Remember how it felt? Holding the reins. In control. Cruising cross country in the ol' Conestoga. Fording rivers. Repairing wagon tongues. Living off the land. Knowing everyone was depending on you.
I can only be referring to the Oregon Trail. No, not the major migration route used by pioneers traveling westward across North America over 150 years ago. Rather, I'm talking about the computer game based on that route.
I believe I was in middle school the first time I was introduced to the game. Who knew so much fun could be contained on a simple five-and-a-quarter inch floppy disk.
To me, the best part about Oregon Trail was the primitive navigation system on the Conestoga. It gave the date, weather, total distance traveled, distance remaining, distance to the next landmark, as well as how much food you had remaining. It even had that little map you could click on to see exactly where you were. The Conestoga was the Tahoe of the 19th Century.
Oregon Trail was educational as well as entertaining. It forced me to make choices, real life decisions. At least, they would have been real life decisions had I lived in 1840.
I learned that all farmers are poor, four oxen can pull a wagon faster than two, and squirrels are harder to shoot than buffalo, though buffalo provide more pure poundage of food.
On my way to the Willamette Valley, I also learned about death. Few things up to that point in my life were as heartbreaking as reading "Jimmy has died of dysentery" across the screen.
Best I could tell, dysentery and cholera were likely the two leading causes of death for Americans in the 1840's, with drowning a close third. Heck, I wouldn't even know what dysentery was if it weren't for the Oregon Trail. And I'm confident that knowledge played an integral role in my upbringing and development.
As with most things I ponder, certain questions eventually arise. And Oregon Trail is no different. For instance, what was the deal with this message: "You shot 1958 pounds of food, but were only able to carry 200 pounds back to the wagon."
If I'm in need of food, I'm bringing Annie, Mary, Little Susie, and Jimmy all off the wagon to help carry it. Well not Jimmy, bless his heart, may he rest in peace.
Either that, or I'll pull the wagon right up to the carcass. And if it won't hold all the food, we'll just camp there a few days and eat. We've got to rest anyway. Mary has a broken leg, and one of the oxen got lost.
"We lost a lot of steers that day, and four or five good mounts. But when all the boys rode into camp, we knew that's what counts..."