As I write this, I am visiting family in Washington State, not too far from the end point of the Oregon Trail. I left my home in Kansas City, Missouri, very near Independence – one of several jumping off points for the early emigrants.
The rainy spring weather in the Pacific Northwest reminds me of the difficulties the travelers along the Oregon Trail faced in the early days of their journey. It was important to leave early enough in the year to reach Oregon before the fall snows began in the Blue and Cascade mountains. But the travelers had to wait long enough for the prairie grasses to support the oxen, mules and other animals they depended on. Timing was everything.
In the 21st century, over 160 years after the emigrants traveled, I’ve driven the trip in three and a half days. On this trip, I flew it in just a few hours. A far cry from the six months the Oregon pioneers took.
Yes, the weather can cause wrinkles in our travel plans, but we are delayed by at most a day or two. And our travels are unlikely to cause death from injury, exposure, or lack of food or water.
Could the emigrants to Oregon have predicted that crossing a continent would take only hours? Could they ever have imagined flying over the rivers and mountain peaks that caused them such danger?
Can we imagine the courage it took them to leave their homes for the difficulties of the trail and the unknowns of their new world?