Blazing the trail for future generations
Prineville resident Donald Martin will be making a trek from beginning to end on the Meek Cutoff Trail in the month of September.
This is a month-long trail, and it will be going through Prineville later in September. Martin previously did a shorter version of the trail in April and was able to gauge the terrain and ensure that he would be prepared to do the entire trail in September. He left on Sept. 1, and as of Wednesday, Sept. 2, his Garmin showed he had already crossed the Malheur River and was close to another tributary east of Harper.
Martin has backpacked since he retired from the U.S. Navy and worked in his career as a civil servant for the Department of Defense. He set out to do many of the things on his bucket list that he previously didn't have time for, which also included bicycle tours throughout Oregon, Nevada and California. He eventually took the challenge of backpacking the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in 2013.
"Since the Appalachian Trail, I have kind of been looking for the next hike. There are a number of things on my list that are overseas, but that is not really happening right now. The Oregon Trail kind of popped up on the list."
He went on to explain that there are parts of it today that are very remote, so it requires a hiker to be self-sufficient for long periods of time, which makes it a challenge. The Appalachian Trail has places to resupply and there are shelters. The Oregon Trail is not hard to make in a car, but very difficult for a hiker.
"As near as I can tell, maybe between a few and a half-dozen people do it in any given year," said Martin.
To put it into perspective, he pointed out that before the pandemic, more than 800 people summited Mt. Everest in a single year. He added that it is unlikely that more than 800 people have walked the Oregon Trail in the past 100 years.
"It's kind of a challenge," he added.
For his hike, Martin will have a hand cart that has a canvas cover that he calls "Ollie." It will give him the ability to carry the necessary supplies, including water, food, bedding and the other equipment to be self-sufficient. He will have a Garmin that has satellite capabilities, and he can send or receive a text at any location on the trail. He also has a tracker that sends out a signal, and folks can watch his journey on his Dundee 2021 blog.
In 1845, the Meek Cutoff was a covered wagon road that branched off the Oregon Trail in northeastern Oregon. Stephen Meek, a guide, was hired to lead the first wagon train along the trail. He convinced the group to take a shortcut, and the result was that one group cut off at the Meek Trail, and the other continued towards Baker City.
Meek's group first used the trail in 1845, and it left the main trail at Vale, Oregon, and followed the Malheur River to head into the Harney Basin. It then turned west towards Wagon Tire Mountain, and north to the south fork of the Crooked River where it split into two routes. Each path led to the Deschutes River. The two routes reunited north of where the Crooked River empties into the Deschutes and then continued to The Dalles, Oregon.
Martin will begin his journey in the desert near Vale. He will end his journey around The Dalles.
"The distance depends on access; roads are spotty along much of the original route. Some of it is now public land, but much of it isn't," Martin wrote in his Dundee's 2021 journal. "I will be carrying a satellite tracker, and my progress will be posted in near-real time to the web at:
The population of the United States was approximately 20 million around 1845, and the median life expectancy was 40 years old, due to the hardships at the time. For the next 20-25 years, approximately 2% of the nation's population joined wagon trains and headed west. Most folks who traveled the Oregon Trail walked it and walked as much as 2,200 miles, often with bare feet. Martin emphasized that the Oregon Trail is a hike where 30,000-50,000 people are buried along the trail. One of every 10 people who set out on the trail did not make it.
"That is the level of risk and degree that large numbers of people were willing to roll the dice and put themselves out there and strive in a way that we do not see a lot of these days," he emphasized.
Martin added that if people could sample it in a small way, he thinks it would be a good thing in the long run. He stressed that he doesn't know if anyone has hiked the Meek Cutoff in the last 100 years.
"You do not really understand what it was like to travel the Oregon Trail until you have walked two or three days across the desert, and it gives you a whole new perspective on it. I would like to see more people have that perspective."
He noted that it would be great if the Oregon Trail was a hiking trail and there were more services along the trail. He added that if more people come, it attracts more services, and more services attracts more people.
"I think there is value in taking some time off from the world and doing something difficult and reflecting. It's something that people in this country, young and old, I think would be well-served to have the opportunity to do that -- and kind of the push to do it," Martin explained of some of his reasons and aspirations for making the hike.
His hope is that 25 years from now, which will be the 200-year anniversary of the Meek Party misadventure, that lots of people will have taken the time to make the trek. Whether it be 100 miles, or whatever they have time for.
"Enough to understand what your ancestors went through, and enough to take time to take you away from your day-to-day political battles, concerns and everything else, and sit back and reflect."
He concluded that there are lots of trails besides the Oregon Trail that all give an opportunity to unplug and reflect.
"There is something to be said for doing something that is physically a stretch for you. Because it is something that we do less and less of in our society today," Martin said.
To watch Don Martin's journey on his Blog, go to:
For a journal background, go to:
The journal provides a bit of background, and is at:
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