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Over the past few summers I have tackled the National Road, the Oregon Trail, and I've motorcycled to the Arctic Circle (Yukon) and Alaska. In the summer of 2013 I tackled Illinois Route 1. Starting on the south side of Chicago, Illinois 1 is the longest state highway, meandering south until it ends in Cave In Rock, Illinois, on the banks of the Ohio River. Once again, I operated with the assistance of Verizon Wireless, using an Apple iPhone and Nokia Lumia 928 to make all photographs.

Tragedy Strikes!

Posted: June 22nd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: General posts | 4 Comments »

My trusty steed sits in the parking lot of the End of the Trail Interpretive Center unaware of the tragedy about to happen.

Today I followed (as near as I could) the Barlow Road  built in 1846 by Sam Barlow and Philip Foster, unaware of the tragedy that awaited me.

The Barlow road was, for many, the final leg of Oregon Trail. The route allowed travelers the ability to cross the Cascade Range, go around Mt. Hood  and reach the Willamette Valley without having to raft the dangerous Colombia River. However the Barlow Road,  a toll road, was by far the most trying 100 miles of the Oregon Trail. But at least travelers had the satisfaction of knowing they (probably) wouldn’t drown. (Of course, there was the pesky point where they had to empty their wagons, tie them to trees and lower them down a near-vertical drop to the riverbank, but I digress.) As tough as it was to drive over, the Barlow road worked, and was in continual service, charging a toll, until 1908.

A 95 year old sign along Barlow Road section of the Oregon trail commemorates what,  at the plaque’s installation, was a 66 year old event.

Harrowing indeed.  I was unable to follow all of the exact route because not all the snow from this past winter and spring had melted off the original trail.  I managed to take a road within a few miles of the route.  This road was undergoing substantial resurfacing, and as the elevations climbed I got chilled.  When I did get past Mount Hood, my GPS had lost all knowledge of  the greater Portland area. (Maybe my GPS is a Trail Blazer’s Fan in denial.) When I finally got to the End of the Trail Interpretive Center , I found it has closed do to budgets cutbacks.  Like the Griswold family in National Lampoon’s Vacation, who arrive at Walley World only to find it closed, I was decimated.  Tears welled in my eyes.

Are you catching my sarcastic drift? My thesis?

How hard could it be to build a road around this? How hard could it be to cut down a few trees?

The Oregon Trail was the “easiest” route western pioneers could come up with.  Yet one in ten would die on the journey. As is explained in the  Oregon California Trail Association website, “Over a 25 year span, up to 65,000 deaths occurred along the western overland emigrant trails. If evenly spaced along the length of the Oregon Trail, there would be a grave every 50 yards from Missouri to Oregon City.” Most of those deaths were because of disease, accidents (e.g. accidental gunshot wounds, drowning, getting run over by a wagon).

As I drove the last few miles of the trail, over Barlow Road, I kept thinking, ‘this was the easy way?’  I  thought back on the miles past. These were the easy rivers, the easy fords, the easy passes, the easy ascents and descents. They has no GPS, no real maps.  At best they had poorly-written inaccurate guidebooks.  Just ask the Donner-Reed Party how good the Hastings Guidebook turned out to be.

They didn’t have much, except a wonder lust, the desire to take the west away from the British, a desire to own their own land, to find gold, the need to escape the law, or spread their religion, or escape those who would kill them for exercising their faith.  Whatever the reason, they were as tough as hell.


A graveyard sits in the shadow of Mt. Hood north of Dufur, Oregon.

Maybe it is in our nature to trivialize and forget the sacrifices of others, that we stand on the shoulders of all the came before us.

Tomorrow when the Portland Trail Blazers of the National Basketball Association exercise their pick in the NBA draft,  they had better pick wisely.  When you pick a name like the Trail Blazers, you need to be aware  of the historical luggage you pick up as well. You have a lot to live up to. Pick wisely boys.

A sign on the entrance of the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretative Center Museum, Oregon City, Oregon.

One of the best things about spending eight-plus hours on a motorcycle every day, is that it gives you a lot of time to think, and the opportunity to put a lot of things in perspective. I’m not sure I would have what it takes to cross the Oregon Trail route in the 1840s, but I sure learned a lot crossing it in 2011.

4 Comments on “Tragedy Strikes!”

  1. 1 Rich said at 8:49 pm on June 22nd, 2011:

    Great stuff, Brian! Inspiring …

  2. 2 Jackson said at 9:11 pm on June 22nd, 2011:

    So good Brian. With all of that time on the bike, all of the time for thinking and all of your talent I’m not so much surprised but truly pleased-pleased to have been invited to follow along.

  3. 3 Ann said at 8:01 am on June 23rd, 2011:

    I am really enjoying your narratives. I can only magine how much it is affecting you.

    Your photos are incredible. And, no rain.

  4. 4 Jay said at 1:47 pm on June 27th, 2011:

    I love the mountain and the photo of the trees. What would an interested party have to do to get a print of either?

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