California man traveling across country on horseback

Thomas Garcia

What started out as a desperate search for work for a California man has become a cross country ride to raise awareness for disease.

Johnny Warnshuis of Redding, Calif., is riding horseback across the country. He arrived in Tucumcari Tuesday night and, due to the snow, was not to able to leave until Friday.

“It is nice to have a chance to rest up a couple days and take a hot shower,” Warnshuis said.

Warnshuis has been riding since March, his goal is to make it to New York City by this time next year.

“Looking back on the day I said I’d ride to New York, I sort of wish I said Texas. I’d almost be done,” Warnshuis said. “This (ride), by far, is the hardest thing I have ever done, mentally and physically.”

Warnshuis was tending to his horses, Sandy and Modoc, Wednesday at the Western Drive Stables, reflecting on the past 1,800 miles.

“There are times where I wanted to quit,” Warnshuis said. “You have a lot of time soul searching and talking with God riding alone out there.”

Warnshuis said his journey began as a search for work. He said he, like many others in California, found himself unemployed with little to no job opportunities.

“I had been working for 22 years as a general contractor,” Warnshuis.

Adding to Warnshuis concerns, his mother fell ill with GBS/CIDP. Warnshuis said the disease is a rare immune system disorder, which attacks the peripheral nerves.

“I was at my mother’s side through the treatment of the illness and nine months of rehabilitation,” Warnshuis said.

His ride is now about raising awareness about the rare disorder.

Warnshuis said he was cutting wood in an effort to make ends meet. He said the state of the economy was so bad people were fighting for the corners near his mother’s house to panhandle.

“I couldn’t even get a job dipping cones at Dairy Queen,” Warnshuis said.

Warnshuis said he saddled up Sandy, a rescued horse, and set out to look for work as a ranch hand.

“I had planned on following the Oregon Trail, then six weeks into my trip I had some trouble,” Warnshuis said.

Warnshuis said he called his mother, who told him she had a search party looking for him.

“They thought I was hurt or possibly dead,” Warnshuis said.

Warnshuis said his friends back home heard about what he was doing and encouraged him to continue on his trip. He said a website was started to follow his progress.

Warnshuis’ travels took him to Bordertown, Nev., a place where his trip would take on a whole new meaning and where he would meet his fiancee, Sherree Hogg.

“Sherree inspired me to make the ride about more than my needs.” Warnshuis said.

Hogg said the journey has become about the love of people. She said at times she is jealous she can not be with him riding cross country.

“There are times Johnny will call me and question why he is still out there,” Hogg said. “I remind him the spiritual benefits he will receive from this journey will far outweigh the hardships.”

Warnshuis said he has had thoughts of quitting. There were times he almost turned the horse around and headed home.

“One thing which has helped me to continue this life-changing journey has been the people I’ve met along the way,” Warnshuis said.

Warnshuis said the impact of the nation’s economy can be seen all across the country. He said he rode in to town where businesses are closed and vacant buildings line the street.

“I quickly realized that the hard times were everywhere,” Warnshuis said. “The people I spoke with told me about their struggles. We shared a bond, and they said they were inspired by my dedication to completing the ride.”

Warnshuis said the decision to go on comes with the thought of where his next meal is going to come from and where is he going to sleep.

“These past few nights I have been lucky to stay at the Palamino Hotel,” Warnshuis said. “Some nights I have set up my tarp on a tree and fold it under my bed roll.

Warnshuis said his journey has given him a new perspective on life others should experience for themselves.

“I say people should saddle up and ride across the desert for a month,” Warnshuis said. “They will change their outlook on what is needed and important in their life.”