5 Ways 'The Oregon Trail' Is Awesome Now (And Won't Kill You)

This piece originally appeared on Zimbio. Click here to read it there.

Take a trip down memory lane and recall the many hours spent in your school's computer lab playing The Oregon Trail. The single-player video game gave students a taste of 19th-century pioneer life as they hunted for food, guided their covered wagons over treacherous waters, and hoped to god they didn't contract cholera. Lucky for me, I was able to relive that journey (sans deadly bacterium) during a recent press trip with Buick that promised to recreate a modern version of the famed video game. 

My journey began in Portland, Oregon, where I was struck by the town's quirky vibe and pleasant temperature — a far cry from the freezing cold nights on the video game trail. There were bustling coffee houses, boutiques, and vibrant parks. My starting-off point was significantly more plush than the one experienced by my Oregon Trail adventuring counterparts, who were lucky if they hunted down a squirrel meal every three days, found a berry that did not result in food poisoning, or retained their packed provisions during inclement weather. *takes deep breath* Dark times, my friends. Dark times.

So, how did this modern-day Oregon Trail experience differ from the video game I played as a kid? Allow me to count the ways...

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1. Instead of scrounging for supplies, you can gorge on delicious food. 

My first stop was the much loved Country Cat Dinnerhouse and Bar, where I filled up on delicious (nonpoisonous) fruits, eggs, and pastries — and six cups of coffee. It is beyond me how the Oregon Trail pioneers pulled this trip off without caffeine. *tips proverbial hat.* As it turned out, I would need it.

My drive south from Portland to Eugene was long, though totally comfy thanks to the "wagon" (a.k.a. Buick Regal TourX) I was granted for the day. Off I drove, ready to tackle any challenge the Trail had for me. 

The city of Tillamook is nestled in the southeast end of Tillamook Bay off the Pacific Ocean. With a population of 5,000, it's not exactly a metropolis. But, thanks to Tillamook Cheese, it's on the map. Tillamook is not the sort of place an Oregon Trail pioneer would have probably made it out to, but I have also never been forced to coagulate, well anything, so thank you, 2018.

I made a pitstop at the factory's visitor centerwhere I stood in line for 10 minutes for a sampling of all things cheese. I was surprised to find I favored the cheese curds. Another day, another time, the curds would have been my own brand of trail mix — a significant step up from butchering your beloved oxen after it steps into a hole the wrong way. 

2. Instead of riding in a horse-drawn wagon, you can ride in style. 

A large part of my day was spent jetting down the winding Highway 22. There was something poetic (if not Peak Millennial) about driving down the Oregon coast in a luxury wagon years after the Oregon Trail settlers journeyed the same paths in (far less comfortable) wagons of their own. Not to be melodramatic, but a lack of air conditioning may one day be the death of me. Thankfully, today was not that day — my ride was not your mother's horse-drawn buggy, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in it.

3. Instead of camping on the side of a dirt road with sixteen dirty pioneers, you can secure a comfy room at an inn.

Once I arrived in Eugene, I settled at the cozy Inn at the 5th, a pretty hotel in the heart of the city. I know what you're thinking: "Did it have a mini-fridge? Could you have bought those cheese curds after all?!" Sadly, no mini-fridge, so luckily, my cheese FOMO was minimal.

4. Instead of forging raging rivers, you can drink beer.

The way I see it, life is a mass of memorable moments that make it worth living. That's how I feel about my experience at our next stop, Ninkasi Brewing Company. A little on Ninkasi because the resourcefulness and tenacity of the brewery's founders struck me: Jamie Floyd and Nikos Ridge funded their small operation in 2006 with investments from family and friends. Their goal was to become "the village brewer," and bring members of their community together over a shared love of drink. Ultimately, they landed on the name "Ninkasi" after the Sumerian Goddess of Fermentation. Now, the company employs over 100 members of the community they built it for and brews hundreds of thousands of barrels.

After a crash course on how beer is made, we moseyed over to the brewery's tasting room (complete with a rock climbing wall, might I add) and had one of the best dinners I've ever eaten. I say "eaten," but I really mean "snarfed down." Listen, braving the Trail is exhausting business!

5. Instead of getting dysentery, you can wash all that food down with kombucha. 

Our next stop was a kombucha and tea tasting sesh at Townshend’s Tea Company in downtown Eugene. As fascinated as I was by the nuanced process of creating the bubbly drink, I was even more charmed by the shop's decor. The small shop's eclectic mix of funky furniture, antique cabinetry, and thriving plants almost transported me to a different world. 

Bonus: Instead of turning your pets into food, you can improve your downward-facing dog game.

My Oregon Trail weekend was stuffed with new experiences, but the stand-out activity was a trek to Emerson Vineyards for my very first goat yoga experience. Not familiar with goat yoga? Let me paint a picture: On the Oregon Trail, goats probably would have been cooked into a tasty dinner. In 2018, modern Oregonians exercise peacefully alongside goat friends.

 Courtesy of Darcy Bacha for Buick

Courtesy of Darcy Bacha for Buick

The goats added a fresh level of difficulty to the yoga — the animal's natural instinct is to jump on elevated platforms, which means it's not uncommon for them to hop on your back or stomach as you pose — and helped add an air of calm while I exercised.

Back home in San Francisco, it's hard to hunt down experiences like this — goats aren't exactly hanging out on Haight. The journey was relaxing (contrary to The Oregon Trail game), and was a great lesson in perspective. Never again will I complain about running out of cheese... well, not soon, anyway.

Farewell, Oregon! I'll be baaaaack.