I love to hear the pitter patter of rain on my roof. It’s usually quite calming. Even as it begins to get heavier and I hear the sound of the thunder and the flash of lightning come closer together, I am still at peace. But just as I am about to drift off to sleep a clap of thunder startles me and I remember that I am “on” the Oregon Trail. My peace is gone as my brain frantically searches it’s research memory bank to try and recall what they would have done on such a night.
It’s still early on the trip, we haven’t even been on the trail for thirty days as yet, which means the wagons are still pretty full with provisions. There would be no room to crawl into the safety of the wagon.
Some brought along tents to sleep in but most would sleep out under the stars or under the wagon. The wind rocks my sturdy little Wildwood Conestoga and I am literally worried to where I can’t sleep wondering what they would have done. Lightning flashes and cracks across the sky and lights up the inside of my camper.
I was lying in my bed already planning and plotting how I was going to have to hook up the camper and leave even while it was storming. I was going to put a dry towel and a dry change of clothes in the truck, add a dry towel to the seat. Don’t wear jeans, they hold too much water. Which hoodie should I wear? You’ll want to hurry, I’m reminding myself, but don’t go so fast you forget a step… that’s even more dangerous…
I thought, I will be as tired as they would have been… I can’t sleep for thinking. They couldn’t sleep for all the rain… and the potential dangers of lightening and fierce winds, flash floods…being out on the open praire with no protection. No trees. Nothing.
How terrifying for them. They could have gotten no sleep. They couldn’t possibly be dry no matter where they went. And here, still in Nebraska, the rain is coming down so hard and so fast that the ground can’t absorb it making streams and soaking the ground and everything in it’s path.
What did they do? What did they do?
Did they have towels to dry their faces? Did they have a change of clothes? A change of shoes? Their blankets had to be soaked. Their tents would have blown over. Their lean-tos would have been useless. What did they do?
The panic that I feel, even while in the safety of my own bed is real. This is how I make the scenes for my books so vivid, because before I write them, I can feel them. Even as I write this, though the storm has passed and the sun is shining, the panic swells back up in my chest as I think about their discomfort. Their weariness. And the children.
And the horses! And the cattle! No protection!
The storm raged pretty fiercely all through the night but by morning, it was finished with it’s tantrum and went on its way.
I was able to hook up the camper to the truck with little inconvenience other than some mud. I’m sure we both assessed the damages, if any and make adjustments. They had to rise at 4- hook up the oxen to their wagons, load up all their wet gear (hopefully get to change into some dry clothes) and trudge through the thick, muddy grass onto their next stop.
Today, I am driving the equivalent of 16 of their travel days.
The Camping Life
I love the camping life.
When I was a child, I would wait not so patiently for my dad to come home from work. He would back the trunk in (instead of forward) so he could hook up our little pop-up camper.
My mom had been packing and sorting and meal planning so all would be ready when he got home.
My sister and I would get to bring along ONE friend. (my brother was still just a baby) And, kudos to the parents for that clever plan, because with a friend along we were happily entertained and barely came back to the campsite for food.
My bicycle tires got SO many miles! We hiked and swam and explored and got dirty. Our campsites were almost always "primitive" so there weren't many amenities... no swimming pool. No electric. No flushing toilets. Just you and nature.
In fact, it was a rule that once we got there, no more watches. No electronic devices and no talking shop. (school or work!)
This was where I learned basic survival skills. I got to play with sharp instruments AND fire! I learned to steer a canoe and became a strong swimmer. We got to drink Vess soda and I was trusted to wander and explore to my heart's content.
When my father left us, that was pretty much the end of my camping adventures.
But it was still some of the very best memories of my childhood.
When I became an adult, it became very important to me to make sure my children were exposed to that kind of adventure.
We started with a tent and the basics and even found my childhood campground- which is still one of my very favorite places on earth. (My first book, Captive Heart was placed there, it's on the front cover!)
I was amazed at how quickly everything came back to me. All my memories and "training". jumped at the chance to come forward again. And the same "rules" applied. I taught my kids (and those that tagged along) how to build a fire, how to be strong swimmers, how to embrace the dark and appreciate the stars and NO electronic devices. No video games, no radios, no watches and eventually, no cell phones. Just us and nature. Even kids need to learn to sit still and relax.
It only took one rainy weekend with 4 kids in tow to realize that tent camping was not for me. We upgraded to a pop up...
And we became unstoppable.
We took that little camper everywhere! Again... some of my favorite memories.
The kids were able to see things they might never had the opportunity to see!
As the kids grew up and went their own grown-up ways, I realized that I wanted more... and less.
I hate being cold. I've hated it my whole life. So project number one was to figure out how to not be cold anymore. If I never saw snow again...
I hit that place in life where I questioned, "Is this all there is? There's still so much I wanted to do and to see... I wasn't built to live and die in the same town, was I?"
And I was surrounded by... stuff. So much stuff! Stuff that I coveted and drug from home to home and thought I couldn't bare to live without!
Until I realized that I was really only using three rooms in my three bedroom home that it dawned on me.
1. I don't need all this stuff.
2. I don't need all this space.
3. Life DOES have options. Really and truly, if there is a will, there IS a way... you just have to be open to the unconventional possibilities.
I bought a camper. I moved in to said camper and I haven't looked back.
I have only "recently" been able to use my camper(s)- for there have been a few by now- for it's intended purpose, and that is to move about the country, but now that I have... I am just so... happy.
I love the camping life.
I love the simplistic ways. I love living minimally. (Oh, I'm still plenty spoiled, but thanks to my upbringing, I wouldn't know how to "glamp" or camp in luxury even if it was offered to me.)
So I still choose low-key campgrounds, I still love a good campfire, I still love walking, hiking and exploring. I love having a new front yard when I open my door. (One that never has to be tended by me!)
I have made new friends, seen some amazing sights and learned so many things...
When it is time for me to stop traveling and I am forced to act my age, I can honestly say I'm looking forward to the memories that will keep me company.
Are There Rules?
Whenever I tell someone that I’m following the Oregon Trail, revisiting it as a modern pioneer, they either smile politely and nod, or if they are curious they’ll ask- what exactly does that mean?
Well, in this particular, personal case, I have chosen to narrow down my experience to the 1840s. I’m following thier routes. I’m following thier practices/ recipes and routines, as I make my way toward the end goal of Oregon City, Oregon. The 1840s is still considered the beginning of the emigration. They weren’t really sure where they were going. They didn’t have much of an idea of how to prepare or what might befall them, they were just ready for a change. Ready enough to sell off everything but what could fit into a wagon or two and set out to meet their options for a different life. I can appreciate that…
While I will dip into the other two centuries where Oregon Trail travel was still very popular- I couldn’t help myself if I tried, but I’m trying to focus my “experiences” in that first decade.
So…what are the rules?
I don’t have any hard-fast rules, but chose to go with the flow and implement what I can. Obviously, I’m not traveling by horse and buggy, but I am in my trusty truck Xander (which counts as 300 plus horse power(?), and my little covered wagon of a camper- Marlee, a 24 foot, just enough to make me somewhat comfortable between worlds. (I need to have my office and computer, for work, and then there’s coffee… do I really need to justify that?? Lol)
I have done some research… but not too much more than what we might have learned in school, if our teacher really liked the time period. I have never seen these things before and I want them to be as much of a first impression when I share them, but also as I safely can. Meaning, I'm not going into something totally blind.
So, I am learning as I go. I study up on where I am headed and then when I get there, and am seeing the things for the first time. Once I'm there, whatever catches my interest, or "moves the story forward" I’ll deep dive and learn more about them. And then in the facebook group History Revisited, I share what I am learning in little bite size pieces and lots of photos. And now, for those who want more detail or more information, I’ll add that here. (Eventually there will also be a podcast, but I just can't seem to get my act together to make that a thing. It's very time consuming and I need to not spread myself too thin. Easier said than done. I have SO much I want to do!)
I am doing my best to follow the trail in “real time”. Now I can’t plod along in the slow lane, blinkers on at 5 miles per hour the whole way, so I make jumps. I’ll go a certain distance and then do a big circle around where I land to cover all of the interesting sites and museums and then I’ll move to the next spot. So if it took them 6 weeks to cross Nebraska, it will for me too. (And I’m going by the recorded maps and journals to plot out my timeline and things I see. I am a tourist nerd!)
As far as experiences go, I am trying not to go “out to eat”. I have stocked up on the same supplies as the pioneers were encouraged to do and am curious to see how I fair with just that. It’s a lot of beans, bacon and bread…
Right now, I’m still early in the game, so I am still finishing off all of my “fresh food”. Like eggs, cheese, lettuce, fruit and milk (for my coffee- not sure if I’ll cave and get more half n half for the coffee, or if I’ll learn to do without or just give it up entirely…)
I’ve given up ready-made food, so nothing in a box, nothing pre-made. I do make use of the luxury of refrigeration. All of my meats are either refrigerated or frozen. All of my beans are raw, everything has to be made from scratch. (I did purchase some granola already toasted and sweetened with vanilla in bulk)
I have given up soda. I do have a filter for my water, let’s not get crazy. Don’t want to die of dysentery.
I'm not being drastic or unreasonable, but I am trying to stretch my boundaries to make it a learning experience.
I would love to be able to get up at 4 and eat my breakfast cooked on a fire every morning and be ready to start my day by 7:30, but I haven’t found that much dedication yet. (I have recently retired and to me, retirement is all about NOT having an alarm! Lol) Maybe it will come, but for right now, I still let myself sleep until I wake up and I make my coffee in the automatic coffee pot. (I honestly didn’t think about getting a firepit coffee pot, otherwise I probably would have tried it!)
The object is not to see how much misery I can handle, it’s to experience parts of their life so as to bring it forward. I have never made bread from scratch, never needed to. I’ve never cooked using cast iron. I’ve never had to walk everywhere, conserve water, ration out my food, milk a cow or learn about disease…
What makes history fascinating to me was their day to day life. We are the same on the inside. But the things they did from one day to another are so very different from the life that I have. I have never really had to do certain things in order to survive.. except, perhaps pay attention to traffic rules and what not.
I want to revisit this historical era with modern eyes and appreciate- truly appreciate how good I have it. How absolutely amazing these people were that faced these unknowns.
I can always bail on my alternate universe and slip into a Walgreens or a Taco Bell, but I’m just… trying this. I want to see how my body adjusts for one. But I think a bit of humility may be in order for two. I take things for granted. I’m spoiled. And even though I’m choosing campgrounds that are primitive or a step above, I’m still spoiled. I draw the line at sleeping on the ground! This body is TOO old for that!
Are there rules? Kinda? I might be making them up as I go along. But I sure am enjoying the ride.
It’s just an experiment. There’s no right or wrong. Win or lose. Pass or fail. It’s more than a vacation, but less than a Discovery Channel series.
But I do take it seriously. I am sincere as I am revisiting history and becoming acquainted with a time gone by and documenting things as I go. As a modern pioneer… I’m off on adventure. A new view of an old route.
I’m glad that you’re here with me. I am always open to suggestions to things I should try or places I need to see along the way. I have a list of 1840s recipes, I’d like to sort through and see how many I can make. I’d like to know about their survival skills. I'd like to shoot a black powder rifle. I’d like to milk a cow and make butter and fresh ice cream. Id like to ride a horse and gallop freely across the prairie. I’d like to cook over an open fire. I’d like to learn how to sew and do leather work. I’d like to dive in a bit more and learn about the people who made this trip before me. Maybe I’ll even sleep outside under the stars by the fire, once.
There are lots of options that may present themselves as I make my way through unseen territory and experience brand new things from a time gone by, brought back to life from a modern day perspective.
I guess we will have to see what presents itself.
If you want to take a bigger part of my adventure, be sure to join the History Revisited Facebook Group. That's the most immediate interaction. I post all my photos and love to converse with everyone there! Jump in and join us!
There's another option if you're interested in a more personal experience with my travels. It's the PostCard Club. This is a group that receives postcards from me where ever I go, about 3-4 times per month and then if you'd like, you can upgrade to receiving magnets every month or even an entire gift box filled with goodies from places I stop along the way. Souvenirs, locally made edibles, other unique items I find every stop I make. To find out more or to sign up- click here.
The Blog Make-over
This blog is getting a complete make-over. I have neglected it for so long and so much has changed since my last entry.
Quick catch up...
- I am a full-time traveler now. I have purchased a small 24' camper and currently am following the Oregon Trail with modern eyes. Retracing the steps and lifestyles of our ancestors as they braved the wild, yet untamed west to find a new life in Oregon or California... This is something I've always wanted to do and finally decided, that if I didn't do it now, I might not ever get the chance... so I'm out here livin the dream.
- If you have followed me for any length of time, you'd know my companion, Meera. My Great Dane- she passed away and I can't bare to even think about getting another dog at this time... maybe never, her loss was so great.
I have a black cat, Oakley who is doing her very best to fill in the gaps.
- I am a podcaster! I create, write and host the podcast Bag of Bones. It's about the dark and creepy or just sometime peculiar history of America. BEHIND the microphone!
I love it! It pretty much has taken the place of this blog and is of course focused on American history, but it's how I have been connecting with the world, as late.
I enjoy the whole podcast arena, that I am on the cusp of releasing the next podcast as well. This one will be more focused on one particular time frame, so I can go deeper into one area. It's called Trails of History and since I'm following the original Oregon Trail... you can probably guess what the first season will be. Lol!
The Bag of Bones Podcast is available wherever you listen to your podcasts, so be sure to subscribe so as not to miss one!
The Bag of Bones Podcast also has it's own fb page, if that's your jam, I'd love to have you like and follow there! (Or if your preference is Instagram... I usually forget this platform, so I apologize in advance!)
- I have also started coaching writers to help them get their first book ready for publish, from first thoughts to finding the best way to publish to marketing... it is very rewarding and time consuming! But again, it's a labor of love and so worth it!
-So, as you can see by all the busy-ness above, I have not been doing my OWN writing for minute... or two. I am sorry. I know most of you here have found me because of my books and I am so thankful for that, and I am doing my best to get back to that as well. The good news is, the requests I've been getting for another historical fiction are probably going to be granted. Being out here on the same ground that the pioneers traveled, my brain can barely keep quiet!
This blog space is going to become more of a journal than a teaching avenue as I share what is happening along my travels. This already has been such an experience. I am humbled to be allowed to follow this dream of mine to re-visit history and bring it to you in a new light so it does not slip away.
If you want photos and regular- immediate- journey update, my History Revisited Facebook page is your best bet for that! I'm there almost every day.
And for more of the "teaching" side of things, if you're wanting to learn more about the Oregon Trail, the people, what their day to day lives looked like, be sure to tune in to the podcast. I'll let you know when it comes out!
I think that brings us up to speed! Thanks for hanging in there with me, or coming back around, and if you're new here... welcome. I'm glad you're here.
More to come.
No really, I promise. :)
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