For me, there’s something almost magnetic about the simplicity of the past. I often dream of a slower pace and a more manageable self reliant lifestyle than the one the present world offers. It disturbs me when I think of how my life’s umbilical cord has become so utterly and completely plugged into modern technology even to the point that disconnection would be fatal. We have all subtlety become dependent on the computerized world of electronic banking systems, bar codes, power grids, medical care, transportation systems and communication. Even in my fantasies of going back to a disconnected simpler way there seems to be no option but to conform to a post-modernized world. It frankly frightens me to know that I can see my pickup parked in front of my house from space on Google Earth; and so can everyone else. It’s downright scary not only that it can be done, but that we have all somehow accepted it. The world has been transformed and so have we.
Sometimes I dream about taking a trip back in time before things became so complicated and technical. Ever since I was very young I have had an inner longing to have had the chance to experience the rawness of the American West before it was developed. It has been such a strong desire that one time many years ago I decided to do something about it.
I had done my master’s thesis in part on the Mountain Man era of the American West. In my research I had read every book from the Lewis and Clark Journals to the beginning of the pioneer movement. I became familiar with nearly every main character of the RockyMountain Fur Trade Co. and had a quiet longing to experience the country in those days as they had. Of these historic heroes my favorite was Jedediah Smith. Smith had a love for the country he explored and had the ability to describe it in vivid detail. He experienced extreme hardship being mauled by a grizzly bear, nearly dying from lack of water time and again, and miraculously survived three brutal Indian massacres which took the lives of most of his comrades. Jedediah Smith was a man of deep Christian faith and was admired and respected for his courage and leadership. He was the first to discover the southwest crossing through the Mojave Desert into California. The things he did and the country he explored in his short life was surreal. Jedediah Smith was killed by Indians while scouting for water on another attempt to make the southern crossing.
Our old ranch in California was very near to the place that Smith crossed the western plain of the Mojave Desert. From our living room we could see this endless western desert that Jedediah Smith had ridden across. After rereading his memoirs I decided to not only ride his historical path, but try to do it his way. That included my dress, provisions and gear. I had heard about a reenactment of a Mountain man rendezvous that would take place on the western slope of the Tehachapi Mountains and thought it would be a perfect final destination. Two friends decided to join me and together we rode four days across the west end of the desert and into the Tehachapi’s. It was a small thing really, not even close to the experience they had, but it was better than not doing anything. We carried muzzle loading rifles in hope of shooting a rabbit or two, flint and steal to start our fires, and animal skins to store our water. We searched for water and discovered desert and canyon springs as we picked our way across the country only crossing pavement once or twice and avoiding barbwire fences whenever we could. On the fourth day we rode into the rendezvous unsaved, dirty, and ready for a real meal.
It was a historical fact that often times the original mountain men would ride into their annual rendezvous at a full gallop firing off their old rifles to announce their arrivals. The temptation to do the same was hard to resist. I know it was just a pretend experience, but riding into that historical camp with everyone dressed in full mountain man regalia was a thrill. As we entered the camp that afternoon Kate and Brook (our two kids) ran out to meet us which made it all the better. Nancy had brought the horse trailer to take me home.