Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Happy Pioneer Day

Date: July 24
Mileage: 35.4
July mileage: 678.4
Temperature upon departure: 58
Inches of rain today: 0.02"

That's right. Pioneer Day. In most states, people couldn't even tell you the specific dates on which their respective state holidays fall (isn't Alaska Day in October sometime?) But in Utah, July 24 is second only to Christmas.

Everyone comes out of the woodwork to celebrate the day, 160 years ago today, that Brigham Young and his motley band of American dissidents trudged over a mountain pass, looked out across the cracked-mud valley surrounding a giant dead lake, and said, "Well, I'm sure no one's going to kick us out of this place." (A quote later aesthetically revised to "This is the place," which looked better on T-shirts.) Thus, Salt Lake City was born.

Among that crew were my great-great-and-so-forth-grandparents. I've always been proud of my Mormon pioneer heritage. I like to believe that the same adventuring spirit and irrational zeal that would drive someone to schlep a handcart across the Great Plains lives on in me. So I thought about them today as I was churning the pedals up to Eaglecrest ... about how painful it would be to ride on wooden wheels ... about the insane audacity of carrying things like furniture and pianos across the wilderness ... about how the pioneer children sang as they walked ... and walked ... and walked.

I like that no matter how artificially hard I make my life, I will never live up to their standard. They shredded everything they had in their lives to hit a dusty trail to nowhere. There, in an America before pavement, they experienced a world of extreme suffering and extreme beauty that I will never know. But I like to think that they passed the torch on to me, and that here, on the relatively-well-traveled Alaska frontier, I can blaze my own path to the future.