Washington Woman Rides Across the US
PORT ORCHARD — Lines between species are blurred for Tracy Delp, who’s been talking to animals for almost as long as she can remember.
But not talking so much as listening. Delp, 46, of Port Orchard has made her living as “Nature’s Translator,” communicating to clients the private thoughts of pets living and dead.
On Sunday, Mother’s Day, Delp set off on a 5,000-mile horseback ride across the United States in honor of her own late mother Millie Delp and others — including animals — who have succumbed to the disease, as well as those still fighting it.
“Cancer is cancer,” said Delp. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you are.”
Delp will be accompanied by her riding partner Dan Shanafelt, 23, whom she met some years back while working for a central Cascades outfitting company. Their team includes five horses and a mule. Their route over the next eight months will take them from Ocean Shores on the Pacific Coast, through three major mountain ranges, across 13 states and the District of Columbia, on trails, gravel roads and back highways, to their destination, Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware. There, they’ll dip their toes and hooves in the Atlantic.
While it seems everyone these days is running, walking or cycling somewhere for cancer, Delp thinks she may be the first to attempt a coast-to-coast journey on horseback for the cause.
Her trusty team includes five horses and a mule, to be rotated in and out of the action by a trailer-towing team of family and friends. Along the way, averaging 20 to 25 miles a day, the beasts will consume 480 bales of hay, including a special blend for wilderness areas so they don’t leave behind seeds of invasive plants. Their diet will be supplemented with grain, and two who are used to going “barefoot” will sport special boots instead of horseshoes to protect their feet.
The team will pass through places with names like “The Wilderness of No Return” and “The Wilderness of No Summer.” The longest they’ll be without contact from other humans is 10 days. Should they miss a resupply rendezvous, the lives of all could be in danger.
Delp has been gnawing on the idea of such an adventure ever since her mother passed three years ago. A colon cancer survivor, Millie Delp came down with pancreatic cancer. Then her insurance denied the claim.
“Your feet are kicked out from under you,” said Delp. “You don’t know what to do. You’re fighting time.”
Shanafelt, of Renton, a forestry management student at Oregon State University, also has been touched by cancer, which claimed the lives of both his grandmothers.
Delp, who lost two dogs to cancer, said the purpose of the ride is to raise awareness of the disease in both humans and animals.
“We’re animals,” she said. “If we could find a way to help animals, we could help ourselves.”
Delp has been overwhelmed by the generosity of donors since she started her nonprofit Be-Cause We Care. Besides financial donations large and small, people have given saddles, bridles and other items to make the trip possible. A woman from Sequim even loaned her two Tennessee Walkers, Angus and Andy. The horses’ long stride will make for a smoother ride and potentially better mileage.
Some people along the route have contacted Delp to open their homes, including a Western Washington resident who promises homemade soup the first night of their journey.
Donors who visit the website can select the cause of their choice. Beyond raising money to combat cancer, Delp hopes to make a statement about the power of community. No contribution — a kind word, a positive thought — is too small.
“We’re living in a time where there’s so much focus on what we can’t do, we need to start looking at what we can do,” Delp said. “This is really grass roots. It’s people helping people.
“This is the biggest leap of faith I’ve ever made in my life. You have these moments of ‘Oh, my God, what am I doing?’ I’m walking away from a lot to do this. That’s how strongly I feel about it. I know it’s all going to work out. I can’t explain it.”
Much of Delp’s life has been beyond explanation.
She said she first became aware of her Dr.-Doolittle-like gift at age 4. Delp heard a voice saying, “The dog food is really good.” Only her dog was in the room, no people. She tried the dog food. It was not as tasty as advertised.
As an adult, she honed her ability to communicate with animals, and she now consults on a variety of cases, including misbehavior, lost pets and unexplained ailments. Her skill extends to horses, birds and cats, who, in her experience, are not as complicated or contrary as everyone thinks.
Delp, who teaches workshops, believes most people have the ability to communicate with animals on a deeper level.
“I think everybody does, but we’ve convinced ourselves that we can’t,” she said. “We’ve stopped listening, and really it’s about learning to listen again.”
Follow Delp’s journey on her blog, Coast2Coast for Cancer, http://coast2coastforcancer.webs.com/