"We had problems on Poway Road, where it was narrow."
A feeling of déjà vu struck John Sears and perhaps his two mules when county sheriffs recently escorted them out of the Poway city limits.
"It was about a week ago," Sears said to me on February 7, "we had problems on Poway Road, where it was narrow."
"He escorted us off Poway Road to the 67 where they intersect."
During this time of the year, the 73-year-old nomad walks our county's streets and bush with his mules, Little Ethel and Little Girl in tow.
The three were almost at Mina De Oro Road, the turnoff to get to the Poway Equestrian Center where the "the mules were invited to stay.
"Then two cruisers showed up. I guess it was from the county sheriff's [department]. They stopped us and told us flat out we could not be on the road."
A third patrol vehicle pulled up, Sears said.
"He was a little bit more reasonable. He started with the same ultimatum [saying] this road was not made for horses, and [the mules] can't be walking on this road. He went back to his cruiser, talked to somebody for a while, then he escorted us off Poway Road to the 67 where they intersect."
A couple of days later, and about 17 miles south of Poway, Julie spotted the three outside her flower shop by Mission Valley.
"I rushed out to greet them and brought red carnations with me which John [Sears] immediately put on his mules' ears," she posted on the 3Mules.com website on February 4. "[It was an] awesome, pure nature and heart-warming experience. If you see them, please take a moment to stop and chat with John and enjoy his beautiful mules. They live a nomadic life and are at peace with this earth and lifestyle – a carefree and spreading joy to others without even knowing it. God is good, and I am blessed to have met John and his precious mules."
Camp. "The ‘megatropolis’ has packed the world with machines, and it is a horrible mess."
When Sears and I spoke on the phone on Superbowl Sunday, he said I could refer to him as "Monk or Mule." Their website, 3Mules.com, and linked Facebook account and Instagram account with the same name, journal their almost-daily adventures. While Sears corresponds directly with many of their 53,000 Facebook followers and 5,400 plus Instagram followers, he admitted they have an undisclosed "magical" woman who has helped with the site's blogs and social media posts since 2014.
On February 5, the three made their way to City Heights, where people photographed them strolling on a 54th Street and El Cajon Boulevard sidewalk. A fan commented underneath the photographs, "Will you take a break from walking at this point, or do you never take a break?" Sears responded: "Yes, people offer their property from time to time for the mules to stop and rest for a couple of days. The mules get plenty of rest, and they are by no means traveling day in and day out."
On a 54th Street and El Cajon Boulevard sidewalk
While most commenters on the 3 Mules' social media accounts are supportive of the lifestyle they've "been living for the past 35 years," there are those in disagreement. "If we all packed the streets with mules, it would be a mess," opined a Central Valley dweller. "Come on, man, time to retire and enjoy life. Mules are soulless animals put under human dominion. Treat them well is the best you can do for them, and then they die." Sears was quick to respond, "The ‘megatropolis’ has packed the world with machines, and it is a horrible mess [with] anger, depression, confusion, and a deteriorating world all around us."
Before Sears and I spoke, he messaged me a link on their site with a video titled "CHP Dashcam Video of 3 Mules Arrest .... January 23, 2020." The 3:20 video depicts the California Highway Patrol officers arresting Sears near San Luis Obispo, 300 miles north of San Diego.
"I went to jail for about 24 hours; they stripped me down to my shorts and a t-shirt and put me in an ice-cold cell."
"And what about the mules?" I asked.
"They hauled them off to an animal shelter that's about a quarter of a mile away from the jail, so I just walked down the road, and I had to pay $266 to get them out."
As we spoke, I could hear traffic passing them as they walked down Beyer Boulevard between Chula Vista and Imperial Beach. Sears messaged me another link to their page that's headlined, "The Mules sue the California Highway Patrol over their right to travel on the public thoroughfare."
Sears in Sacramento
"We submitted the complaint on January 21, and I believe Todd Cardiff is in the process of suing the arresting officer, and what comes after that, I don't know."
Sears added that Cardiff, a San Diego-based attorney, is handling their case "pro bono."
"Assuming this case goes to trial," how long will it take you and the mules to walk back up to San Luis Obispo?" I asked.
"We'd average about 15 miles a day, and the quickest way to go up there is through the 101 corridor."
That's about a 20-day trek for the 3 Mules.