PALMYRA, Maine — A couple from Palmyra will be leaving Maine next month on a two-year odyssey to bring a message of community pride and hope to the rest of the country.
Traveling in a horse-drawn wagon he constructed himself, Randy Libby and his fiancee, Merilee Sherokow — who will be his bride by the time they leave — plan to circumnavigate the entire continental United States. If they complete their mission, it will be a Guinness world record.
They are calling it the Last American Freedom Ride.
But more important, the couple said this weekend, is the message they hope to bring along the way.
“This is about community-building,” Libby said. “The wagon and horses are to get people to pay attention.”
Libby said that with the current economic situation and world strife, Americans need to get back to the basics: caring for their neighbors, pride in community and backing U.S.-made products and goods.
“Everybody is too scared to lose and too broke to live,” Libby said. “And almost everyone I know is living paycheck to paycheck.”
“If people worked together, everything would be so much easier,” Sherokow said. “People think others don’t care, so they don’t care either. I think we are afraid of each other.”
The couple said that as they travel through the states, they will advertise locally produced, American-made goods on their wagon. They also will be hosting a radio program and making an independent film of the journey.
Each time they stop for the night, they will have a community singalong and bonfire. A cadre of volunteers, thanks to Libby’s MySpace page, have already offered hay, water, fields to stay in and home-cooked meals.
“Plenty of people along the way have been willing to help us,” he said. They cannot take the wagon on any toll roads or interstate highways and must use secondary roads.
“We’ll leave as soon as the snow is gone and the ground is dry,” Libby said. They plan to first head to Connecticut and then Pennsylvania — where they will pick up another pair of horses — and on to Florida. They will cross the bottom of the U.S. to California and then head north where they will cross the top of the country and head back to Maine.
They expect the trip to take two to three years, and they will be funded through company sponsorships. Libby already has signed on four companies that make American-produced clothing, household wares and horse feed.
“I have one open spot left for a Maine company,” he said.
The couple said they will get their message out through YouTube postings, their own radio station, Web pages and news outlets along their trip.
“Think of me as a nonprofit goodwill ambassador,” he said. Along the way, the couple plans to help with community projects in the various communities they pass through. They both have extensive experience in disaster areas, having spent years working in Florida and Louisiana in the wake of hurricanes.
“We’ll fix houses, build stairs, plant in parks — whatever needs to be done,” Libby said.
“People say there is so much wrong in the world,” Sherokow said. “We’ll solve just one little piece of the problem and then move on to the next. Can you imagine if everyone did just that one little piece in their community?”
“We are just hoping that this catches on,” Libby said. “As we sit around our bonfires at night, we are going to ask the people, ‘Do you know your neighbors?’ We are really hoping to reintroduce American values.”
“In this world, there appears to be more takers than givers,” Libby said. “Before you send $20 off to feed people in a country you have never seen, walk across the street and ask your neighbor if he has enough food to feed his children. You might be surprised.”
Libby, 44, and Sherokow, 41, have already linked up with bands around the country and are planning concerts to raise funds for community projects as they travel.
On Tuesday, the couple will approach the Hartland selectmen with an offer to send a portion of their collected funds from the sales of their sponsors’ products back to help offset the town’s financial debt. “Over a three-year period, they could have all their debt paid off,” Libby said.
The couple said they are simply trying to remind Americans that they are a good, caring people with a proud heritage. “This is the history I want to leave,” Libby said.
The wagon took Libby, who is a finish carpenter by trade, nearly a year to complete. It is cozy inside with a large bunk bed, pull-out tables, padded seats and an iron woodstove. The flannel sheets and pillowcases were handmade by Libby’s mother.
It is fully wired for solar lights, contains surround sound, musical equipment, a karaoke system and the latest in computers. A citizens’ band radio will keep the couple in touch with the many truckers who have been supporting their project.
“This is going to be quite an adventure,” Libby said.
Although they have not decided on a departure date, Libby said it will also be the couple’s wedding date.
“We’re going to pull the wagon up to the church, get married and be on our way,” he said.