Bolton-raised Filipe Masetti Leite sat quietly on his horse while inside his emotions swirled. At a mere 25 years of age the next step he would take, along with his quarter horse Bruiser, and pack horse Frenchie, would be the first in a journey of 16,000 kilometres.
Filipe was about to become a Long Rider and this first expedition would bring thrills, danger, and lessons about the land and its people that would last him a lifetime.
It was 11:00 a.m. on July 8, 2012, and from a planned departure point at the Calgary Stampede, with an RCMP escort at his side, amid a mix of sheer nerves and excitement, Filipe smiled up at his well-wishers and left his family, his friends, his girlfriend Emma, and everything familiar, behind.
An adopted son of Canada, Filipe had moved to Bolton from Brazil when he was 9. He attended Holy Family Elementary School and later Robert F Hall Secondary School, eventually studying Journalism at Ryerson University, and spending his summers back in Bolton.
The young adventurer had been inspired as a child by a book called Tschiffely’s Ride that his father, who “had him on a horse before he could walk”, would read to him every night before going to bed.
“Tschiffely was a Swedish school teacher who in 1925 rode horseback from Buenos Aires, Argentina to New York.” Filipe explains. “This story never left my mind as I grew older. It became my life’s dream to go on a Long Ride like Tschiffely’s.”
The Long Riders Guild defines Long Riders as those who “have ridden more than 1,000 continuous miles on a single equestrian journey.” On Filipe’s first journey he rode over 16,000 kilometres (about 10,000 miles), a fascinating and perilous journey that took over 800 days.
After leaving Calgary, he and his beloved horses made their way through Alberta and into Montana. Along the way he was welcomed by the Blackfoot community who “were so incredibly hospitable; they looked after me and my horses so well, giving us water and food.”
Indeed hospitality and human kindness is something that marked Filipe’s journey through 10 countries. But there were dangers yet to unfold. Not even 2 years of planning can identify every detail and possibility on a trek like Filipe’s Journey America.
There was epic terrain. “Epic. That’s the only word I can think of to describe the ride through Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming” Filipe comments. “I went in expecting adventure and that’s what we got. Brian Anderson of Copper Creek Ranch rode that portion of the journey with me and after crossing 7 rivers, 3 suspension bridges, and more mountain ridges than I can count, taking 4 days to traverse 90 miles, we became like brothers.”
There was the weather. “That year turned out to be the hottest and driest on record for a generation” says Filipe. “Incredible heat during the day constantly took its toll on myself and the horses. And the endless search for enough water; the horses really need water at least twice a day.” And while in the mountains the day’s unbearable heat turned into freezing cold at night. “I still remember the night my boots froze” he laughs, “although it didn’t seem funny at the time.”
There was the wildlife. In Montana a grizzly crossed their path. And many nights the barking of coyotes was the last thing they heard as they drifted off to sleep under the stars. And then there were the scorpions, snakes and wasps.
There was worry. While riding down the Rio Grande, Bruiser fell into a deep pit along the side of the road; after a scary afternoon Filipe was able to rescue him. Frenchie was hit by a truck in southern Mexico. “You spend 24 hours a day with your horses, they become like your children” Filipe remembers. “It’s the worst feeling in the world if you think they are hurt, or if you have to worry you can’t provide (food, water).”
There was sheer terror. Hiding in the evening for a few hours sleep alongside highways frequently used by the cartels overnight. Crossing the Chihuahua Desert, the largest in North America, plagued by long bleak stretches of nothingness, drought, and crime. Hearing a woman shot one night outside of the room where Filipe was staying.
There was absolute beauty. Incredible long-view sunsets in the desserts. Tropical rainforests and beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. Gorgeous mountaintop vistas. “Crossing the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado”, smiles Filipe, “with just a stunning view of the mountains and valley beneath.”
There was loneliness and solitude. Although at different points of his journey Filipe was briefly joined by his girlfriend Emma, or his father Luis, or other riders, there was ample times of total solitude and isolation. Time for reflection. “Loneliness is hard but it also teaches many lessons” shares the brave rider, “especially about who one really is. And that loneliness gives you an appreciation of the time you do spend with those you love.”
There was human kindness. “I was blown away by the hospitality and the kindness people showed me. Towns that had heard about my journey and realized that I would be passing by, some had parades, some had BBQs. Whenever we had the good fortune to be going through one of these towns or cities we were showered with food, water, parties, care for the horses; we were well received by everyone from Mayors to simple rural folk. I literally felt like most people would stop their lives to help you out.”
And on October 13, 2014, 803 days after leaving Calgary, Alberta, Filipe arrived in Espírito Santo do Pinhal, Brazil. As he rode into his birthplace more than 500 riders joined him, and a large crowd that included faces he had not seen for years awaited him. His heart was filled with pride. Pride in his journey, pride for his horses, Bruiser, Frenchie and Dude, a mustang given to him by the Taos Pueblo Aboriginal people in New Mexico while on route.
Now one would fully expect that would mark the the end of the journey. However the adventurous young man went to visit a Children’s Cancer Hospital soon after he arrived, to give a talk, and to meet the kids.
“It’s a first world hospital in a third world country that has countless problems when it comes to health care” says Filipe. “And it’s a hospital that treats thousands of people every year, free of charge. Every month they must collect 17,000 million reais – a lot of cash! – to keep the facility running. So I decided I needed to do my part. Since I didn’t have a lot of money to donate I decided to go on a second journey to raise money for the hospital and to talk to families along the way about the importance of an early diagnosis, specially for children.”
And so it was that Filipe leapt into his saddle once again in April 2016, for Journey America 2, trekking to Ushuaia, Argentina. It was a dangerous expedition that would take 15 months, during which he was given access through Honduras by a drug lord, stayed with a family in Guatemala that killed and prepared their only chicken so they could offer him food when he was hungry, witnessed 9-year-olds working for the cartel and brandishing pistols, and weathered extreme 120 km/hour winds and isolation in Patagonia where temperatures sometimes plummeted well into the minuses.
And in the end Filipe raised $30,000 Cdn for the Barretos Children’s Children and Young Adult’s Cancer Hospital.
In closing our interview I ask him…..”Did these extreme expeditions change your view of life?”
Filipe responded, “I don’t think they changed my view of life but made the view I have even stronger. That humanity is kind at its core. That life passes by way too quickly, so we should not waste time living other peoples dreams. That when you are willing to put in the work, when you want something with your mind, your heart, your everything – anything is possible.”
Want to hear more details about these amazing treks? Filipe’s book was published in Brazil with Harper Collins in September, and it has been on the best seller list for over 8 weeks now. It will be released in English and Spanish next year. It is titled “Cavaleiro das Americas” in Portuguese and “Long Ride Home,” in English.