Saturday, December 12, 2009

Freezing Family History

I've driven from Oregon to Idaho and back more times than I could possibly hope to count. Several times a year for twenty-five years. Seven times this year alone.

During these past twenty-five years, I have been to the water wheel my great-grandfather (or was it my great-great-grandfather?) built next to what is now a rest area on the west side of Ladd Canyon. I've stopped and hiked to the Multnomah Falls bridge a couple dozen times or more. I've detoured to my grandpa's headstone in The Dalles several times.

But not once have I seen the Oregon Trail. Even though my ancestors traversed it fearlessly. Even though it helped to fulfill their hopes of a better life. Even though I wouldn't be here without it.

Last Monday, as we once again made the drive to Idaho in freezing cold weather, Jeff just couldn't keep his eyes open anymore by the time we got to Farewell Bend. I got behind the wheel and followed the signs from the gas station back to the freeway, ready to push us to Boise.

And then, on the same post, I saw two signs. One arrow pointed left toward the freeway entrance, and the other, pointing straight ahead, invited me to finally make my way at long last to an Oregon Trail site.

On a whim, I bypassed the freeway and steered us toward a dirt lane. A mile or two out, after guessing, "Is this it?" at every possible depression in the ground along the way, we parked in a well-marked area, bundled up as much as we could against the searing, biting wind, and hiked twenty yards or so to this:

Here's what it says:

Yay! The trail! After twenty-five years! So exciting!

I explained to the boys how cool it was that we were standing where our ancestors had passed before. I went on and on about covered wagons, extreme conditions, a typical day's distance, etc. See how impressed they were? "Mom, it's freezing! When are we getting back in the car?"

Jeff turned around from where we stood and zoomed in to take this picture of the trail coming down the hill. See it? In the upper center of the photo?

Here's Jeff trying to take a picture of us with the zoom still on:

Aha! There we are? Did I mention it was cold out?

This cold, to be precise:

We had it worse than our ancestors, of course, because they were here in the warmth of summer, not the dead of winter. Poor us. Never mind the fact that we got back in our car, cranked the heat, and drove in two hours what took them two weeks to trek across. We've come a long way, baby.

But not long enough to make this phrase completely irrelevant:

Happy trails to you!