I had been looking forward to seeing snow throughout our latest road trip. In our morning departure from Jackson, Wyoming, I finally got my wish. It started innocently enough as I gazed with childish wonder at a thin layer of white crystals landing on vehicles outside our motel window. By the end of the day, road conditions on our selected route southeast to and from the town of Casper would deteriorate into blizzard conditions, combining blinding “white outs”, fierce crosswinds, and dangerously iced over road surfaces.
Keep in mind, I live in South Florida and have had little experience actually driving in snow. Clearly, I was searching for answers to maintain my composure as I left Casper in such stressful, weather conditions. Then suddenly I observed that the traffic lanes ahead were turning to an icy sheen, requiring me to slow my vehicle to less than 40 mph. As my car now began to shimmy sideways in the approaching slickness, I recall thinking about Oregon Trail survival in my head. Imagining myself as a mid 19th century frontiersman, I saw myself becoming a wagon driver, steering my prairie schooner, through a similar crisis of weather in that time period. My main thoughts at this critical time would be “hold the reins tight”, “keep the horses/oxen calm”, and “maintain a steady course”. As a result of this timely dream, I began to focus more clearly on driving safely through the ice and ultimately succeeded without mishap.My wife in the passenger seat would subsequently praise me in the aftermath of this weather crisis as her own personal ox.
What might best explain my fortunate return to the past this day? I am a former, American History teacher who is clearly interested in America’s westward expansion in the mid 19th century. In fact, our road trip route through Idaho, Wyoming, and Nebraska had offered me a chance to exit the Interstate highways to explore famous landmarks and museum showcases adjacent to the Snake and North Platte Rivers that provided authentic evidence of this trail-blazing era.
Thus, as the western leg of our road trip would end that day, I would assume a pioneer mentality. with my mind consumed with thoughts of exploring wagon ruts, and museum relics of this era. In this regard, I had chosen to take a longer route to our motel destination in Casper, requiring me to walk in blustery frigid weather to reach carved signatures on the famous Independence Rock. In addition, I had delayed our early departure from Casper in early morning, which would have allowed me to escape the brunt of the inclement weather in order to further satisfy my trail curiosities at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center.
Leaving the the American West today brings sadness as I reluctantly exchange the serenity of wide open, rural spaces with the stress of my routine-driven, city lifestyle. I can now clearly understand that there are numerous, survival challenges in these often inhospitable lands. Yet It suits me well to feel truly free to be a personal witness of the authentic, western experience. The ox image that I have acquired will inspire a return west again next year to shed my yoke along the untraveled road.