My Own Oregon Trail

How a Bumpy Road Through Life Finally Led to the Vacation I Deserved

Gretchen Lee Bourquin
7 min readMay 30, 2019


Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Back in early elementary school one of the big treats on the week was to be called out of class in order to go to the computer lab. It was the late 70s and computers in the classroom were far from commonplace. When I got to the lab, I could hardly wait to put that floppy disc into the slot and start playing The Oregon Trail. It was a test of survival, and every time you overcame some little challenge of survival, you and your family got back in the wagon and pushed a little closer to the map’s edge.

Years later, I decided I wanted to get back on the Oregon trail in a different way, but I would take the train, rather than ride in a covered wagon. And I would go alone.

My Lackluster Travels

I have never been a big traveler. I grew up in the Twin Cities without much money and we never went anywhere on vacation. My Junior year in high school, I went to New York City with the choir. My Senior year I moved to Plattsburgh, NY across the lake from Burlington, VT and about an hour away from Montreal, Quebec. I was there for a year and did not spend any time in Burlington aside from my trips from the airport when I arrived and back to the airport when it was time to return to Minnesota. The morning of my graduation I went along on a day trip to Montreal, and we barely made it back in time for my graduation ceremony.

I spent the summer in the Twin Cities and would spend the next six and a half years in rural Southwestern Minnesota getting my degree while getting married, divorced, and having two kids -- not necessarily in that order.

I lived in another Southern Minnesota town for a couple of years with the kids as a single parent, and eventually wound up back in the Twin Cities area. For most of my kids' childhoods, I had an okay job and we managed but did not have any extras. We traveled once when I got a retroactive bonus at work and went to Kalamazoo, Michigan with our time split between the “good” Comfort Suites hotel and the slightly sketchy Motel Six. Motel Six “left the light on” as promised, but we did not have working phone communication. We lived off peanut butter crackers from Speedway and were glad when it was time to go home.