Maybe it was nostalgia for history or for the computer game, but a year ago I decided to spend one summer traveling alongside the Oregon Trail.
How’d it go? The short answer: No one died from dysentery.
I didn’t find gold, but I did strike it rich when it came to eating delicious food and seeing amazing sites. As a wino, I was obligated to stop at Martha’s Vineyards. I’d dreamed of seeing Yellowstone National Park and the legendary Old Faithful Geyser since I was a kid. Mount Rushmore turned the four famous presidents on U.S. currency into monolithic giants, and I stood humbled at the foot of the sculpture.
Niagara Falls was my favorite site, with its three massive 167-foot waterfalls that straddle two countries. That was until I fell in love with Oregon, and I may or may not want to marry the state. The tourist’s traps didn’t woo me. There was more to it all.
Everywhere I Went I Had the Same Realization…
Oregon locals really love their state, and they saw that I was falling in love, too. The history there is palpable, even in a state making so many innovations with architecture, art and public policy and service.
There’s something about the knowledge that you’re going on a search for adventure and self-discovery alongside a trail where thousands once sought something similar. This road trip route was 2,170 miles long. Imagine making the journey by walking or riding in a wagon!
The passionate need for perseverance and survival to get to your promised land is a powerful feeling. The trail begins in Providence, Massachusetts—It’s only now that I consider how ironic that is.
That powerful feeling was driven home many times as I “touched ruts” and met up with the real trail, wagon wheel ruts still visibl well after the 1840’s. Seven miles of wagon ruts still run across Virtue Flat, which is southeast of Flagstaff Hill and popular for off-roading adventures. Nearby, I stayed in Baker City, a sophisticated cow town where there’s still an abundance of big belt buckles and boots. My favorite little getaway was in a downtown market called Bella, over on Main Street with killer coffee and a great selection of wine.
While at Bella, my mind kept coming back to the ruts. Travelers would’ve spent days ascending Burnt River. In certain places, the ruts parallel each other, revealing how teams seemed to race in the rush to reach Powder River and see the first glance of the Promised Land.
When I witnessed the deep ruts in Oregon, nostalgia clicked into feeling a connection with those who had traveled the real Oregon Trail—to see a piece of living history places you in that time period. There is no separation between you and those who lived then. I had arrived.
Modern Pioneers Appreciate Ruts and Fill Their Guts with Pizza
For a moment, I thought I was a history nerd or some sentimental nut. Then, the Oregon locals seemed to walk around with that same awareness in everyday, modern life: appreciation.
While in Oregon City, I stayed at the Clackamas River House, which is this gorgeous bed and breakfast on the Clackamas River, where you can go fishing, boating or just enjoy the ducks and geese. The Clackamas River was an important detour for pioneers following the 80-to-110 mile Barlow Road, which avoided the danger of the journey along the Columbus River. These days you can drive along the scenic Columbia River Highway, whose views won’t disappoint.
Even though I was taking a road trip, I stayed a few extra days in Oregon to sample local life and taste the food. I didn’t have to type “BANG” to hunt for elk for dinner, but I did decide to try a few “Pioneer” things over in the “Pioneer City” of Oregon City. A local told me to taste the Pioneer Pale Ale at the Oregon City Brewing Company, which hit the spot after a long journey. A slice of taco pizza at Pioneer Pizza added spice to a side adventure.
After 2,000 plus miles of history, the modern pioneer wants a good slice of pizza and a beer. Keep in mind that the true pioneers didn’t have pizza, but they ate well enough when there was food in stock. Dinner might have consisted of roast veal, soup, vegetables, fish or poultry. Still, the Oregon trail wasn’t forgiving when the stock ran low. It was a long and hard road, as is life.
We say that life’s a journey, and we mostly push through it, not taking the time to admire where we’ve been. We only see passing moments, as we take aim for we’re going. Not all make it, but those who do live to make their marks. I have to say that the journey back from Oregon held more meaning than any road trip I’ve ever taken, as I recalled the wagon wheel ruts and took inspiration away to make my own marks in life.