Cover Image: The Ride of Her Life

The Ride of Her Life

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Annie Wilkins is an amazing woman. She lives in a cabin in Minot, Maine, with no electricity and no running water. She knows pretty much nothing that is going on in the outside world and is trying to make a living off her farm with the help of Uncle Waldo. After a bad winter where she becomes snowed in, Uncle Waldo dies and she is hospitalized and told she only has a couple years to live. She tries one more crop and then decides to get a horse and ride across America to see the Pacific Ocean before she dies. What a remarkable journey she has. The America of 1955 is just starting to wake up with new highways which she didn't expect. She never mapped out a course but only traveled with gas station maps that didn't show her the big picture of America. Her horses and dog are her family and after a year and a half she makes it to California. I was blown away by her optimism and good cheer and how much she trusted the people that helped her along the way.

The only downside for me was the bits of American trivia such as the development of a super highway, where the word tramp came from or how police stations could be used as a place to sleep. While interesting and shows how well the author researched the story it felt detracting and I wanted to get back to Annie. Near the end it started to feel like move on, meet nice people, have a disaster and repeat again in the next town. Overall I liked the book. I could feel the ambiance of an emerging America in 1955 and we could sure use some of that kindness right about now.

Thank you to Netgalley and Ballantine for providing me with a copy of this book.
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The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse, and Their Last-Chance Journey Across America
by Elizabeth Letts
 Read an Excerpt
Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine
Ballantine Books
History | Nonfiction (Adult) | Outdoors & Nature
Pub Date 01 Jun 2021   |   Archive Date 30 Sep 2021

This was a new author for me. I really enjoyed reading The True Story of a woman, her horse, and their last chance journey across America.  I enjoyed the journey and will recommend others to read this book.  I may even select it for our book club, Great and inspiring book. Thanks to Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley for the ARC. 
4 stars
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In 1954 Annie Wilkins was told that she had two to four years to live.  At the time she was in her sixties and living on her farm that would soon be lost to back taxes.  Her mother had always talked about going to California and seeing the Pacific Ocean before she died.  With little to look forward to, Annie took what little money she had and bought a horse named Tarzan.  Along with her dog Depeche Toi (Hurry Up), she set out from Minot, Maine with no map, but a determination to make that journey.  As she travels she encounters people who are willing to help her with a bed for the night and a place for Tarzan.  When news begins to spread about her journey, she finds herself welcomed by the towns she rides through and making friends with some of her supporters.  To raise money she sells signed notecards with her picture with Tarzan and her dog that were provided by one of the friends that she made.

Annie’s travels are filled with dangers from traffic on the roads and unpredictable weather.  At one point she is also challenged by the ASPCA, who feel that her journey is too much for her animals, but Annie considers them family and treats them kindly.  After they are found to be healthy and well treated she is allowed to continue.  There are also moments of joy as she encounters Andrew Wyeth sketching her animals.  There are times when her health is failing and times when riding through the beautiful countryside and sleeping under the stars seems the best cure available to her.  

Elizabeth Letts’ story of Annie’s journey is filled with bits of American history.  The development of cloverleaf interchanges and road maps, the story of Lincoln’s original log cabin home and Walt Disney’s development of Main Street for his new park are just a few of the things that she touches on.  Annie’s story brings smiles and also tears as you share her experiences.  This was one of the best books that I have read this year.  It is highly recommended for readers with an interest in American history or anyone who wants to experience the journey of a lifetime.  I would like to thank NetGalley and Random House for providing this book for my review.
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Annie Wilkins has lost the family farm and the doctor says she has two years to live. This was Annie’s depressing view of the world in 1954. Elizabeth Letts’ “true story of a woman, her horse and their last chance to journey across America” reads like a heartwarming travelogue sprinkled with history, geography, and the pop culture of life in the mid-twentieth century. As brand-new T.V.’s blared “see the USA in a Chevrolet,” Annie had neither running water or electricity, much less a car or a TV on her farm in Minot, Maine. With nothing else to lose, Annie decided to aim herself toward the Pacific Ocean. This delightful memoir of how Annie and her animals are fed and cared for by so many generous, kind citizens and business owners will rebuild hope in humanity for those readers so discouraged by news in today’s world. The author includes compelling, detailed descriptions of burgeoning American industries such as Goodyear, Milton Bradley, and the Gulf Oil Corporation. The Ride of Her Life is a “feel good” trip down memory lane of the 1950’s & ‘60’s. T.V. personalities Art Linkletter, Groucho Marx, Walt Disney, and Andy Griffith are woven through Annie’s story, so readers get a real feel for how the lure of television got its toehold in small towns across America. The bonds of love and loyalty between Annie, her horses and her beloved dog, Depeche Toi, earn a special place in the hearts of readers. From the “Mile-a-Minute Highway” in Maine on the East Coast, through the Lincoln Heritage Trail in the Mid-West, all the way through Cheyenne’s Frontier Days, readers will be as anxious as Annie and the Pioneers on the Oregon Trail. But Annie follows her father’s advice and so should readers: “Have faith and keep going.”
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This was a very interesting read, especially when I found the main character of this book is the same age as I, 62.  I'm amazed at the courage of people when they are faced with life changing decisions.  In the case of the protagonist of the story, Annie Wilkins, she did not have a choice.  I'm impressed that she looked at the hard things she had to do and.....accepted them.  This is set in the 1950's, having Annie traveling 4,000 miles on horseback with her only companion her faithful dog.  She met dozens of folks and faced a large amount of different, and many difficult, situations.  She did find however that the "good neighbor" was not dead.  She was helped by many strangers and it made her life richer and she also gave of her time and a listening ear.  The book was, at the same time, a somewhat anxious read (for Annie's and her animals safety) and heart warming when she is helped along the way by others who had compassion.  If you enjoy stories about human nature that survives in what seem insurmountable odds to us today, and shows good can come out of hard times, I recommend this book.
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This is an amazing and true story of an older woman who travels cross country by horse in the 1950s. Clearly rural America was different then but the wonderful people Annie meets are heroes just as much as she is — well almost. My only regret after reading the book is that I didn’t have a chance to meet Annie myself. What a woman. This book will resonate with everyone. It’s rare that we get a peek into rural America in the days before interstate highways changed the landscape and it’s an eye opening.  I can’t imagine the life Annie was born into. By the end of the book I felt that we were close friends. This book was provided to me by NetGalley and the publishers for an honest review.
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THE RIDE OF HER LIFE is no horse tale. but, instead, a sociological and historical account of pride, independence, and kindness. Along, of course, with the reminder that it's never too late. Just. Do. It!
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Elizabeth Letts has written her latest in a handful of true equine stories and this one is a winner. Annie Wilkins has longed to see the Pacific Ocean so in 1954 she sets off with her horse Tarzan and dog, Depeche Toi on a cross-country journey. Annie has been advised by her doctor that she only has a few years to live, but this sixty-three-year old is determined to fulfill her goal. Her remarkable journey is captured by Letts with detailed descriptions of each town and state she passes through. Annie encounters about every weather phenomena and incredible hardship, but the kindness and generosity of strangers she meets along the way enriches her journey. The bond between Annie and her four-legged friends is heartwarming and together they pull through many challenges. I highly recommend this book for adults and teens who want to read a heart warming story of kindness, courage, and perseverance. 

Thank you to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book for providing an honest review.
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Loved this story of Annie, an eternal optimist, who loses everything and is given 4 years to live. Being the optimist she buys a horse, packs up her supplies and her dog, and heads out to see the Pacific Ocean, without a map, before she dies. Beautifully written story with lots of history to absorb. Lots of places in America to read about. So good!
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The last of the “saddle tramps”, sixty--three-year-old Mainer, Annie Wilkins, was in ill health, having been given only 2 years to live. She’s known only hard work and hardship her entire life, and is now completely broke after losing her family and farm. Her only option was to go into a care home. 

Instead, Annie buys a horse, Tarzan, who was destined for the feedlot, and sets out for California, with her dog, Depeche Toi. Seeing the Pacific was a lifelong dream. As she makes her way across the U.S. we learn the hardships she endured, with weather and illness an ever-present challenge. One of my favorite things about the novel was the bits of trivia and Americana of the places she visited on her trek.

The times were different and Annie became a celebrity with newspapers taking on her story and so she was a well-known figure as she approached a new town. She depended on the kindness of strangers, who welcomed her with open arms and gave her food, medical care, and a place to spend the night. They celebrated her birthdays and holidays and gave her a sense of belonging she had never known before.

This is a story of a woman who had a very limited life, never knowing of the world beyond her tiny town in Maine. But she took a chance and lived a life much larger than any she could have imagined. She could be stubborn and took dangerous chances, but she lived her life on her own terms, and what a life she lived! Along the way, another horse was to join their entourage. Annie, her horses, and her sweet dog stole my heart. 

I thought the first half of the book was riveting but by the second half the story began to drag and I started to skim. By its very nature a story like this will begin to sound repetitive: arrive in a city, a calamity strikes, she’s helped and housed by strangers, and we learn historical trivia of the area. Rinse and repeat. I would have liked it better if the book was organized by topic and not as a linear journey. 

Ultimately, this is an inspiring story. Both Annie and Tarzan were living on borrowed time, but they both ended up living a life more exciting than either could have imagined. This was a heartwarming story of all the human spirit can accomplish with determination and guts.
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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. Annie decided to travel from her home in Maine cross country to California.

This was a perilous journey for a woman her age, and traveling only with the layers of clothes on her back, her trusted horse, Tarzan, her dog, Depeche Toi, she embarked upon this journey, broke, without family and with the fact that her doctor had given her only two more years of life. Leaving in mid-November, she set out not knowing what she was facing. She didn't even possess a map.

Trusting to her own toughness and will, she was convinced she would be fine as she was sure there was still a spirit of friendliness and empathy from the American people. Indeed, in so many cases her belief turned out to be true, as Annie was met with so many accolades and stayed and was cared for in so many homes across the roads she traveled, becoming a celebrity.

Traveling through weather conditions that chilled her to the bone, she wound up sick a number of times, but with that can do attitude she continued forward. What I loved most about this story was not only Annie's attitude but her love of her animal companions, (she did acquire an additional horse). They had a very special relationship as she and her four-legged travel companions made their trek through a country that was quickly becoming one propelled by the automobile and the advent of television. Annie's four-thousand-mile journey is surely an inspiration to the intrepid spirit of an American woman.

Now for the bad news! The second half of the book turned tedious and overdone. While I enjoyed the extensive tour through America, the details were often overemphasized and turned an amazing first half of the story into boredom.

The bottom line is that Annie was an amazing woman and her story deserved to be told, but the actual telling at the end left me anxious for the story to end.
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This was a heartwarming story, though not a simple one, is the dream journey of an older woman wanting to know the Pacific Ocean.

Annie Wilkins had a simple and quiet life in Maine when she suddenly fell ill and she could no longer take care of her farm, not wanting to live off the charity of her neighbors, she decides to go on a rather peculiar journey. She sells the farm, packs her things, and buys an old horse named Tarzan. Together and in the company of Depeche Toi (the small dog of Annie), they will start a journey to California, just at the other end of the country.

It is an extraordinary trip and not an easy one, it will be very a long trip, Annie had no idea how much, she is a woman who had never left her state, with limited education, but with a determination that will help her achieve her goal, even when obstacles get in her way. She travels without a good map, asking the travelers that she meets on the route. She is unaware of the mountains and storms that she would have to lead, just as she did not imagine the warm welcome that the people she came across would give her.

It is a fascinating story, Annie does not have much money, but thanks to the help she receives she will be able to continue.  She was a kind woman and kindness was what she found in the towns she visited, her story begins to appear in the newspapers and people are excited to meet her. The descriptions of society in the 50s are very different from our current society, I cannot imagine a trip like this in our days, people opened her house and offered her a place to rest, gifts, or food.

The author made a great job researching and the narrative makes you feel like you are part of the journey.

Thank you NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine for the ARC, I really enjoy it.
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The simple idea of a woman setting out on horseback alone to traverse the country - from Maine to California - in 1954 was enough to get me to pick up this book. Once I started turning pages I couldn’t stop. Annie’s early life was interesting, as she was raised on a remote farm with no modern conveniences, and I enjoyed those well-written early chapters that sucked me into the story. She was never a woman used to comfort, thus she faced her journey with practicality and little expectations for aid. But as the story wound on it became even more fascinating. It describes a way of life long gone as Annie made her way along country roads, avoiding highways becoming more and more congested with cars and danger, and finding kind, generous, trusting strangers along the way who provided food, shelter and support. I wondered how or if someone could make a similar journey today. 

Throughout the story I felt like I was riding right behind Annie on Tarzan, little Depeche Toi on my lap. The descriptions of the struggles she faced due to winter weather, cold, heavy rains, overnight stays in jail cells because those were the only available rooms in town, illness, and injuries to her horses were gripping. The beauty she encountered in nature and the landscape, and the goodness she found within the hearts of townsfolk was heartwarming and inspiring. She traveled without GPS, or even a decent map of the country, relying on regional maps and instructions from those she passed on how to get to her destination. It took her a lot longer than she expected but she finally made her way to California, although with some disappointment. 

Highly recommended for those interested in Americana, women’s history, and a good road trip.
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When Maine had nothing left to offer Annie Wilkins, she set out on the adventure of a lifetime.  At 62, with little money to her name and a dire diagnosis, she sets out to find a good horse and ride across America to see the Pacific Ocean. It’s 1954 and things are starting to change.  The motor car is gaining in popularity.  Wether it’s sheer persistence or obstinance, Annie is determined to make her cross country goal.  This book is about courage, overcoming and making your dream come true no matter how difficult the circumstances.  Steeped in historical data from sea to shining sea, this book celebrates the indomitable human spirit and the deep connection between a woman, her horse and her dog.  Filled with a delightful host of caring people along her path, this book is a journey worth taking.
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“In November 1954, Annie took her dog and got on a horse and started riding. Destination: California.” And so began The Ride of Her Life.

Annie is poor. Dirt poor. After being in the hospital and given two to four years left to live, Annie’s sole goal is to live until Social Security started. For sixty-three-year-old Annie those two years seemed far off. Unable to pay the taxes on the Maine farm her ancestors purchased seventy-five years ago, Annie had no relatives to turn for help. She had a wild plan, go to California by horseback. Five thousand miles away. She just had to get a horse...

I loved this inspiring and heartfelt tale. Annie is a true adventurer despite her advanced age, poor health, and dire poverty. And the people of America in the mid-fifties were so helpful. The landscape described here is mostly gone except for a few sad remnants of Route 66. While the tale is a biographical memoir, it also shines a light on how different everything was only seventy years ago. Horses traveling on a California freeway? It is hard to even imagine it.

The Ride of Her Life has everything: a look back into America’s past, an inspiring journey, and the value of dreams and hope. 5 stars and a favorite!

Thanks to Ballantine Books, Random House, and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
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The Ride of Her Life is an amazing true story about the courage of one woman to fulfill a dream to see the Pacific Ocean before she dies. Annie Wilkins is given only a few years to live by her doctor. She tries to hold on to her family farm, but she has no other family members to help her.  She sells her farm to a neighbor. She  decides to buy a horse and she, along with her dog, heads west. Along the way she meets many helpful people across America. This was a refreshing tale on how life in the 1950's were in this land. Thanks to the author Elizabeth Letts, publisher Random House, and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book.
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I loved Elizabeth Letts’s earlier book, The Eighty Dollar Champion which I highly recommend. It tells the story of Snowman, the amazing horse bought for virtually nothing by Harry de Leyer. Read the book to find out what kind of horse Snowman turned out to be. The story is a heartwarming one. Personally knowing some members of the family gave this title extra meaning to me. It is a feel good story.

I think that the same can be said for The Ride of Her Life, another story about a person and a horse. This time, our person is sixty-three year old, Annie Wilkins. She lived in Maine, had recently lost her farm and decided to ride a horse to the West coast. Annie wanted to see the Pacific Ocean before she died. Tarzan, Annie and Annie’s dog thus began an incredible journey in 1950s America.

How did the trip go? Who did they meet? How were people changed by this?

Read the story of this life affirming and changing journey to find out. I highly recommend it.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.
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Annie Wilkins, 63, of Minot Maine has lived her entire life in hardship. She farmed from.sunrise to sunset just getting by. 
She is taken ill with a disease of its time in 1954 and given a prognosis od 2 to 4 years. The physician caring for her, brought her back to the farm where she lived alone and told her that she must live restfully for the rest of her life. Annie found that difficult. She would not disregard her doctor's advice,  but she would hold it in her mind.

With her dog and her horse, she leaves the farm to see the pacific Ocean before she passes.  More struggles prevail, but Annie is tough. It was interesting reading about people she met along the way and situations she came across. Does she get to see the Pacific Coast? You will have to read her true story.

Thanks to NetGalley,  Random House/Ballentine books for the opportunity to read and review this book  which was released 6/1/21.
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A Dream and the Adventure of a Lifetime

Sixty-three-year-old Annie Wilkins, a farmer in Maine, found herself penniless with no home and no family, but she had a dream. Annie wanted to see the Pacific Ocean before she died. She had never driven a car, and she didn’t want to leave her dog, Depeche Toi, behind so she opted for a horse. She got a broken down racehorse named Tarzan, donned men’s jeans, and set off South. 

The journey starts in 1954 when the world was quite different from today. There was no GPS so Annie had to use gas station maps to find her way. Riding a horse is very different from cruising along in an SUV. Annie could only do ten miles a day. What it cost her in speed it made up in the friends she made, and the communities she visited. In the end, the press found out about her ride and she became a celebrity. Towns had parades to welcome her, but besides the good times there were floods, mountains, snow and more traffic than she’d seen before. 

This is a wonderful book. I loved it. Annie is an unforgettable character. When the going got tough, she kept on believing that if you keep moving you will get there. She didn’t give up on her dream, either. She was offered homes in various states, and even one marriage proposal, but Annie wanted to see the Pacific Ocean

In addition to meeting all the interesting, helpful people Annie encountered, we also learn about the history of the places she visited. Interspersing history with the adventure of the ride is very effective. The book is well written. It’s an adventure you’ll remember for a long time, I did.

I received this book from Penguin Random House for this review.
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The Ride of Her Life by Elizabeth Letts is the triumphant true story of a woman who rode her horse across America in the 1950s, fueled by her dying wish to see the Pacific Ocean. In 1954, 63-year-old Maine farmer Annie Wilkins lost her farm and her doctor had given 2-4 years to live. She has always longed to see the Pacific Ocean before she died. Ignoring her doctor’s advice, she buys a cast-off brown gelding named Tarzan, gathers her dog, Depeche Toi, and heads south in mid-November 1954. Annie didn’t know what to expect as she traveled, she didn’t even have a map but she had an unfailing belief that Americans would treat a stranger with kindness. As she traveled America in an age that saw the construction of modern highways, she pushed through blizzards, forded rivers and climbed mountains. She would travel more than 4,000 miles, through the biggest cities and the smallest towns. She met ordinary people and celebrities who followed her story with interest and inspiring neighborly kindness. 
I never heard of Annie Wilkins and her journey to California, so when I was offered a chance to read The Ride of Her Life, I was intrigued. The author, Ms Letts, weaves Annie’s story with the changing of 1950s America. The Ride of Her Life is an amazing and inspirational story. In a country with the growing influence of television, she didn’t own one. In the growing age of the automobile, she desired to complete her journey by horse. I don’t know if I would have had the strength and courage to travel across the nation as Annie did, even with the comfort and speed of a car, the journey is dangerous. Every step of the way, the readers are riding along Annie as she braves the new roads with cars speeding past and she trots along on horseback. There were moments of triumph and moments of tears. I eagerly turned each page, waiting and hoping that Annie survives her trip and makes it to the Pacific Ocean. I recommend The Ride of Her Life. 

The Ride of Her Life is available in hardcover, eBook and audiobook.
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