August 17, 2008
Oregon Trail Diary
Distance: 528 miles
K. and I have decided to travel the Oregon Trail for our summer vacation, and I will keep a record of the journey here. I have written fairly often about the Oregon Trail in the past, but only in the form of the computer game. Now, we are on the trail ourselves, using K.'s Volks Wagon to make the trip.
There are a few places from which those historical pioneers set out on the trail, but we are beginning in Independence, Missouri, because that is where the game began. It is close to the border of Kansas. We left Chicago around 10AM, but stopped for breakfast before travel had begun in earnest. Later, at the edge of civilization - in a dire outpost called North Aurora - we stopped at a Target to buy a football. It was agreed that vigorous games of catch at rest stops would promote good health and constitution. K. asked that we purchase a Nerf football instead of a regulation NFL football, which might bonk her on the nose and break her glasses. Curiously, though, there were no Nerf products on the shelves of the Target. What happened to Nerf? They were the Microsoft of our childhood. How could they disappear? Did they diversify into fields for which their solid foam was not qualified, such as the manufacture of Nerf space shuttles, and dissolve under lawsuits? I don't know. It was a disturbing omen. Nevertheless, we found a plastic Amazing Spider-Man football that met K.'s requirements, so all is well. (The clerk asked if we wanted a gift receipt for the football, assuming that we intended to give it as a present to a child, providing said urchin with a momentary distraction from the crushing despair of childhood in the barren wasteland of North Aurora. No, clerk! We are pioneers, in search of places better than this.)
My iPod's battery ran out a couple of hours before we reached Independence. Many pioneers faced that problem on the trail, and found that the guys at Fort Laramie were total dicks about letting them use their outlets. So we are going to have to be more disciplined about ensuring that things remain charged. K. has an iPod as well, but it is mostly just the Top Gun soundtrack and Jets to Brazil, so that is what we were listening to as we arrived in the Kansas City metropolitan area, which includes Independence.
Here are the basic theories with which I play Oregon Trail on the computer:
1. Load up on oxen for speed.
2. Don't waste money on sets of clothes. If you leave early enough in the year, it won't get cold enough for pneumonia to be an issue.
3. Leave in April. (See #2.)
4. Buy a minimal amount of food and begin hunting more or less immediately after departure.
5. Carry spare wagon parts.
6. Play as a farmer from Illinois.
Here are the ways in which we have already broken those rules:
1. We are not going to buy any oxen, relying entirely on the internal combustion engine of the Volks Wagon. (As I recall, Matt will not let you out of the General Store without oxen, so this would be a deal-breaker in the actual game.)
2. K. brought ten sets of clothes from home. I brought less, but more than zero. We will be clothed throughout this trip.
3. We have left in mid-August. This creates a severe risk that South Pass is going to be snowed over and we'll be stuck there for the winter; the name of the Donner Party has already been invoked. But K. just finished grad school, so we are forced into this late departure by the same institutions of higher learning that made us aware it is a mistake. School: same as it ever was.
4. Despite my urging that we needed to wait to stock up at Matt's General Store, K. bought some provisions at CVS before we left Chicago. (She paid more than .20 per pound, which is Matt's rate, so she got ripped off.) It is extremely unlikely that we will do any hunting along the trail, although I am cool with finding wild fruit, if it is there to be found.
5. We have a spare tire and jumper cables, so we are sort of in keeping with this one. If the Volks Wagon axle breaks along the trail, though, we will be stranded.
6. We are from Illinois, but neither of us is a farmer, and we are better-funded than farmers typically were when they made the trip. (It's a shame - considering the number of oxen we could buy at Matt's prices, we would probably arrive in Oregon before we had even left Independence, and wind up demonstrating various of Einstein's theorems.)
We left I-435 at exit 69 and found three inns to choose from. With the rates comparable at all three, we selected the Days Inn, hoping that the warm, lodge-like atmosphere of its lobby and its charming front desk staff were reflective of the rooms. They were not, but we will make camp here, and begin our preparations for the trail tomorrow. (I have to ask a local where Matt's General Store actually is.)