It’s nothing like what our pioneer ancestors went through crossing the country in covered wagons. That’s what I kept telling myself as we motored down Interstate Highway 40 under the hot July sun. They had tightly packed wagons, filled with all their prized possessions, and the furniture and tools required for their new lives in a foreign land. We had a U-haul trailer packed mostly with boxes of books, papers, electronics and clothing.
They had livestock – oxen laboring under the weight of the wagons, chickens in crates, and cattle and pigs herded alongside by the children or women. We had two small dogs and a cat complaining about her incarceration in a carrier.
They moved mere miles a day, negotiating their passage along a rough dirt trail marked by deep ruts formed by the journeyers ahead of them; skirting obstacles and forging raging rivers. We poked along in the slow lane dutifully adhering to the 55 MPH Speed Limit signs attached to the U-haul and ever present in the side mirrors. Our obstacles consisted mainly of the continuous road work, marked by huge orange and white barrels and stretching for miles of constricted curvy single lanes, and 18-wheelers laboriously climbing the steep passes into the high desert.
They interacted with strangers, putting their lives in the hands of guides who claimed to have previously made the trek successfully, buying exorbitantly priced supplies from fast talking traders, and fighting off thieves and hostile attacks. We put our mini-van in the hands of an auto mechanic who prominently displayed letters of appreciation from past customers stranded in the same desert outpost, dealt with duplicitous motel managers, and resisted the temptation at the “Indian owned” trading post of an intricately woven basket (which when upended had a small sticker that said “Made in Pakistan” on the bottom).
If one of their oxen died, they abandoned their heavy furniture by the side of the trail to lighten the load, retaining only the most absolutely necessary possessions and pressed on. We tried to avoid the death of our mini-van by leaving behind almost a third of the boxes we had packed to take with us. It turned out to be an insufficient sacrifice and we would come to find out that several of those boxes contained the necessary tools of our lives (among other things my youngest daughter’s clothes, my son’s box of Legos and the DVD player remote control and our entire DVD library).
They hunted as they journeyed so as not to dig too deeply into their precious provisions, dining at night on rabbit, deer or bison cooked on a campfire surrounded by circled wagons. We ate as we drove – hamburgers and chicken nuggets – unable to stop for a meal and leave the animals in the sweltering van. U-haul trailers fit through the drive-through.
They worked hard every day, hitching the wagons and trudging alongside, and evenings were hardly a respite as they hunted, cooked over campfires and washed clothes in streams. We hardly worked each day – aside from hauling in suitcases and pets to the motel room each evening we just sat in the car – driving or riding. Sure the kids had an energetic bout of swimming wherever there was a pool but that hardly made up for their usual daily activities, and me, I just sat next to the pool, too tired to even consider donning my swimsuit.
They experienced the full brunt of Mother Nature – dust storms, snow storms, tornados, and floods. We experienced it intermittently as our weakened air conditioner struggled against the triple digit heat and failed periodically. Stops for gas or bathroom breaks were the worst – we almost hated to have to stop as it meant the AC would blow intensely hot air for the first 10 minutes after starting and before working up to a low wheeze of cool air.
And after a long, arduous journey of thousands of miles they would arrive, tired, homeless, meager possessions in hand, hard work ahead of them, and a question in their minds. They had left everything they knew behind and undertaken the difficult journey in hope of finding a better life for their families. Would they succeed?