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Trek traces path taken by ancestor

March 13, 2002|BY RICHARD F. BELISLE

He was walking on Md. 34 across from Sharpsburg Elementary School, a man leading a loaded pack mule.

Tom Fremantle, 35, from Oxford, England, and Browny, his 17-year-old female Mexican mule, began their 2,500-mile trek at the Texas-Mexico border in September.

They've been headed in a general northeasterly direction ever since, plodding along at a steady 3 mph, Browny's preferred rate of travel. Their destination is New York City.

There Fremantle will board a plane for home and send Browny back to Texas and into a well-deserved retirement.

Fremantle said he's following in the footsteps of an ancestor, Lt. Col. Arthur Fremantle, who came to America from England to observe the Civil War.

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Local Civil War historian Dennis Frye said Arthur Fremantle's primary focus was the Confederacy.

"He was very much interested in the politics of the period and in the leadership of the Confederacy," Frye said.

Fremantle was depicted in the movie "Gettysburg," Frye said. He saw all three days of the battle, Frye said.

Tom Fremantle planned to head to Gettysburg this morning.

He toured Antietam National Battlefield on Tuesday before taking Md. 34 to Boonsboro, where he planned to spend the night - where, he didn't know.

He and Browny slept Monday night in a barn behind O'Hurley's General Store in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Fremantle said he's been in barns, churches, fire houses, homes and in the open in his sleeping bag. He said he's camped out and he's stayed in hostels or wherever he could find a place for himself and his mule.

"I try to get to a town before dark and ask people where I can camp. Usually something springs up," he said.

Several Shepherdstown residents referred him to O'Hurley's, he said.

Fremantle sometimes needs help crossing high traffic areas and bridges because of the mule. Police and residents often escort him through such hazards, he said.

On Tuesday morning, Kathy Bilton of Sharpsburg met Fremantle at O'Hurley's and escorted him over the Potomac River bridge. She taped a hand-written sign on the back of her station wagon that said, "slow Mule."

Fremantle, who noted he and Browny average 20 miles a day, said his months of travel aren't lonely because he meets people along the way. "That's part of the reason I'm doing this," he said.

Marathon treks are not new to Fremantle. In 1996, he rode a bicycle 12,750 miles from Swanbourne, England to Swanbourne, Australia, a path taken by another ancestor, Capt. Charles Fremantle, founder of Fremantle, Australia.

A journalist and travel writer, Fremantle's first book, "Johnny Ginger's Last Ride," came out of that journey and was published last year. He plans to write a book about his travels with Browny.

According to Fremantle's Web site, which he updates regularly while on the road, by the time he reached Amherst in southern Virginia, Browny was ready to give out. She had been carrying her 100-pound load since the start of the trip on the Mexican border, more than 2,000 miles back.

Some local farriers and vets agreed to treat the mule while Fremantle went on ahead. They volunteered to haul Browny to where he was after she recovered.

"Walking along the road without my beast by my side changed the flavour of the journey radically," Fremantle said on his Web site. "The tooting of horns and friendly waves from passing traffic ceased almost completely. I was simply another drifter trudging along. If I didn't realize it already, I did now - the mule was the star of the show and I was just the sidekick. She was Butch. I was Sundance."

Fremantle's Web site can be found at www.mini-mule.co.uk.

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