Book Notes – The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey

We are all a lot more capable of overcoming obstacles and fears than we think we are.

I’m writing this is the midst of a windshield tour of Oregon with my husband, and the author’s recording of this book makes for a pretty perfect soundtrack. Beyond the obvious connection, it’s literary enough to satisfy my passion for memoirs while historical enough to interest us both, not to mention testosterone-laden for him. After all, you can’t much more macho than a cowboy adventure.

Here is a travelogue for the nostalgic reader, the dreamer brave or crazy enough to embrace the unattainable by following half-a-continent of wagon ruts, both defended and lost to development, in a journey of mythic proportion. Journalist Rinker Buck, a self-confessed dandy and control freak, and his mule-skinning free-wheeling brother Nick, a couple of baby boomers from New Jersey, are two such intrepid men.   

Here is the story of three Americas. First is the Pioneer America of heroes and misbegotten failures, litterbugs Buck calls them, who followed their predecessor’s trash across the continent. Second is the wide-eyed America of the Wagon Train TV series at a time when the Buck boys toured the mid-Atlantic in the family’s home-made prairie schooner. Finally is modern America, a country of pampered people who profess peace-loving values but who fight about everything. The beauty of it all is the brothers’ synthesis of all three Americas as their mules walk 2000 miles in the other guys’ horseshoes. Learning anew the hard lessons of the pioneers, they rediscover their filial connection while putting to rest old patriarchal resentments and taking stock of their late mid-life lives. It’s a beautiful journey recounted with warmth and self-deprecatory humor. For as Buck says, crazy-ass passion is the staple of life and persistence its nourishing force.

Watch the book trailer here: