Renowned journalist and author to be in Steamboat Springs for book signing and reading
If You Go...
What: Signing and Reading with Rinker Buck
When: 6 p.m. Friday, July 17
Where: Off the Beaten Path Bookstore, 68 Ninth Street
Steamboat Springs — With two mules, a replica 19th-century wagon and life’s bare essentials, two 21st-century brothers set out on the journey of a lifetime.
In 2011, journalist Rinker Buck and his brother, Nick, traveled the 2,100 miles of the Oregon trail, which spans six states from Missouri to Oregon. In 1861, the trail was crossed by more than 400,000 pioneers looking to find new opportunities, to strike gold or to escape religious contentions.
“It virtually defined the American character,” Buck wrote in his newest novel “The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey,” which recounts his experience interwoven with maps, local histories and personal interviews colored with historic detail.
Today, Buck — who has written for Vanity Fair, Life and the Hartford Courant and who wrote the acclaimed memoirs, “Flight of Passage” and “First Job” — will be in Steamboat Springs for the first time to discuss “The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey.” The book signing and reading will take place at 6 p.m. at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore.
Driven to this endeavor by the history of the trail and the curiosity to experience it first-hand, the two discovered something more than just the beautiful landscape of the west.
“The first big challenge we encountered was nobody knew,” Buck said via telephone Wednesday afternoon as he drove through Wyoming. “The art of horsemanship in taking mules over 2,000 miles across some of the most rugged terrain America has to offer is a lost art. But that used to be what everybody did back then.”
The challenges and miseries he and his brother endured were painstakingly real. Wheels broke, water was scarce through the desert, bad weather was common and hills were like crossing mountains with a wagon full of supplies.
“We learned to live with uncertainty and to be willing to make things up as you go,” Buck said. “The lifestyle today is that we are very careful to figure out every angle. Everybody is just so … prepared. You discover that we now live our lives from one air-conditioned igloo to another in these ludicrously overbuilt houses. But you just learn living out of a wagon and moving across a desert, that most of the junk we fill up our lives with, we don’t really need. And that you have much greater reserves of energy, persistence and strength than you think.”
Buck recalled one day, after and his brother had ridden for more than 13 hours and were both exhausted and sore, when a thought occurred to both of them: None of the pioneers before them had any other option but to continue on the trail with hopes of a new life.
Some were homeless because their farms were lost, while others faced religious contention that forced them from the lives they had known and drove them to the trail.
“They had no choice,” Buck said. “They were so resourceful under difficult conditions, and that gave me a real appreciation for how much multitasking and generalized knowledge you needed if your wheels broke or if you lost some of your provisions. There are no resupply pickups on the trail.”
In his book, Buck reacquaints readers with the many forgotten roles of trailblazing evangelists, friendly Indian tribes, female pioneers who had a pivotal role and how the trail helped advance economic development in America. But he also brings to light the extraordinary courage and sacrifice made by the pioneers — ordinary families who sought after a better life and were willing to do anything to get there.
“I think anything like this — to bring back that history and make it alive again — is a good thing,” said Sharron Gregg, an employee of the Oregon-California Trails Association National Frontier Trails Museum headquarters in Independence, Missouri. “The historical account of the trail is an amazing story. It shows another aspect of life. … What those people had was so simple, and yet, the journey was very dangerous.”
Currently, Buck’s newest book is listed as number 8 on the Indie Bestsellers Hardcover nonfiction list and number 10 on the New York Times bestseller hardcover nonfiction list. On this summer’s book tour, Buck is visiting independent bookstores throughout the west to speak about his experience and the history for which he discovered a new appreciation.
“I’m really excited about him being here for a signing, because this opportunity is a big deal for us to have an author like Buck in our small-town bookstore,” said Emily Katzman, manager at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. “It’s amazing they were able to travel from Missouri to Oregon on the trail, and we are really looking forward to hearing his story and seeing some of his photos.”
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Explore a mix of in-person and virtual events happening this weekend in Routt County.