Rinker and Nick outfit a covered wagon, gather a team of mules, and over the course of four months follow the Oregon Trail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Baker City, Oregon. They travel a trail that hasn't been visited by a covered wagon in over 100 years. In this journey, Rinker and Nick find adventure, teamwork, sheer dogged determination, and an America most of us never have the privilege of seeing, and probably never will. We're so busy driving our cars everywhere, rushing around, that we don't take the time to slow down, walk, and look at what's around us. We don't listen to the birds chirping, the sound of the wind rustling leaves, or any of the quiet sounds of nature that are a peaceful tonic, just waiting for us to slow down and enjoy them.
I loved this book. I'm a history fan to be sure, but Rinker is a mega-history fan, and he writes about the Oregon Trail in such a way that you completely realize the social and economic impact the great migration to the West had on our country. It made our country in so many ways that it boggles my mind. The parallels between pioneers and people today are staggering. The waste of goods, recycling, and money-making enterprises were very much in place during the 1830's-1860's, and it's pretty interesting to see that people haven't changed much at all in this country. That drive that homesteaders had to succeed and thrive is still with us today, but in a different way. I think that kernel of determination and grit needs a renewal and reawakening. Reading Rinker's journey just may do it for you.
I can't say I'd survive a 2,000 mile journey in a covered wagon. I'm convinced my boyfriend would have not only made the trip, but thrived on the challenges, setbacks, and sheer physical strength it took to survive. I told him I'm convinced he was a pioneer in a previous life. His response was to let out a gentle snore as he fell asleep listening to me drone on about the settling of the West.
I've read some reviews about this book, and people compare Rinker to Bill Bryson. I can see that, but while Bill Bryson writes about all the ways he comes near to disasters as he travels around, Rinker grabs onto those challenges and beats them into submission. He quickly realizes he's no different than the pioneers, and that the trail will be chock full of surprises and potential disasters. You can plan, but that doesn't mean everything will go according to plan. Rinker writes with humor, and I found myself laughing out loud at his conversations with Nick. Anyone with a sibling knows they're the only people you can swear at and call stupid idiots, but they'll love you anyway, and stick with you through thick and thin. One of the highlights of this journey is the team of Rinker and Nick, along with Nick's dog, Olive Oyl. Olive Oyl works just as hard as the men and the mules to make the trail ride a success.
And there are the mules: Jake, Beck, and Bute. They are characters that literally drive this journey forward. I have to say I got a bit teary-eyed at the end of the trail, saying goodbye to the mules. This book is a journey that will keep you enchanted, laughing, swearing with Rinker and Nick at the mishaps along the trail, and reluctantly turning the last page. It truly is the journey that is the important, most memorable part, and not the final destination. Fans of American history, pioneers, the West, memoirs, and humorous travel writing will enjoy this book. What an accomplishment to make in your lifetime: to ride the 2,000 mile Oregon Trail with a wagon and mules. Makes successfully weeding my garden in one day seem kinda trivial!
This book is available the week of June 30th in hardcover and ebook.
Rating: 9/10 for a purely enjoyable read, a great history lesson that won't bore you, and a reminder that we all have moments of crazyass passion that drive us to reach for those grand-but not impossible, dreams.