John Sears' rough stubble and weathered face invite comparisons to the pioneers who settled the American west. Perhaps that's intentional, because pioneers and wayward wanderers greatly inspire Sears.
Sears, a.k.a. "Mule," is a roamer of California, on a one man (and three mule) journey to reclaim natural spaces and public byways for those on two feet. Or four hooves.
"The way of life, this nomadic lifestyle, which is hundreds of thousands of years old, we brought it to the megatropolises," Sears says, comparing his journey to a lifelong protest "to San Diego, San Francisco, and LA."
The "we" is he and his three mules. According to Sears, Little Girl, the 26-year-old white mule, has been with him for 23 years; Lady, the 36-year-old brown mule, has been with him for 31 years; and Who-dee-doo, the 11-year-old palomino, has been with him since February.
Together, they meet barriers head on: seemingly impassable freeways, bridges created for cars only, and a constant slipstream of automobiles. Sears has been arrested, fined, and otherwise legally smacked many a time, he says.
Now, he's stuck at the Golden Gate Bridge, which he wants to cross to en route through San Francisco. But, hey, at least he's got his mules for company.
Although his mules are also the problem, according to the Golden Gate Bridge Authority.
The Authority won't let him pass because the mules can't safely (or legally) walk the bridge. It's a scenario that's happened before. SF Weekly
reported on Sears' quixotic quest to tilt at the Golden Gate Bridge in 2013
. The San Francisco Examiner
and other news outlets
also splashed his mules' long faces across the city.
Sears won't give up.
You see, cars, roads, and the little beeping gadgets in our pockets remove us from society, he tells us.
His journey is meant to highlight that divide
by showing the roads people can still traverse without cars (and, apparently, the roads they can't cross).
As of Friday, the 66-year-old Sears was still in Marin, waiting on word from the Authority to tell him he can cross the bridge. No matter how many times the Authority tells him he can't, Sears will still try to cross, or make the Authority pay (with tax dollars) to ferry him across the bridge.
Priya David Clemens is a spokeswoman for the Golden Gate Bridge District. She says the district tried to connect Sears to the National Park Service to see if they'd ferry him across. For some reason, that fell through.
While we couldn't reach the park service as of press time, Sears insists the Golden Gate Bridge District get him across. It's a matter of principle, he says.
Perhaps highlighting the very thing Sears is protesting, Clemens pleads the Authority's case while on a cell phone, from her car.
"We don't have trailers, we don't have any of that," Clemens insists to SF Weekly
. "We just have a bridge."
And Sears may be able to cross that bridge, Clemens says, if the Golden Gate Bridge District's board wrote an amendment to the district's master plan allowing for mules and other animals to use the pedestrian walkway.
That may open a can of worms, she says.
"The Ringling Brothers wanted to bring elephants across, locals want to bring their horses across," she says. "Ultimately, the bridge board decided to say no animals other than service animals."
(As a side note, if you'd like to contact the board on Sears' behalf, their email and phone info is here
Sears isn't daunted by his latest attempt to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, no matter how tall or steely its girders.
"We run into all these codes, laws, and ordinances of exclusion by design or on accident or somewhere in between," he says.
Roaming with his mules is a way of life. "It was in my bones since I was a kid."
In the end, barring Sears and his mules from crossing our international orange-colored icon isn't just about one man's offbeat journey. It's about what it means for all of us, our reliance on cars, and our ever-growing distance from nature.
"The result of this enforcement is the end of us," Sears says, "and we know it."