Man walking Oregon Trail takes in the majesty of eastern Idaho
POCATELLO — Walking 2,000 miles allows one to take in things they may not have fully appreciated otherwise.
The vibrance of wildflowers cannot truly be realized unless you’ve walked alongside them for miles on end. Prairie dogs are an inquisitive bunch. And pronghorns are obnoxiously loud.
At least that is what Donald “Dundee” Martin has discovered about 1,600 miles into a journey he believes will conclude around 2,400.
Martin is walking the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon. He is currently on the eastern Idaho leg of the mission.
“I’m getting towards the end, and I feel driven to do more and more miles,” he said. “But on the other hand, it doesn’t feel like the end is getting any closer yet. It will all eventually pass under the wheel.”
Martin is referring to the wheel of his commercial game cart, designed to give hunters the means to transport their kill.
Martin purchased one for this trip and upgraded from the jogging stroller many of his ilks would use.
The cart can bear more weight than a stroller. He outfitted his with extra cargo areas and enough storage space to hold up to 14 gallons of water. And when the cart is filled, it will weigh up to 200 pounds.
That cart, which Martin named “Olly Olly Oxen Free,” has also been fitted with a wagon-like covering made by Martin, and his mascot, a stuffed ox named Last Ox.
Martin found another unique way to portray authenticity.
He ordered a traditional pioneer outfit through an Indiana-based company that caters to Amish and Mennonite communities.
“It turns out you can hike all day in clothes that they farm all day in,” he joked.
Martin retired his first pair of pants just before he arrived in Pocatello. The parts that rub together “eventually just disappear,” he said.
He has also retired two pairs of shoes thus far.
As he explained, he started with four pairs of shoes. Each is a size to a size-and-a-half big, giving his feet room to swell. And he is using those shoes in a specific sequence. He started with a more cushioned shoe, allowing more bounce in the early stage, then went to a more durable but lighter design. He also has a heavier shoe for the more demanding terrain.
Walking speed is also something that goes into managing physical wear and tear.
Martin, who retired from the U.S. Navy after more than 30 years of service, said he heard “speed is life” countless times from Naval pilots. Though maintaining a good pace cuts down on supply need, keeping that pace manageable is essential to his ability to wake every morning ready to walk.
He aims for 3.2 mph — noting that pioneers walked at the speed of their oxen, about 2 mph when the trail was in service.
There are times, he said, when he looks down 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 said. At 3.9 mph, the stride lengthens, and the weight leans forward, putting pressure on the knees.
Martin also works to intake 6,000 calories daily, relying heavily on cost-effective and highly nutritious walnuts — which he buys in bulk.
“I carry a paranoid amount of water,” he said. “I don’t go anywhere without a couple days’ supply.”
The worst thing possible would be getting stuck somewhere without water. So, Martin has rigged his cart to carry 14 gallons and always keeps at least twice what he needs.
For example, he packed 4 and a half gallons to walk from Lava Hot Springs to Pocatello.
Being prepared — perhaps overly so — has allowed Martin to take in his journey and smell the flowers.
Along the way, he has chatted with any and all who showed interest.
“The best part of the trip so far is meeting people and talking to them along the way — swapping stories,” Martin said.
Interest levels have “run the gamut,” he continued.
He has met people who don’t seem to care about the trail or his trip. He has met others who have excitedly taken his trail journal information so they can follow along.
In Lawrence, Kansas, he met a homeowner who had no idea the trail passed near their property. Chatting with them, Martin pointed out a wagon swale — the groove left behind when an area is heavily used by wagons — left behind from the days of the trail’s use running through their property.
He has also met many who represent part of his reason for making the trip — those who have never heard of the Oregon Trail.
By making the trip, and openly talking with all about it, Martin hopes to revive interest and intrigue in the trail. His grand hope is, by the trail’s 250th anniversary — in 2041 — walking it is something people do somewhat regularly.
The trail, he said, is “really just a walk.” It is not as demanding as the Appalachian, Continental Divide or Pacific Coast trails, which are just as long and more traveled.
But this trail offers the opportunity to reflect on what it means, the good and the bad, and literally follow in ancestors’ footsteps.
Martin arrived in Twin Falls Friday evening and will now head west toward Boise and the Oregon border — track his current position here.
Asked what the wind-down will entail when the walk is done, Martin joked, “One thing you don’t do right away is stop walking.”
He will continue to walk, though drastically shorter distances, as he retrains his body not to require its current 6,000-calorie daily intake.
Then, he will write a walker’s guide for people to consult should they ever take the journey.
“I don’t want the net of all this to be for people to experience the trail vicariously through me. I want them to be excited and motivated to go out and grab a piece of the trail for themselves.”