9.10.2008,7:52 AM
Mural in Bridgeport, TX

I've been suspended in time for the last month and a half.

I don't remember what turned on the light bulb in my head, or even when. Some time ago -several months- when riding a bike and traveling was something I used to do in a former lifetime (aka before broken ankle and surgery), visions of riding here, exploring there, anywhere a map would take me, filled my head. I missed riding; I missed traveling. I wondered what it was like one, even two hundred years ago, to travel. Where did they go? How did they get there? What did they encounter? Who were these people, anyway? And what was the land like back then?

A bulb lit up and an idea sprouted. Soon it grew. And now it's started. Retrace the Butterfield Trail through Texas.

Hours and hours have captured me pouring over resources: old maps, first and secondary accounts -passengers, drivers, ferrymen, sons and daughters of station masters, reports to the government, online archives, chronicles, books and more books, whatever I can get my hands on. But my efforts are piddly next to some exceptional explorers, and I'm certainly not the first.

Putting the many pieces together can be overwhelming. One man's masters thesis was the result from three years of pouring over Texas land survey maps and minutes. The Conklings from El Paso wrote the most comprehensive text -three volumes- from their research and personally retracing the trail in the early 1930's. A.C. Greene and his wife retraced 900 miles of the trail in Texas and wrote a book in 1994. Two brothers rode most of the trail from Missouri to New Mexico on motorcycles (cruisers). Why am I doing it, too? Why do I do anything?

Because I want to.

I don't have the luxury of taking a week or two off from work to ride the trail from where it crossed the Red River to entering New Mexico west of El Paso. I wish I did, but I don't. So I'll have to retrace the trail in bits and pieces; it may even be disjointed. But from what I've experienced thus far, it could take me more than a year to fully explore it. Because unearthing exact locations is like hunting for the invisible snark. What I've found instead are more than 150 years of stories and history.

You can read about history in books and papers. But the only way one can experience history is to be there, talk to the people about their families that have lived there for generations, listen to their stories, stand on those places in the stories and imagine.

No matter from whom you hear or from what you read the stories, they may differ slightly or greatly. Even first person accounts. Noone now can know if it really happened this way or that, or if it was really here or there. But you learn enough, fit the pieces together as best as you can, and you can almost hear the clanking of the harnesses, the rolling of the wheels, smell the musty creeks and feel the coaches shudder as they roll across the prairies, over rocks, through the mud, feel the dust on your face in the desert, and the hunger and thirst when there is no water or food at the stations.

It becomes more real.

So this is what I have embarked upon. Using the Sherpa as my pony, traveling in between the past and modern times, searching for a ghostly trail that ran through Texas and history. Because I can.

Stay tuned.

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posted by Macrobe
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