HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. – After seven months on horseback in search of the positive side of America, Bill Inman dismounted on Sunday at the end of a cross-country trip that he described as encouraging from start to finish.
Inman rode his 16-year-old thoroughbred-quarter horse named Blackie on an 11-mile route from Mills River into town under overcast skies which dropped a small bit of a wintry mix. He was accompanied by 20 riders, a few of them from the Hendersonville Mounted Police.
"I don't know if that's really sunk in yet. It may take me two or three days to think it's over," Inman said in a telephone interview. "It just seems like that was a break. Repetition tends to make an imprint in your brain."
A crowd of more than 100 people greeted Inman at a motorcycle dealership as he ended the journey that began with his ride in the Strawberry Festival parade in Lebanon, Ore., last June 2. One 90-year-old woman said Inman looked like actor Tom Selleck, then noted that he looked better than Selleck.
"I just hugged her and she almost started crying," he said.
Inman was besieged by children and adults alike, some of whom wanted their pictures taken with him, or with the horse, or both.
"It was an honor to be in such great company of such great people. It was moving and touching," Inman said. "I felt like I was honored just to be around the great people who were either riding with me or the police who were escorting me. I think it was a parade."
Inman was joined on his journey, which took him through eight states, by his wife, Brenda, and a four-person support crew. He started it out of distress over how the country was being portrayed in news coverage and on TV shows.
"Instead of all of the doom and gloom and all the sad news, we wanted to show all the great people and great places and not do the five-star resorts," Inman said in an interview prior to the final ride. "It was the toughest thing I ever did, the most challenging thing I ever did, but the most rewarding thing I ever did — but not the smartest financial thing I've ever done."
Among the people he met was a Wyoming deputy sheriff who drove 25 miles through a thunderstorm to bring dinner to him and his wife; all 17 people of a Colorado town who came out to see him ride off; and an Idaho state trooper who paid him $20 for the chance to sit on top of Blackie.
When Inman reached Newport, Tenn., he and his wife renewed their marriage vows in a hardware store, recreating their 1980 wedding ceremony.
"That was the only place you could get lifetime warranties, I hear," he said.
Inman would like his wife to write a book chronicling their trip, "and I can fill in the blanks." He is also considering retracing his steps to spend more time with the people who offered to share a part of their lives with him.
"I told my wife we ought to be grateful because we're accessible to all walks of life," Inman said. "Sometimes, I was more intrigued by the stories they were telling than the stories I was telling. Maybe somebody will get their stories."