A man walking the Oregon Trail admires the majesty of Eastern Idaho
POCATELLO – Walking 2,000 miles captures things they might not have fully appreciated otherwise.
The vividness of wildflowers can only truly be realized if you have walked alongside them for miles. Prairie dogs are a curious bunch. And pronghorns are obnoxiously loud.
At least that’s what Donald “Dundee” Martin discovered about 1,600 miles away on a trip he predicts will end around 2,400.
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Martin hikes the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon. He is currently on the eastern Idaho portion of the mission.
“I’m nearing the end and I feel pushed to put in more and more miles,” he said. “But on the other hand, it doesn’t feel like the end is near yet. Everything will eventually go under the wheel.
Martin is referring to the wheel of his commercial game cart, designed to give hunters the means to transport their prey.
Martin bought one for this trip and improved upon the jogging stroller that many of his fellows would use.
The trolley can support more weight than a stroller. He outfitted his with extra cargo spaces and enough storage space to hold up to 14 gallons of water. And when the cart is full, it will weigh up to 200 pounds.
This wagon, which Martin named “Olly Olly Oxen Free”, was also outfitted with a wagon-like covering made by Martin and his mascot, a stuffed ox named Last Ox.
Martin has found another unique way to represent authenticity.
He ordered a traditional pioneer outfit through an Indiana-based company that caters to the Amish and Mennonite communities.
“Turns out you can hike all day in clothes they wear all day,” he joked.
Martin took off his first pair of pants just before arriving in Pocatello. The parts that rub together “eventually disappear,” he said.
He has also retired two pairs of shoes so far.
As he explained, he started with four pairs of shoes. Each is a size to a size and a half, which gives their feet room to swell. And he uses these shoes in a specific order. It started with a more cushioned shoe, allowing more rebound at first, then moved to a more durable but lighter design. It also has a heavier shoe for the most demanding terrains.
Walking speed is also an element that enters into the management of physical wear.
Martin, who retired from the US Navy after more than 30 years of service, said he heard “speed is life” countless times from Navy pilots. While maintaining a good pace reduces supply needs, keeping that pace manageable is essential to your ability to wake up each morning ready to walk.
He aims for 3.2mph – noting that the pioneers walked at the speed of their oxen, around 2mph when the trail was in use.
There are times, he says, when he looks at the speedometer attached to Olly and sees speeds between 3.7 and 3.9 mph, often earlier in the day. He forces himself to slow down.
The difference is monumental, he says. At 3.9 mph, the stride lengthens and the weight leans forward, putting pressure on the knees.
Martin also strives to ingest 6,000 calories a day, relying heavily on economical and highly nutritious nuts, which he buys in bulk.
“I carry a paranoid amount of water,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere without a few days supply.”
The worst possible thing would be to get stuck somewhere without water. So Martin rigged his cart to carry 14 gallons and still keeps at least twice what he needs.
For example, he carried 4 and a half gallons to walk from Lava Hot Springs to Pocatello.
Being prepared—perhaps too much—allowed Martin to enjoy his journey and smell the flowers.
Along the way, he chatted with anyone who showed interest.
“The best part of the journey so far is meeting people and talking to them along the way – swapping stories,” Martin said.
Interest levels have “run the gamut”, he continued.
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He’s met people who don’t seem to care about the trail or his journey. He met others who enthusiastically took the information from his track log so he could follow.
In Lawrence, Kansas, he met a homeowner who had no idea the trail passed near his property. In talking with them, Martin pointed out a wagon gully – the groove left when an area is heavily used by wagons – left over from days of trail use running through their property.
He also met many people who are part of his reason for making the trip – those who have never heard of the Oregon Trail.
By making the trip and talking openly about it with everyone, Martin hopes to rekindle interest and intrigue in the trail. His great hope is that, by the trail’s 250th anniversary – in 2041 – walking it is something people do on a fairly regular basis.
The trail, he said, is “really just a boardwalk.” It’s not as demanding as the Appalachian, Continental Divide, or Pacific Coast trails, which are just as long and busier.
But this trail offers the opportunity to reflect on what it means, the good and the bad, and to literally follow in the footsteps of the ancestors.
Martin arrived in Twin Falls on Friday evening and will now be heading west towards Boise and the Oregon border – follow his current position here.
When asked what the relaxation would entail after the walk is over, Martin joked, “One thing you don’t do right away is stop walking.”
He will continue to walk, albeit for considerably shorter distances, as he retrains his body to not need his current daily intake of 6,000 calories.
Then he will write a walker’s guide that people can refer to if they take the trip.
“I don’t want the net of it all to be for people to find out about the track vicariously through me. I want them to be excited and motivated to go out and grab a piece of the track for themselves.