrifying speeds, she captured the imagination of an apprehensive Cold War America. At a time when small towns were being bypassed by Eisenhower’s brand-new interstate highway system, and the reach and impact of television was just beginning to be understood, Annie and her four-footed companions inspired an outpouring of neighborliness in a rapidly changing world.


I give tis book 3 stars. I always feel funny giving a biography or memoir a low rating. 3 stars isn’t bad but it does mean I didn’t enjoy it as much. It might be that I never heard of her before and didn’t have a connection to start with.

This is about Annie who is 63 years and has been given two years to live. She has lost her farm but her dream is to the Pacific Ocean. She decides to do this before she dies. The problem is she doesn’t have any money and she lives in Maine.

This book is about her journey across the Us to go see the Pacific Ocean. She does this on horse back. She takes her little dog along with her. She meets some great people along the way who end up being life time friends and a great help along the way.
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I received a free electric ARC of this amazing biography of Annie Wilkins, and the detailed record of her journey on horseback beginning in 1955 from Minot, Maine to Los Angeles, California, from Netgalley, Elizabeth Letts, and Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine Books.  Thank you all for sharing your hard work with me.  I have read this wonderful story of my own volition, and this review reflects my honest opinion of this work. I can always recommend Elizabeth Letts to friends and family.  This book is a tear-jerker, a story with heart and soul.  

Be sure you have lots of tea and Kleenex before you start this excellent biography.  Annie Wilkins is a third-generation farmer, a single woman 63 years old with no family left after the death of her Uncle and after a couple of bad years on the farm and a diagnosis from her doctor of only two to four years left to live, she decided to take the last of her money, let the farm go for back taxes, buy a horse and with her little dog Depeche Toi take a journey to warm, sunny California. Part of her decision to make this rash trip is the certainty that if she stays in Maine she will become a burden to someone.  She can't stand the thought of that. And in part, it is a last-ditch effort to see something of the United States.  She always thought she would, eventually.  But she is running out of time.  

And things fall into place for her like clockwork.  She finds Rex, a small gelding though considered aged.  Rex is all brown, fading to red with no white whatsoever, reminding Annie of the Morgan horses she watched race in her youth.  Rex is a bit twitchy but raring to go.  It doesn't take long for Annie to sort out what she wants to take with her.  She herself is five foot tall but like Rex, very solid, so weight has to be a consideration.  Of course, it is October - she will have to make her way south fairly fast to avoid another Yankee winter.  Thus, her journey begins.

And we see America passing by through her eyes, we experience American's at their finest as she travels south, and then west, always seeking the warmth of the sun.  Annie and her critters make it all seem real again,  one nation, undivided.  It is a story meant to be shared, a reminder of just what made America a great place to be 70 years ago.  What it will take to make it great again.

And if you haven't read Finding Dorothy, do so!  It too is remarkable.
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This book told an amazing story about an amazing woman and her animal companions. When she undertook the horseback journey to the Pacific Ocean, this woman most likely did not expect to meet the many people and situations she encountered. Our world sadly needs the kind of neighborliness Annie encountered in her marvelous ride. This story evoked a feeling for the 1950's, a time that most likely we will never again experience.
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Despite being in poor health and only being given a couple more years to live, 63 year old Annie Wilkins embarks on a cross country road trip with only a horse and her pet dog.  Along her 4,000+ mile trip from Maine to California, she is embraced by the kindness of strangers who give her food, shelter, and other traveling necessities.  It was rather interesting to read about how her travels sparked a nationwide interest in her travels and how fellow Americans stepped up to help her.  I found that the first part of the book grabbed me, but my interest started to wane near the end.  I guess since this is based on a true story, you can't make a lot of action if it never happened.  I was glad that I read the book, nonetheless, because I enjoy reading about overlooked historical figures.  I also found that it was inspiring to read about someone going against the odds and making a trip of a lifetime.  Thanks to Random House/Ballantine and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book.  All thoughts expressed are my honest opinions of this book.
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This book was great! I loved the story and now I want to go buy a horse! I have loved this author and think this may be the first time I truly appreciated her!
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I am a lover of non-fiction that tells like a story and I really thought I would enjoy this based on the description. Unfortunately, I just didn’t care for the author’s choice of historical descriptive sources of  information such as highway construction, etc. The pace of the book honestly felt like I was on horseback, so I guess it was a successful in that regard. I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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I grew up watching horses that she bred go on to be champion show horses. This story in not only inspirational but heart felt. You dont have to be an equestrian to enjoy it but if you are you will LOVE it
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Elizabeth Letts has become one of my drop-everything authors. Instead of writing about the same historical figures that everybody else writes about, she finds noteworthy women that have fallen through the cracks of history. The Ride of Her Life chronicles the latter years of Annie Wilkins, a senior citizen that given not long to live, and not much to lose, decides to embark on a cross-country journey on horseback so that she can see the Pacific Ocean before she dies. I was invited to read and review this remarkable novel by Net Galley and Random House Ballantine. It’s for sale now. 

Annie Wilkins lives in rural Maine, and is endeavoring to continue to run the family farm. It hasn’t gone well. Between a series of events beyond her control and an aging body, she falls behind, and then more so, until the bank gives notice of foreclosure. At the same time her lungs aren’t doing well; the doctor gives her two or three years to live, but only if she does so restfully. She is offered a place at the county home, which is essentially a charity lodging for the indigent. 

Under similar circumstances and with no family to fall back on, most of us would have sold the farm and gone to rest in the county poorhouse, but Annie is not like most people. She sells up, and she plans her next move carefully. She packs up the things she and her dog will need for their trip, and since the purchase and maintenance of a car are beyond her means, she buys a good horse. That’s it. She packs up her maps and gets on the horse. (The dog alternates between walking and riding.) 

Part of the joy in reading of her adventures is the window it provides into the United States in 1954, before most of us were born. For those outside of cities, horseback travel is still not unusual; Annie’s greatest challenge, of course, is her lack of awareness about highway safety. Her initial plan is to ride alongside the road when possible, and on the shoulder when it isn’t, but there are a host of dangers out there, and almost everything that can happen to her, does. But people are essentially goodhearted, and in every instance, someone kind and decent comes along and does right by her and her critters. 

In the polarized time in which we live, this is exactly the story we need. I suspect that if Annie were to do the same thing today, there would still be people that would come along, and without inquiring who she voted for in the most recent election or whether she has received a vaccine, would feed her, or offer up their guest room for a night or two, or would drive her to the hospital. Those people were there then; their descendants are here still. We have not changed all that much. 

Letts has told an engaging story, but part of my mad respect for her has to do with her attention to detail. The very best historical fiction is essentially true, with dialogue added for interest, and Letts writes the best, no doubt about it. Her endnotes are impressive, and she tells us that she drove more than 10,000 miles while researching her book. 

Because I had fallen behind with my reviews, I checked out the audio version from Seattle Bibliocommons and alternated it with my digital galley. Both are outstanding; you can’t go wrong either way. Highly recommended!
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This is an interesting book about a woman's dream to see the Pacific Ocean before she dies.  She decides to take a cross country trip on her horse so that she can see the ocean.  Defying her doctor and expectations and does what she wants and goes on the trip.  She meets lots of people on her journey and discovers kindness as she travels across the county.
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This is one of those stories that will stick with you for a long time; it follows you long after you put the book down.  It's the story of Annie Wilkins, a 63-year-old woman from a hardscrabble farm in Maine in the 1950s, who, when she loses the farm to taxes, realizes she is free to do whatever she couldn't before, and buys a horse (Tarzan), packs up, and with her dog, Depeche Toi, sets off for California and the Pacific Ocean.  She is both starkly realistic and deeply naive, and learns a great deal about the trio's abilities and American society of the time.  And the story is absolutely fascinating. The historical and sociological background adds profound depth and layers to the experience, and point out what make this time period unique.  But the fortitude and intense trust between the threesome, and eventually the addition of another horse, Rex, is what is most memorable and moving about this particular story. The author has done a truly wonderful job of recreating the relationship between human and horse and dog, absolutely exceptional.
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In 1953 Annie was alone in life at 63 years old and not expected to live beyond another two years. She had a dream of seeing the pacific ocean. She had just lost her family farm and had no one that cared about her. She loved her dog and horse. She bought a horse no one wanted, packed up saddlebags and took her dog and horses across country to reach the pacific before she died. 
This telling of her story is one of American resilience,, of honoring ones dreams and of a woman's last dying wish.  What follows is her amazing story and a wonderful telling of our country and our people of that time. Annie was looked upon by many on her journey with disdain but she also was met with kindness by so many and it was through this kindness that  she continued in the worse of times. . Soon her story was told by many and when she made it to California two years later after many difficulties, she was a celebrity. 
 This is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. She was a remarkable brave woman and I was honored to read her story. She is a woman of our history to be admired. I loved reading her story  and will treasure the memory of Annie and her journey. 
Thank you to the author and to Net Galley. My review opinions are my own.
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This is a gem of a book about a woman in her 60s who has led a very difficult life and lives on a farm in Maine when she decides, having received a poor prognosis from a doctor, that she wants to see California before she dies. That in itself wouldn't be a story, but she decides to travel cross country via horseback. Now that's a story. The author intersperses the story of Annie with the changing landscape of America. Annie will leave you uplifted about the American spirit. Elizabeth Letts has done an excellent job researching America of the 1950s and the changing transportation, city and towns, and landscapes of this country.
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This was a true story about the cross-country trip on horseback by 63-year-old Annie Wilkins and her dog in the mid 1950's.  The author has done extensive research and has painstakingly recorded a well written account in numerous footnotes and has included a huge bibliography.  Annie Wilkins is a strong female character. In the 20th century, she doesn’t fit the norm. She is divorced twice and doesn’t attend church. She is not devout or docile. Annie Wilkins was not a woman of the world. She lived her life quietly, working from dawn to dusk at her farm, but at age sixty-three, she made a decision that would impact her life and the lives of countless others.  She is funny and bold.  She decides to leave Maine and travel across the country to California without any modern-day conveniences.  At about 10 miles per day, it takes her quite a while and as you might expect, it is more about the journey. The author delivers mini-history lessons about landmarks along the way, and I enjoyed those. It was also very interesting to see how many people welcomed Annie in along with stabling her horse along the way.  She acquires a second horse to help carry the load and the quartet has quite a few adventures along the way – mountains to cross, flash flooding, road debris, and poison. I worried at several points if she and the horses would make it to California. She’s dressed in men’s clothing as it was unusual for a woman to travel alone in those days. She frequently was welcomed to spend the night at the local jail as was the custom at the time for the homeless and travelers.  As the highways are taking away the travel that was once completed by horse and friendly communities it also a part of history as it is changing.  This is an extraordinary true story, I felt that I was along for the ride and I am thankful that Annie Wilkins had the forethought to journal her experiences.  My first book by this author and I enjoyed the story, the history and appreciate the research completed to produce this amazing read.  

Thank you to Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine, Ballantine Books, the author and NetGalley for a DRC.  #TheRideofHerLife #NetGalley
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A book that restores my faith in humanity! Annie Wilkins is in her 60s and given only a few years to live. What does she do? What any person facing the same situation. Buy a horse, take her dog and ride across the country from Maine to California! 

I felt the book was just as much about the people that helped Annie on her journey as it was about Annie herself. 

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to read and review this book
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What seemed to be a simple book about an older woman who rode a horse across the country is really a study in tenacity, hope, and the innate goodness of most Americans.  I followed along on this journey, meeting each person, exploring towns, enjoying the positives and enduring the negatives.  The Ride of Her Life made me consider the focus of my own life - and give thought to its true purpose and goals.
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This was a true story about the cross country trip on horseback by 63 year old Annie Wilkins and her dog in the mid 1950's.
I found it crazy and naive that she thought she could just ride a horse across the US without any real provisions like food and money, no plans to stay anywhere along the way, or what she would do to survive once she reached California.

It was amazing how many people offered her a hot meal and shelter for her animals - I think the fact that she was an older woman, traveling alone in the 1950's, caused people to be more concerned about her well being than if she was a man knocking on their door at night, asking for a place to sleep.
Annie met some famous people and became famous herself, once her story was published as a human interest in local newspapers.  She got numerous job offers and even an offer of marriage.

I was concerned about her pets, because she decided to make this cross country trek, seemingly without much forethought, and they had no choice but to follow her to follow her.  However, I was impressed with the care she took of her animals.  
Her experience was extraordinary enough that veterinarians treated her animals free most of the time and it was heartwarming to see that they were all each other's life companions.

The author has done extensive research and has painstakingly recorded a well written account in numerous footnotes and has included a huge bibliography.
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Annie Wilkens was running out of money, options and time in rural Maine in 1954 when she decided to chase an unrealistic, desperate dream of going to California – on horseback. This book retraces the nearly unimaginable trek, made by a poor, naïve woman who was losing her farm and had been given two years to live. What Annie lacked in worldly knowledge or resources, she made up for is shear determination, hard work and the kindness of strangers.

Annie journeyed through a very different time in America when people helped strangers and an old woman riding horseback across the country became national news. I especially enjoyed reading about this era and the people she encountered, most of whom offered hospitality, kindness, support and advice to this odd foursome.

This is a heartwarming book about a truly remarkable journey. Author Elizabeth Letts does a wonderful job of introducing readers to Annie, her beloved little dog, her old Morgan horse and the Tennessee Walker she’s given on their travels. You can’t help but root for and worry about this foursome. Annie makes some brave, stubborn and dangerous decisions that kept me shaking my head and wondering what disaster would befall them next.

The first half of the book is rich with descriptions of Annie’s travels and details of the places and people she met along the way. Later in the book, as the foursome travels farther west, details of the people and places become somewhat sparser and the challenges feel more repetitive. Perhaps Annie simply had less help once she left more populated areas, but, in spots, it felt like the author was running out of information to share. 

Overall, it’s a charming read. You can’t help cheering for this tenacious older woman and her animal friends. While “The Eighty-Dollar Champion” remains my favorite of Letts’ books, it was a pleasure to read about this gutsy woman. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine for the chance to read and review.
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The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse, and Their Last-Chance Journey Across America
(This review is based on an Arc from Net galley)
Elizabeth Letts 

This is a wonderful story of determination, resilience and unwavering strength about Annie Wilkins who rode her horse across America in the 1950s, fulfilling her dying wish to see the Pacific Ocean. 
Annie Wilkins who in 1950 lived a meager existence on a farm in Maine, decided she was going to go across America to California and settle there. The author takes the reader through her highs and lows, extreme weather, snow and heat. Treacherous terrain over mountain ranges. Annie is accompanied by her horse, Tarzan an aged Morgan horse and her best pal her dog Depeche Toi and starts out for California.
There were no detailed maps to help her plot her route. She relied on maps from gas stations and helpful locals she would encounter on her travels. 
Interest grew to see this lone figure with her horse and dog when she traversed their state. The media got wind of her expedition and this kept interest in what Annie was trying to achieve.
In the 1950’s America was very different to today’s society. People welcomed Annie into their homes offered stables for her horse/s food and shelter. She even slept in police stations when she could not find any local lodgings.
We learn so much about our country as she makes her way across the United States. I was intrigued by many of the places she stayed over learning interesting facts. Between 1954 and 1956, Annie, Tarzan, and her dog, Depeche Toi, journeyed more than 4,000 miles,

I quote from the book “Annie’s journey had   been marked in inches on various maps, miles underfoot, people met, beds slept in, care and companionship with her animals, wrong turns taken, rain, dust, and snowstorms……….and astounding number of kindnesses.
After working all her life, Annie could now face the world at her leisure.
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This is an EXCELLENT book based on the true story of Annie Wilkins. She is a farmer in Maine. When she realizes that there is no future in farming in Maine, she buys a horse and sets off on a journey to CA. She, her horse, Tarzan, and her dog, Depeche Toi, experience much. Starting in the fall of 1954, they finally arrive in Hollywood CA in the spring of 1956. Along the way, Annie sleeps outdoors, in jails and in the homes of strangers. One thing she definitely found: that the “American people still welcome travelers as much as they did in pioneer days."

Mesannie Wilkins kept copious notes and eventually wrote her own memoir, Last of the Saddle Tramps: One Woman's Seven Thousand Mile Equestrian Odyssey. I kept thinking it might be wonderful to read that book too. The copies ARE available but costly. The cheapest I found was 52.00 for a 215 page paperback (used). But my local library has a copy!! Look for a review of that book in the future.

I am in my 70's. Reading about a 63 year old woman who had this much gumption was especially heart warming to me.

The writing is excellent and the story is even better. Each chapter starts with a quote about travelling or travellers!! 

5 stars
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Read this book! This is an amazing story and the author tells it beautifully! I finished reading this book and immediately looked for other books by Letts. Perfect book to celebrate the greatness of women!
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