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Russia: 'Pilgrim' Travels Across U.S. In Horse And Buggy

  • Bruce Keppel

Bellingham, Washington; 5 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Since last December 16, Anatoly Shimansky of St. Petersburg, Russia, has been rolling across the United States behind a nine-year-old farm horse named Vanya at the pre-industrial speed of six kilometers per hour.

Shimansky began this nine-month, cross-continental journey on the East Coast, where he paid a New Jersey farmer $3,000 for Vanya and a rubber-tired, canvas-covered wagon on which he has painted the message, "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE AND PEACE."

This week on his 55th birthday -- Wednesday -- Shimansky and Vanya are plodding along the last section of their slow-motion trip. The itinerary calls for the team to turn north on reaching Portland, Oregon, near the mouth of the wide Columbia River, then to travel along the Pacific Coast through Washington state. In about a month, Shimansky says, he expects to cross the international border and end his odyssey in Vancouver, Canada, then return to St. Petersburg.

Shimansky is a former professor of genetics who has studied at Columbia University in New York City. He left Russia late last year to pursue what he describes as "my dream." When he returns next month, he says, he intends to write a book recounting his adventures. The book's tentative title is "America as Seen Through Russian Eyes" -- or, he adds with a chuckle, "Horse Sweat in My Face."

Judging from the press accounts that Shimansky has accumulated, it should make quite a story. Here is an example.

Before rolling into the eastern Oregon farming center of Pendleton, nationally famous for its handsome woolen shirts called "Pendletons," Shimansky spent the night on an Indian reservation as the guest of the Umatillo Confederated Tribe.

A reporter for a newspaper in Pendleton found Shimansky seated in his buggy behind Vanya in front of the local court house. He had attracted a crowd of the curious in the small town of 15,000 and was telling the people of his adventures. One of them, Helen Quimby, later presented Shimansky with food and supplies, as well as feed and more horseshoes for Vanya -- the tenth pair so far -- donated by local merchants, farmers and a grocery story.

That same day, Shimansky and Vanya left town, heading down the Umatillo River toward the massive Columbia River which, in its last 500 kilometers to the Pacific Ocean, marks the border between Oregon and Washington.

In taking that route, Shimansky was continuing to follow, as closely as possible today, the original trail taken by the first non-Indian explorers to the Pacific Northwest -- the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-05, sent out to map the vast region acquired from France by President Thomas Jefferson.

In his fluent but heavily-accented English, this latter day Russian explorer told the reporter that he has been most impressed by "so much friendship, openness and generosity." Traveling by horse-and-buggy forced Shimansky to follow roads few cross-country travelers would ever see -- roads far from the high-speed interstate highways that bypass most small towns with the more personal encounters that they can offer visitors.

As he left on the last section of travel, Shimansky said that he intends to keep on traveling after finishing "America as Seen Through Russian Eyes."

"I would like to travel into the next century with my horse," he said, adding: "It is good for my soul."