“Keep it simple” is a phrase near and dear to 66-year-old John Sears, otherwise known as The Mules or 3 Mules.
For the last 10 years, Sears said he has been living outdoors day and night with his mules (hence the nickname), remaining "in motion" is his destination. His testament has been documented around the globe in various publications, and after a local resident tipoff Patch caught up with Sears as he trekked along the Santa Rosa Plateau in Southwest Riverside County with two mules in tow.
“There’s not a day I don’t enjoy,” Sears told Patch as he walked with 34-year-old Lady and 24-year-old Little Girl.
Sears didn’t complain about the twigs in his shirt or his dirty hands. Weathered, thin and well spoken, he said, "We’re out here because we want to be. Our goal is to keep moving. It’s essential for physical and mental well being.”
As cars and trucks whizzed passed him on Avenida La Cresta in unincorporated area west of the Wildomar city limits, Sears had a message for mankind: “The automobile is literally seizing all the space. The outdoor places to stop and rest are disappearing so fast. Metropolis needs to retreat.”
Sears admitted he creates a lot of public attention with his mules and his appearance, and he’s just fine with that. He doesn’t characterize himself as homeless or destitute.
“This is where I live,” he said, waving his arm across the open expanse of the Plateau. “People who live in houses think there’s always a destination. I go south in the winter and north in the summer."
Thursday, however, Sears did have a side journey in mind. He was on his way to meet a Plateau resident who had a mule for him.
“I usually travel with three,” he explained, noting that one of his pack was no longer fit for the journey and had to be retired from travel. Lady and Little Girl were loaded down with gear – a sleeping bag, some clothes, food, water, a SmartPhone.
Indeed, Sears is connected. In an effort to promote his message about a simple life and maintaining public open space, he stays in touch with his more than 25,000 fans on Facebook.
“That’s how I found out about this woman I am going to see,” he said.
His Facebook page titled “3 Mules” is full of photos, musings, and activities Sears has posted. He’s far from out of the loop. On Jan. 3, for example, he posted this message on Facebook: “The Mules are heading to LA City Hall today to deliver a request that more funds be directed toward a trail system that connects all communities together. A trail network will allow people an alternative way to travel safely for their health and the health of the environment. Mule asks that if you support this idea, please let your local elected officials know and add a comment here. Thanks.”
A website devoted to The Mules’ travels has also been established and it includes photos, a travelogue, links to news stories, updates on citations Sears has received for alleged illegal camping, and a bit about the man who maintains the website, John McDonald. There’s even mention of Sears’ financial situation.
“From time to time the Mules may need to purchase something that is beyond their means in order to continue the journey and share it with you. Even though many have suggested it, Mule does not want to have an open-ended funding depository. He is a man of simple needs and simple wants,” the website reads.
Sears said Thursday his financial needs are few. He grazes his animals where he can, cares for their hooves himself, and requires little for himself.
“It’s very simple living,” he explained.
Sears said his current lifestyle has been ongoing for the last decade, but he practiced it on and off for the 20 years prior. He said he’s been as far east as Arkansas and as far north as Santa Rosa with Lady and Little Girl.
“They’re getting old now and so am I. We don’t go that far anymore,” he explained.
Patch asked Sears which direction he might head if the replacement mule works out.
“We’re about as far south as we’ll probably go. We go where it's warm, where there's grass for them," he said, pointing to Lady and Little Girl.
He smiled, and in parting said, "It’s been a pleasure talking with you. Take care and good luck."