A man quietly touring parts of the Bay Area with his three mules to make a point about freedom of movement in a car-dominated society is on his way from Gilroy back to the Golden Gate Bridge, he said today.
John Sears, who likes to call himself “Mule,” has been walking with mules for the past 29 years to impress on people to seek a “connection to the natural world.”
“We’re all locking ourselves up into a very small constricted space,” said Sears, 65, originally from the Mill Valley area. “It’s causing a lot of misery.”
Sears said he and his mules are “claming the right of another way to live, other than the suburban model of auto usage.”
During his travels on highways, bridges and city streets with his female mules aged 33, 23 and 18 years, whenever he stops “the mules are always surrounded by people.”
“People will come outside of their homes with their kids to pet the mules, people who never even talk to each other,” he said.
“It’s touching everybody in the heart,” he said. “That’s what keeps us going. This isn’t about me. I’m just a passenger. It has a purpose. It is without a doubt about touching people.”
“The effect these mules have to transmit this magic is incredible,” Sears said. “My job is to keep the integrity of the place. When that energy is weakened, I feel it immediately. My life depends on that connection.”
“That’s the magic of the place I’m in,” he said. “My mind is totally enthralled and my consciousness is totally taken aback.”
Sears, who was in Gilroy today after venturing south from San Jose, said that he plans to turn north up the East Bay to state Highway 37 between Vallejo and Novato with the goal to cross the Golden Gate Bridge.
After that, he will try to trot south along U.S. Highway 101 “and claim my right to use it” to reach the bridge, he said.
Once he makes it to the bridge he will “submit a written request” to cross the bridge or ask officials to pay for taking his mules across in a trailer, he said.
Last month, while on his way to San Francisco, officials at the Golden Gate arranged for a horse trailer to transport his mules into San Francisco so he could walk the bridge himself, he said.
Sears said he and his mules, are “not here on a vacation. We’re put here to show we have rights, rights to use the highways. Without the public space, we can’t live.”
Sears said he grew up in the American car culture himself in the 1950s but “I got myself out of it.”
“I’m in a world that is so much better,” he said. “A world where you get up and things are great instead of a world where things are bleak.”
He typically rides one of the mules while the other two hold his tent, stove, sleeping bag, spare horseshoes and other supplies.
“We see ourselves as monks,” he said. “We live as monks. This is not a party. We don’t ask for money. When people come up and give us money, we thank them.”
They camp outside for the night, sometimes at homeless camps or even a street corner, as Sears did this week in San Jose, where police officers kindly told him he was welcome to spend the night, Sears said.
But sometimes people who do not understand him call the police when they see him walking through their towns, Sears said.
He was arrested by the California Highway Patrol while crossing a bridge in Napa in late June and then released, and a citation issued later by police as he walked through San Bruno was dismissed, according to John McDonald, who is filming a documentary on Sears.
McDonald, who lives in Pasadena, has been following Sears for the past 10 months to places like Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Ojai in Southern California, Paso Robles in the Central Valley and up north to Napa.
“I’ve been making documentaries for 40 years,” McDonald said. “I think this is the most interesting project I have ever done.”
“We’re so isolated from the natural world in our cars,” McDonald said. “He touches something deep inside of us that we haven’t felt in a long time. I really think it’s a great message.”
Jeff Burbank, Bay City News