|All Points West: Never far from the trail|
|July 16, 2015 Frank Marquez|
In a phrase, Iím baaaaaack!
Yes, in keeping with the theme of the Old Settlers, I landed in the valley in June 1965. I left the valley when I was 16 to live in California, and after graduating college, went off to see the world. After so many years, I have finally returned.
How timely. I moved back to Gering just after turning 50, which coincidentally is the number of years you need to have lived here to qualify as an Old Settler. Oh, how I aspire. Doing the math, I would need to live here 34 more years to make up the difference. Waiting for confirmation on rules from Norma Ray.
Speaking of old settlers, itís the reason this community exists. According to Jerry Lucas, a U.S. National Parks Service Ranger, an employee at the Scotts Bluff National Monument for nearly a decade, without the fur traders, pioneers might not have survived the trail or seen the landmark bluffs. Imagine no detailed maps or Global Positioning Systems. These fur traders knew the way, becoming scouts for the many pioneers and homesteaders looking to improve on their lot in life, and to capitalize on hopes and dreams, which is not much different from all the moving around we do today. Today, Gering is a patch of successful friendly businesses surrounded by rich fertile farmland, with a heritage just as rich.
During Oregon Trail Days, the trail becomes a centerpiece for activity, especially if youíre taking the route to get out to the carnival, chili cook off or get dirty playing some mud volleyball. Itís a great entryway for visitors coming to town. For runners and cyclists, you donít have a choice but to get on the trail.
On early Friday morning, the day after the Oregon Trail Days kickoff, I joined hundreds of other runners and set out on the course for the Don Childs Memorial 5-Mile Run. Most of the course follows the trail, a highway that runs parallel to the deep hardened ruts of prairie schooners and covered wagons. I have run it a grand total of four times now, the first time when I was a high school sophomore, and the last three times as an adult.
The old course went the same direction Ė down the Old Oregon Trail or M Street Ė until it veered off on a dirt road that wound through the deep cuts into the prairie floor just beneath the bluffs, what my childhood friends, and I preferred to call canyons. The course then emerged on U Street which runs in front of Gering High School and ends at 10th Street where runners made that hard right to gallop toward the finish. These days, runners ascend to a midway point along the trail road leading part way up the Mitchell Pass, and then make an abrupt U-turn to head back to the center of town to cross the finish line. To my astonishment, this year, it was revealed the course actually stretches 5.33 miles. So, now I joke that the .33 part of the race is the hardest part.
The next morning, action picked up on the Old Oregon Trail just before 7 a.m. I joined 30 other cyclists as we trekked up the majestic bluff for the 1.6-mile time trial. I made the climb in about 14:40. The course was harder than I thought, but the sense of accomplishment matched the great view brought courtesy of the 800-foot wall of sandstone. In all my world travels, thereís nothing like it, but maybe Iím biased. In my first ride up the Monument, my lungs burned, but it was no greater effort or hardship than the pioneers who carved out a living on this once desolate plain.
Now having been here a few weeks after spending a few years in D.C., I think about my own recent migration west Ė 25 hours on a highway compared to the months it took to travel virtually on foot nearly 100 years ago. Lest we Gering residents think any different about where we live, my return is a reminder of the paradise that is ours. For a long time, I vowed I would never come back. Sure, maybe Iím biased because this is where I was born and raised. I look around at these bluffs and ask why my ancestors stopped to put down roots. Whatever the reason, Iím glad they did.
Next year, weíll be looking at 95 years of reasons.