I first became interested in the Oregon Trail about 15 years ago when I wrote some materials for a children's project at work. The unit was on great American rivers, and the section I was involved with focused on the Columbia River. We covered the geography, the geology and the environment; but the majority of interest seemed to be on the history surrounding the river, beginning with the Native Americans, then following with Lewis & Clark and the great migration of Americans that started in the 1830s and continued on until . . . well, today.
I remember reading about Marcus Whitman and his wife Narcissa, who crossed the mountains in 1836 along what was to become the Oregon Trail. Narcissa was one of the first women of European descent to settle in the Northwest. She gave birth to a daughter, who unfortunately drowned at age two in the Walla Walla River.
The Whitman couple built a mission that became a major stopping off point on the Oregon Trail, but they met a tragic end in 1847 when they were blamed for a measles outbreak that killed several hundred Cayuse Indians. The Indians attacked the mission and killed 13 people, including Marcus and Narcissa. The massacre led to the Cayuse War which only ended after several Cayuse were tried and hanged for murder and the tribes were defeated by the American military.
I also (I must confess) recall playing The Oregon Trail video game, which was a favorite in our house in the 1990s. But that's a different story.
Anyway, I came up with an idea for a trip about a month or so ago. I read a book called The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck, who followed the original Oregon Trail by mule-drawn wagon a few years ago.
The three-year lease on my car is up in June. I'd signed up for 15,000 miles per year, and so by now should be up close to 45,000 miles. But I've only driven about 34,000 miles. My idea? Drive from the East Coast to Seattle, following in the footsteps, as much as practicable, of Rinker Buck and those early American pioneers (and The Oregon Trail video game).
Then, after taking about a month to go 3000+ miles by land, I'll turn in my leased car in Seattle and fly home. I'll pick up my new car -- and still get credit for some unused miles, which means I'll pay for a new lease at the 10,000 mile rate, but have an allowance of about 12,500 miles, which I figure is about how many miles I'll be driving in the next three years.
When I mentioned this scheme to B, she looked at me askance and said, "So you're going to take a month and spend -- what is this going to cost, probably $6,000 or $7,000? -- just to use up a few extra miles on your car?"
I thought about that for a moment. "Well . . . yeah," I finally said, "I guess that's kind of ass backwards." I paused, then brightened. "But it's cheaper than vacationing in Europe or Hawaii. Will you come with me?"
"Sure," she said, "It'll be fun. Can we make a few side trips to see a national park or stay on a ranch along the way?"
"Absolutely," said I, "as long as it doesn't involve too much extra driving. I'm sure we'll be sick of driving before this is all over."
B has also been wanting to go visit her grandson in Charleston, SC, who just started walking last week. So the plan is: She'll fly to to Charleston for a few days, while I make the drive to Independence, MO, where the Oregon Trail begins. I'll pick her up at the Kansas City airport and we'll begin our trip.
Wish us luck. I hope we'll see a bit of the country that we've never seen before. (I've been to Portland and Seattle, but never to Nebraska, Wyoming or Idaho.) And I trust B and I will still be on speaking terms after having spent a month on the road together. At least, I'm sure, we'll fare better than Marcus and Narcissa Whitman.