By Daniel Chesser
Rodger Howell, 63, was exposed to Agent Orange nearly 40 years ago and was later told by his doctors that he only had five weeks to live.
That was almost a year ago.
Since then Howell has opted to riding the open roads over sitting around waiting to die.
“I got Agent Orange serving in Vietnam,” Howell said. “37 years later my organs are deterioating.”
Following his diagnosis of only having a month to live Howell gave away all of his possession except what he travels with today.
Now Howell has traveled more than 2,500 miles since last summer (nine months) with his two horses Sonny (half Arabian and half Percheron) and Dancer (full-blooded Percheron) and his dog Banjo complete with a 14-foot black buggy where he sleeps at night (the buggy has survived two torandoes, according to Howell).
Howell said there is no particular goal in his travels other than he is tired of sitting on the front porch.
“I’m not going to give up, I am going to keep going,” Howell said. “In the left side (of my heart) I had a double by-pass and the top and back (of my heart) have a stint with two more blockages they said they can’t do nothing for right now.”
Howell made his stop in Opelika to get a health and Coggins test done on his horses by Dr. Buddy Bruce at Animal Health Center on Second Avenue in Opelika on his way south to Tampa, Fla.
“When I get to Columbus, Ga., I am going to head out on to Tallahassee then to Tampa to see my girls,” Howell said. “I’ve stayed at five different Cowboy Churches (including the Cowboy Church of Lee County on Highway 280), I’ve stayed with the Amish (they gave Howell the buggy where he and Banjo sleep at night), the Mennonites, strangers and Muslims.”
Howell draws attention everywhere he goes.
“Some city folks have never even seen a horse,” Howell said. “(I love horses because) they don’t lie, cheat or steal.”
The travel schedule for Howell starts every day at 9 a.m., and he and his horses are on the move for four days at a time, then they rest for three days.
Howell lives off his Social Security and disability from the Army through direct deposit and has almost 200 pounds of feed and 30 gallons of water on him at any given time.
“I usually stop around 2 p.m. to find a campsite, and I stop at stores and restaurants to get what we need,” Howell said. “I stick to secondary roads, and I can get on any road except state highways, but I try to stay away from big towns to avoid harming my horses.
“I don’t care about traffic … they can wait on me.”
Howell contributes his life’s longevity to his efforts of keeping his mind stress free and his diet as healthy as possible.
After reaching his family members in Tampa he plans to head back north to see Niagra Falls.
For more information or to follow Howell’s travels, find him on Facebook.