Cover Image: The Ride of Her Life

The Ride of Her Life

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Member Reviews

4.5 stars

This was a fascinating account of Annie Wilkins, a woman who traveled from Maine to California, mostly on horseback and mostly survived on her Maine gumption and the kindness of strangers. It was 1954 and she had lost her family, her family farm, and was given less than 2 years to live (likely from TB) and offered a place in the county charity home to live out her remaining days. But she decided she would rather find a way to make her way to California so she could see the Pacific Ocean before she died. So for the next two years, she traveled mostly on foot (horse feet or human feet) with her dog Depeche Toi and horse, Tarzan. She picked up Rex while in Tennessee and the four of them became a true family as she traveled the country fighting extreme weather, scary traffic (there were no horse or bike lines back then), injury, illness, and even the occasional hostility. But mostly she found people who were kind and confirmed her view of what America should be. I just read a book recently about a woman who biked the Monarch migration route from Mexico (Bicycling with Butterflies), through the US, and up into Canada and back again, and I felt like these two women would be absolutely kindred spirits. This story was pieced together by the author based on an earlier book written by a journalist in collaboration with Annie, as well as what remains of her journals, and countless newspaper articles, interviews with people who were in the towns when Annie rode through, and possibly video footage from when she was on shows like with Art Linkletter. The author explains at the end what she did to put together this story and even explains some things she had to modify because of a lack of true confirmation. 

Annie did not take the most direct route, but she made many friends along the way, staying in touch with the woman journalist to keep her updated with her progress. I loved the story of how Rex came to join them as well as the many scares that showed how much of a family the four of them became. I loved the different people who showed up at exactly the right time, and my heart broke in other places. I was literally sobbing at one point near the end. But my heart was lifted up by her spirit and attitude towards life and her unwillingness to give up on her wish to see the ocean not just for herself, but for her furry friends who she felt wanted to get there as badly as she did. She also knew she carried the hopes of thousands who were following her story and ultimately did not want to let them down. In a time where America was changing drastically, Annie became a beacon of hope that as much as things were changing, the America she knew, the one where people took care of strangers and each other, was still there. However, she did mention a few times that if she had not been a white woman who dressed as a man, she would likely not have had the same experience--for example if she had been black. Still, as much as she had nothing with a body that was breaking down, and even with some of the horrendous hurdles she encountered, she made it because she focused constantly on what she had and she was grateful for it.

I am not one who normally enjoys reading history, but I found myself absolutely fascinated by this story as well as the insertions of the politics and history of the time. I was inspired by Annie Wilkins and am glad I had the chance to read this book. If you enjoy reading about history, strong women, friendships between humans and animals, or travel/adventure books, you should definitely check this book out.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
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I chose this book because I loved the old timey cover and the story sounded interesting. Boy was it!

This is the story of Annie Wilkins, also known as Widow Wilkins and Jackass Annie. In 1954, after a bout of illness, Annie faced losing her family farm in Maine. Not wanting to be a burden to anyone or to go in an old folks home, she decides to set out across America, from Maine to California. At age 62, on a horse with her dog!

What an amazing wonderful woman and story! She sets off with gas station maps to guide her and depending on the kindness of strangers. She travels during the day and tries to find a family with a barn to put up her horse for the night. She sometimes sleeps in the barn and sometimes she is invited into the house. She does odd jobs and sells postcards to make money.

She meets many people along the way and eventually the news catches up with her and some towns welcome her like she is royalty. Through all this she stays true to herself, a hard working, no nonsense kind of woman.

A truly inspiring story! Luckily she kept many diaries along the way and the author was able to tell us this wonderful story!
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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. She is funny and bold. At the age of sixty-three, she decides to leave Maine and travel across the country to California without any modern day conveniences.

Given her health situation, she considers her doctor’s advice to live restfully. But how? After a lifetime of hard work, she doesn’t have any savings. Nothing or no one to fall on. Her choices are very limited.

When she owes taxes on the farm and struggles to pay it, she decides to let go of the farm. Once she realizes that there is nothing to hold her back in Maine, she makes a decision to leave the state and fulfill her dream of seeing Pacific Ocean.

She travels on a horse with a dog, and at some point she catches an attention of reporters and people start following her story.

The story is presented in an engaging matter. It brings snippets from her childhood and how her family invested in lands in Maine at a time when golden years of Maine already passed and original settlers were already moving westward for fertile lands. But her family didn’t know that. How farm labor was being replaced by industrial labor. And even with a piece of land and strong ethics her American dream left her penniless. Also, in brief snippets, we get the background of what is going on in the US, such as the automobile industry exploding, and about the roads conditions as she makes her travels.

It is both a sad story of a woman who worked very hard her whole life and was pretty much penniless and it is also very inspiring story of a woman who at such age is so brave and wanders into unknown.
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In 1954, 63 year old Annie Wilkes was given two years to live. She lost her farm, had no money or family, and refused to live in a county care home waiting to die. Instead, she bought a horse and brought her dog with her on a cross country journey to see the Pacific Ocean before she died. Annie hoped that the kindness of strangers could point her in the right direction, even in a rapidly changing America.


In the 50's, TV was just starting to make it big. Interstate highways were being built and cars were being purchased in ever increasing numbers. While we now think of this time as "the good old days" compared to our modern time, the people were becoming more aware of the world and less trusting than they used to be. Annie Wilkes was a real woman (and not just a name from a Stephen King novel!) and made this journey at the end of her life. We learn about Annie, her family history, and the people or towns she passed through on the way. She might've been a bit naive about planning (or lack thereof) her trip, but her chance encounter with reporters at the time, and her own willingness to write patiently to them and those who helped her kept her spirits up. Far more were willing to help with shelter or meals after hearing about her, and she was always as friendly as the stories told about her.


This book is a fascinating look at the journey Annie took, and people she met along the way. The trouble she ran into at times are understandable, but towards the end of her journey is when I really felt bad and my heart went out to her. This was an interesting read, and I enjoyed learning about her and the time period.
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Truly inspiring. I didn’t know anything about Annie Wilkins before reading this book. I feel like I was along for the ride and what a journey. Loved!
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What an interesting concept of a book!  The style that The Ride of Her Life was written in was different from most books I have read. Written as part autobiography, part travel log of Americana. I LOVED the various tidbits that were strewn across the chapters of this book. Thank you to Net Galley for this early copy of the book. I loved learning about Annie Wilkins and her journey across the states. So many times as I was reading this I laughed out loud. ( I also cried and was moved tremendously at the generosity of the folks she met along the way). I was impressed with Annie's ability to allow life to unfold as it were, with some worry but not enough to stop her in her tracks and her can do attitude. I loved her friendship with her companions and how the people she met along the way embraced her and the vagabond thrill her trek inspired in everyone she met. 
I especially loved reading about  changing America. I found it fascinating to see how the landscape was changing with every mile she went as well as the outlook of America and the progress it was making. My parents were young then, going to school and starting their families right about then and it was interesting to think on how their world and surroundings changed so much in the 50/60s.
This book is not a hurried read but one you kinda of read at Annie's pace as she clods from one state to the next. Highly recommend this book to everyone!
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This was an absolutely fascinating account of how Annie Wilkins traversed the United States on horseback. She seems to have been an absolute treasure of a person and the author did a great job of capturing her spirit. There is not a boring moment and you’re left wishing you had half the guts Annie had.
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Brave, independent Annie decides to leave her home in Maine and travel to California on horseback along with her dog. Interesting to learn about her travels as the new highways were being built.
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I have enjoyed all of Elizabeth Letts' previous books and this is no exception! Annie Wilkins' journey across country by horse in the mid-1950s is incredible to read about. Her animal companions come alive under Letts' careful narrative. This is an excellent look at how the country was changing after WWII and how some Americans were not entirely able to keep up. Annie's journey is inspiring and, even though she faced some bumps along the way, she is a great story of perseverance. I recommend to anyone looking for an interesting adventure with wonderful characters along the way.
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I loved my first read of Elizabeth Letts #1 New York Times Bestselling Author, FINDING DOROTHY, and was blown away! Thus I was looking forward to the newest recent historical fiction release from this brilliant writer, THE RIDE OF HER LIFE, centered around the 1954 coast-to-coast journey by horseback of 63 yr old spirited Annie Wilkins from Maine to California accompanied by her best friend — dog Depeche Toi.  Although her story remains largely forgotten now, during her trek she was featured by local and national press and garnered the attention of many small towns and their city government officials across the nation.  The uniqueness of her trip combined with its length, her animal traveling companions, and her gender not only contributed to her fame but lent a notoriety that helped her to even sell autographed postcards to contribute to the funding of her trip.  She also garnered many pen pals nationwide along the way, sending out and receiving letters from new friends she had met along the way during her travels - even earning a marriage proposal from one - but none were as more valued as her best friends horses Tarzan and Rex and her dog. 

A trip of this magnitude at her age reminded me of another infamous and unbelievable trek around the same time frame by another brave and bold woman in her 60’s that shocked the nation.  Grandma Gatewood (at 67 years old) was not only the first woman to hike the Appalachian Trail alone in 1955, but then over the years became the first person to hike it 3 times—she actually even had a failed attempt the same year Annie was crossing the states too in 1954! However, unlike Annie who was the last of her Libby family, Grandma Gatewood was a mother to 11 children and grandmother to 23 grandchildren.  Yet in several ways their stories and lives shared several similar parallels.  Both grew up hard on farms and suffered tough marriages resulting in divorce.  Many assumed both were widows and it was how they were often referred.  But both showed that it’s never too late to have an adventure and start a new chapter — to not underestimate the strength and contribution offerings of women at any age!  Despite current obstacles and those encountered earlier in life, even amidst self-doubt, wavering confidence, or seemingly insurmountable odds, one can still rally to achieve their dreams and do the unthinkable at any age or gender.  In fact, even author Elizabeth Letts was so inspired by Annie’s feats, saying: “Knowing the story of my 63 year old take no prisoners heroine Annie Wilkins has made me more bold! I’m gearing up to play guitar in public…something I’ve always been scared to do.”  She even did a “Thelma and Louise” themed celebration send off on publication day of the ‘Ride of Her Life’ book with fellow author Robin Hutton.

Another cornerstone of this book is Lett’s impeccable historical research.  As Annie rides through small town America on her journey, Letts gives the reader a glimpse into the history and time period of many of the states and towns as she is crossing them as well as various people and sites of interest.  Some particular topics that were covered included the evolution of road maps and highways to the start of live TV broadcasts, the beginnings of domestic passenger air travel to the emergence of automobile travel dominance on the road, the transitions from rural farm life to urban and suburban life, and even the origins of the first Christmas tree in the States — just to name a few.

In fact, those readers who are “horse people” or “dog people” will perhaps be even more smitten by the book, cherishing it on another level.  It would not only make a great recommendation or gift for those people, but also possibly for readers needing inspiration for a new chapter or journey in life and/or a reminder of the inner strength we possess at any age.  

Finally, to further enhance your reading experience Letts has created a spotify playlist of ‘road trip’ songs she listened to while crafting this book titled “The Ride of Her Life — Annie Wilkins playlist”:
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7bfvKQg1ERiDWGKkZzSzOt?si=KyHqqb3dQ0m7YI_joWjyrA&dl_branch=1
Letts has also said the actress who she would select to be Annie Wilkins would be Frances McDormand—so that gives the reader quite a face and personality to pair with Annie, “The Last of the Saddle Tramps”, when reading this book!
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Thank you to netgalley for the arc in exchange for an honest review.  I enjoyed reading this true story of Annie from Maine who sets off on horseback for California with just what can fit in her saddlebags, layers of men’s clothing and her dog.  She is someone that just kept on going, and enjoyed where she was with her animal friends.
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This book opened my heart on so many levels. It made me remember my childhood of playing without fear of predators. Today people don’t let there kids outside for fear they will be kidnapped.  In 1954, Annie Wilkins had one dream and that was to see the Pacific Ocean. She possessed one dog and her horse, Tarzan and an illness the Doctor said would kill her in two years. 
On her journey she found people that opened up their doors and hearts to her and her ragtag followers. They asked for no money and even gave her offers of permanent homes or jobs which she refused because of her dream. 

The author follows the travels of a strong independent woman who needed to have something to hold onto because she was losing everything dear to her heart.. I loved the way Elizabeth Letts made you feel as though you were doing the traveling with Annie. The research that went into this book was phenomenal.

I would definitely recommend this book.
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This is a truly enjoyable journey that we take with an elderly woman, her dog, and her horse from Maine to California in the 1950s. Annie has lost her home but not her spirit as she packs up her few belongings, her dog, and her horse and hits the road to California, becoming a celebrity along the way. 

It seems to me that times were simpler then, as Annie could knock on doors of strangers routinely and find a place to stay, and sometimes medical care for herself and her animals. 

Along the way we learn the history of the many towns and cities she visited. 

This is a truly heartwarming story. It would make a great movie. 

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley. My opinions are my own.
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Anne Wilkins certainly took The Ride of Her Life from Maine to California in 1954. Author Elizabeth Letts really dug into the research on this true character and her three traveling animal companions - two horses and her loyal dog. I would give this adventure a 3.5, rounding it down to a 3. The first half of the book seemed pretty repetitive- ride toward a town, met by the police, escorted to someone’s house or the jail for sleeping quarters after the horses were taken to a local barn, followed up by an interview and finally something would prevented them from moving on for a couple of days.  I did love the history of things within the story, like Bell Telephone ruining the human connection with a real operator by introducing the rotary phone. We can all laugh at that now with everyone staring at their phones for hours on end!! The second half of the book was much better with more exciting adventures and, of course, finally making it to California. Since Anne talked about wanting to see the Pacific Ocean all the way through the book; it would have been nice to have that as the ending. For whatever reason at the end it was more about getting to California only and seeing the ocean was lost somewhere along the way. In the notes; it did mention Anne riding along the coastline near Santa Barbara. I was happy to read this. It was also nice to know the Doctors missed their diagnosis of her living for 2 to 4 more years by a long shot. Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for the copy in exchange for a true review. All in all I enjoyed the book. I do think it will have a very narrow base of reading interest so for that reason; I wouldn’t recommend it to others.
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An interesting story of courage and adventure, this book gives you the story of Annie Wilkins and her journey from Maine to California on horseback, and blends it in with some historical perspective of the US and what the country was like in that time.

I enjoyed the book and thought it was well-written for the most part.  There were times when some of the historical stuff was a little much, and I thought the author's claim that you could see Laramie from several days' ride from Cheyenne was not quite true to fact, but apart from that, it was a really good story about an older single woman who managed to cross the US with just herself 1-2 horse and a dog - which took equal measures of courage, persistence, and naivete.  

Thanks to #NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for the free ARC.  This review is purely my own.
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I really enjoyed this book based on a real person.  The premise sounded like a woman taking control of her life and having fun with the time she had left, which sounded quite interesting.  It was so much more than that. Annie Wilkins was a woman who had had a rough life, and things weren’t getting much better.  So since she had few options, she seized the chance to do something unthinkable - ride a horse from Maine to California by herself, with almost no money or possessions.  She didn’t want to be dependent on anyone but soon found that she WAS dependent on the kindness of many people along the way, who provided a meal, a place to sleep, or stabling for her horse. She became a media sensation, and people along the way both gave her publicity and help, or used her presence for publicity to help both her and themselves.  It wasn’t a trip for fun, as I had originally expected, but it was a trip of determination, expectation, and few options.  I loved Annie’s love and concern for her animals, and I loved her determination to keep on going no matter what.  As a “farm girl” myself,  I related to her motivations and understood why she thought she could do this wonderful journey.  Letts did extensive research in the process of reliving Annie’s journey, and recreated it with a sympathetic but realistic eye and an accompanying view of the cultural and physical setting of the journey.
Thanks to Netgalley and Ballantine Books for an ARC of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
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The Ride of Her Life takes readers on Annie Wilkins’s 1954 cross-country trek walking alone with two horses and a dog. That a 63-year-old woman would undertake such a trek because she had no other options was remarkable. Annie’s attitude, persistence, and optimism are just what readers want and need in this topsy you-turvy year. The way people took her in, the ease with which she made friends, and the way she treated people is balm for the soul.
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Annie Wilkins receives word from her doctor that she has only two more years to live.  After losing her farm and her husband, she buys an old race horse and along with her dog rides from Maine to California.  She wants to see the Pacific Ocean before she dies and has nothing holding her in Maine.  Along the way she meets many good Samaritans who feed and house her and also find stables to house her horse Tarzan.  She had lots of close calls with cars and trucks on the super highways that are being built in our country between 1954 and 1956.  I was so surprised that this is a true story and enjoyed reading about her when I finished the book.
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An amazing true story of a woman who has been told that she has about two years to live.   Annie Wilkins has always wanted to see the Pacific Ocean.   She decides to ride a horse across the country to see it!   She leaves Maine and heads south trying to beat the bad weather.   Such an amazing journey encountering all kinds of weather traveling through both small and big towns.   And the people she meets and the experiences she has are priceless!   Loved it!
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In November 1954, Annie Wilkins, who was in her 60s, embarked on a solo journey – on horseback – from her hometown of Minot, Maine, to California. Her cross-country trip is the subject of “The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse, and Their Last-Chance Journey Across America,” by Elizabeth Letts, author of “The Eighty-Dollar Champion” and “The Perfect Horse.”

With barely any money and her family’s farm all but lost, Wilkins also faced a diagnosis of a terminal illness. Proud woman that she was, she couldn’t bear to be a burden. Her plan was to gather her remaining cash and spend two years on the road, heading toward the shores of California where she dreamed of living out her final days.

Her travel companions included a strapping horse named Tarzan and her dog, a mutt named Depeche Toi (French for “hurry up”). Total strangers along her route – which Wilkins figured out as she went along – were eager to offer food and shelter to the woman the press dubbed the “Widow Wilkins.” In rural areas, she sometimes slept in a barn with the animals. In other locations, authorities helped her find a stable. 

Her health problems lingered throughout the trip, but she soldiered on. She faced poor weather conditions in the two winters she was on horseback, and she also had close encounters with newly ascendant automobiles. There were other setbacks, including accidents and tragedies of the equine variety that almost ended her trip.

While chronicling each leg of Wilkins’ journey, Letts provides ample, if occasionally distracting historical context, bringing the people she met and the places she visited to life on the page. A longtime equestrian herself, Letts touchingly communicates the connection between Wilkins and her horses over the nearly 16-month-long odyssey. “The Ride of Her Life” also serves up a hearty helping of Americana: Readers will enjoy a glimpse of the country at midcentury.
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