“A virtuoso storyteller in a very American vein” (Phillip Lopate), Rinker Buck reads his epic account of traveling the length of the Oregon Trail the old-fashioned way—in a covered wagon with a team of mules, an audacious journey that hasn’t been attempted in a century—which also tells the rich history of the trail, the people who made the migration, and its significance to the country.
Spanning two thousand miles and traversing six states from Missouri to the Pacific coast, the Oregon Trail is the route that made America. In the fifteen years before the Civil War, when 400,000 pioneers used the trail to emigrate West—scholars still regard this as the largest land migration in history—it united the coasts, doubled the size of the country, and laid the groundwork for the railroads. Today, amazingly, the trail is all but forgotten.
Rinker Buck is no stranger to grand adventures. His first travel narrative, Flight of Passage, was hailed by The New Yorker as “a funny, cocky gem of a book,” and with The Oregon Trail he brings the most important route in American history back to glorious and vibrant life.
Traveling from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Baker City, Oregon, over the course of four months, Buck was accompanied by three cantankerous mules, his boisterous brother, Nick, and an “incurably filthy” Jack Russell terrier named Olive Oyl. Along the way, they dodge thunderstorms in Nebraska, chase runaway mules across the Wyoming plains, scout more than five hundred miles of nearly vanished trail on foot, cross the Rockies, and make desperate fifty-mile forced marches for water. The Buck brothers repair so many broken wheels and axels that they nearly reinvent the art of wagon travel itself. They also must reckon with the ghost of their father, an eccentric yet loveable dreamer whose memory inspired their journey across the plains and whose premature death, many years earlier, has haunted them both ever since.
But The Oregon Trail is much more than an epic adventure. It is also a lively and essential work of history that shatters the comforting myths about the trail years passed down by generations of Americans. Buck introduces listeners to the largely forgotten roles played by trailblazing evangelists, friendly Indian tribes, female pioneers, bumbling US Army cavalrymen, and the scam artists who flocked to the frontier to fleece the overland emigrants. Generous portions of the audiobook are devoted to the history of old and appealing things like the mule and the wagon. We also learn how the trail accelerated American economic development. Most arresting, perhaps, are the stories of the pioneers themselves—ordinary families whose extraordinary courage and sacrifice made this country what it became.
At once a majestic journey across the West, a significant work of history, and a moving personal saga, The Oregon Trail draws listeners into the journey of a lifetime. It is a wildly ambitious work of nonfiction from a true American original. It is an audiobook with a heart as big as the country it crosses.
Published June 30th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Audio
Four and a half stars: A fun and informative read that takes you down the Oregon Trail in the 22nd Century.
Rinker Buck is in his sixties. He is a successful writer, divorced and looking for something to invigorate and inspire him. One afternoon, he stops and takes a walk down a portion of the Oregon Trail. Walking in those old wagon ruts, he is inspired. What if he was to take a covered wagon and a team of mules and travel the Old Oregon Trail today? The trail hasn't been traversed in a hundred years, would it still be possible to cross the plains as the pioneers did so long ago? What follows is a funny, exciting and extremely informative adventure as Rinker Buck along with is younger brother, Nick Buck, and his dog, Olive Oyl, and three mules, Jake, Bute and Beck attempt to ride the Oregon Trail. Will they succeed?
What I Liked:
- What do you think of when you hear the words The Oregon Trail? For many, campy images informing you that you have died of dysentery from an old video game come to mind, that a couple of generations of kids have played in order to introduce them to the Oregon Trail. Do we really understand the trail and its significance on American History? I think not, but thankfully, Rinker Buck is here to educate us on the history of the trail, while entertaining us with his own experience of riding the trail in modern times. Even in 2013, the trail was just as treacherous and dangerous as ever. If you have an interest in learning more about the trail that changed American History, this is a must read book. I highly recommend it. For me, it was a terrific listen as I drove from Oregon to Idaho.
- What I loved about this book is that it blended history with modern day adventure. Mr. Buck before he set out down the Trail, meticulously researched every aspect of the Oregon Trail. He practically leaves no stone unturned. It made for some fascinating reading. He gives you depth and detail while entertaining. I was surprised at how much I learned while reading this book. Buck tells about the lineage of mules and wagons, as well as the experiences of trail blazers such as Eliza and Martin Whitman. You learn about all the danger that plagued the pioneers from illness like dysentery and cholera, to green mules, broken wagons and rip off scams. There is so much more: accidents, waste, murder, chicanery, The Mormons, and all the danger that was the Oregon Trail. What makes this book so fun is that while learning about the long and often sordid history, you are traversing the trail in modern times with Rinker and his brother Nick, and vicariously experiencing many of the same ills that hindered the pioneers. I loved the way Mr. Buck blended the past with the present.
- Speaking of Rinker and Nick Buck, what a fascinating and entertaining pair of brothers. Nick Buck was my hero, he was absolutely hilarious, he totally made the book shine. Nick is a bit eccentric and rough around the edges, but when it comes to wagons and past paraphernalia Nick knows it all. His own family thinks he was born in the wrong era as he has long been fascinated by things from the past, and it was a good thing for Rinker. Time and time again, Nick salvaged the trip as he repaired broken wagon wheels and axles. Not to mention he is extremely entertaining. His language is certainly not for those of the delicate nature as he is one who loves the f word and uses it often. I loved Nick and Olive Oyl. I assure you, Nick will make you chuckle.
- One of the things that surprised me was the kindness and generosity of strangers. Across the country time and time again, Nick and Rinker were helped along by people they met on the trail. They were offered warm meals, a dry place to stay, and lots of aid. Truly, this wasn't a two man trip, it was an army of people who helped along the way. I loved meeting their vast "Trail Family" and it restored my faith in the kindness and generosity of Americans.
- The audiobook is a must when it comes to this book. I appreciated that it was narrated by the author. It added so much more to have Rinker read his story, and he brought Nick to life. If you get the chance, definitely grab an audiobook copy of this book.
And The Not So Much:
- While I loved the depth and attention to detail, I have to admit, there were a few sections where Mr. Buck was a bit verbose, especially when it comes to the history. Certain parts got a bit dry. i.e. the whole history of wagon building. I found my attention wandering a bit during longer asides, and I was wanting to get back to the whole modern day experience. I would have preferred a bit more of the day to day on the trail instead of the in depth history.
- This journey was a bit personal as Mr. Buck relates some of his memories of his father. I liked learning about the Buck family, but there were portions where Rinker was exorcising his old ghosts from the past when it came to his relationship with his father. It felt a little out of place in the overall scheme of things. However, I am sure it was cathartic for Mr. Buck.
- The ending felt a bit anticlimactic. I don't know after all they endured on the trail, I felt like it just ended, I don't know what I wanted, but I wanted something more. I was remiss to say goodbye to Nick, the mules, the dog and Rinker. I wish that there had been a bit more at the end giving me closure. Probably just me. What happened to everyone once they settle back into modern life? What is Nick doing now? How are the mules adapting to life in Idaho?
The Oregon Trail was an educational, informative and entertaining read that completely changed the way I think about the Oregon Trail. Having grown up in Idaho, and now a full time Oregon resident, this book was a must read as I wanted to better understand how the trail influenced two states that are near and dear to me. I loved learning more about the history of the trail, and I especially enjoyed the Buck Brothers' modern day trek. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to know more about the Oregon Trail. This book is fascinating and it will make you laugh.
I assure you, once you read this book, you will longer think this when hearing Oregon Trail:
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.