I write this from the center of South Dakota on the road home from Illinois. Yep, Cuz-O-Rama Road Trip 2018 has been a roaring success so far. There has certainly been some snarkiness and a marked lack of civility at times. However, considering we’ve had four adult-sized people and a lengthy 13-year old wedged into my Chevy Traverse for 36 hours, I’m calling it a win.
I’m a huge fan of history, especially frontier history. I marvel at the courage of people who left lives with the possibility of indoor plumbing, heat and running water to try their luck out West. Obviously, the majority were looking for a better life; selling all their earthly possessions for the promise of free land. It was bold and courageous.
Yet, pick from a lengthy menu of calamities, and chances are the pioneers encountered them. Wind, rain, blistering heat, frigid temperatures, plagues of locusts, balky mules, venomous snakes, the wrong shoes, whiny children, no decent coffee, iPhone adaptors that don’t work, crushed dreams of singing show tunes in the car as a family…wait. Sorry, I just flashed to my present-day challenges.
I’m telling you this right now, I cannot envision a scenario in which I climb on that covered wagon of my own free will. No question. I do not have what it took to be a woman on the frontier. Just camping for more than four days grosses me out. Bonnets don’t flatter me. Mosquitos actively seek me out. I can’t change a wagon wheel. I’m a recipe for disaster and a guaranteed early death on the Bozeman Trail, I tell you.
But I’m so grateful there were hearty folks who took that huge leap into the unknown, regardless of cluelessness, misplaced belief in false advertising, sheer desperation or indefatigable optimism.
Many of my friends have relatives who homesteaded around here. In my case, our family seems to have made it as far as the Midwest from Scotland and called it good. I comfort myself with the fact that Illinois was pretty rugged back in the day, so it’s not like we weren’t risk takers. We just seem to have preferred trees and good topsoil.
What’s really funny is there are Americans who still think the West is wild. A Virginian was amazed that there were actual colleges in Wyoming, much less electricity. He was even convinced that buffalo roamed the streets. Others have asked if we really drive cars instead of hitching up our wagons. A visitor to Yellowstone wondered if the park rangers turned Old Faithful’s spigot off for the winter. I can’t make this up.
I suppose those of us who make our home in Wyoming by choice are seen as outliers by those from more populated spots. I’m OK with that — not just anyone could live in a place where the cattle outnumber the people.
And so we gratefully point our own 281-horsepower wagon westward toward the mountains. Cars on the interstate thin like the air does at elevation. It’s good to be headed home, home on the range.
Amy Albrecht is the executive director of the Center for a Vital Community.