A weathered man in a cowboy hat and leather vest journeyed down 13th Street in Gainesville Monday on horseback. Pedestrians stopped for photos and drivers swerved as they stared.
Doc Mishler, who rides horseback across the country, smiled and waved at his spectators. He’s used to the attention.
He spreads the word of the Bible and shares his beliefs by riding through different cities.
“I’m just a voice from the wilderness,” he said.
Mishler is on his way to Rolling Prairie, Indiana, for his sister’s birthday. This isn’t his first cross-country trek. He has ridden from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean twice.
The traveling missionary began his journey in 2002, about six years after a cancer diagnosis that he called life-changing.
He read “How Then, Shall We Live?: Four Simple Questions That Reveal the Beauty and Meaning of Our Lives” by Wayne Muller. He said the book challenged him to think about how he should live knowing he was going to die.
He said he found his answer.
“Do what we enjoy doing and do it for the glory of God,” Mishler said.
In 2002, he set off on horseback from Choteau, Montana to Washington, D.C., traveling through California along the way. He lived in Maryland for a few years before moving to Maple Ridge in New York, a Bruderhof Christian community with about 3,000 members who live in sharing communities.
“He basically rode up the drive on his horse and stayed for a long time,” Maple Ridge pastor Ian Winter said.
On a flier that outlines Mishler’s journey, contact information for the community is listed. Winter said Mishler is no longer a part of Bruderhof but is qualified to talk on behalf of Jesus.
“We wish him all his power in his seeking and I think he does mean very well,” Winter said.
He spent the past winter in Florida with his two sons and is now heading north with his two horses, Chief Free Spirit and Cherry.
On Monday afternoon, he stopped in the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house’s front yard on Southwest 13th Street.
“It was pretty random to look out my window and see two horses in our front yard,” said Alpha Tau Omega member Drew Boylson.
Mishler said he likes passing through cities and interacting with people. He gives kids rides on his horses and hands out fliers about his mission.
Along with information about Bruderhof, the fliers include several Bible verses and outline Mishler’s beliefs on feeding hungry children and how institutional churches use money that should be given to the poor.
“This journey has renewed my faith in the human race,” he said. “People want to give, people want to help. People want to feed the hungry children.”
Mishler said he averages about 20 miles a day, depending on how his horses feel and how long he stops in town.
Despite his drifter ways, Mishler said he has a nice lifestyle.
He said he camps out or stays in motels and often eats for free at Bob Evans, Red Lobster or Denny’s because he said the goodwill gives the restaurants a good image. He ties Chief Free Spirit and Cherry up outside to graze on the grass.
Mishler said he hopes to make it to Indiana by June. He’s not worried about the icy roads up north, he said, because he won’t make it there until May.
“Each day is a new adventure,” he said. “I never know where I’m getting my next meal. I never know where I’m going to camp.”
Mishler said his journey will end when the pope sells the Vatican and gives the money to the poor.