Travel: Then and Now

As I’m driving along a nice, smooth, fast interstate, I know I will be thinking about what travel was like not that very long ago. Less than 200 years ago, it would have been near impossible for me to make this journey. And had I insisted (because the then-me would likely have been as stubborn as the now-me) it would have been a trip of weeks, if not months, and fraught with Perils.

I’m reminded of Celia Hayes’ excellent book To Truckee’s Trail, which I read last year. It’s a retelling of the voyage from East Coast to Clifornia via wagon train, which I have read many times over the years in different books, but this one is nicely researched and told well enough to be lively rather than dry.

When I moved to the Ohio River Valley over a year ago, I was reminded of the tales I’d read of the settling of this area, in old Western novels. I know I’d read about Dan’l Boone, and was delighted to find a tiny trapper cabin while visiting Kentucky that claimed to have housed him and friends during one rough winter in about 1789. I find there are a number of books available in public domain on that indomitable pioneer, I just picked one, I’ll let you find which is best…

Horses, wagons, mules, all very different from my four-wheeled gasoline-engined mount today. I can motor along in comfort, not worried about the muddy rutted roads featured in the beginning of Norman Borlaug’s biography as recent as the 1930’s that made travel treacherous and slow. I may get bored as I whiz along at ratesthey wouldn’t ahve dreamed of, but I have the radio, and my music gadget, and I can always set up my little bluetooth headset and call a friend to chat. Or simply pull over and nap, without worry of my animal wandering off.

My Great-Grandma Lily, born in 1893, saw the advent of motorcars, the interstate system, planes, and before she was gone, she rode the supersonic Concorde from one continent to another in a mere few hours. I don’t expect transport to zoom ahead so fast in my own lifetime  – in 30-odd years there has not been that much change at all – but perhaps we will be able to make that leap off the Earth into the solar system, and beyond. In my children’s time, if not mine. Humanity needs room for adventure.

Renfro Valley

Old-Time Kentucky farmhouse

Mud daub cabin

Standing in front of the ca 1789 trapper’s cabin where it is claimed Dan’l Boone himself wintered.

bullet in wall

One of the many bullets still embedded in the walls of the trapper’s cabin.


4 thoughts on “Travel: Then and Now

  1. Two thoughts.

    First, I was driving though Michigan (non-interstate) and noticed towns every thirty miles. Which IIRC was about a day’s trip by horse & wagon. Now that’s about a half-hour drive.

    Second, the interstate highways have cut down travel time in my lifetime. Before you had to slow down when passing through towns (about every thirty miles in some areas). Now the only thing you see are the exit signs.


  2. all the small towns in Kansas are about a days horse & wagon journey apart. between 12 and 20 miles average. with the road systems now, the old adage about the difference between Europe and USA, in Europe, 100 miles is a long distance, in the US, 100 years is a long time. My Grandmother was born in 1896 and died in 1996. She did not even obtain her drivers license until she was 61 years old, and thought nothing of making the drive from Michigan to Florida by herself until she was in her mid 80’s.


  3. I had to totally rewrite a portion of Elizabeth of Starland because I so badly underestimated how long it takes to move an army when you have nothing but oxen, mules, and shoe-leather. And adding in extra time because the bad roads tear up the wagons. It’s amazing that anyone got heavy loads anywhere overland.


Comments are closed.