Don Martin plans to use his trip to write a guide for others interested in hiking the historic but rarely used trail.
PRINEVILLE, Ore. – When you hear the name Oregon Trail, you might think of low-tech computer gaming and contemplate death from dysentery. But for Don Martin, hiking the 2,000-mile stretch from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City is more than an old video game. It’s a dream come true.
“It was time to do the whole trail,” said Martin, who lives in Prineville, Oregon, and spent 30 years in the Navy. He left in April, documented the three-month journey along the way, and arrived in Oregon City on July 20. But given the history, Martin doesn’t expect a pat on the back for his accomplishment.
“Tens of thousands of 8-year-olds have made this trip and most of them have done it barefoot,” Martin said. “It puts into perspective what I did. It was tough but it wasn’t that tough.”
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On his journey, Martin traveled alone, except for his homemade supply cart named “Ollie” and a stuffed ox – a nod to the children’s game’s tagline, “Olly olly oxen free”. Weather permitting, Martin camped under the stars. During storms and high winds, he hid in motels. Some of his most memorable moments on the trail include turning to his first good view of Mount Hood and seeing Nebraska rock formations like Scotts Bluff.
“For a lot of people who came from farms in the Midwest, they had never seen anything like this in their life,” Martin said. “It was magical for them and it’s still magical today. So what’s remarkable is why is it so difficult today and why have we so completely forgotten about it?”
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The wagon ruts are still visible in some spots, but most of the Oregon Trail has disappeared, turned into roads, or been plowed. And unlike the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, there are few published trail guides for the Oregon Trail. Martin said he knows less than a dozen people who have walked it over the past few decades, and he wants that to change.
“One of the things I’m doing is trying to put together a trail guide for people who want to do the same thing,” Martin said. “Reconnect with that pioneer experience that made the entire western United States possible.”
While modern shoes are more flexible and the roads are much firmer, Martin said he believes the key to crossing the Oregon Trail has remained largely unchanged throughout history.
“Then and now it was just about putting one foot in front of the other,” Martin said, “and not stopping until you got to the end.”
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