The Worst Pioneers: Scouting the Oregon Trail

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by DrPayne, Oct 12, 2021 at 4:32 PM.

  1. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

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    I was pretty hesitant to even bother with this as my first ever RR because what will follow is the description of a bumbling and underwhelming vacation through our back yard. This thread existing amidst multi-year threads of international journeys that constitute entire life phases seems like a waste of time, but while it may be dwarfed by what many contributors here do on a regular basis, it represented many firsts for us. We were pioneers of our own small worlds, exploring the frontier world of motorcycle travel that we had only heard about in bed time stories. We also were doing something that I really didn't see much of a precedent for on the internet and while I now see there is probably a good reason for that, I still think it was (and continues to be) worth doing and documenting.

    The game is simple: travel the Oregon Trail. I could not find a route or gpx file or really any record of anyone attempting to do this (feel free to flood my inbox with links to everything I missed), so I set out to create the route myself. The goal of this trip was to verify and validate as much of the route as possible. The map and satellite data available is staggering, and, as we would come to learn, even more unreliable than I had expected. This will be an ongoing project, and this trip was just the first part.

    It was also our first motorcycle trip. We are experienced champion road trippers with a car, but not many of those skills translate. We didn't really know what to bring, how to pack, how to ride 8 hours a day, where to sleep, all the things that are totally different from car road trips. We also had excruciatingly limited time: 2 weeks, 16.5 days if we left after work on Friday, and at least 4 of those days would have to be wasted trucking the bikes to and from the trail. 12 days to get 2200+ miles and back? Probably not. And as if that wasn't enough, we had no one to watch the dog. We couldn't afford to pay someone to watch her for what would be the worst two weeks of her life since we have mutual separation anxiety issues, having never been apart for more than 5 days for the entire 9 years of her life. Guess we're taking the dog too!

    YouDied.png
    Spoiler alert: We didn't make it.

    So here we go. Three years after waking up from a dream and wanting a motorcycle, after spending more time recovering from a broken foot from riding off-pavement than actually riding off-pavement, and in the middle of an already overwhelming time in our lives, we head out for a half baked adventure through states we'd never seen except from the interstates and ski resorts, with a dog in tow who had no idea what she was in for, as if we had any idea ourselves. What will follow will be mildly entertaining at best, but it happened and it may prove of some value to someone someday. Therefore I'd like to commit it to the internet, for better or for worse.
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  2. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

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    Cast and Crew:

    DSC_0502a Me and Ellie.JPG
    Me via DR650, Ellie via Kuryakyn Grand Pet Palace

    DSC_0489a Maddie driving.JPG
    Maddie via XT250 with somehow more luggage than me
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  3. ricksax

    ricksax Been here awhile

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    Plenty of books on The Oregon Trail and they will explain that there was no single route, but many, many alternate routes. You should read the one by Rinker Buck, "The Oregon Trail" done with a three-mule wagon. He was able to go places where a motorcycle would not be welcome. And, he gave up at Baker, Oregon, thus failing to trace a route to Oregon City, Oregon. Still a good piece of information.
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  4. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

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    Of course, though there is A route that we were trying to follow that is outlined by the National Park Service. I took comfort in the fact that as far as we had to deviate from it, chances are we were still following in the footsteps and wagon tracks of someone who made the journey all that time ago, and it wouldn't be entirely inaccurate for me to use my imagination to put myself back in time there. Still, there are some obvious remnants of what must have been very popular parts of the trail that are simply not reachable nowadays, so it did get pretty disappointing in places. On the other hand, those remnants wouldn't be around very long if we were all rolling our knobbies over them. Still, I'd like to get closer. My imagination needs some help sometimes.
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  5. ricksax

    ricksax Been here awhile

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    Rinker Buck notes that there were times 1) when the local town folks were eager to help with the mules and the wagon; and 2) when private land holders were eager to shoot him from crossing their property on the Oregon Trail, even though he was on a wagon pulled by mules. Neither of the those situations really work to the advantage of us motorcyclists.
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  6. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

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    Prologue: Independence, MO to Guernsey, WY

    Having such a limited amount of time, we decided to maximize the quality of our riding time by pretty much skipping about half the trail by doing it in the truck. Given that we can do 1000 miles a day in the truck and barely 200 on bikes, the farther out we took the truck, the farther we could get on the route.

    This can absolutely be seen as an indictment of this route. I mean no offense to the Midwest, but it's not the most exciting part of the country. It will remain in the route because this is where the trail goes, and had we more time, I think would have enjoyed multiple days of putting along through gravel roads through corn fields, but choices had to be made.

    Day -2: We began the trail here, bright and early in the morning. A small park with an overlook, nothing really notable. It's almost easy to miss. This is, however, where the NPS trail begins.

    DSC_0327a Wayne City Landing.JPG
    An underwhelming start.

    The trail goes through what is now the greater Kansas City, MO metro area. If you forgot anything before setting off, don't worry, you will pass a store that sells it. Strip mall after strip mall seemingly for hours. I thought about editing the route to avoid that, but the alternative would just be residential area after residential area unless I wanted to go hours out of the way. At least this way you can get off to a pretty safe and comfortable start.

    There wasn't much to see before Nebraska. There are occasional historical markers to see, but it's pretty much pavement for all of MO and KS. A good warmup, I guess. You'll start questioning just how accurate this route is until your occasionally reminded that yes, this is the right area.
    DSC_0328a Oregon Trail Road sign.JPG
    Yup, still on the right path.

    DSC_0337a Historic Trail Signs.JPG
    These signs frequently remind you you're on track.

    At about noon, we finally find the end of the pavement in Nebraska. Thus began the zig-zagging through the world's supply of corn and soybeans on washboarded gravel roads. Again, coming from the land of twisty roads walled in by trees to the point that you need hiking boots to get a line of sight longer than a mile, I did enjoy driving through the nation's farmland, but not as much as I knew I was going to enjoy what was ahead...

    DSC_0336a Nebraska Dirt Road.JPG
    There were a couple actual dirt roads mixed in with all the gravel

    Little did I know, I was following the pioneers in more way than one. A pattern seems to be developing with me over the last few years where at the beginning of every two week road trip, I depress my immune system with worrying about preparation, pushing myself too hard at the wheel, and not leaving enough space behind the seat to recline it so I can get enough rest. It's hard to tell the difference between exhaustion and illness, but when I woke up at a rest stop early on Day -1, it was pretty obvious.
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  7. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

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    Day -1:
    Maddie drove most of the rest of the way, and it was largely the same. Traveling along the Platte River is actually fairly pretty if you can see through the farms, but I didn't feel too bad about keeping my eyes closed for a lot of it to avoid agitating my headache. We took a break mid-morning for some Covid tests, a PCR and a DIY each. We both got negatives on the DIY and we figured the PCR would confirm in 2-3 days considering only I was sick and I don't think catastrophic headaches and kidney pain are typical only symptoms, but we wanted to be sure. Feeling at least like we could continue the trip without endangering every small town we stop in, we continued along the trail as it got more and more real.

    DSC_0349a Chimney Rock.JPG
    Yup, this is the right trail.

    This was probably the first landmark I was truly disappointed we were still in the truck for, but there was no way I could be trusted to balance a motorcycle at this point. Life is tough, amirite 1848? They know what I'm talking about.

    Day 0:
    On the upswing, we finally pulled into Guernsey, WY. We stopped at Register Cliff on the way in hoping to see some more well preserved history than we had been seeing, but much like how the asphalt and gravel covered most of the trail to this point, it was very difficult to see the history here as well.

    DSC_0370a Register Cliff side.JPG
    I didn't realize I was supposed to bring my own chisel.

    DSC_0368a Register Cliff name.JPG
    History does persist, though. Just look for the serif.

    I had called ahead to the Bunkhouse Motel to make sure they had a room, were cool with dogs, and might be cool with me leaving the truck there for a few days while we took off on the bikes. Not only were the answers to all of those questions an easy "yes", Gordon seemed almost eager for us to arrive to talk about our plans. This guy...he's just one of those people. If you need a vacation and you don't know what to do, go get a very affordable room at the Bunkhouse in Guernsey, and let Gordon offer you some suggestions. He pulled out a collection of BLM maps and began completely overwhelming me with things to see, some of which were on our intended path, but most not. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but brave the searing pain still plaguing my head to hear him out on what we should see if we could find the time. He's a Harley guy and he loves to get out there, and in a state that has more than its fair share of nothingness, he knows where to go. This would really come in handy as our goals became compromised by lack of planning and lack of gear to deal with the elements, and I'd say we probably doubled what we got out of this trip just because we happened to pick this particular motel in this particular town. Oh, and breakfast burritos and giant cinnamon rolls are included!

    We rested well that night, and I rested with purpose. I had to get back to normal. We had burned too much time already, and thanks to Gordon, there was even more to see than when we left home.
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  8. jna

    jna Been here awhile

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    Is there more coming?
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  9. MrBob

    MrBob On a whim Supporter

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    I hope you got to see the depressions in the volcanic Tuff caused by thousands of wagon wheels. Perhaps you're also discovering how much work is involved in posting ride reports. It's out of your way, but the beauty of the Chadron, Nebraska area is a lovely surprise.
    Looks like you both chose the correct bikes for this ride, though the front end of those DR's tends to get pretty squirrely at highway speeds.

    Attached Files:

    #9
  10. MotorcycleWriter

    MotorcycleWriter Vis ad locum

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    I've been meaning to get up to the Oregon Trail Museum in Montpelier. It's not too far from where I live. Lots of bits and pieces of Oregon Trail and Great Western Trail out here!

    Daring time of year to try anywhere in the northern West. Here in Northern Utah we got a foot of snow last week. It's all melted in the valley now but there's still a lot in the mountains! Good luck!
    #10