Overwhelming emotion swept over Tracy Delp as she looked out on the Atlantic Ocean. She had waited and planned for nearly five years for this defining moment in her life.
The sight of the breaking waves culminated a 10-month, cross-country journey on her horse Sierra to support cancer victims. Delp, 48, of Port Orchard, Wash., dedicated her Coast to Coast for Cancer ride to the memory of her mother and other relatives and friends who lost their battles with the disease.
After her mother, Mille Delp, died of pancreatic cancer in 2008, Delp said a little voice went off in her head telling her to ride across the country for cancer. She mulled it over for months. “I needed to do this or stop thinking about it all the time. I would rather try and fail than fail before I try,” she said. “The first three letters in the word cancer are c-a-n; we need to focus more on what we can do.”
Delp entered Delaware west of Middletown on Jan. 14, and she headed south toward her finish line at Cape Henlopen State Park on Jan. 19. In the Cape Region, she stayed with Karen Kershaw at Kershaw Acres along Route 5 near Milton for the final two nights of her journey.
At the park, she was greeted by several local riders as well as several people from as far away as Ohio who had met Delp on her journey.
Third time is the charm
Delp did not let setbacks deter her. She started her ride three times over a two-year period. The first time she left from Ocean City, Wash., on Mother's Day 2011 it was with a riding partner, a team of five horses and a mule. In mid-July in Idaho her partner turned back leaving her to face riding in the back country alone. Her original route covered wilderness trails far off the beaten track. “I've worked for an outfitter so I was comfortable in the wilderness, but I was not stupid enough to go out there alone,” she said.
She returned home, changed her route, made some connections and took off again in November in an effort to beat the coming mountain snows, which she did, but then got hit with blizzard-like conditions in Montana. She knew the handwriting was on the wall so she once again she returned home to wait for spring.
Finally, in mid-April 2012 she took off again – this time where she left off in Montana – on Sierra accompanied by her retriever Ursa and a support truck and horse trailer driven by volunteers.
Delp said she thinks the setbacks happened for a reason. “I was meant to do this by myself all along,” she said.
To help finance the trek, she sold space on her horse trailer for people to honor loved ones lost to cancer so it was important to keep the rig going across the country. “I was never sure the trailer would be with me because I was relying on strangers to drive it for me, but here it is with me in Delaware,” she said.
Ironically, about half way across the country, she was called by friends who told her one of her dogs was ill with, of all things, cancer. She drove back to Washington dreading the idea of having to put Duke down. Instead, the Duke rallied and Delp set plans in motion to care for the dog as she progressed with the second half of her journey. Fighting back tears, Delp said Duke died en route to Iowa; another victim of cancer.
Amazingly, Delp took three weeks off from her journey to help victims of Hurricane Sandy through an animal rescue organization she volunteers for. It also provided time for her horse to rest and recover from an illness caused when Sierra ate a toxic ground cover. A woman in Ohio took care of Sierra while Delp was away. “She told me I could stay there for the winter if I needed to,” Delp said.
National journey covers 13 states
Delp's trek – outlined by using walking routes provided by Google maps – covered 13 states including Washington, Idaho, Montana, the northeast corner of Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. She spent the most time in Montana covering nearly 800 miles in two months. “It felt like I lived there,” she said.
Going about 3 mph, she tried to average 15 to 20 miles per day.
She relied on the kindness of people she met along the way without definite plans where she would spend each night. As it turned out, three-fourths of the time she was taken in by strangers along the route who found out about her from news reports, her website or word of mouth. She also camped in parks, fairgrounds and back yards.
“I'm not used to people worrying about me,” she said.
Delp has had 10 months to reflect on life, and she plans to write books – as in plural – when she returns home to Washington. “I've learned so much,” she said. “There is a big difference between faith and belief, and if we live with faith, the world is a very good place. Faith is where freedom lies, and I never knew what it was like to really be free.
“We also need to slow down because life is about the journey and not the destination. We move too fast.”
And her most homespun advice? “We can solve any problem over a cup of coffee,” she said.
Those are profound words from a woman who has spent nearly a year sitting on a horse slowly traversing the United States at 3 mph after literally taking a leap of faith.
Donations will go to cancer programs
Donations can be made on her website at coast2coastforcancer.webs.com. Donors can choose to support her ride or programs for people or animals with cancer. Any funds left over after's she's covered her expenses for the ride will be donated to cancer treatment programs.