And Now I Will Thankfully Hop in My Car

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been employing muscles in new ways while occasionally riding a bike to or from work, dismayed that having been a runner for years has apparently done nothing for my bike-riding muscles. (Conversely, biking does seem to fatigue my running muscles, which seems altogether unfair.) And then, because I’ve been spending much of my time lately reading about Westward expansion, I think about the tens of thousands of people who traveled the 2,000-mile winding route of the Oregon Trail and other trails west in the 1800s, on foot. Kids, grandparents, everyone in between. I remember that the only ones who got a ride (inevitably a bumpy, uncomfortable one) were the sick or injured. And then I tell my tired muscles to shut up and stop complaining.

In Clara Morgan and the Oregon Trail Journey, 11-year-old Clara walks the Oregon Trail with her family. She also cooks for her family while her mother is extremely pregnant. And I thought being responsible for my 5th-grade homework was hard.

4Trails feasibility study mapAnyone who made it to the Oregon Territory or to California had put in an impressive trek, but I have to be particularly impressed with the Mormon handcart pioneers who traveled to Utah. Most families setting out for the West sold all their possessions to purchase a prairie schooner wagon for their supplies and oxen or mules to pull it. But many Mormons in the late 1850s traveled from the Midwest to Salt Lake City with hand carts (kind of like large wheelbarrows) loaded up with several hundred pounds of supplies, which they pulled themselves. Through the plains, through the mountains, through shallow rivers. Mormon Trail--Hand Cart Train   P.2 Several handcart companies made good time, arriving in about three months. But when two companies left too late in the summer and a blizzard struck in the mountains, they lost large a large percentage of their group to cold and starvation. (They make winter running in Minnesota seem a lot less hardcore.)

I have to admit that before working various Westward Expansion topics in the past few years, I didn’t know much about the Mormon Trail and had forgotten a lot of the details about the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But the universe seems determined to get Mormonism on my mind lately.* A certain awards show at the beginning of this week helped achieve that, and my iPod has not budged from a certain soundtrack since:

But somehow, I am less convinced that the universe is determined to make me a fan of biking.

*For the record, I recognize that neither the handcarts nor the Trey Parker/Matt Stone version represent the normal modern life of most Mormons. But that doesn’t mean I enjoy the new musical any less. Kind of like my enjoyment of House.

Images from the National Park Service and Digital Collections