His days are filled with long stretches in the saddle, his nights are often spent camping under the stars. He doesn't know where he'll find his next meal or what's beyond the next curve in the road, but on his horse, headed south, Filipe Masetti Leite is truly content.
The Calgary-based cowboy has embarked on an epic 16,000-kilometre journey on horseback to his birthplace in Brazil — a trip he hopes will help him discover and highlight everyday stories of human kindness.
“People are just extraordinary. That’s what I wanted to prove through this trip and that’s what I’m experiencing,” the 26-year-old told The Canadian Press from a horse stable in San Acacia, New Mexico.
Sharing those experiences is a key part of Leite’s journey and it’s already clear that he is a long rider of the 21st century – blogs, tweets and short videos from the road convey snippets of his trip whenever cellphone service and the occasional Internet connection allows.
Despite having covered about 2,500 kilometres so far, he hasn't even hit the halfway mark yet — the entire endeavour is estimated to take him two years as he rides through 12 countries. But his tales from the trail are already bursting with episodes of adventure and anecdotes of discovery.
“It's been harder than I could have ever imagined but it's also been way more rewarding,” he says.
Leite, started thinking about his journey after graduating with a degree in journalism from Toronto's Ryerson University. The idea stemmed from a similar quest in 1925 by Aime Tschiffely, a Swiss school teacher who rode 16,000 kilometres alone from Buenos Aires to New York City.
Leite's father, an avid horseman who put his son in a saddle before the toddler could walk, always dreamt of going on a journey like Tschiffely's but was never able to.
“It’s kind of like I inherited this dream from my father,” says Leite. “I just had this overwhelming feeling that if I didn’t do this, I wouldn’t do anything else.”
After a series of unsuccessful pitches to sponsors, Leite secured the support of OutWildTV, a streaming television network focused on adventure travel and the environment. They now pay him a monthly stipend and will eventually turn his experiences into a documentary. A book and a reality television series could also follow, Leite says.
For now, though, his focus remains on the road.
A full day of riding typically sees him cover an average of 32 kilometres on trails, highways or open country. While he tries to take the most direct route, he often pauses to indulge in a new experience.
So far he’s taken a detour to participate in a Christmas parade, stayed longer in a small town so he could go bullriding and often, simply lingers at a resting point to swap tales with a fellow horse lover.
“I get to learn their stories in ways that I don’t think a lot of people get a chance to,” he says. “On horseback you see every pebble on the road and you get to really immerse yourself in the culture of the places you’re travelling through because you depend on people so much.”
That dependence is a very real part of his journey — Leite often relies on strangers for food and shelter. When he travels long stretches between towns though, it's just him and his three horses fending for themselves.
He recalls one challenging episode when, while crossing a mountain in the vast rural expanses of Wyoming, his supply of water ran out. The five-day climb over the peak was also the longest stretch he spent on the road alone.
“On the last night I had to give the horses oil,” he recalls, explaining that the animals required the liquid so their stomachs wouldn't seize up. “I ask so much of my horses so to not be able to offer the essentials is like a mother who can’t feed her kids.”
A different tense moment involved coming face-to-face with a bear who crossed his path, frightening his horses, but ultimately causing no harm.
Leite anticipates, however, that the most dangerous part of his journey will come next month when he crosses the U.S. border into Mexico.
The country’s war on drugs has resulted in a perilous security situation, and has prompted Leite to consider travelling through certain stretches in a horse trailer.
“It’s no joke,” he says. “Northern Mexico is going to be about keeping myself and the horses alive.”
Ultimately though, the cowboy is focusing on the long-term positives of the year and a half of travel he still has before him. “I love travelling because you get to learn so much,” he says. “The lesson that I’ve learned the most is how kind and loving people are and I think that’s something that I’m going to talk about for the rest of my life.”
Also on HuffPost:
Driver's Helping Hand
A Russian dashboard camera recently caught a heartwarming act of kindness that took place on a bustling street. An old woman was in the midst of crossing a road with obvious difficulty when an SUV stopped mid-intersection. The driver exited the vehicle and grabbed the woman's bag, offering her an arm to help her get across safely.
Fallen Soldier's Tribute
To honor the memory of a soldier who was killed in action, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/23/facebook-user-sends-beer-on-behalf-of-fallen-navy-seal_n_1375924.html" target="_hplink">Jeff Beurline corded off a special spot</a> at his local bar in Connecticut for Lt. Michael P. Murphy. Beurline bought Murphy -- or "Murph," as he was known by friends -- a Guinness and propped a reserved sign on the beer alongside an American flag. The bartender not only agreed to pour random strangers a Guinness throughout the day, but also offered to pay the costs. Read Beurline's account of the act of kindness in his <a href="https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=151522458303677&id=182249954768" target="_hplink">post on Seal of Honor's Facebook page</a>. (Image via Facebook, <a href="http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1732927463" target="_hplink">Jeff Beurline</a>).
Officer's Final Act
A McDonald's surveillance camera caught a San Diego police officer's small -- but powerful -- act of kindness on tape. What makes the moment special is not the act itself, but that it happened mere minutes before the officer, <a href="http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Officer-Henwoods-Final-Act-of-Kindness-127886453.html" target="_hplink">Jeremy Henwood, was gunned down</a> in his patrol car.
Texas A&M Students' Silent Vigil
To protect the family of Lt. Col. Roy Tisdale from anti-gay protesters on the day of his funeral, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/06/texas-am-students_n_1653002.html" target="_hplink">Texas A&M students and alumni donned maroon</a> and formed a human wall. Westboro Baptist Church members, who often stage demonstrations military funerals, were planning to stage a protest outside Tisdale's funeral, but never showed up. Fortunately, an estimated 650 people in maroon were there to make sure the family could mourn in peace. (Image via Facebook, Leslie Mott)
Sara Tucholsky's Unusual Home Run
Sara Tucholsky, a softball player for Western Oregon University, scored a three-run homerun for the first time in her college career in a game against Central Washington University. But while touching first base, she injured her knee. The rules stated that none of her teammates could assist her. So instead, two players from the opposing team -- Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace -- carried Tucholsky to each base. All three players received a standing ovation.
Disabled Fan's Helping Hand
Wheelchair-bound Patrick Connelly began to cry when he couldn't see over the standing fans at a Blake Shelton concert. His mother, Cheryl Connelly, and her daughter, tried to pick Patrick up so he could see, but were unable to hold his weight for long in the sweltering heat. It wasn't until <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/strangers-help-disabled-f_n_1677391.html" target="_hplink">two strangers hoisted Patrick up</a> and held him aloft for a half-hour that Patrick was able to finally enjoy the concert.
A Young Fan's Act Of Generosity
It was the fourth inning of the Milwaukee Brewers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks game. A player tossed a ball into the stands and <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfF1m3-Dl_Q" target="_hplink">12-year-old Ian McMillan</a> ended up catching it while a younger baseball fan cried on the sidelines. Seeing the young boy's reaction, Ian handed over his prize, later explaining "it was the right thing to do."
Track Star's Team Effort
After winning the state title for the 1600 meter race, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/meghan-vogel-ohio-track-star-carries-runner-video_n_1570857.html" target="_hplink">Ohio track star Meghan Vogel</a> intentionally finished in last place in the 3200 meter race by carrying an injured competitor over the finish line.
French Fry Brother's Kind Offering
While in China, Jason Loose, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/31/american-french-fry-brother-jason-loose_n_1559531.html" target="_hplink">who is now known as "French Fry Brother,"</a> sat down to chat with a homeless woman and offered her some of his fries. Loose's random act of kindness, caught on camera by a passerby, made waves among Chinese microblogging sites for his altruism. (Image via Matt Cao/Sina Weibo)
Waitress' Big Tip
Aaron Collins' family fulfilled his final wish by giving a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/aaron-collins-family-leaves-500-tip-pizza-last-wish_n_1668533.html" target="_hplink">$500 tip to an unsuspecting waitress</a> at Puccini's Smiling Teeth in Lexington, Ky. "Are you serious?" the waitress asked after being handed the hefty cash tip. Yes, the Collins family is serious and plans to continue handing out $500 tips in Aaron's memory.
A Knight's Reliance On Kindness Of Strangers
Vincent Gabriel Kirouac is making his way across Canada with his horse Coeur de Lion in a crusade to promote manners and chivalry. While the 22-year-old has saved up for the journey over the past two years, he told <em>CBC</em> that <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/offbeat/story/2012/07/12/sk-quebec-knight-kirouac-saskatchewan-120712.html" target="_hplink">he has never spent a night outdoors</a>. In fact, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/14/vincent-gabriel-kirouac-chivalry-canada-knight_n_1672126.html" target="_hplink">Kirouac relies on kind strangers</a> to provide free room and board each night.
Terminally Ill Man's Letters Of Support
Sean O'Connor <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/rjkoy/hey_reddit_my_47_year_old_uncle_scott_widak_has/" target="_hplink">posted a call-out on Reddit</a> on behalf of his uncle Scott Widak, who was terminally ill and had Down syndrome. "He is currently bedridden and living out his last days at home with my 85 year old grandmother. One of his favorite things to do is open mail...anyone feel like sending him a letter or card?" O'Connor wrote in a post. Within days, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/14/scott-widak-reddit_n_1514338.html" target="_hplink">Reddit users sent hundreds of letters and gifts</a> to the bedridden 47-year-old. O'Connor <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/w8hes/dear_reddit_my_uncle_scott_who_had_down_syndrome/" target="_hplink">returned to Reddit in July</a> following his uncle's death to thank users for reaching out.
Man's Birthday Wish
For his 65th birthday, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/13/doug-eaton-oklahoma-birthday-gives-out-money_n_1671534.html" target="_hplink">Doug Eaton spent 65 minutes handing out $5 bills</a> to drivers at a busy intersection in Oklahoma City. Eaton came up with the idea after his Facebook friends suggested he do 65 random acts of kindness for his birthday.
Neighbor's Lemonade Fundraiser
When 8-year-old <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/johnny-karlinchak-neighbor-lemonade-stand_n_1687656.html" target="_hplink">Johnny Karlinchak saw his neighbor's house crushed</a> by a 60-foot-oak, he ran to his piggy bank and emptied its contents into his neighbor's hands. Unfortunately, the $1.25 would not cover Elissa Myers' $500 deductible so Johnny took to what he knew best -- selling lemonade -- to cover the deficit. (Image via Getty)
Homeless Man's Free Lunch
Cyclist <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/05/19/caring-cyclist-homeless-youtube_n_1529649.html" target="_hplink">Lewis Dediara captured his random act of kindness on tape</a> during one of his bike rides through London. Dediara, who wears a head-mounted camera, offered to buy a homeless man whatever he wanted to eat from a nearby convenience store after he found him sifting through a trash can.
Tennessee Man's Generous Gift
Customers at a particular Tennessee gas station got quite a surprise when they learned that their gas was already paid for by a generous stranger. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/23/tennessee-man-buys-gas-fo_n_402179.html" target="_hplink">Don Reed decided to fill up 80 strangers' cars</a> with money out of his own pocket and send them on their way. His generosity was all part of a plan to spread holiday cheer in December.
Woman's Runaway Vehicle
Sacrificing the safety of her own vehicle, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/11/lezlie-bicknell-woman-saves-kids-runaway-car_n_1664973.html" target="_hplink">Lezlie Bicknell acted on instinct</a> and rushed to the rescue of two children left unattended in a van that was slowly rolling out of a New Mexico parking lot toward a busy intersection.
Businesses' Auto Overhaul
Local businesses in Aurora, Colo., banded together to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/21/aurora-businesses-fix-stolen-jeep_n_974141.html" target="_hplink">restore a woman's Jeep that had been stolen and destroyed</a> following news reports of the unfortunate theft. After two weeks of nonstop work, Jovan Williams' Jeep was returned to her in 'better-than-new' condition.
5-Year-Old Girl's Well Wishes
Following a post on Reddit by her dad, Kyle, 5-year-old Alexis Blackburn received a flurry of cards and well wishes from caring strangers. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/alexis-blackburn-reddit_n_1680641.html" target="_hplink">overflow of support for Alexis</a> inspired someone to create a Reddit thread seeking other sick children in need of encouragement. (<a href="http://imgur.com/niLv8" target="_hplink">Image via Imgur</a>)
Blind Dog's Rescue
Fiona, a poodle mix, was sick, blind and infested with fleas when she was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/26/blind-dog-fiona-in-trash-rescue_n_1379889.html" target="_hplink">rescued from a trash heap</a> by Eldad Hagar and his wife Audrey. After a nationwide fundraising effort that raised $4,000 for an eye surgery, Fiona is now able to see in one eye. She was adopted by a caring family and is reportedly "doing amazing." <em><strong>CORRECTION:</strong> This slide has been updated to show the correct spelling of Eldad's last name.</em>
Bassett Hounds' 1,000-Mile Journey
After receiving a phone call from a Georgia animal shelter, Brenda Travis and her husband Tom Shield were overjoyed to learn that their basset hounds, who had been missing for five years, had been found. However, the couple, who had relocated to Kansas, did not have the means to pick up the dogs, so they <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/stolen-dogs_n_1678733.html" target="_hplink">turned to volunteers on Facebook</a> who offered to bring the dogs nearly 1,000 miles from the Georgia animal shelter to the couple's home in Kansas.