In so many ways, yesteryear travel was not very different from the travails of travel today…
The first wagon train departed Missouri for what would eventually become the state of Oregon 172 years ago, on May 22, 1843. Over 1,000 men, women, and children, more than 100 wagons and 5,000 oxen, cattle, horses and mules trekked 2,000 miles on what became known as the Oregon Trail.
The pioneers faced numerous obstacles. The danger of Indian raids was more anticipated than actual. Most encounters were friendly, involving trade. Bad weather, drowning, falling off horses and mules, random gun shots, runaway wagons, disease - especially cholera - all resulted in casualties.
The journey proved most difficult through the mountains. Wagons dragged uphill sometimes careened out of control down steep trails.
The journey lasted four to six months, wagons averaging 15 miles a day. The only alternative was a treacherous sea voyage lasting a year.
About 10% of the daring souls perished along the route.
Not so much has changed today when traveling coast to coast.
Most travelers opt for modern transport – planes - but travelers face difficulties along the way. We can drive, but as Charles Kuralt wrote, “Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.”
Nowadays Indian raids have been replaced by TSA checkpoints and pat downs. Bad weather remains a problem, postponing and sometimes canceling flights. Car accidents en route, and pedestrians hit by vehicles entering or exiting airport arrival and departure lanes are today’s equivalent of runaway wagons. Disease rarely results in fatalities, but all manner of germs may be caught onboard, resulting in unpleasant but temporary maladies.
Thankfully almost all travelers reach their final destination safely.
Traffic jams occurred as wagon trains venturing West left about the same time, in early spring once new grass began to grow. The vegetation provided food for the animals. The strategy was to leave Missouri soon after grass sprouted and arrive at a destination before winter snows made passage impossible.
Fast forward to the 21st century and travelers can board a plane and land on the opposite coast a few hours later.
Assuming the plane gets off the ground.
Anyone flying out of Philadelphia understands air traffic jams. The pilot gets on the microphone and says, ”Welcome aboard F**K U Airlines. Once we are cleared for takeoff we will be flying through calm skies. Meanwhile we are 23rd in line on the runway. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the airport scenery…”
People over packed in the 1800s, forcing them to lighten loads by abandoning belongings.
Packing today has been elevated to an art form as airlines charge for baggage. Bulging, overweight suitcases of newbie travelers result in items being tossed out, placed somewhere on the body, or given away.
Why am I discussing the similarities between the pioneers of yesteryear and today’s travelers? Because hub and I are once again taking to the skies, Seattle our destination. Hub will work most of the time and I will play.
But first we must endure the hurdles travel poses before enjoying the wonders at our journey’s end.
Travel is only glamorous in retrospect.
- Paul Theroux