The Oregon Trail

The Winter months are a time for thinking about where to bike when the weather turns warmer.

“The Oregon Trail” by Rinker Buck is not about bicycling but it is about traveling slowly and seeing the real America and learning some of our unique American history and the author does this in today's world but the old fashioned way with three mules and a covered wagon accompanied by his brother exploring more than 2,000 miles following the original route.    The Brothers Buck post a sign “See America Slowly” on the back of their wagon and it is the same sign posted on another covered wagon from their youth back in 1958 when their father took their large family from New Jersey into Pennsylvania via horses and wagon. 

I grew up in upstate New York on the Pennsylvania border in this same era and although I rode horses as a youngster my favorite steed was a Huffy bicycle used to bike the roads and hills of our Southern Tier where I  dreamed of someday exploring our American West as did the heros the early books I found in our school library … Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill, Kit Carsen, Wyatt Earp, Jim Bridger, The Lone Ranger , The Cisco Kid and Hop-along Cassidy among others (some based on real people and others nearly as real with a little imagination).


Television was just coming into existence in the 1950s and like the author one of my favorites was “Wagon Train” with Ward Bond as the savvy wagon master Major Seth Adams who guided pioneers through new and often hostile lands across the vast plains to new lands filled with new challenges promising a new and better life to all willing to meet life head-on.  These wagon trains traveled from Missouri to California and The Oregon Trail was the major conduit West and later was largely paved over or turned into railroad beds but there remain maybe 400 miles in the original form.  

“The Oregon Trail” introduces readers to lots of people and places and events important in our history … the Western migration to new lands in the West …  The Pony Express … the Gold Fields of California … Mark Twain … Chimney Rock … South Pass … Brigham Young … The Amish migration to Salt Lake City … Plum Creek … Burnt Ranch … Rock Creek Crossing … Fort Laramie.

Pioneers faced more than a long, hard journey and a few Native Americans along the way.  Thousands made the early pilgrimages … 400,000 estimated to have attempted it in just the 15 years prior to our American Civil War (1845 to 1860 or thereabouts) and thousands died along the way and mostly from disease, weather and mistakes (falling off the wagon, lack of water, heat and sun, starving).  Current travelers by mule and wagon also faced similar challenges but of course have the modern technology of GPS, cell phones and mostly friendly local inhabitants to help them in meeting these challenges.

If you’ve had a chance to travel in our western states you probably passed by historical signs and markers of The Oregon Trail and maybe stopped to ponder what it took to do this before there was a road or highway.  Read this book and maybe like me it will inspire you to learn more about our history and plan a future drive or bike trip to see it up close. 

Jeff McPartland

Camp Hill, PA