The ocean breeze blew swiftly across my face. My hair fluttered in the wind as I held on tightly to the rainbow kite flying in the air above me. Nearby, my kids and their friends built castles on the Oregon sand. Behind me, the waves of the Pacific Ocean splashed onto the shore.
We had been spending an idyllic week on the Oregon coast in the small town of Manzanita. We had rented a house right on the beach along with family friends of ours (13 people total!) and it proved to be a relaxing week of playing, cooking, eating, and having conversations.
Oregon, like Washington state, has miles and miles of coast. Like Washington state, the wind and water can be a bit chilly for my tropical bones. But after suffering through hot 90 degree weather in Seattle, balmy 60 degree winds was a nice respite. It’s no wonder the Native Americans and the settlers from the Oregon Trail days enjoyed living in this part of the country.
Earlier during the week, my daughter and I had started reading a graphic novel about the Oregon Trail. The story followed a family of four from Baltimore, who sold their home and belongings to make the journey out west and start a new life in Oregon. Reading the story with my daughter, I couldn’t help but see parallels between the family in the story and our own story.
Here we are, a family of four, giving up our comfortable life for a life on the road. Our covered wagon is a lot more technologically advanced, but it still carries similar things: blankets and tarps for shelter, clothes, food, and supplies for repairs. Like the family in the story, we’re following trails paved by dozens of families before us. But at the same time, we’re still on the edge of a trend. No doubt, people thought families like the one in the story were crazy, much like some people may think we’re crazy for doing this trip.
But that’s where the similarities end. Life on the road during the Oregon Trail days was much harder. Scurvy, dysentery, cholera, animal attacks, and battling the whims of nature. In our climate controlled SUV, driving along paved roads, and resting our heads on comfortable beds every night, we certainly have it much easier. And unlike the families who journeyed along the Oregon trail, we have time to stop and enjoy the places that we are traveling through.
Our time in Manzanita was mainly spent playing. Our friends bought us kites in Canon Beach, and we spent a few afternoons flying them on the beach. On our last day in Manzanita, we hiked through Nehalem Bay State Park, and found a cliff with a giant sand dune to climb. It was an excellent vantage point to enjoy the views of Nehalem Bay and its surroundings.
After a week of the beach life on the Oregon coast, we headed east towards Walla Walla in Washington, following parts of the Oregon Trail in reverse. As we drove along the Columbia River, looking out the window at the valleys and rocky hills of northern Oregon and southern Washington, I thought again about the families who chose to embark on the Oregon Trail, families who willingly risked their lives for the prospect of a better future.
This need for movement, the need to journey for a better life, is a common theme in human history. Humans have been moving around this planet for millennia. Before the settlers came to Oregon, the Native Americans came, migrating and settling across North America. Our own family’s desire for travel is a continuation of this human need.
Really, we’re just following in the footsteps of families past. We are modern day pioneers, forging a new way of living, and learning from and respecting the cultures we come across. No doubt, our need for movement is less dire as our predecessors, but we still carry that need none the less.
As we drove past the rolling hills of the Palouse, the farming region of eastern Washington, I breathed in the mixture of dirt, wheat, and grass that surrounded us and thought about the legacy that we are passing on to our kids with this trip. They have their full trust in us, believing that this choice we are making in our lives is the right one for our family. In my heart, I feel that it is.
Like those families who faced the journey of the Oregon Trail, we are venturing out into the unknown, embracing the possibilities that our future will hold. I’m sure we will face our own hardships (though thankfully, we have advanced past the risks of cholera and dysentery with the help of modern medicine), but I’m ready to tackle it head on!
Here’s to embracing the trail ahead!
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